A Revisit to Fear Street: “The Dare”

176603Book: “The Dare (Fear Street # 21)” by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1994

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Nice girls don’t kill…

Johanna Wise has always longed to be part of Dennis Arthur’s rich, popular crowd, and she can’t believe it when he finally asks her out. Now she’ll do anything to continue to hang out with his cool friends and keep Dennis as her boyfriend.

So when Dennis dares her to kill their teacher, Mr. Northwood, she doesn’t say no. She can’t. Besides, it was only a joke, right? But now the joke has gone too far, and the whole school is taking bets on Johanna. The dare is serious…dead serious. Will she do it? Will she really kill for love?

Had I Read It Before: Yes.

The Plot: We meet Johanna Wise as she and her BFF Margaret are going to the local 7/11 to get some hotdogs for dinner. Both Johanna and Margaret are unpopular girls at Shadyside High School because they’re both average looking and poor (though Johanna brags about how skinny she is and how ugly Margaret is. So this is the kind of first person POV we get, huh?). As they’re waiting for their hotdogs to cook, a group of five rich kids from North Hills come into the store as well. The leader, Dennis, is Johanna’s crush, because he’s handsome and rich and really really funny. If funny means he and his friends making a huge mess in the 7/11 with the slurpies while daring each other to do it, angering the poor cashier who probably wasn’t even supposed to be there today. When confronted, Dennis pulls a gun and shoots the clerk!… but of course it’s just a water gun. The kids laugh and laugh, and Zack throws cash on the counter as they leave, as if it’s not super condescending and humiliating. Johanna thinks all of this is hilarious.

In history class the next day we meet Mr. Northwood, the stern instructor that everyone is kind of meh about. He’s described as a ‘beardless Clint Eastwood on a bad day’, and honestly, that doesn’t sound too bad if we’re talking younger Clint Eastwood. One could do worse. Johanna is lingering behind to get some clarification on a paper, but sees Dennis arguing with Mr. Northwood about a make up test. Apparently, Dennis’s family is going on their annual trip to the Bahamas in a short while, and Mr. Northwood isn’t letting him make up the midterm at a later date. It’s either be there or fail. Absolutely affronted that he’s not getting his way, Dennis throws a textbook on Mr. Northwood’s desk and Johanna beelines for the hallway. She and Margaret eavesdrop, and Dennis storms out just as Margaret makes her exit. Johanna feels bad for Dennis (though she notes to the reader that SHE isn’t getting any trips to the Bahamas any time soon), and they start a weird game of fantasizing about killing Mr. Northwood after Dennis says that he could just kill him. She tells Dennis that she’s actually Mr. Northwood’s neighbor and they both live on Fear Street. He seems intrigued by this, and they walk to the student parking lot, talking the whole way. But then Caitlyn, Dennis’s girlfriend, pulls up in a red Miata, and tells Dennis to get in. He tells Johanna he’s offer her a life but it only seats two, to which Johanna says she’ll make room, opens the door, and pulls Caitlyn out and dumps her on the pavement as Dennis looks on in awe…. Except NAHHHH, that didn’t happen. It’s just one of Johanna’s violent fantasies about hurting and humiliating people. Totally normal, right? She actually says bye and watches them drive off.

A week later Dennis is off to the sunny Caribbean and Johanna is in history class. Melody, another rich kid who is dressed head to toe in Ralph Lauren, talks back to Mr. Northwood and blows off his request that she stay after class for a talk. Mr. Northwood kind of unprofessionally makes a snide comment about not caring how many banks her father owns, and that she isn’t special, and MAN, I AM FEELING THIS FRUSTRATION. I was SURROUNDED by these types at my high school. That night Johanna and Margaret are talking on the phone about Dennis and Mr. Northwood and how he is always on the rich kids cases, but Johanna hears a weird noise outside, a car door and a crash, and is convinced someone is breaking in! She looks out the window and sees Zack, Melody, Caitlin, and some dickswizzle named Lanny, crouching behind their car on the street outside Mr. Northwood’s house. Johanna goes to investigate, and they’re surprised she lives on Fear Street next to their teacher. They tell her not to tattle about what they’re about to do, and she promises she won’t, though Melody isn’t convinced. The guys dare each other to cause a fuss, and they put sand in Mr. Northwood’s gas tank and slash his tires. They’re about to carve Dennis’s name in the fender, when the porch light comes on and the rich kids bolt, leaving Johanna with Mr. Northwood. He asks her why she’s hanging out with these jerks, and she claims she just heard a noise and came to investigate. He says he’s going to call the cops, but after Johanna goes home nothing really comes of it that night before she goes to bed.

The next day that group is out of class. The police came late and deigned to do anything since it was a bunch of kids of the most powerful people in town, so Mr. Northwood asked that the school suspend them. Mr. Northwood says he believes her that she wasn’t hanging out with them, but is going to keep an eye on her. That night Johanna is studying when the phone rings. It’s Dennis! He’s asks if she’s ready to kill Mr. Northwood! But he’s just kidding, he’s actually back from the Bahamas and was apparently thinking about her (when he wasn’t having a wonderful time, which he gladly brags about). He wants to know if she wants to go to a party that Friday that Melody is hosting. Johanna asks about Caitlyn, and he says that they ‘see other people’ sometimes, and let me tell you, that’s the oldest trick in the book. He also informs her that his friends are no longer suspended because their parents went to Mr. Hernandez, the principal, and threw their weight and power around, and demanded apologies, which they got. SIDE FUCKING BAR: Once in middle school a friend and I were at lunch and a guy we were sitting next to LITERALLY dumped his food tray all over my friend on purpose because he didn’t like her. We reported him to the principal, and he got in some trouble, until his MOTHER marched into the school and threw HER weight around, and the school administration ended up apologizing to this DOUCHE CANOE for dumping his food on MY FRIEND. There is no justice. I take this shit personally and hate these North Hills kids. Johanna now wants to be a part of this group because of the power.

At school the next day Dennis meets Johanna at her locker and gives her a beautiful conch shell that he brought back just for her. Caitlin storms up and says that it is HER CONCH SHELL and demands Johanna hand it over. Johanna instead opts to smash her in the face with it…. Just kidding! Caitlin didn’t even notice, and instead just pulled Dennis off with her. Another psychotic fantasy. At lunch she and Margaret are sitting together and they see Dennis and Caitlyn making out, which makes Margaret skeptical about this date that Johanna says she and Dennis have. And then in history class, Dennis argues with Mr. Northwood again about retaking the midterm. When Mr. Northwood says that it’s about fairness, Dennis says that it’s not fair to HIM and that if he fails he won’t be eligible for track and his Olympic dreams will be ruined. Yeah FUCKING right, you dick. He storms past Johanna like she isn’t even there when Mr. Northwood refuses to relent.

That night Dennis picks her up after she frets about maybe it all being a joke or a hallucination. They go to Melody’s house in North Hills, and she lets them know that her parents are at the movies so the house is all theirs. I hope they’re hitting a triple feature, Melody. As the party goes on it’s pretty clear that Dennis is less interested in associating with Johanna and more interested in hanging out with his friends, and then the conversation turns to Mr. Northwood and how Johanna and Dennis are going to kill him. And maybe it’s a joke? Johanna isn’t so sure. They’re regaled with impressions of Mr. Northwood, and a story about how he docked five points off Carter “The Cheater”‘s Phillips test for forgetting to write her name. Dennis is really keen on joking about it, but Johanna is a little uncomfortable… Until he drives her home and they make out in his car. Of course, they’re shocked to see Mr. Northwood watching them from his front yard. Dennis freaks and tells Johanna he’s leaving, and Johanna goes inside and is CONVINCED that Northwood was spying on her (when he was probably just taking out the garbage or something). She paces around her house and pulls a pistol out of a drawer, continuing to fantasize about killing Mr. Northwood. Her Mom catches her and Johanna claims she thought she saw a burglar, but that it’s gone now, and she goes to sleep with that lie on her conscience.

