The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There

Once upon a time a girl named September had a secret.

It was the first title I recognised in the endless collection that is Overdrive. It’s also the sequel to The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship Of Her Own Making, because who needs short titles anyway (it’s not like Valente can’t do it, see Radiance).

Again, she offers a world brimming with colours, weirdness and smart little thoughts you wonder how you didn’t come up with them yourself. It’s fairy tales as they once were, yet with a Pratchettesque humor: don’t take the story teller, nor the experiences at face value.

Things went bad (again), and September is up to fixing it (again). She’s around after all. This time it’s in Fairyland (Below), making things a bit darker, including September. Small pieces of (ugly) reality meander through the adventures/quests/September’s wanderings.

Because even if you can survive the Forgotful Sea, you’re still someone’s child.

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, Catherynne M. Valente, Macmillan 2012

Hotel Transylvania 2

89 min.

Hotel_Transylvania_2_Theatrical_PosterIk weet het, waarom kijk je nou niet zo’n film met oogkleppen op? Sorry, dat gaat steeds lastiger. Trouwt de vrouwelijke hoofdrolspeler nu echt op haar achttiende? Is ze zwanger en moeder op haar negentiende/twintigste? Waarom heeft ze nog steeds hetzelfde aan als toen ze een tiener was? Waarom heeft de love interest/echtgenoot helemaal geen aantrekkelijke kwaliteiten en gedraagt hij zich als volwassene nog als tiener? Waarom kan vader/grootvader niet eerlijk zijn tegen zijn dochter, in plaats van liegen en zijn kleinzoon in gevaar brengen door zijn ouderwetse ideeën?

Maar hé, de vrouwelijke karakters zijn deze keer niet alleen vrouw/vriendin van, er is één stoer skate-meisje.

Het blijft een vermakelijk element, dat wel. Hotel vol monsters dat mensen moet dulden, flauwe grapjes over clichés over die monsters. Jammer dat er niet net iets meer aandacht besteed kon worden aan de vrouwelijke kant van het verhaal. En had sowieso die tijdsprong groter gemaakt; welke vampier wil nu zwanger zijn als tiener?

Hotel Transylvania 2, Columbia Pictures 2015

Penelope

In the July before school started, Penelope Davis O’Shaunessy, an incoming Harvard freshman of average height and lank hair, filled out a survey about what type of roommate she was looking for.

Who recommended this to me? When? Where and how did I find it and felt like I absolutely had to read this? Yes, this is another one of the To Read list. And while I’m pretty sure I enjoyed it, I wouldn’t know if I would recommend it.

You see, everyone involved in this story is annoying, awkward, embarrassing, cloyingly sweet, a fool or all of the above at the same time. It was full of recognizable thoughts and situations, and it probably depends on the age and mindset of the reader to motherhen-ish cluck over these poor fools or grow incredibly frustrated by them. I swapped between both on quite a regular basis.

Penelope is a freshman, an asocial one with no clue about her place in the world, how social interaction and other people work. She tries, because her mother wants it and because she doesn’t understand how it can be so tasking if so many manage. But even when trying, she floats, she stumbles, she’s a wallflower of existence.

That makes the story weird and uncomfortable and sometimes really funny. Does Penelope need a kick in the ass, a hug, or both? Will she grow out of it or do adults like her exist? It’s like fairytale on humanity: these oddballs are here.

Penelope, Rebecca Harrington, Vintage Books 2012

 

Dora: A Headcase

Mother is cleaning the spoons again.

“A female fightclub”, “Hopefully to replace Catcher in the Rye in reading lists for the alienated” and an introduction from Chuck Palahniuk – I was very curious about why the heck I had added this book to my To Read list.

While reading the question returned to me on a regular basis, because this isn’t a fun, accessible book. Yet finishing it, I noticed that I’m glad I did. That I took thoughts and ideas and silent hopes of the teens involved into the world with me. Maybe I didn’t like it, but it definitely left me something. Which I think everyone needs with a book from time to time.

Dora is Ida, a girl in love, a daughter off parents that seem not to care or not to be able to function as parents, a psychiatrist’s client. She’s angry and prickly and – a teenager; so of course oh so smart and intelligent and with a clear view of how the world really works. Was she a passive element in one of Freud’s case studies: this time everything but her and her friends seem to be inactive, passive elements in a slow motion world.

Some heart comes from Ida’s friends, but mostly it’s a pool of tar covered in glass shards. Yes, it should replace Catcher, maybe for the sole reason to show that girls can be broken and angry and frustrated with the world as well, while still gain wings to fly through it.

Dora: A Headcase, Lidia Yuknavitch, Hawthorne Books & Literary Arts 2012

Hushed

“I feel that suicide notes lose their zing when they drag on too long.”

One of the reasons I liked this book was because the queerness of the main character isn’t the main subject. This isn’t A Story With A Not Straight Person, it’s a sad, ugly story about what life (and life events) can do to people.

Archer has been looking out for Vivian for her entire life. It’s what she deserves, after he couldn’t save her that one time. So with every bad break up, whenever Vivian calls, he is there, folding his life around her needs, because he has to make things better. He tries to do so by cleansing her life of unwanted subjects, permanently.

Someone new in his life shows him that this isn’t the way a relationship, a friendship should be, but how do you free yourself from a parasitic connection?

