Joint Review: “The Raven Boys”

The Raven Boys

This week we’re bringing to you a special, all-week review series of Maggie Steiefvater’s “Raven Cycle” books. Containing both fantasy and horror elements, we’ve both been independently reading this series, and with the release of the fourth and final book earlier this spring, we thought it was about time to share our thoughts! So each day check in to read our thoughts on the next in the series. To round out the week, on Friday we’ll be posting a more extensive list of other books/series that we recommend if you enjoyed the “Raven Cycle.” Today we start with the first book in the series, “The Raven Boys.”

Book: “The Raven Boys” by Maggie Stiefvater

Publishing Info: Scholastic Press, September 2012

Where Did I Get this Book: Serena got the audio book from the library, and Kate got the print version from the library.

Book Description: Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue never sees them–until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks to her.

His name is Gansey, a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.

But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul whose emotions range from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She doesn’t believe in true love, and never thought this would be a problem. But as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

Serena’s Thoughts:

I had heard a lot about this series before I started the first book. All three of the first books were already published and raved about. So, I was nervous. I’ve been burned by the YA hype machine in the past. Further, I had read “Shiver” a few years ago, and while I thought the writing was lovely, I wasn’t overly impressed by yet another werewolf love story, even if the fantasy elements were more creative than one typically finds in the tried and true genre of werewolf romance! But, color me surprised! “The Raven Boys” was a very enjoyable reading experience!

One assumption I made from reading the jacket description and from previous experience with young adult fantasy fiction was that this was going to be Blue’s story. Blue’s perspective. Blue’s thoughts and feelings. I was surprised and so pleased to find that it was more than that. The concept of the story felt like it was primed for a “special snowflake” character basking in the attention of a bunch of boys. But instead we have Blue as only one of several characters who have formed deep and complicated friendships with one another. Indeed, Blue is the most recent addition, so in this book the friendships between Gansey, Adam, Ronan and Noah were the deeper and more interesting relationships, with Blue’s “new comer” status serving as a portal into this world for the reader.

Adam and Gansey have a particularly trying relationship and there were several moments when I just wanted to bang their heads together. But this reflects Stiefvater’s success to not only depict a realistic male friendship, one that is challenged by the strong personalities and differing perspectives of each member, but also of the real and deep seeded effects of privilege and how formative unique life experiences are on the way that individuals approach life and decision making. Kate talks about this a bit more, but I was really impressed by the careful and very true handling of many hard subjects.

And, impressively, I wasn’t overly bothered by what seemed to be the set up for a love triangle. Maybe it was the absence of the hyperbolic language that usually accompanies this trope. The girl is always “torn” between “two great loves” and “oh my, what can she do she just can’t pick they’re both so hawttttt!” This is a much more honest approach to teen relationships. Boy meets girl. Maybe they’re interested. Maybe they’re not. They’re not quite sure. Let’s maybe see? Still, though, finishing the book, I wasn’t convinced that this element added to the book, necessarily. Sure, it didn’t detract from it in the way I typically expect, but it also wasn’t making headway in any direction that felt necessary. I was curious and a bit apprehensive for how this would be resolved going forward.

While the fantasy was light in this book, I enjoyed what we had of it. If anything, the light sprinkling of details made these fantastical elements feel as if they were knitted into a “real world” setting in a much more believable way than other examples I can think of where BAM magic arrives!

I also listened to this as an audio book and I can’t rave enough about the reader Will Patton. He is by far the best reader I’ve come across in my forays into audiobook. He commits so fully to the reading, varies is voice expertly for all the different characters ( to the point where I could tell from the first sentence of each chapter whose perspective it was from simply by the adjusted cadence to Patton’s voice), and slows/speeds/emotes/ in line with what is happening in the story. I honestly worry that I loved this book more than I would have reading it simply on the grounds that his narration was so amazing.