At school the next day Melody tells Johanna to watch out for Caitlyn, who would be super jealous that she went on a date with Dennis. Dennis then asks if Johanna wants to hang out at her place that night, and since Johanna’s Mom works nights she says okay. But problems, because when she gets home she is reminded she had a friend date with Margaret that night when her bestie calls her. Johanna fakes ill. Dennis arrives, but has brought his whole posse of friends. They all settle into their favorite topic: why Mr. Northwood sucks. Today it’s because he caught Zack cheating on a test (Zack claims he was just asking Deena for the time, but yeah, sure you were asshat). They are convinced that Mr. Northwood hates them because they’re rich and he’s not, and Zack says he brought something to teach him a lesson! He got some Skunk ‘juice’ from his brother, who works at a lab with animals. They conspire to throw it on Mr. Northwood’s porch, and nominate Johanna to do it after another dare escalation happens and she volunteers. Because she’s cool too now!

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(source)

Mr. Northwood almost catches her but she drops the stink bomb on his porch. She and her new friends go to the Corner to get some burgers in celebration. When she gets home, though, Margaret catches her, as she was bringing her chicken noodle soup since she thought Johanna was sick. They fight, and Margaret drops some truth bombs about how the rich kids aren’t really Johanna’s friends, and leaves in a huff.

Dennis and his friends keep hanging at Johanna’s house in the next few weeks. One night, Dennis finds the gun that Johanna was playing with earlier, and says that THIS is how they can kill Northwood! He then actually puts a bullet in it and starts dicking around because PRIVILEGE, GUYS. Johanna, Caitlyn, and Melody tell him to knock it off, but he doesn’t and he actually shoots Zack. Like ACTUALLY SHOOTS HIM. I thought it was going to be another dark fantasy, but NOPE! The friends panic, and Dennis tells someone to call 911 before he drags Zack out of the house, telling them all to clean up. When the cops arrive the friends and the police find Zack sprawled in Mr. Northwood’s yard. And Mr. Northwood is holding the gun in confusion, since he stumbled upon a bleeding kid on his property. Dennis has tried to frame him for the shooting.

Which of course DOES NOT WORK, since the gun is registered to Johanna’s absent father and there was blood ALL OVER HER HOUSE. The truth comes out and the rich kids parents make it all go away (because Zack isn’t dead, I guess). They try to get their kids transferred out of Northwood’s class (which would probably be best for everyone involved), but to no avail. And according to Johanna, Mr. Northwood is even meaner to them than he was before.

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WELL GEE, WHY WOULD THAT BE? (source)

Johanna’s mother had forbidden her from seeing Dennis, but Johanna’s sneaking around with him. They’re parking and mauling and rounding the bases when he gets all hung up on Northwood again (GIVE IT UP, MAN), and he says that Lanny dared him to kill Northwood. Johanna isn’t sure how serious this is, and then Dennis dares her to kill him. She coquettishly takes the dare.

At school rumors start swirling that she is going to kill Mr. Northwood, and she gets a lot of ‘good lucks’ from her peers. FUCKING SHADYSIDE. You know how I know this was pre-Columbine? Margaret confronts Johanna about the rumors, and says that Lanny and Zack are taking bets on whether or not Johanna will actually kill him. Johanna tries to brush it off as not serious. But she sees Lanny later and he tells her that the pool is up to 1000 bucks, and if she does it he’ll give her five hundred of it. Johanna thinks that this is a lot of money, and GIRL. GIRL. GIRL. I know that you are not wealthy but I would imagine that an actual murder hit on the dark web goes for SO MUCH MORE THAN THAT???!!! FIVE HUNDRED BUCKS TO BE A CONTRACT KILLER. ARE YOU SERIOUS? That night she mulls her options, thinking that she’d be doing it for Dennis because she loves him so much, and he calls her to tell her that it has to be Saturday.

On Thursday Johanna has one of her twisted fantasies, this time thinking about maybe beating Mr. Northwood to death with logs from his woodpile. She has stayed home from school because she’s not feeling well. I wonder why? She’s planning a hiding place for the gun (so did the police just give it back to her after Zack was shot?), and trying to plan for Saturday. Dennis calls her that afternoon to update her on the pool. 1200 bucks now! 600 still isn’t the running rate for a hit, Johanna. Starting to get twitchy, she decides that she’s going to SHOOT HIM NOW, and grabs the gun and runs to the backyard where he’s still gathering wood for a romantic fire for one, I’d imagine. Before she can pull the trigger, though, Margaret shows up and Johanna hides the gun. Margaret says she brought notes for her since she was sick, and Mr. Northwood says that she’s such a good friend, but since he is always recording his lectures with his dictaphone she could use that instead. Johanna demurely declines, and Margaret pulls her aside and asks if Johanna is ACTUALLY going to kill him. Johanna lies and says no.

Murder Day approaches, and Johanna is a wreck. She’s watching Northwood paint his shed (in winter because he’s like that) and is planning to shoot him, when there’s a doorbell. She answers and it’s Dennis, who has come to see if she’s going to do it. She says she is, and shows him the gun, but says she needs to go upstairs and take something for her stomach. She is still very jumpy, hearing a car backfire makes her even more on edge. She retrieves the gun from the drawer and notices that Dennis is sweating, he’s as nervous as she is and AWWW HE MUST BE WORRIED ABOUT HER. She trudges through the yard and is going to shoot Mr. Northwood….. but he has ALREADY BEEN SHOT!!!!! Dennis comes up behind her and crows about how she did it, but she says no, she didn’t, he was like this when she found him! But he says nah, she did do it. Just look at the gun. There’s gunpowder residue. The gun was fired, and he’s called the cops! HE SHOT MR. NORTHWOOD AND IS PINNING IT ON HER!!! That car backfire was a gunshot! And to add insult to injury, CAITLIN POPS OUT AND WAS IN ON THE WHOLE THING! Apparently she dared Dennis to get Johanna to take care of their Northwood ‘problem’, and he took her up on it. Dennis faked an interest in her and stung her along because she was so attention starved and in desperate need of their acceptance. Betrayed and devastated, Johanna marches up and shoots Dennis right in the chest!!!… Except NOPE! JOKES! Another hallucination. The police arrive and start to arrest her, as Dennis and Caitlin say that they arrived just after she shot Mr. Northwood……

BUT…. Mr. Northwood is still alive! And on top of that, the cops remove a certain DICTAPHONE from his coat pocket…. which has recorded EVERYTHING!!! Which include’s Dennis and Caitlyn’s confessions. BUSTED YOU LITTLE PSYCHOS!!! As they are hauled away and Mr. Northwood is put in an ambulance, one of the cops says that Johanna has shitty friends, and asks her what they were saying about a dare? Johanna says that it was all just a fantasy, and walks into her house. The end.

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TAKE THAT YOU SPOILED RICH FUCKS! (source)

Body Count: Zip! It wasn’t looking good there for Zack or Mr. Northwood, but it all ended up fine, mortality wise.

Romance Rating: Zero. Dennis was just using poor Johanna and there were no other love interests.

Bonkers Rating: 6. If only because there were those SUPER VIOLENT FANTASIES interspersed throughout the book, and Zack was totally shot whilst playing with a gun.

Fear Street Relevance: 8. Johanna lives on Fear Street, as does Mr. Northwood, and all of the tension happens there.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger: EVERY SINGLE ONE THAT STARTED AS CARNAGE AND ENDED UP AS A FANTASY. So, SO many.

That’s So Dated! Moments: Oh man, where to start! From the mention of CD players to the outfits (specifically an ensemble of a denim vest over a work shirt and faded blue jeans with manufactured holes in the knees) to dictaphones to slurpy runs at the gas station, this one was chock full of 90s goodness.