Hushed is a thriller in which humans are the scariest creatures, and shows that love can both reap destruction as build bridges.

Hushed, Kelley York, Entangled Publishing 2013

Friendship

The temp agency’s application was only four pages long, but somehow Bev hadn’t managed to fill it out.

Another one of my To Read List. Expect a lot of those in the upcoming months. I worry a little bit that it might clash with my resolution of reading less, but better books, because some have been on that list for a long time, some I don’t even understand adding to that list (and will be viewed with less priority).

The title is Friendship and about friendship it is. Was Life Partners about an equal relationship that went off,Friendship starts off as wobbly and moves to worse. Even with the explanation about how the two met and found each other, it’s unclear why they stuck together. Some big life changes only show that friendships can’t survive some things.

It isn’t easy to care though. Bev and Amy are both understandable, but the way to relate to either of them is mostly recognizing them as the people you don’t want in your lives. That turns the novel into a piece of schadenfreude: at least I’m not that awful at life, friendship and relationships.

Friendship, Emily Gould, Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2014

Het boek van alle dingen

Aan jullie kan ik het gerust vertellen: dat geval met Thomas kwam voor mijzelf ook onverwacht.

Ik lees vaker Nederlands wanneer ik in het buitenland ben. Misschien om de taal niet helemaal kwijt te raken. Dat betekent niet dat ik graag Nederlandse auteurs kies: liever vertalingen uit Duits, Spaans, Frans, enzovoorts. Nederlandse verhalen zijn te kaal, te stijf voor me, en altijd weer dat eeuwige seksekseks, pfoe.

Maar gelukkig is er Guus Kuijer. Van z’n kinderboeken (het soort dat oudere kinderen ook kunnen lezen) was ik altijd al fan en nu heb ik zijn eerste “volwassen” verhaal op. Een kleintje. Fijn.

En het is niet eens Guus z’n verhaal, het is van Thomas. Thomas’ slechte jeugd. Door Guus geschreven, waardoor slecht spannend, interessant en een wel-of-niet-echt verhaal wordt. Wat Thomas helemaal verdient, dat is duidelijk.

Zo heeft meneer Kuijer in één klap mijn ebookervaring naar een hoger niveau getild. Hopelijk heeft de ebieb ook ergens Grote Mensen, daar kun je beter soep van koken. 

Het boek van alle dingen, Guus Kuijer, Em. Querido 2009

Parrotfish

I could hear Mom at the phone in the kitchen gleefully shrieking to her younger sister, my aunt Gail.

I put this book on my To Read List because it’s main character is a transgender teen. Society still has so little clue (or care/interest) about the subject, and I think that fiction can be an accessible way to learn more. It clearly been written for teenagers gives some hope about future generations being more understanding. It also gives the not-teenage reader the feeling that they’re reading a children’s book (short sentences, point of view on certain subjects).

Our main character is Grady, whom used to be Angela, a girl and daughter. He needs to get used to shifting perspective, ‘coming out’ as to who he really is, but so do family, friends and school. His naivety fades quickly when he learns that humans really really need everyone to fit into a certain box. Luckily there are supporters (in unlikely places).

The Life Lessons are worked through quite effortlessly, but if you view this book as a first introduction to the subject, it might be best to keep it contained. It shows how support is so very important, and that character should trump exterior and gender.

Parrotfish, Ellen Wittlinger, Simon & Schuster 2007

Skippy dies

Skippy and Ruprecht are having a doughnut-eating race when Skippy turns purple and falls off his chair.

You could say that this is the school/teenager version of Everything I Never Told You: someone dies, the reader learns about all the lives connected to and entwined with the death character.
But that would ignore a large number of differences, so let’s just keep the second part of the sentence. Skippy’s dying isn’t a large part of Skippy Dies, really.

The reader moves around Seabrook College, following some of the students and staff. Male teenagers of every age, with the familiar (male) teenage problems.
But there’s never just one dimension when there’s humans involved, and Paul Murray slowly peels away all the layers. Illnesses, abuse, shame, and is the reader supposed to change their judgment of character because of them or not? What does that say about our view of the world?
Of course there’s coolness, girls and futures to worry about as well. The characters are frustratingly human, rooting for them sometimes only possible because of how the story moves them.

I finished the book with a final sprint of the last 200 pages and am still a bit subdued. Skippy Dies isn’t a 600 page sob story about the decline of the (educational) world, but it definitely does remind you of all the sides of a person we never/barely see, yet shouldn’t forget about.

Skippy Dies, Paul Murray, Faber and Faber 2010

The Little Paris Bookshop

How on earth could I have let them talk me into it?

Now this is a book that deserves my time, that very probably already landed a spot on my end of the year book list. A book like a four course meal, every dish not just bright and good looking, but a new experience in taste. This is Eat, Pray, Love in one country, Chocolat  for book lovers, an encyclopedia for emotions for those that can’t recognise them.

This might be the first male mid life crisis I have rolled absolute no eye over. Nary a blink. Because what else to call it, the discovery of a gross mistake leading him to throwing away twenty years of his life?

Luckily,  Nina George looks out for the lost Jean. Both travel, country and people help him, without it ever feeling too convenient, too easy or not human enough.

I’m glad I read this.

The Little Paris Bookshop, Nina George, Crown Publishers 2015