Kate’s Thoughts:

I picked up the print version of “The Raven Boys” a couple years ago as part of my stack for a vacation. I have fond memories of reading this book, about ghosts and the supernatural and other spooky themes, while staying in a supposedly haunted hotel room in America’s Most Haunted City (aka, Savannah, Georgia). Because how appropriate, right?! While reading this book, however, I remember not being as impressed by it as I had hoped I would be. I really liked the characters as they were presented to us, and I liked the idea of Blue’s psychic family and her ability to feed psychics as her power. I just didn’t find the central conflict in this one very intriguing. The main villain didn’t do much for me, and even though I liked the lay line storyline, I wasn’t totally sold. What sells me about this book is Blue, her household, and her Raven Boys. I’m someone who has always gravitated towards platonic male friendships ever since I was a small girl, and therefore seeing Blue’s friendships with Gansey, Adam, Ronan, and Noah really resonated with me.

I also really liked how well thought out the town of Henrietta was in this book. Stiefvater did a very good job of making a fictional small town community, with the ups and downs that a small town community has. The age old conflict between the privileged students of the local school and the townies is very present in this book, and the reader can understand both sides that these characters are coming from. I especially like how naively good Gansey is when it comes to Adam, who is a student at the school on scholarship but lives in a poverty stricken and abusive household. Gansey sees Adam as his best friend, but there will always be that conflict there because of the class divide. I also find it very realistic that while Blue and Gansey are very clearly drawn to each other in this book, that class thing is there for them as well, which in turn makes her feel more comfortable with Adam. Can you say ‘love triangle’?

That was another big problem I had with this book, outside of the weaker supernatural plot. I am totally sick of seeing love triangles in YA fiction. It is so overdone and it is a lazy way to add conflict. I was none too happy to see that this trope was being trotted out again in a book that otherwise had some really lovely platonic interactions between Blue and all of her Raven Boys.

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I actually think that “The Raven Boys” is, for me, the weakest in the series. Stiefvater did a lot with the characters since the beginning, and their growth is evident.

Serena’s Rating 7: Great start to a series, appropriately laying the ground work, though the romantic angle was questionable.

Kate’s Rating 7: Lovely characters and a great setting made for a good start, though the main conflict of the story did not interest me as much as I’d hoped it would.

Reader’s Advisory:

We’ll include a detailed Reader’s Advisory post for the whole series on Friday!

Find “The Raven Boys” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Serena’s Review: “The Rose and the Dagger”

23308084Book: “The Rose and the Dagger” by Renee Andieh

Publishing Info: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, April 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: In a land on the brink of war, Shahrzad is forced from the arms of her beloved husband, the Caliph of Khorasan. She once thought Khalid a monster—a merciless killer of wives, responsible for immeasurable heartache and pain—but as she unraveled his secrets, she found instead an extraordinary man and a love she could not deny. Still, a curse threatens to keep Shazi and Khalid apart forever.

Now she’s reunited with her family, who have found refuge in the desert, where a deadly force is gathering against Khalid—a force set on destroying his empire and commanded by Shazi’s spurned childhood sweetheart. Trapped between loyalties to those she loves, the only thing Shazi can do is act. Using the burgeoning magic within her as a guide, she strikes out on her own to end both this terrible curse and the brewing war once and for all. But to do it, she must evade enemies of her own to stay alive.

Review: I picked up this book right on the heels of finishing the first, and while I enjoyed the first one for the most part, I was almost more intrigued by this sequel because it wouldn’t be that. The “retelling” of “A Thousand and One Nights” had been thoroughly wrapped up in the first book, so endless opportunities were spread before this one. And the cliffhanger left some good room for growth. For the most part, I think this succeeds, though it does get bogged down by the trappings of the first book.

Originality played highly in this book’s favor. Freed from the original trappings of serving as a retelling, the author had room to take world-building and character growth in her own directions, and for me, this really succeeded. While before the story was trapped largely within the confines of the palace in Rey, here Shazi has been released on the greater world and new and exciting destinations come with it. And alongside these fantastical new settings, adventures followed.