Best Quote:

“I had to ask Mr. Northwood a question about the paper I was writing about Charles Lindbergh. I didn’t know if he wanted me to just write about Lindbergh’s career, or did I have to write about the kidnapping of his baby too?”

This just resonated with me as someone who’d want to write (and has written) a history paper on a horrific true crime incident.

Conclusion: “The Dare” is really more an exercise in trying my patience, as the main characters are either a bunch of spoiled, awful rich kids, or a pushover with a chip on her shoulder. I feel like it kind of wanted to be “Killing Mr. Griffin”, but didn’t have the balls that Lois Duncan had. Up next is “Bad Dreams”!

Rah Rah for RA!: Depictions of Mental Health

Occasionally we here at Library Ladies get an email asking for some Reader’s Advisory. Sometimes it’s a general ‘what should I read next?’, and sometimes it’s a specific genre or theme that the reader is asking for. We do our best to match the reader to some books that they may like based on the question they give us.

Dear Library Ladies,

Lately I have become more interested in learning about the experience of living with mental health issues, (diagnosed or otherwise) so I would love material that covers those topics. I am open to everything, fiction and non fiction, children through adult, provided the depiction is more or less realistic. Things that include the treatment experience would be especially interesting, though not mandatory. I am also open to more than just books, be it tv shows, podcasts, etc. Thanks!

Sincerely,
“It’s a lot more nuanced than that”
Hi Nuanced (we get that reference)!
It’s always good to expand one’s knowledge when it comes to relevant topics in today’s culture, and given that there is still a large stigma surrounding mental health it’s great that you’re trying to educate yourself. Here are some reads that we personally think may be useful, though as we are not mental health experts this is by no means perfect or comprehensive.
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Book: “Challenger Deep” by Neal Shusterman
Publishing Info: HarperCollins, August 2015
Neal Shusterman tells us the story of Caden, who isn’t sure whether he is presently in school with his friends, or in the bowels of a submarine traveling to the depths of the Mariana Trench. As Caden tries to distinguish his actual reality from the hallucinations that he is experiencing, we get an honest, sometimes dark, but also hopeful story of a person who is struggling to pull himself from the brink. It’s important to note that Shusterman’s son had a hand in this, as he suffered from similar issues that Caden does. This gives the book an even deeper sense of realism, and while it doesn’t try to give too rosy of an end, it does show that mental illness isn’t insurmountable.
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Book: “Girl, Interrupted” by Susanna Kaysen
Publishing Info: Random House (originally Turtle Bay Books), 1993
This memoir is a bit famous now, given that the critically acclaimed movie based on it starring Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie brought these actresses such attention. But Kaysen’s book still stands the test of time. Kaysen, after attempting suicide, was committed to a 1960s mental institution and diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. She is frank and honest about living with her diagnosis, and also provides some insightful critiques into the mental health system. Though a number of things have changed in the field since the 1960s, this book is still considered relevant when it comes to the stigma surrounding mental health in this country, and the unique stigma applied to girls and women.
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Book: “Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things” by Jenny Lawson
Publishing Info: Flatiron Books, September 2015
Jenny Lawson is known to her fans as The Bloggess, and is also known for being incredibly witty and funny. In this book she writes about her experiences with anxiety and depression, and is STILL incredibly witty and funny. While some people might want to write about their own personal experiences with mental illness by giving a ‘how to get through it’ sort of story, Lawson kind of turns that on it’s head, and makes it more of a ‘so this is how you can do super well in spite of the hurdles you’re encountering’. Certainly not something that can apply to every situation necessarily, but her frankness and humor glitters in this book of admittedly upsetting topics.
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Book: “Before She Ignites” by Jodi Meadows
Publishing Info: Katherine Tegen Books, September 2017
If you’re looking for portrayals of mental illness in genre fare,check out “Before She Ignites.” Fantasy world, lots of dragons, political maneuvering, all typical stuff to books like this. What makes this one stand out is its portrayal of the main character, Mira, who has grown up being told she is perfect and special and the one would brought together all of these different island nations. However, Mira suffers from crippling anxiety attacks and uses compulsive counting techniques as a way to self-soothe. In a genre full of “chosen ones,” this book stands out by presenting a protagonist who goes through the same “hero journey” as others, but who also lives with mental illness and must manage this aspect of her life throughout it all. A nice example that our strong young women heroines don’t need to all look/act/feel the same to still be strong young women heroines.
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TV Show: “Jessica Jones”
 As you asked for other recommendations beyond books, we’re throwing this Netflix Original into the mix. “Jessica Jones” falls in the ever-growing Marvel universe and could be easily dismissed as “just another super hero” show. But wait! You could even make the argument that the “super powers” aspect of this show fall to the wayside, and instead this is one of the most thoughtful and detailed portrayals of PTSD that I can remember watching in quite a while. As a subject, all too often PTSD shows up in one episode of a series and is limited to the most well-known aspects of the disorder (jumping at loud noises, for example). “Jessica Jones” addresses and re-addresses this topic throughout its entire run. Beyond that, it addresses PTSD driven by trauma other than warfare, which I think is also unique. The show can be a tough watch at times, but I can’t recommend it enough for those looking to get a better understanding of what survivors of assault go through, and how PTSD can present other than in the more expected ways.
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Podcast/Website: “The Mental Illness Happy Hour with Paul Gilmartin”
This is kind of the one-stop-shop for mental illness podcasts and is extremely popular, so excuse us if it’s already known to you! This is a weekly podcast that is done in an interview style, bringing in comedians, artist, and even doctors, every once in a while, to discuss various aspects of mental illness. It also includes topics on trauma and addictions since many of these challenges tend to overlap. Paul Gilmartin is an excellent host and this site is well-organized and easy to use, so if you’re looking for information on specific topics, you’re sure to find it here.
What books/TVshows/podcasts do you recommend that discuss living with mental illness? Let us know in the comments!

The Great Animorphs Re-read #19: “The Departure”

363394Animorphs #19: “The Departure” by K.A. Applegate

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, July 1998

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Cassie’s had it. After the last mission, she realizes she’s getting tired of missions. Tired of battles. Tired of being an Animorph. She decides that she just can’t do it anymore. So she quits.

Narrator: Cassie

Plot: Oh man, the book I’ve been dreading: the one where Cassie quits the Animorphs. But, I will say, there were aspects of this story that I didn’t appreciate as a kid, especially the very in-depth conversations about war and morality, that I was much more on board for during this read. So, while Cassie was still infuriating, I did end up not hating it as much as I remember hating it. With that blazing intro, let’s dive in!

During a “spy on The Sharing” mission that goes bad and results in a battle with Hork Bajir, Cassie finds herself hitting the metaphorical wall of “had it” with the violence that is life as an Animorphs. It all comes to a head when she goes in for the kill on a Hork Bajir she was fighting, even after Jake calls for a retreat. To Cassie, this is evidence that she is losing her ability to care, becoming deadened to the fight, and that’s something she can’t stand. And she quits. Walks away.

That night Cassie learns from her parents that the wildlife rehab center they run in their barn has lost funding and will likely have to close. Plus, there’s a leopard loose in the woods, escaped from a local exotic collector. With all of these happy thoughts, Cassie goes to bed, only to be plagued by nightmares. She wakes up and wanders to her window where she thinks she glimpses a pair of eyes looking back up at her.

The next day, the group confronts her in the barn about her decision, mostly refusing to believe she was serious. As it becomes clear that, yes, yes she is serious, the group reacts with varying degrees of outrage. Marco, unsurprisingly, simply calls Cassie a coward, choosing to selfishly focus on her own needs rather than the sacrifices it takes to save the world. Rachel sees Cassie quitting as a condemnation of everything Rachel is, that Cassie would rather leave than be like her. Tobias simply flies away, and Jake tells her that she can’t use her morphing abilities at all, if she’s not part of the group.

