Monday, March 16, 2015

YALSA 2015 Hub Reading Challenge, Update #2

I've noticed lots of repeats on the challenge list this year. While I don't mind rereading at all, for a few of these titles, once is definitely enough! Since I do the challenge to discover new stuff, I don't want to spend too much time rereading, especially books I didn't love the first time.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

I love John Green's writing and I marked lots of great lines as I read that I intended to use in my review. In the end, though, this simple and repeated exchange between Hazel and Augustus says it all. 



They meet at a cancer support group--Hazel is terminal, but her tumors are being kept at bay for the foreseeable future and Augustus is in remission, but missing a leg. As our protagonists fall in love, awkwardly and sweetly, they know that their "forever" will be brief. After all, "[s]ome infinities are bigger than other infinities."

What I loved most about this beautiful, humorous, and heartbreaking story is how real the love story and the friendships feel. Hazel and Augustus fear that their lives will be meaningless, that they will be forgotten when they die. What each finds in the other is a glimpse of what their lives have meant to another. Just like in our real, everyday lives, these ordinary characters find the extraordinary in each other. And that's what love is.




**Reread for the 2015 YALSA Challenge. Still love it.

Glory O'Brien's History of the Future by A.S. King

Glory O'Brien is deeply damaged. Her mother committed suicide by sticking her head in the oven when Glory was just a little girl. She has spent her life eating microwave meals because her dad refuses to use the stove. They love each other, but are mired in the past and unable to move on with their lives. Glory is an outsider. Her only friend, Ellie, lives on a hippie commune (or is it actually a cult?). They seem to be friends out of convenience and habit, rather than because they have anything in common. Glory is Ellie's only link to the outside world. Glory doesn't really know why she is still friends with Ellie. One night, the girls decide to mix the remains of a petrified bat into some warm beer and drink it. This is where things get STRANGE.

The girls start seeing visions--Ellie sees personal details about people's relationships when she meets their eyes and Glory sees flashes of both past and future. Glory records her visions in the hopes that her notes might help to avert the terrifying future to come--a future in which an endless civil war rages, and where women are truly second-class citizens, banned from the workplace and doomed to poverty and abuse. 

I enjoyed the feminist themes, though at times they did feel a bit heavy-handed. While I get that Glory's visions are fragmented, I had a hard time putting all of the fragments together into a coherent whole. My favorite part of the book was Glory's relationship with her father and her struggle to come to terms with her mother's death. I wanted to love this book, but it didn't quite come together for me. Maybe magical realism just isn't my cup of tea. 

Half Bad by Sally Green

Book one in the Half Bad trilogy.

Nathan lives in an alternate-reality England where witches are part of the daily reality. There is a brutal war between the white (good) witches and the black (evil) witches. Nathan is a half code--his mother was a white witch and his father a notorious black witch. 

For a book this long, I was hoping for more world-building. I mean, these witches are at war with each other, but there really isn't a whole lot of distinction made between the two factions and the reason behind the war is never explained. The white witches are supposed to be the good guys, but almost none of them actually demonstrate any goodness through their actions. I liked that many of the characters were multi-faceted; having my initial impressions of certain characters change as the story progressed was a pleasant surprise. 

I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

I loved, loved, loved this book. It grabbed me by the throat right away. It was oh-so-believably creepy, with well-drawn characters whose motivations were complex and interesting. I can see mature teen readers gobbling this one up.

Jazz is a teenaged boy whose father, Billy Dent, is a famous and prolific serial killer. Even though Billy is in prison, and will be until he dies, he is a pervasive presence in Jazz's life. As hard as he tries, Jazz is unable to silence his dad's voice, constantly repeating the lessons of how to be a successful killer. 

When dead bodies start piling up in Jazz's small town, he is determined to catch the killer. Thanks to his dear old dad's lessons, Jazz can slip right into the mind of the killer, much to his dismay. The cops, especially the one who put Billy Dent behind bars, aren't too keen on Jazz's input. 

Jazz is such a realistic character, with all of the normal teenaged angst, but with the added bonus of trying to stop himself from becoming the man his father has trained him to be. Jazz exhibits many sociopathic tendencies, but he is most human when he's with his wise-cracking best friend, Howie, and his take-no-shit girlfriend, Connie. Howie's hilarious comments provide plenty of comic relief, even in the midst of some pretty gory gruesomeness. Connie keeps Jazz grounded and calls him out when he starts wallowing in self-doubt. There are some well-meaning adults who try to do what's best for Jazz and he respects them, even though he doesn't agree with them. And then there's his crazy grandmother. Whoa. She's hilarious and horrifying all in one racist, wrinkly, gun-waving package. 

I dare you to read this one after dark.

**Reread for the 2015 YALSA Challenge.  I'll be reading the sequel (Game) next, even though it's not part of this year's challenge.

My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf

Most of us can relate to the experience of knowing a "weird" kid in high school, that kid who looked or acted differently from other kids and just didn't fit in.  That kid who we lost touch with after high school and who never really crossed our minds again. Backderf tells the story of his acquaintance (I hesitate to call it a friendship, despite the book's title) with Jeffrey Dahmer in high school. As a clueless kid, Derf didn't take the warning signs all that seriously, even when he noticed them. The adults in Jeffrey's life didn't either. 

This memoir tells about Jeffrey Dahmer's life leading up to his first murder, and isn't especially gruesome, graphic, or illuminating.  I was intrigued by the book's premise, but in the end, it wasn't my cup of tea. 

**Reread for the 2015 YALSA Challenge. Still not my cup of tea. I have to admit, I skimmed.

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