In fact, I would classify this book as an adventure story, first and foremost. Its predecessor was largely a romance, and the hints of a love triangle made me nervous for this book’s direction. Gladly, these worries were unnecessary. The romance served as motivation and fuel to the fire of Shazi’s attempts to end the curse, but it is a matured romance that is steady and sure of itself. No needless wavering or second-guessing.

I also really enjoyed the nods to Aladdin in this book. The scenes with the magic carpet were beautiful and obviously made me want one for myself. And the inclusion of a genie-like character was inspired, most especially given the well-rounded characterization that is applied in the relatively short amount of page time that is devoted to the character.

There were a few downsides, however. While I enjoyed the increased time that was spent from Shazi’s sister’s perspective, there was also a rushed romance here that felt unnecessary. Irsa’s journey was one of self-discovery. As a character who had spent a life time comparing herself unfavorably to her fire-y and strong sister, Irsa’s path to self-acceptance and appreciation for her own unique talents was one that I believe would speak to many readers. No need to add in the distraction of a burgeoning love. It felt like this was inserted purely to compensate for the fact that Shazi and Khalid’s own love story was past the “discovery” phase, and the author worried that more romance was needed. Unfortunately, I feel that this addition was a disservice to both Shazi’s and Irsa’s story. It was refreshing to read a series where the primary romance progressed in a normal manner, from new love to steady love, and the addition of a love interest to Irsa’s own tale distracted from the more interesting story of personal growth.

The other small niggle I had with this book was the inclusion of stories-within-stories. I listed this as part of the reason I enjoyed the first book, and given the fact that its a retelling of “A Thousand and One Nights,” it plays a large and natural role within the narrative. That’s all well and good. Unfortunately, this book isn’t that. The adventure and more action-packed nature of the story doesn’t serve as a natural vehicle for the insertion of shorter tales. While I understand that the author was attempting to highlight the importance of story-telling and reinforce what made Shazi so special to begin with, the addition of a few of these tales were more distracting than anything else. I wish the author had felt more comfortable letting her previous work stand for itself and allowed this book to be its own thing as well.

Overall, however, this book was a solid conclusion to the series. Characterization, over all plot progression, and the new additions to the story all served to fully round out the duology. For fans of retellings, or readers looking for a fantasy story set in a non-European setting, I highly recommend this book and series!

Rating 6: A solid conclusion, if a little undermined by trying to be too similar to the first book.

Reader’s Advisory:

 

 

 

 

 

Serena’s Review: “The Boy Who Lost Fairyland”

18961361Book: “The Boy Who Lost Fairyland” by Catherynne M. Valente

Publishing Info: Feiwel & Friends, March 2015

Where Did I Get this Book: from the library!

Book Description: When a young troll named Hawthorn is stolen from Fairyland by the Golden Wind, he becomes a changeling – a human boy — in the strange city of Chicago, a place no less bizarre and magical than Fairyland when seen through trollish eyes. Left with a human family, Hawthorn struggles with his troll nature and his changeling fate. But when he turns twelve, he stumbles upon a way back home, to a Fairyland much changed from the one he remembers. Hawthorn finds himself at the center of a changeling revolution–until he comes face to face with a beautiful young Scientiste with very big, very red assistant.

Review:

This book marks a notable shift from the books previous to it in the series. Alas, our beloved September is nowhere in sight! And instead of experience the bizarre transition from “reality” to “fairyland,” the trip has been reversed with poor baby troll, Hawthorn, being selected as a changling and mailed (the postal service exists everywhere it seems!) to the “real world.” Here he faces the challenges of adapting his nonsensical worldview to a very sensible (or so it claims) world. While the story differs, the beautiful writing, philosophical musings, and abundant creativity remains. So following my established reviewing format for this series, here are a few passages that stood out to me.

Growing up has been a theme throughout this entire series, and this book was no different. The mixture of melancholy and joy, confusion and excitement, and the general sense that we don’t have this whole thing figured quite out is wonderfully discussed.

I shall tell you an awful, wonderful, unhappy, joyful secret: It is like that for everyone. One day you wake up and you are grown. And on the inside, you are no older than the last time you thought Wouldn’t it be lovely to be all Grown-Up right this second?