Not in the best head space, Cassie decides to go for a ride in the woods. As she rides, she comes across a small girl being chased by a bear. Cassie jumps into action and manages to snag the girl, but as the horse panics, they both are knocked into a near by river. Cassie almost drowns, but wakes up later on the shore, with the girl standing near her. The girl’s name is Karen, and Cassie is immediately suspicious of her, noting that she doesn’t speak like a kid. She quickly figures out that Karen was the one spying on her, and Karen confronts Cassie, saying she knows what she is, and that Cassie killed her brother. Karen is a Controller, and the Yeerk’s brother was the one Controlling the Hork Bajir Cassie had killed the other day. After seeing her brother die, Karen tracked Cassie and saw her, as a wolf, disappear into a bush, and then re-emerge as a human girl. More worryingly, Karen says that there are some Yeerks who have suspected for a while now that the “Andalite bandits” might be humans instead.

Cassie goes above and beyond to play this off as not true and that Karen has “quite the imagination for a kid.” Besides, they’re both now lost in the woods with a leopard on the loose, so she tries to distract Karen with this fact. Internally, Cassie panics. The Yeerk in Karen knows the truth about them, but simply taking her out is impossible: Karen herself is just a little girl. Further, Karen’s leg has been injured along the way, so Cassie must choose to actively help her survive or leave her behind. Of course, she helps her.

As they walk, the two discuss the morality of what the Yeerks are doing (all while Cassie continues to act as if she is simply indulging Karen’s crazy theories). Karen, more and more enraged by Cassie’s continued pretending, rants about the Andalites as arrogant busy bodies. She says the Yeerks have a right to expand, and the Andalites are all terrible. Cassie points out that if she’s on the side of these all terrible Andalites, then why is she helping?

Night is falling, and the two come across a cave. While Cassie is exploring it for bears, Karen is attacked by the leopard. Cassie morphs wolf and scares it away, but this confirms everything Karen has been saying and puts an end to Cassie’s act.

The two hunker down in the cave. As they continue to talk, Cassie notes some strangeness in the way the Yeerk is talking. It seems the Yeerk may feel slightly bad about Controlling a child. Through these conversations, Cassie begins to think that there might be another way. The next day they continue these conversations, this time with Cassie specifically trying to lead the Yeerk through morality exercises, asking her how it feels to have the real Karen crying in her mind. Cassie also goes into her own qualms about participating in a war and the violence that entails. Karen confesses that there are similar Yeerks out there who think it is wrong to take unwilling hosts. Cassie’s hopes rise even more.

This is interrupted when the leopard attacks again. An osprey attacks it several times, but the leopard still manages to drag Karen away, crying Cassie’s help. Cassie quickly deduces that the osprey is Marco and rushes to morph a wolf and keep him away from Karen, knowing what he will do. But the leopard isn’t scared by her wolf morph this time, and Karen is only saved when Marco shows up as a gorilla.

Marco quickly figures out what is going on and insists that they do something about Karen. Cassie doesn’t know what to do, but decides they should hear from the little girl herself, without the Yeerk. So she presses her wolf ear to the girl’s and becomes Controlled herself. Marco calls her an idiot and rushes to morph a bird and fly away, quickly understanding that the Yeerk will now have morphing abilities, too (something Cassie somehow forgot to realize!)

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How I felt through much of this book (source)

Now Controlled, Cassie learns the Yeerk’s name is Aftran. Aftran sorts through Cassie’s memories, and we get quick flashes of scenes from prior books with Aftran’s commentary. She notes that the Vissers are more concerned with in-fighting than the war (referring to book #5), watches Cassie panic after killing the termite queen and is confused by her caring so much (book #9), and laughs at the Andalite toilet episode (book #14). Cassie realizes that she has put all of her friends at risk as now Aftran knows them all. Aftran morphs a bird and flies away. From the air Aftran/Cassie see two groups: the Animorphs flying around as birds, and a group of Controllers on the ground. Aftran warns the Controllers about the “Andalite bandits” as birds, and flies on. Cassie notes that she didn’t give away their secret.

Aftran flies back to Karen and re-takes her. Cassie sees her crying, and knows that it is the Yeerk in control, and the Yeerk who is crying. Aftran rants about how unfair it is, to be born as a species so limited by its own body, unable to see the world around them, and to understand what Cassie is asking her to do, to return to the Yeerk pool and stay there forever. She finds a caterpillar and proposes a deal: if Cassie morphs this caterpillar, and then lets herself get stuck in that morph, in a body similar to the Yeerk’s, then Aftran will return to the pool and let Karen go free. Aftran points out that she will keep her word, because if she didn’t mean to, letting Cassie get stuck in morph when she has a much-desired morph capable body, would be a complete waste. Cassie agrees, and once morphed, in despair and loneliness, retreats to the caterpillar’s mind.

The story switches to Jake’s perspective, and after a brief run in with the roaming Controllers, the group catches up with Karen and caterpillar!Cassie. Karen is crying and saying she can’t believe Cassie did it, that she tried to stop her in the end, but caterpillars can’t hear, so she didn’t know. Cassie is stuck as a caterpillar. Karen explains their deal, and Jake lets every Animoph decide on their own what to do about it. Eventually, they all walk away, unwilling to undo Cassie’s sacrifice.

A few days later, the group watch as Cassie emerges from her cocoon as a butterfly. Ax casually asks whether Cassie would prefer to be a butterfly to a human. The group are shocked, and it turns out that since the caterpillar essentially “morphed” to a butterfly, the time clock should be reset.

The book ends back with Cassie as a human. The rehab center gets funding from a bank president whose daughter insisted they do something for it (Aftran had been in Karen for the sole purpose of spying on said bank president). And Cassie runs into Karen in the mall; she’s free and Aftran held up her end of the deal. Cassie notes that as long as she can fight for things like this, for finding another way, that is enough.

 Peace, Love, and Animals: This book is very different from other Animorphs books. For the majority of it, it’s just one Animorphs character and a Yeerk, discussing very complicated moral and philosophical quandaries. It’s clear that this book was important to Applegate, and that she had some clear points on war, violence, and right/wrong that she was trying to convey. And I really enjoyed much of this. Further, the character of Aftran is excellent.

But I still ran into many of the same struggles I’ve had with Cassie in the past (and that I know will recur in future books, especially towards the end of the series with one big decision she makes). So, I’ll try to lay it out as best as I can.

Much of this book illustrates  why I can never fully get behind Cassie as a character. She is clearly a character that is given the privilege of making the “right” choices, because she’s in a work of fiction. Many, many choices she makes in this book are only “right” in hindsight. Morally? They’re probably right most of the time. But on the grand scale of things, Cassie is incredibly, foolishly, unforgivably reckless with the lives of not only her friends but an entire planet (as well as the freed Hork Bajir, and the Chee, to name a few others), by choosing to quit because she doesn’t want to pay the same price the others do, knowing that she’s leaving them to an even more uphill battle, paying that same price over and over again, and then later letting Aftran Control her.

And yes, I agree with Marco. It’s selfish and self-righteous. And the only reason we can close this book and feel good about what she’s done (which I’m not undermining, it’s incredibly important and impressive, managing to talk around a Yeerk, something no other Animorph could do) is because she’s been given a pass. Her character is allowed to make stupid decisions that always turn out for the best. And this just reads as false to me. It undermines the reality of the toughness behind the rest of the Animorphs’ decisions. Jake’s slow fall. Rachel’s reckless courage. Marco’s cold detachment. These characters suffer severe changes and make huge sacrifices of themselves, choices that impact them for the rest of their lives (which we see play out in the end) because they are forced to live a real war story. Cassie comes out the other side ok, but it’s because she’s been allowed to make reckless, selfish decisions, to keep her soul more intact, and not pay a price for it.

