Sunday, March 23, 2008

Review Round-up

Over the past couple of weeks, I've read six or seven books, probably more, mainly due to the dire offerings on TV. I've been known to take myself to bed by 8.30pm with a pile of books, diving into whichever one holds my interest most. Some haven't. After being intrigued with Denise Mina's Sanctum (a clever play on diaries and case notes that leaves you wondering afterward how much was fiction - well, all of it, probably, but she does well to keep you thinking), I tried another one and gave up after twenty pages. The Field of Blood had two things against it for me as a reader - the main character seemed to be too ineffectual and passive to hold any hope of future engagement, and the first pages were so overloaded with a huge cast of characters that I was having trouble following any of it. Yes, harsh and fast judgement, but there were other more enticing books waiting.

I read Boy Toy by Barry Lyga first out of my pile, and am still considering what I think of it, and why it made me uncomfortable. I have decided it was intended to do so. If you haven't heard of this book yet, here's a short summary. Josh is seventeen and about to graduate from high school, but he's not coping. He can't relate to girls his own age, he feels the whole world stares at him and knows who he is, and he doesn't know what to do about baseball and college. The reason? Josh had an affair with his teacher when he was twelve and she went to jail for it. The story moves back and forth in time, so that we alternate between Josh now, struggling to keep his head above water despite help from a therapist and his friend Zik, and Josh at twelve, being seduced by his teacher.

I'm not going to spoil the book for you by telling you what the dark, emotional twist is in the last section, but it does explain why Lyga goes into such excruciating detail about the affair. This book is all about Josh, about how and why he is struggling still at seventeen. Cases like this in real life always make headlines (they certainly have here) and I wonder if one of Lyga's intentions was to show young males exactly what damage this kind of relationship can do to you (rather than assume it would be an exciting and "maturing" experience, which I can imagine a lot of young males doing). This was not Josh's experience at all, and I think perhaps the discomfort I felt in reading this came from the way in which it made me aware that perhaps I had made my own assumptions too. Another reminder of how the media can distort the truth or fail to show more than one side of a story. I highly recommend this book, but be aware of its content.

I like to save up some good crime fiction for holiday weekends, but Killing Fear by Allison Brennan wasn't really it. The sticker said Love this or your money back. Well, I didn't love it. I kind of thought it was passable. Does that qualify me for a refund? Maybe it's because the serial killer genre is getting tired, and I've read too many really good ones to tolerate one that doesn't do anything much fresh and new. Mind you, that might be asking too much. Fresh and new serial murders. Hmmm. I think my biggest gripe with this book is that it was a bit shallow. I never really felt a sense of place, and third person omniscient POV felt too distancing. This might have worked better (for me, anyway) with a closer POV, but as one major character was the villain, I'm not so sure.

Anyway, I went from that to Travel Team by Mike Lupica, and did that book grab me and keep me reading all day! It's middle grade fiction, about a basketball team, and a really short kid who is a terrific player but doesn't get picked for the travel team (the team that travels around to play in the league). The kid, Danny, has a father who was a star basketball player until he crashed his car, and now he's a bit of a no-hoper who decides to start his own team so his son can play. While the story might sound familiar, Lupica's characters bring the book alive with action, humour and hope. Right from the start, Danny is the skeptical one who thinks it's all a waste of time but goes along with it, which adds unexpected conflict from all angles. He's a multi-faceted character who carries the story with depth and emotion, and is honest and direct in a way that continually refreshes the novel.

It's books like Travel Team that help me as a writer. I can re-read it for dialogue, characterisation and the whole show-don't-tell thing, and learn as I go. Books like that go on my closest shelves, so I can use them for class or for my own benefit whenever I need a good example to follow. Have you got any books like that on your shelf? (I mean novels, not how-tos.)

1 comment:

Kristi Holl said...

As always, I am amazed at the incredible amount of reading you get done in your juvenile/YA field. I don't watch TV either, but I obviously need to get more organized in THIS area as well! Thanks for sharing your reviews.