So, too, the coping mechanisms of childhood. I, obviously, identify with this last method.

Some small ones learn to stitch together a Coat of Scowls or a Scarf of Jokes to hide their Hearts. Some hammer up a Fort of Books to protect theirs.

One of my favorite things about this series are the quirky insights into aspects of life that, on the surface, have very little to do with the story of a Changeling troll or a wandering human girl in Fairyland. One of my favorites from this book:

English loves to stay out all night dancing with other languages, all decked out in sparkling prepositions and irregular verbs. It is unruly and will not obey—just when you think you have it in hand, it lets down its hair along with a hundred nonsensical exceptions.

Philosophical views on life are vivid and rich in this book. I’m still surprised by how seamlessly the author works these in. What could so easily become preachy and silly-ly on-the-nose instead reads as a beautiful side note placed directly next to an excellent fairy tale.

A choice is like a jigsaw puzzle, darling troll. Your worries are the corner pieces, and your hopes are the edge pieces, and you, Hawthorn, dearest of boys, are the middle pieces, all funny-shaped and stubborn. But the picture, the picture was there all along, just waiting for you to get on with it.

The other books probably had this as well, but in this story I found myself appreciating the shorter, one sentence thoughts that sprung off the pages. Someone should make a coffee table book out of these stories with some of these quotes.

She’s an old woman possessed of great powers–but aren’t all old women possessed of great powers? Occupational hazard, I think.

Lovely.

It is not so easy to always remember who you are.

True.

Rules are for those who can’t think of a better way.

Correct.

A thing too familiar becomes invisible

Worth an extra thought.

While the beautiful language and creativity remained in this story, I found myself missing our familiar characters. Hawthorn is a lovely protagonist, but I had spent three books coming to know September, and the last books ends with the feeling that she is on the cusp of something important. And, while she does make an appearance towards the end of this story and I see the neat place that this story fill within the larger narrative, I still found myself finishing it and wishing for a bit more.

That said, I still highly enjoyed this book and it is clearly setting the series up for this final book. I’m both excited and so, so nervous! Please let things work out for my lovely September!

Rating 7:  Still quite enjoyable, but slightly less preferred than others in the series

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Boy Who Lost Fairyland” is included on this Goodreads list: “Fairies in Children’s Fiction” and “Changelings.”

Find “The Boy Who Lost Fairyland” at your library using Worldcat!

Previous Reviews: “The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making” and “The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There,” and “The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two.”

 

Kate’s Review: “I Know What You Did Last Summer”

47763Book: “I Know What You Did Last Summer” by Lois Duncan

Publishing Info: Laurel Leaf, April 1999 (first published October 1973 by Little Brown)

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: It was only an accident — but it would change their lives forever. Last summer, four terrified friends made a desperate pact to conceal a shocking secret. But some secrets don’t stay buried, and someone has learned the truth. Someone bent on revenge. This summer, the horror is only beginning….

Review: Last month, the literary world lost a great YA thriller legend. Lois Duncan passed away at age 82, and I felt a deep, serious sadness. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. Duncan was considered the queen of YA horror and thriller stories, and won numerous awards for the books that she wrote, including the Margaret A. Edwards Award, which honors an author who has contributed significantly to YA literature. While she has written numerous books, perhaps her most famous is “I Know What You Did Last Summer”. Most people probably think of the movie version that came out in 1997. After the success of “Scream”, Kevin Williamson wrote a new teen slasher flick based on Duncan’s book, which proved to be another hit with audiences. Hey, I will fully admit that the only reason I read this book for the first time in seventh grade was because my parents wouldn’t let me see the movie. But here’s the thing: Duncan hated the movie and what it did with her source material. Fact is, Duncan’s daughter was murdered when she was eighteen, so taking her book about personal responsibility and morality and turning it into a flick where teens are brutally killed by a guy with a hook? Didn’t sit too well. And while the film version is okay (if not a bit disrespectful), it’s a true shame because the book is phenomenal.