Again and again we see her making decisions based on her own ability to live with herself and feel good about herself, and letting other step in to suffer the more extreme consequences. In Jake’s book, #16, she wants to kill the Yeerk, but wants Jake to literally do the dirty work for her. In Megamorphs #2, she chooses to save the alien race, and is only spared from destroying humanity’s future by Tobias shouldering the harder decision. And those are just in the most recent books! Cassie’s character is the only one that is given the privilege of making decisions based purely on her own feelings, to not sacrifice massive pieces of herself in the war to save Earth, without having it blow up in her face.

As I’ve said, I think Cassie is an important character for the series. But I wish there had been some type of more realistic balance that was struck between Cassie’s unique view on the world and the realities that that view would need to confront in a war.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake gets a few chapters of his own in this book, which is the first time we’ve seen a change of narrator in a regular series book. I can’t remember if this happens again or not, but it further illustrates the importance of this book in Applegate’s eyes. Jake’s big moment is notably not making a decision about what to do with Karen/Aftran after they discover her with caterpillar!Cassie. He lets this be one where everyone must come to their own conclusion about what is right.

Xena, Warrior Princess: I’ll go into more of Rachel’s stuff in the “Couples Watch” section, since I think Rachel and Cassie’s friendship is the big relationship of this book. But Rachel’s moments with Cassie when they’re confronting her in the barn are big. Rachel, like Marco, can’t get behind the idea of not sacrificing oneself for the larger cause. But Rachel also clearly loves Cassie and respects her, unwilling to agree that she’s a coward. But as Cassie goes on to explain that she can’t stay in this fight because she’s going numb to the violence, Rachel walks away. Cassie tries to call after her that they can still be friends, but Rachel interrupts to say “No” and:

“See, you’ve just said the whole world can drop dead, so long as you, Cassie, don’t have to end up turning into me.”

It’s a brutal put-down, all the worse because Cassie can’t deny it.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias doesn’t do much in this book either. He silently leaves when they confront Cassie about quitting, never really saying much. But when they discover Cassie stuck as a caterpillar, he says he can respect her choice to not want to live in a vioent world, saying that he is forced to live with violence every day, and can’t blame someone for not wanting to live that way.

The Comic Relief: Marco is by far the most harsh on Cassie’s decision to quit.

Marco laughed a short, brutal laugh. “Fine. You have your morals and your fine feelings and all that. We’ll go off and risk our lives to save the world. You just sit here and feel righteous.”

But he’s also the one to come to her rescue as an osprey (it’s never made clear what exactly he was doing flying around over there anyways). And then, towards the end, the leopard attacks Karen/Aftran again after Cassie’s been stuck and the group has discovered them, and Marco takes it out as a gorilla, saving the Yeerk. In the end, he, too, wants to respect Cassie’s sacrifice.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax does practically nothing in this book, other than deliver what some may call the deux ex machina at the end, with the whole “naturally occurring morphing” loop hole of convenience. There a brief bit when, during Jake’s narration, we get a brief fight scene with the roaming Controllers, and Ax has to run off with a wounded eagle!Rachel. But…yeah, I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel to come up with stuff for him.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: There isn’t a lot of body horror in this one, other than the typical “morph to a bug” nastiness. However, I will note here how effective the threat of the leopard was through out the middle majority of this story. It kept popping in and out, and Cassie has a good mental dialogue moment going over how dangerous leopards are, especially because you never know they’re there. It adds a good level of tension to a book that is mostly made up of talking.

Couples Watch!: There’s practically nothing for our romantic couples in this one. Instead, I’d say that Rachel and Cassie’s friendship is the major player in this book. Throughout it all, Rachel is the most hurt by Cassie’s decision to quit, but also the most supportive of her the entire time. In the first confrontation in the barn, when Cassie agrees with Marco’s assessment that she’s a coward, Rachel, even while mad, says that that isn’t true.

And then, when Marco returns to tell them the craziness that Cassie is up to, letting herself get infested, we have this:

Marco said something he didn’t really mean about Cassie not being an Animorph anymore, so she wasn’t our problem. Rachel knocked him on his butt. Marco is my best friend, but there are times I admire Rachel’s directness. [Jake’s perspective]

And lastly, when the discover Cassie as a caterpillar, Rachel is the most enraged against Aftran, and the last to walk away. But when she does, she insists on carrying the leaf that caterpillar!Cassie is on, saying that she will look after her and keep her safe.

I love their friendship!

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: No Visser Three in this one! Other than the mini rant Aftran goes on while Controlling Cassie about all the in-fighting within the Visser political arena. I guess at least we know that isn’t only these two that are like petty children in the school yard.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: When Cassie morphs the caterpillar, the book does a very good job of highlighting just how awful this life will be. Cassie’s descriptions of her own despair and loneliness, and then choosing to simply retreat into the caterpillar’s simplistic mind as an escape, it’s pretty terrible. I do think that one aspect of Cassie and Aftran’s whole deal that was notably not discussed was comparable life spans. Given that Visser Three has been around for many decades, we can assume that Yeerks have at least similar life spans to humans. So even if Aftran returns to the Pool, she has an entire life before her. But she’s asking Cassie to morph a caterpillar that, yes, may have similar restrictions as a Yeerk, but is going to die very, very quickly! This isn’t an equal deal at all with this in mind.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Ummm….CASSIE LETTING HERSELF GET INFESTED AND SOMEHOW FORGETTING THAT THE YEERK WILL HAVE HER MORPHING ABILITIES! For all that I appreciated this book more reading it now as an adult, this part of the book is so incredibly infuriating. It’s such a bone-headed move in every way. First, the whole goal is to get the real Karen’s perspective, which, why. Obviously she doesn’t love being Controlled!!! Second, it’s not like this is the first time we’ve seen an Animorph be Controlled. Cassie was right there during Jake’s whole ordeal, so the fact that she somehow forgets this has to go down as one of the most idiotic things in the entire series. And third, morphing ability aside, Cassie is also shocked to remember/realize that this decision has now exposed all of her friends if Aftran so chooses. It’s so incredibly irresponsible and reckless, and again, not even for any good reason.

Favorite Quote:

This is from one of the chapters from Jake’s perspective, and I think it makes the most sense as a response to my earlier rant about Cassie.

“I guess sometimes you have to choose between smart, sane, ruthlessness, and totally stupid, insane hope,” I [Jake] said, not even realizing I was speaking out loud. “You can’t just pick one and stick with it, either. Each time it comes up, you have to try and make your best decision. Most of the time, I guess I have to go with being smart and sane. But I don’t want to live in a world where people don’t try the stupid, crazy, hopeful thing sometimes.”

My problem is that her stupid, crazy, hopeful choices ALWAYS work, and the rest are never allowed that saving grace or must bail her out from the stupid, crazy, hopeful choice that if it had went through really would have ruined it all.

Scorecard: Yeerks 4, Animorphs 9

I’m not going to give this any change. It’s a huge victory for Cassie, personally, to convince a Yeerk (a Yeerk whose brother she killed!) to return to the Pool and not infest anyone else. But in the grand scheme of things, right now, this is a smaller achievement. I know there is a payoff later, but we’ll add that when we get there.

Rating: I liked this book more than I did as a kid. But it also highlights my overall problems with Cassie as a character. I think that after this she’s much less wishy-washy about the war, which I will appreciate. But I know for a fact that her questionable (and conveniently lucky) bad decisions will continue, especially in a big way towards the end. Ugh.

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all! But I’ll give a one sentence conclusion and you can take from that what you will!

Kate’s Review: “Are You Sleeping”

30753570Book: “Are You Sleeping” by Kathleen Barber

Publishing Info: Gallery Books, August 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Serial meets Ruth Ware’s In A Dark, Dark Wood in this inventive and twisty psychological thriller about a mega-hit podcast that reopens a murder case—and threatens to unravel the carefully constructed life of the victim’s daughter.

The only thing more dangerous than a lie…is the truth.