For the unfamiliar, “I Know What You Did Last Summer” follows four teens: Julie, Ray, Barry, and Helen. The summer after Barry and Ray’s senior year, the four went on a picnic in the mountains to celebrate the boys graduation. But on the way back, they accidentally hit a young boy on his bike. Barry, the driver, sped away from the scene, and after a vote of 3-1 (Julie being the dissenting vote) they decided not to go back, but to leave an anonymous tip on a pay phone. When they found out that the boy died en route to the hospital, Julie cut herself off from all of them…. Until the next summer, when she gets a strange anonymous note. All it says is ‘I know what you did last summer’. So she seeks out Helen (a local tv celebrity now somehow. It was the 70s.), Barry (a big man on campus and still a douche), and Ray (back from California and pining for her) so they can try and solve who is stalking them. There are no hooks. There are no twists about the man they hit actually surviving and having previously murdered someone. These are four kids who killed a child, and ran from the responsibility of it all.

Pretty heavy stuff for teens to read, and pretty dark for 1973 as well! But that is one of the many reasons that this book is far more compelling then the movie that was made of it. Our four protagonists (with the exception of Barry, I would argue) are all young adults that are, at the heart of them, okay people who made a terrible mistake, and Duncan writes them as such. The book is less focused on them being stalked, and more on the horrible thing that they did. True, there are some pretty creepy things that their stalker is doing in this book, and the big reveal is one of the best twists that I have ever seen in YA literature (and really can only work in book form). But at it’s heart, “I Know What You Did Last Summer” is less about chills and thrills, and more about doing the right thing, no matter how hard and scary that it is. Unlike in the movie, where the characters are arguably pretty much objects that have terrible things happen to them, Duncan has written some very complex characters that you do fear for and care about. I think that Helen is probably the greatest accomplishment in characterization. Even though she is constantly praised for her beauty, and even though she is a local celebrity because of her TV status at the news station, her self esteem is crippled because of her past body issues and being treated like crap by Barry. She starts out as someone who is easily manipulated by him and wounded by his cruelty, but as the book goes on and she finds herself the victim of someone who is potentially worse than he is, she realizes that she deserves better and is a much better person than Barry makes her out to be. I love Helen. I love that Helen figures out that she is strong, strong enough to move on from him, and strong enough to face the consequences of her past actions. Duncan knew how to write well rounded female characters, even in 1973.

The one sad thing about recent editions of this book, and other Duncan books, is that she updated them to be in present day. I don’t know if that was her own decision, or the publishing company’s decision, but it just feeds into that so untrue myth that teens can only empathize and relate to characters who are just like them and the society they live in. It’s really unfortunate, as Duncan’s books, while a tiny bit dated, ultimately stand the test of time without the unnecessary time and technology changes. I just regret that I lost my copy of “I Know What You Did Last Summer” from my middle school years, and now you can only really find the new, updated versions. And this saddens me.

I am going to miss Lois Duncan and everything she brought to the YA literature world. If you haven’t read “I Know What You Did Last Summer”, you should definitely do so. While it’s not necessary to find an old copy, I strongly suggest that you do over the new editions. But regardless, just read it.

Rating 10: One of my favorite teen thrillers that many teen thrillers owe a serious debt to.

Reader’s Advisory:

“I Know What You Did Last Summer” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Teen Sceams”, and “Bring On the Creepy!”.

Find “I Know What You Did Last Summer” at your library using WorldCat!

Have Some Pride! YA Fiction with LGBTQ Themes

Pride is the time of year where members of the LGBTQ community can celebrate who they are and the communities that they are a part of, and promote civil rights and visibility for these communities. Given the recent violence in Orlando, threatened violence at other Pride events, and oppressive and discriminatory bathroom laws targeting trans people, it has become abundantly clear that Pride is still very important and necessary, and that the fight for safety and dignity has a long ways to go. Though June is the official Pride Month, Pride events happen throughout the summer. So we thought that it would be fun to give our recommendations for Young Adult literature with LGBTQ themes! Lots of great books with LGBTQ characters have come out of the YA writing community, and these are just a few of many great works.