Josie Buhrman has spent the last ten years trying to escape her family’s reputation and with good reason. After her father’s murder thirteen years prior, her mother ran away to join a cult and her twin sister Lanie, once Josie’s closest friend and confidant, betrayed her in an unimaginable way. Now, Josie has finally put down roots in New York, settling into domestic life with her partner Caleb, and that’s where she intends to stay. The only problem is that she has lied to Caleb about every detail of her past—starting with her last name.

When investigative reporter Poppy Parnell sets off a media firestorm with a mega-hit podcast that reopens the long-closed case of Josie’s father’s murder, Josie’s world begins to unravel. Meanwhile, the unexpected death of Josie’s long-absent mother forces her to return to her Midwestern hometown where she must confront the demons from her past—and the lies on which she has staked her future. 

Review: Like a lot of people, I was damn well obsessed with the podcast “Serial” when it aired it’s first season a few years ago. I had held off on listening to it for awhile, but then I gave in and was able to binge almost all of it over the course of a few days. As someone who has always been interested in true crime, the thought that someone may have gone to prison for a murder he didn’t commit, and that perhaps those around him may have known his innocence the whole time, I found the premise compelling. I know that some people found it ghoulish, as the podcast used the murder of Hae Min Lee as a framework for it’s investigation. Such grievances are raised in the novel “Are You Sleeping”, a debut from Kathleen Barber, and makes the reader look at it through the eyes of a murder victims family as old wounds are opened up for sensationalism and ‘entertainment’. I’ll admit I felt a little yucky with myself as I read this book. But I wasn’t just chastened; I was also sucked into the story of Josie, her twin sister Lanie, and the family that is still suffering from the fallout of the murder of the family patriarch.

The plot starts out common enough; Josie is living a happy life in New York with a genuinely good man named Caleb. But what Caleb doesn’t know is that Josie hasn’t told him about her past. Her father, Charles Berman, was shot in the head when she was a teenager, and her twin sister Lanie said that their Goth and rebellious neighbor Warren pulled the trigger. Shortly thereafter, their mother Erin ran off and joined a cult, and Josie split town as soon as she could and swore she’d never talk to her sister again, and never return. But then a popular podcast hosted by the duplicitous and fame hunger Poppy Parnell has started raising questions as to Warren’s guilt, and tragedy sweeps Josie back to her hometown, the secrets and lies she’s told her whole life starting to plague her. Pretty common fare for this kind of book. But what sets is aside from others I’ve read is that it makes use of the podcast format, as well as the social media frenzy that can come with it, to help frame the plot and the characters that we meet. It was great seeing twitter feeds, reddit posts, and transcripts from the episodes to get various pieces of the puzzle that we may not have otherwise seen, and it was kind of fun sifting through them like the reader, too, was an armchair detective. The pacing and tone was fast and tense from the starting gate, and I was basically hooked the moment that I sat down and committed to it, reading most of it in one day. The mystery itself wasn’t that hard to figure out, but it was definitely a fun ride to take even if I predicted the destination pretty early on.

That said, it wasn’t really doing much different or unique from this genre. While I definitely enjoyed it more than, say, “Every Last Lie” or “Into The Water”, it didn’t blow me away as some other thrillers this year have (“Everything You Want Me To Be”, anyone?). Josie wasn’t as large a mess as these kins of protagonists can be, which was incredibly refreshing, but Lanie was REALLY hard to take at times just because she very much WAS a huge, honking trainwreck. I’m relieved that the book wasn’t from her POV, because I’m pretty sure I couldn’t take that. None of the characters, however, really stood out as more than pretty standard players in this kind of book (the dutiful boyfriend, the ex who caused you pain, the uptight female relative). I had been hoping that there would be a little bit of experimentation with these tropes, but alas, it wasn’t to be.

But run of the mill characters and kind of easy to see ending aside, I really did have a fun time reading “Are You Sleeping”. Given that the holiday season is basically upon us and travel may be in some of your futures, I would definitely recommend this book for a long plane ride, a road trip, or just reading in the coziness of your home as the weather turns colder. But don’t let it shame you from listening to your favorite true crime podcast, okay?

Rating 7: An addictive mystery with a fun framework, but it isn’t really anything much that we haven’t seen before outside of said framework. A breezy read, maybe perfect for travel or a ready by a roaring fire.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Are You Sleeping” is included on the Goodreads lists “Sister Mysteries”, and “There’s Something Dangerous About The Boredom of Teenage Girls”.

Find “Are You Sleeping” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “All the Crooked Saints”

30025336Book:  “All the Crooked Saints” by Maggie Stiefvater

Publishing Info: Scholastic Press, October 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Here is a thing everyone wants: a miracle.
Here is a thing everyone fears: what it takes to get one.

Any visitor to Bicho Raro, Colorado is likely to find a landscape of dark saints, forbidden love, scientific dreams, miracle-mad owls, estranged affections, one or two orphans, and a sky full of watchful desert stars.

At the heart of this place you will find the Soria family, who all have the ability to perform unusual miracles. And at the heart of this family are three cousins longing to change its future: Beatriz, the girl without feelings, who wants only to be free to examine her thoughts; Daniel, the Saint of Bicho Raro, who performs miracles for everyone but himself; and Joaquin, who spends his nights running a renegade radio station under the name Diablo Diablo.

They are all looking for a miracle. But the miracles of Bicho Raro are never quite what you expect.

Review: I have been a fan of Stiefvater for a while now. I have  distinct memory of picking up “Shiver” like ten years ago before she was a big name in the YA community and very much enjoying it. But what makes her special, in opinion, is the way she has grown as an author in the year’s between. Every book I’ve read by her seems to be better than the last: the plotting more meticulous, the characters more fleshed out, and, most importantly, the lyrical, poetic style of her writing more beautiful and heartbreaking than ever before. All of this remains true for her latest novel “All the Crooked Saints.”

When Pete wanders into the Bicho Raro ranch, he’s only there to work off the price of a box truck that he hopes to use to start a moving business. He’s heard something about miracles, owls, and saints on his way, but not until he arrives does he fully understand. Now, surrounded by pilgrims whose miracles were not what they expected, Pete finds himself becoming entranced by the entire Soria family, but particularly the “emotionless” Beatriz.

While I have framed my summary around Pete, there is no one character who serves as a central point for the story, truly. Perhaps the Soria family as a whole? Throughout what is really a very small book, I found myself sinking down deeply into this strange family, their history, and the beautiful imagery and philosophy behind what constitutes a miracle. We learn bits about every one of the Soria family, their hopes, their fears, what has them, like the pilgrims around them, seemingly stuck with their first miracle, unsure how to move forward.

Stiefvater’s creativity is boundless. The entire concept is beautiful and terrifying, terrifyingly beautiful, just like the stark desert in which the story takes place. The miracles that the pilgrims experience are surprising and new: twin sisters caught in a tangle of snakes, a man who is growing moss, a woman covered in butterflies whose own personal cloud dumps rain on her head constantly. What makes this all the more special is that we can see how these miracles (lessons) connect to the darkness each of these characters are walking through, but none of them are too on the nose or expected. It would have been very easy for this idea to slip into the trite.

Beyond this, the characters are all gloriously complicated, damaged, and lovely. It’s a true testament of skill to not only work in a complicated magic system, fill the pages with beautiful prose that speaks to complicated philosophies and theologies, as well as create a large cast of characters that all have their own distinct story and appeal, all within such a short page count.

Pete, hard-working, but feeling betrayed by a heart to weak to allow him to serve his country in the military, like his family before him. Beatriz, too comfortable with her own lack of emotions. Joaguin, with dreams of being bigger than his little life on the ranch, feeling the judgement of a family who may deem him frivolous. And Daniel, the current Saint, whose parents died due to their darkness and by breaking the taboo to help the pilgrims who visit them. And while these are our “main” characters, the generation of Sorias before them, too, get their own snips of chapters and histories, loves and heartbreaks.