11595276“The Miseducation of Cameron Post” by Emily M. Danforth

Cameron Post is an orphan living in rural Montana in the 1990s. Her parents were killed in a car accident at the same time that Cameron was having her first kiss with her best friend, Irene. Sent to live with her conservative Christian Aunt Ruth, Cameron does her best to fit in and hide her sexuality. That is, until she meets Coley, a spunky and chipper cowgirl. Cameron and Coley become fast friends, but when their relationship goes to a new level, Cameron is sent to a camp that is supposed to ‘cure’ gay and lesbian teens. This book is a tale of first great love, great heartbreak, and an empowering coming of age story. Filled with pathos and hope, “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” will make you cry, think, and smile.

“If I Was Your Girl” by Meredith Russo 26156987

Moving to live with her father and starting a new school is a new beginning for Amanda. Small town Tennessee is very different from Atlanta, but Amanda is starting to adjust. She makes some very close girl friends, and starts to fall in love with sweet and sensitive football player Grant. But Amanda is worried, because she is trans, and is scared that if everyone found out she would be humiliated, ostracized, or much, much worse. Written by Meredith Russo, a trans woman, “If I Was Your Girl” is a story about being yourself and finding acceptance. It’s also on this list because Russo has a lot of background notes and information for trans teens and trans allies alike. Amanda’s story is one that is so very important in a time of laws like HB2.

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“Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” by Bejamin Alire Sáenz

Aristotle and Dante are as dissimilar as you can be, Ari being an angry teen who resents the life he’s living, and Dante a gentle soul with a quirky worldview. But after a chance meeting at the local swimming pool, a connection is formed and the two develop a beautiful friendship and come to more deeply understand themselves through the other’s eyes. It is also worth noting that Serena made the poor decision of bringing this book along with her when she was getting her tires changed one afternoon, and then spent the whole time sobbing into the book while trying to avoid eye contact with the very confused, 40-something year old men all sitting in the lobby with her. And Kate read it on a plane and bawled her eyes out for everyone to see while her husband pretended to not know her. It was awkward for both, but a testament to the true beauty and poignancy of this story.

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“Huntress” by Malinda Lo

The prequel to the also Malinda Lo’s also excellent novel “Ash,” “Huntress” follows the story of two teenage girls who set out on a quest to restore order to a failing world. As even this list highlights, many of YA LGBTQ stories out there take place in a real world setting, so this fantasy novel featuring a beautiful, slow-burn romance between two girls is a bit of a rarity. What’s more, Lo creates a world where the two girls’ sexuality is not a cause for them to be ostracized, which allows the author to explore other challenges for her characters and present a wholly new story.

13262783 “Every Day” by David Levithan

“A” wakes up every day in a different body and lives the life of that person. For just one day. The next “A” is someone else. Boy, girl, rich, poor, able-bodied, disabled. To survive, “A” creates a set of rules to follow to preserve sanity. Until “A” meets a teenage girl named Rhiannon and finds someone to spend every day with. Levithan takes what sounds like an absolutely bonkers premises and uses it to explore such a wide variety of world views and life styles. The fact that “A” lives life every day in a different body leaves the character’s sexuality as one that goes deeper than gender. “A” loves Rhiannon, regardless of the gender “A” currently inhabits.

These are our YA LGBTQ picks. What are some of your favorites?

Serena’s Review: “Untold”

15801763Book: “Untold” by Sarah Rees Brennan

Publishing Info: Simon & Schuster, August 2013

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description from Goodreads: On the surface, Sorry-in-the-Vale is a sleepy English town. But Kami Glass knows the truth. Sorry-in-the-Vale is full of magic. In the old days, the Lynburn family ruled with fear, terrifying the people into submission in order to kill for blood and power. Now the Lynburns are back, and Rob Lynburn is gathering sorcerers so that the town can return to the old ways.

But Rob and his followers aren’t the only sorcerers in town. A decision must be made: pay the blood sacrifice, or fight. For Kami, this means more than just choosing between good and evil. With her link to Jared Lynburn severed, she’s now free to love anyone she chooses. But who should that be?