Throughout this all Stiefvater delves into the meaning of family, questions what makes up love, and explores the courage and fear that comes with recognizing what is dark within ourselves. And, importantly, how necessary this process is, for everyone.

I feel like this review may have been all over the place, but I truly don’t know how to best portray the beauty that was this story. Thinking back on it, I mostly see images: barren, but vivid landscapes of the desert, owls grouped on a porch, strange beings wandering among scattered out-buildings, and a family, gathered closely together, but somehow apart and drifting alone. If you’ve read any of Stiefvater’s work in the past, this will all make more sense to you, knowing her skill and particular style of writing. And if you haven’t, this is an excellent place to start, as a stand-alone book that perfectly illustrates all the gifts Stiefvater has to offer.

Rating 9: Vivid and gorgeously rendered, but challenging readers to look deeper within themselves and wonder “What would my miracle look like?”

Reader’s Advisory:

“All the Crooked Saints” is fairly new and isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it is on “2017 YA/MG Books With POC Leads.”

Find “All the Crooked Saints” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “Into the Drowning Deep”

34523174Book: “Into the Drowning Deep” by Mira Grant

Publishing Info: Orbit, November 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from the publisher.

Book Description: Seven years ago, the Atargatis set off on a voyage to the Mariana Trench to film a “mockumentary” bringing to life ancient sea creatures of legend. It was lost at sea with all hands. Some have called it a hoax; others have called it a maritime tragedy.

Now, a new crew has been assembled. But this time they’re not out to entertain. Some seek to validate their life’s work. Some seek the greatest hunt of all. Some seek the truth. But for the ambitious young scientist Victoria Stewart this is a voyage to uncover the fate of the sister she lost.

Whatever the truth may be, it will only be found below the waves.

But the secrets of the deep come with a price.

Review: A special thanks to Orbit for providing me with an ARC of this book!

I’ve come to learn many truths within this literary world, and one of those truths is that if you want some well plotted out techno-horror, Mira Grant is the person to go to. I’ve mentioned her “Newsflesh” Series here before, and I reviewed the most recent book “Feedback”, as well as her short story “Final Girls”. Basically, Mira Grant is one of the most original and fun tech horror writers out there, and she needs more attention. I will admit that I went into “Into the Drowning Deep” with little knowledge about it. So imagine my surprise when early on it became quite clear what kind of story I was getting myself into.

Killer. Mermaids.

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BEHOLD, I BRING TIDINGS OF GREAT JOY! (source)

I mean, honestly, at this point she had me and I was guaranteed to give it a solid review. But let’s talk about why I liked this book so much, beyond mermaids disemboweling people. To start, the plot is exciting and interesting from the get go. While we don’t see much about the ‘doomed voyage’ of the Atargatis (but if you want to, the prequel story “Rolling in the Deep” is about that voyage), we do get to see those who have been affected by it and their motivations for wanting to follow up with it. The range of reasons is wide for our characters. For Tory it is because her older sister was the media face for Imagine, the network that sent the movie crew out to the Mariana Trench in the first place. Tory is an Ahab-esque character, though far more likable. She has a vendetta out for whatever killed her sister Anne (in “Rolling in the Deep”), and her pain and rage makes her a very human and sympathetic person to follow. You also have Dr. Jillian Toth, who is an Academic who has always believed in mermaids. This is both a validation of her work, but also a painful reminder that her enthusiasm and certainty of their existence was one of the motivators that sent the Artagatis out in the first place. Along with that is the fact her estranged husband Theo is on board too, who left his conservation activism life after an accident left him in chronic pain…. and joined Imagine as a suit. And you have Olivia, the new face for Imagine Entertainment, who finds herself in a mutual attraction with Tory, even though she has the job that Anne had. Which, of course, leads to some angst for Tory. You also have big game hunters, cryptozoologists, scientists, and others that round out our cast, all of them feeling very real and human, a skill that Grant has always had a knack for.

Grant is known for bringing a certain amount of fascinating at at times ‘hard’ (at least for me!) science into her horror stories. As someone who isn’t terribly science minded, she manages to make some pretty complex (to me) concepts and break them down for the average person like me, and to effortlessly weave them into her story lines without forcing them to fit. In “Into the Drowning Deep” that science is climate change, and how it could potentially change our oceans, as well as potential technology that could come forth because of it. “Into the Drowning Deep” takes place in 2020, and works under the assumption that in a mere four years things will be getting to the point of dire, ocean ecosystem wise, and this book brings up these ideas while incorporating them into the greater plot. She also peppers a lot of the story with facts about the ocean and sea life, and this fan of Monterey Bay, California was pleased as punch that a lot of the action at the beginning takes place there. Grant’s science has always been a bit of a trademark, and this book continues that grand tradition.

And even though perhaps the idea of ‘killer mermaids’ sounds silly to you, this book is so well done that it completely sells it. Grant does a great job of giving these mermaids an evolutionary basis, and finds them a place in the ocean ecosystem that makes them seem like they could, in fact, exist. The slow build of found footage descriptions to the reveal of the deadly mermaids deep under the sea, all the way to the inevitable slaughter had me flipping through the pages quickly, needing to find out what comes next. While this book could have come off as cheesy, it never does, and the stakes are high as Grant holds no sacred cows, character wise. You have to go into a Grant book assuming that at LEAST one of your favorite characters isn’t going to make it out alive, and even knowing this I still was caught off guard and saddened by a few of those who become mermaid chow.

“Into the Drowning Deep” was a scary and entertaining read that I had a hard time walking away from. Mira Grant is absolutely one of those authors who I am always going to be on the look out for, and I hope that the wait for the next in the series isn’t that long. I think that the literary world could use more killer mermaids, and I can’t wait to see where Grant takes them next.

Rating 8: A fun, frightening romp through the dangers of the ocean, “Into The Drowning Deep” kept me on the edge of my seat and a smile on my face. Bring on more killer merfolk!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Into the Drowning Deep” is a new book and not on any relevant Goodreads lists. But I think that it would fit in on “Oceanic/Marine Science Fiction”, and “Sea Monster Books!”.

Find “Into the Drowning Deep” at your library using WorldCat!

Book Club Review: “Every You, Every Me”

9972838We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is a “Dewey Call Number” theme. This book comes from a Dewey Decimal Call Number range, and has to fit the theme of that range.

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for bookclub. We’ll also post the next book coming up in bookclub. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own bookclub!

Book: “Every You, Every Me” by David Levithan

Publishing Info: Knopf Books for Young Readers, September 2011

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

Dewey Decimal Call Number: 700s (The Arts)

Book Description: In this high school-set psychological tale, a tormented teen named Evan starts to discover a series of unnerving photographs—some of which feature him. Someone is stalking him . . . messing with him . . . threatening him. Worse, ever since his best friend Ariel has been gone, he’s been unable to sleep, spending night after night torturing himself for his role in her absence. And as crazy as it sounds, Evan’s starting to believe it’s Ariel that’s behind all of this, punishing him. But the more Evan starts to unravel the mystery, the more his paranoia and insomnia amplify, and the more he starts to unravel himself. Creatively told with black-and-white photos interspersed between the text so the reader can see the photos that are so unnerving to Evan, Every You, Every Me is a one-of-a-kind departure from a one-of-a-kind author.

Kate’s Thoughts

“Every You, Every Me” was my choice for Book Club this time around, and it was my gut reaction when I got the 700s (aka The ARTS!) of the Dewey Call Numbers. I knew that this book was written by David Levithan, but that the photos that were interspersed throughout the book were taken by Jonathan Farmer and given to Levithan as he was writing the story. Levithan wouldn’t know what the next photo would be, and then would have to fit it into the narrative. The concept of this was a fascinating one to me, and I thought that the photos angle fit into the Dewey theme. I haven’t had a lot of luck with ‘concept’ novels such as these, as I was one of those folks who didn’t absolutely adore “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” and decided to give a hard pass to the “Asylum” series. But my reasoning was that hey, it’s David Levithan.

That said, this wasn’t the thrilling mystery with appropriate and aching teen pathos that I had hoped it would be. There was a great idea here, and glimmers of that idea shined through from time to time, but all in all I felt that “Every You, Every Me” never quite evolved beyond a concept. Evan is our narrator, and he is telling this story through stream of consciousness diary entries and through the photos that he is receiving from an anonymous source. He is set up as an unreliable narrator from the jump, with parts of his diary entries crossed out (but not enough that the reader can’t read the redacted thoughts). It was a little heavy on the crossing out, but I felt that it was a fairly effective way of showing his personal struggles instead of him literally saying ‘I AM CONFLICTED ABOUT ALL OF THIS AND DON’T KNOW HOW TO FEEL OR WHAT ROLE I PLAYED’. Evan himself was both interesting and maddening. Maddening in that goodness gracious was he the epitome of emo teen angst kid, so much so that our book club joked about how much My Chemical Romance and Evanescence would be on his iPod.

Fun Fact, a playlist of his favorite songs was officially created by our book club member Anita. See the bottom of this post to access it.

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(source)

But along with Evan being so hopelessly angsty, he was also very fascinating as a character, mostly because I felt that Levithan did a VERY good job of portraying the mind of someone who has gone through a very upsetting trauma. No deep spoilers here, but what I will say is that Evan has lost his closest friend Ariel, and he thinks that it is all his fault. While Evan is the narrator and protagonist, this story is really about the mysterious Ariel; who she was, how she was, and where she has gone (which is the main mystery of this book). They have a deep and codependent friendship, and the more you learn about Ariel and how she treated Evan, the more, I think, you get to understand why he is so, so warped and moody in this whole thing. I definitely found Evan to be more sympathetic as time went on, but also stopped caring about what happened to Ariel and who is harassing Evan BECAUSE my opinions of Ariel changed so much. Which is a bit callous of me, within the context of the book, but the sheer manipulation within that relationship just made me uncomfortable and angry and uncaring towards her endgame.

The ending, though. Again, I don’t want to go into deep deep spoilers here, but it felt so tacked on and so clunky that it kind of threw the book off kilter for me. I know that it kind of harkens back to one of the bigger themes in this book (i.e. no one really knows every side of a person), but it almost felt a bit TOO unrealistic in how it all played out. I’m fine with a huge twist coming through, but I want at least SOME groundwork for that twist to be laid out.

So while I was kind of disappointed with “Every You, Every Me”, I did like the characterization that Levithan created for his main players. The concept is unique enough that I would say pick it up just to see how this neat writing exercise turned out, but don’t expect to be super blown away by it.

Serena’s Thoughts

I have read a few David Levithan books before this one and have mostly enjoyed them. He is particularly strong at writing believably complex teenage protagonists who are not only relatable to teens themselves, but also to adult readers. Other than this knowledge of the author, all I knew about this book was a vague understanding of it being a concept book with the photographs being sent to him as he wrote the book. I, like Kate, have never particularly loved the concept books I’ve read in the past. Too often I feel that the author ends up relying on the images to depict much of the drama of their story, thus paying less attention to, or becoming simply lazy with, their own written descriptions. Powerful writing doesn’t need the support of photographs, and while they can serve as a nice backdrop, I don’t love the idea of a story becoming dependent on them.

For the most part, I think that Levithan walked a nice line with the art in this book. The photographs were interesting and he managed to (mostly) tie them in nicely with the overarching plot of the book. There’s a great theme of what it means to know someone that runs throughout the story, and this concept ties neatly with a conversation that seems to always swirl around the small glimpses of a person that are caught in specific photographs. I loved this idea, that like photographs, we’re only ever seeing small glimpses of an entire person. And that another person (another photograph) will see/capture an entirely different side of that individual. These themes were probably my favorite part of this book.

Other than this, I did struggle with the story. Evan is not the type of narrator that typically appeals to me. He’s conflicted and self-questioning to the point that his angst and confusion are more off-putting than sympathetic. I wanted to shake him at multiple times during the story, and frankly had a hard time taking him seriously. As we learn the truth behind his concerns, I could better understand his reasons for feeling the way he does. But that doesn’t wave away the execution of those feelings that presents him as a whiny, overly emotional teen boy who is hard to invest oneself in.

Further, I was not a fan of the crossing out text tool that was used so much in this book. Not only did it negatively play into the already annoyingly self-involved angst machine that was Evan, but at many points in the story the basic function of cross out text seemed to be misunderstood. In some ways, yes, it makes sense for a story like this with a semi-unreliable narrator like Evan to cross out some parts of the text and through these reconsidered aspects of his writing, get a better understanding of his thoughts and character. But at times, especially towards the end of the book, huge sections of the story were crossed out and the format was being used more to indicate a flashback than to highlight a questioned thought of Evan’s. I think the format read as a bit pretentious, and by the end of the story, I was so distracted by it and how it was being used that it was actively throwing me out of the story.

I also agree with Kate about the ending. Without spoiling anything, the explanation of the photographs seemed to come out of left field and a lot of hand waving and hoop jumping was done to explain portions of the mystery. It felt tacked on and unearned.

Lastly, as this entire mystery revolves around Ariel, we learn a lot about her and need to understand the role that she played to all of these friends, specifically Evan, who are all so distressed by her loss. And, like the character of Evan, I couldn’t really get behind the appeal of Ariel. At Book Club, we all had a bit too much fun coming up with all the crazy explanations for why all of these characters seemed so obsessed with Ariel. None of our explanations were favorable to her.

Ultimately, I think this book touched on some very important themes, specifically those having to do with the fact that people are made up of multitudes and that no one person can ever fully know another. But the execution was shoddy with the crossed out text, and Ariel and Evan were pretty unlikable all around. Add to that the fact that this isn’t a favorite genre of mine (no fault of the book’s), and I didn’t end up loving this one. Alas, they can’t all be winners!

Kate’s Rating 6: A fascinating premise with some interesting things to say about trauma and loss, but ultimately a bit underwhelming. Add in a clunky solution and you have an okay book, when it could have been a great one.

Serena’s Rating 5: Good themes were bogged down by the restrictions of the concept art, an angst-fest leading character, and a dud of an ending.

Book Club Questions

  1. What did you think of the device of the photographs that was used in this book? Did you feel that Levithan did a good job of incorporating the random photos he received into this story? Do you think this story needed the photos to feel fully realized?
  2. Evan is our protagonist, and his relationship with Ariel is the crux of this book. What did you think of him as a narrator? How did you feel about him at the end vs at the beginning?
  3. One of the big mysteries of this book is where Ariel is and what happened to her. Were you invested in this mystery, and invested in Ariel as a character?
  4. Another theme of this book is that people tend to have different sides of them that they present to different people. Could you relate to this concept? Do you have different sides of yourself that different people see?
  5. SPOILERS: Let’s talk about the ending. What did you think of the reveal of Dawn, Ariel’s secret best friend that Evan and Jack didn’t know about, being the one sending the photos?
  6. This is what one might call a concept novel, using photos to drive and tell a story as they are presented. What are your opinions on this kind of book (similar to Miss Peregrine, or Asylum, etc)? Did EVERY YOU EVERY ME confirm those feelings, or buck them (in whichever way that may be)?

Reader’s Advisory

“Every You, Every Me” is included on the Goodreads lists “YA Involving Mental Health Issues (2000s-Present)”, and “YA Books With Pictures”.

Find “Every You, Every Me” at your library using WorldCat!

Next Book Club Book: “Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries” by Kory Stamper

And now…. the aforementioned playlist! Thanks to Katie, Alicia, and Anita who helped compile the list, and to Anita for putting it together!