Spoilers for “Unspoken!”

Review: “Untold” picks up directly after the events that unfolded in “Unspoken.” The Lynburn family is in the midst of a civil war and the small town of Sorry-in-the-Vale is caught in the middle. Unwilling to simply sit on the sidelines while the fate of her town is decided without her, Kami gathers her friends and begins her own preparations. All while balancing her new, uncomfortable, un-linked relationship with Jared Lynburn. “Unspoken” ended with a bang, and between the now open secret that is the sorceror infestation in the town, and Kami and Jared’s evolving relationship from source/sorceror to…who knows what, there was a lot of material to work with. And sadly, I feel like most of that material was dropped in favor of witty dialogue.

This may be an example of an author’s strengths playing against her. As I mentioned in my review of the first book, this story, too, was peppered with snappy and fun language. However, unlike the first book, the stakes are much higher from the very beginning of this story. There is much less room in the natural evolution of the plot for characters to all stand around chatting like they’re in an episode of “Gilmore Girls.” So to create these situations, the author had to put the brakes on her story and create relationship drama, all to a largely disappointing effect.

Unfortunately, that relationship drama manifests itself not only in the upping of the love triangle potential seen in the first book, but also in creating a tangent storyline for Holly who is dealing with her confusing feelings after being kissed by Angela. The love triangle is doomed from the very beginning. Aside from my feeling that it is impossible to write a realistic love triangle, this one is made all the more silly from bizarre situations like “oops, it was dark and I kissed the wrong boy!” to the classic misunderstandings that are only possible due to incredible amounts of plot acrobatics. And then when they “suddenly” realize things…

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And as for the drama regarding Holly, I have mixed feelings about this. In some ways, it was a great exploration of burgeoning awareness of a character’s more complicated sexuality, and there were some great moments where this topic was explored from a variety of perspectives. But at other times, it was used as yet another “misunderstanding” plot wedge between Kami and Jared, which just undervalued most of the work that had been done up to this point. Suddenly, Holly’s exploration of herself and her feelings for others was just one more crinkle in the main straight couple’s issues. That frustration aside, I don’t want to end this paragraph on a completely negative point, since I do still really appreciate the diversity that is the cast of characters in this book.

Another of the strengths of the first book was its inclusion of Kami’s family members as active, important people in her life (none of the “invisi-parent” that is so often found in YA). And in this aspect, “Untold” goes even further. Kami’s whole family is affected by this sorcerer war, having been connected to the Lynburn family for years in some mysterious way. Her father and mother struggle to reconcile their reactions to this changing worldview, and her brothers, Tomo and Ten, may be caught up in the struggle as well. Throughout the story, Kami’s thoughts are never far from her family, and it is clear that she loves them deeply and that they are at the forefront of her mind when she plans her resistance against Rob Lynburn. This was a refreshing inclusion.

So, while I did still enjoy “Untold,” I also feel that it succumbed to “second novel syndrome.” The author had to put the brakes on her own story so as to leave material for the third and final installment. And to do that, a lot of relationship nonsense was added. But, while disappointing, I’m still invested enough to want to read the final book, so that will be making its way onto my reading list.

Rating 6: A step down from the first book, but still enjoyable.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Untold” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Diversity in Young Adult and Middle Grade” and “Gothic Romance.”

Find “Untold” at your library using Worldcat!

Previous review: “Unspoken”

Serena’s Review: “Unspoken”

10866624Book: “Unspoken” by Sarah Rees Brennan

Publishing Info: Random House, September 2012

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description from Goodreads: Kami Glass loves someone she’s never met . . . a boy she’s talked to in her head ever since she was born. She wasn’t silent about her imaginary friend during her childhood, and is thus a bit of an outsider in her sleepy English town of Sorry-in-the-Vale. Still, Kami hasn’t suffered too much from not fitting in. She has a best friend, runs the school newspaper, and is only occasionally caught talking to herself. Her life is in order, just the way she likes it, despite the voice in her head.

But all that changes when the Lynburns return.

The Lynburn family has owned the spectacular and sinister manor that overlooks Sorry-in-the-Vale for centuries. The mysterious twin sisters who abandoned their ancestral home a generation ago are back, along with their teenage sons, Jared and Ash, one of whom is eerily familiar to Kami. Kami is not one to shy away from the unknown—in fact, she’s determined to find answers for all the questions Sorry-in-the-Vale is suddenly posing. Who is responsible for the bloody deeds in the depths of the woods? What is her own mother hiding? And now that her imaginary friend has become a real boy, does she still love him? Does she hate him? Can she trust him?

Review: I’m not sure how this book ended up on my TBR pile. I’ve read some Sarah Rees Brennan in the past, but it has been a while since I picked up one of her books. So, it was a pleasant surprise when I was browsing the library shelves (Goodreads app in hand to check against my to-read lists) and found this book right there waiting for me and didn’t have a lot of pre-existing expectations set in place going in. And it was good! Brennan manages to balance many classic YA tropes with a fresh voice and perspective that allows them to grow past their typical, clumsy restraints.

From the get go, I liked Kami Glass. She’s pretty much a half-Japanese, British born, Lois-Lane-in-the-making. And we all know how much I love Lois Lane. Full of spunk, wit, and drive, Kami pursues her goals with an energy that can’t help but draw in those around her. And in a testament to the author’s creative ability, the cast of characters who surround Kami are as diverse as they are typical, without falling over the stumbling block stereotypes often found in young adult literature. Kami has a female best friend, Angela, who is very clearly her strongest support system (stereotype avoided: lack of female friends for the female protagonist so as to cement her “difference” from “other girls”). There is even a third female friend, Holly, one of the more popular girls at school (stereotype avoided: “mean girls”). Angela has an older brother who is a healthy, non-romantic male friend of Kami’s (stereotype avoided: meet-cute with the boy-next-door who is a love interest). Kami has a very stable, loving family complete with two parents and two younger brothers (stereotype avoided: nonexistent/absent parents, lack of siblings or poor relationship with a distasteful, often older, sibling).

And, while there are the makings of a love triangle, this too is waded through carefully and with respect to the emotional struggles that would exist due to the situation. In fact, the way the relationship between Kami and Jared was portrayed was one of my favorite aspects of the story. Each honestly believed the other was a made-up character in their own head. Discovering at age 16 that your imaginary friend is not only real, but here in your own town, going to your own school, would have dramatic affects. This is not a romantic, blissful situation. Suddenly the closeness and emotional vulnerability becomes real and, perhaps, invasive. Kami begins to question where she leaves off and Jared begins. Physical contact is uncomfortable to the extreme.

I can’t say how much I appreciated the author’s handling of this situation. What could have so easily been twisted into a silly, romantic plot device is instead highlighted as intensely unhealthy, especially when Kami and Jared attempt to build a real friendship/relationship with their fully existing selves. In a book notable for its witty dialogue and punchy descriptions, Kami spends a significant amount of time analyzing independence, a sense of self, and what a healthy relationship should look like.

The mystery and fantasy elements of the story were also strong. The history of the Lynburn family and this small, British town was chilling and the book does a good job setting up this conflict for the remaining two books in the series. My one point of real criticism is the location for the book. It is set in England, however, the language felt very Americanized. Not being natively British, I’m not sure if maybe my expectations are out of sorts or whether this is an actual failing. But I routinely forgot that this was set in England at all. The lack of British terms and turns of phrase in the dialogue felt odd. Other than creating a “manor family” legacy for the Lynburns and the town of Sorry-in-the-Vale, this setting felt underutilized and perhaps even disingenuous with regards to the other narrative decisions.

Overall, I enjoyed this book and have already placed a request at the library for the second one!

Rating 7: Very good, though a few questionable decisions with regards to underutilizing its setting.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Unspoken” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Best YA Books with Non-White Protagonists” and “Strong Womances In YA.”

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