The Road of the Dead

When the Dead Man got Rachel I was sitting in the back of a wrecked Mercedes wondering if the rain was going to stop.

The Road of the Dead doesn’t fit in just one box. It comes from the YA section, but it’s brutal enough for an adult read. It’s about family and being different, but it’s always a detective, trying to discover how the main character’s sister died. And with main character Ruben being able to ‘feel’ people out, there is a hint of fantasy as well.

It’s a stubborn book, demanding some of the reader’s investment before it curls open into a story about small towns and big egos, grown rotten through capitalism. It’s uneven as well, like sometimes the author was unsure about something and works extra hard to convince his reader.

Not bad, not good but yet slightly compelling, this is for quick readers with a nose for detectives.

 The Road of the Dead, Kevin Brooks, Scholastic Inc 2006

Gretel and the Dark

It is many years before the Pied Piper comes back for the other children.

Tightly knit Gothic horror story (or fairy tale?) that gives the reader enough imagery to fill hours of film with.

Gretel in the Dark shows that (opposed to some recently read novels) that a story doesn’t necessarily need likable characters to be enticing. Krysta’s ‘won’ts’ and ‘shant’s’ are grating and the delusions and anger of Josef, Gudrun and Lilie aren’t very appealing either. And yet, the reader carries on, curious-anxious to untie the knot.

There are two sides to this – possibly – same story. There is Krysta, who lives next to a zoo for human-animals with her father and ever-suffering maid and then there is ‘Lilie’, a confused woman whom is sure she is a machine that needs to kill ‘the monster’. Per chapter the years swap, until the lines are starting to fade.

Gretel in the Dark is a chew-able story, give it a chance to get through and it will linger for a long time.

Gretel and the Dark, Eliza Granville, Hamish Hamilton 2014

The Boy Next Door

Two days after I turned fourteen the son of our neighbor set his stepmother alight.

A love story between black and white against the back drop of the rise and fall of Zimbabwe. Four hundred pages and a few decades to show that wishes and dreams aren’t enough to uphold reality.

Zimbabwe was the African country that was going to be a great success. They had the resources, they had a sane government, and in comparison to neighbor South Africa, changes went pretty swimmingly. Until they didn’t.

That Zimbabwe went from great to a corrupted, dangerous mess isn’t news (or so I hope). In how many ways it went wrong might be. The Boy Next Door shows the very human story of being judged by your history, your skin color and your gender. And even when you do share those treats with your family, loved ones or neighbors, it doesn’t mean that your life will be easier for it. That – even when outsiders (in this case a lot of French people) – try to help, it doesn’t necessarily has to give good, or even any, results.

It’s easy to forget that the majority of people in such countries are the ordinary ones that just want to live their lives with an education, a job, a family of their own. This book shows it without shoving it into your face.

The Boy Next Door, Irene Sabatini, Sceptre 2010

Short Girls

After Miles left, Van began checking the security alarm every time she entered the house.

What’s the difference between chick-lit and a story about two sisters and their careers, love-lives and family connections? Okay, there can be big differences when the one genre refuses to act like women are individuals with a multidimensional character, but that’s bad writing, not a genre problem.

Anyway, Short Girls. Two Asian-American sisters who stumble through life, love, family and career while trying to discover why they drifted apart. Their father is the unwelcome thing that binds them, continues to bring them together because of his needs, his inventions, his struggles as a short man and as an immigrant.

Besides the very recognizable (daily) things, Nguyen shows the strange world of being a minority, always knowing that the first judgment will be on your not-of-the-majority looks. Even for the American born sisters there are several extra layers of being different.

Short Girls gives a nice insight into the life of at the same time remarkable and ordinary women.

Short Girls, Bich Minh Nguyen, Viking 2009

Rash

Gramps, who was born in 1990, once told me that when he was my age the only way to wind up in prison in the USSA (back when it had only one S) was to steal something, kill somebody, or use illegal drugs.

So this is – at least partly – a YA version of Twenty-Thirty. Sadly the world building drops off for a hurried teen version of Prison Break mixed with a sport (football) story.

Main character Bo (short for Bono), is the odd one out. In a super safe, barely criminal, society, he’s the one with half of the family in jail and a grandfather that keeps bringing up illegal things. Bo has an anger problem and that puts him into trouble: an one way trip a correctional facility.

Life there is brutal and monotonous, but of course he manages to become part of an elite team pretty soon. And this team does illegal things: play something called football, without any protection. This looks like the right place for some Life Lessons, but Pete Hautman seems to be to enthralled by explaining several football maneuvers.

The second half and ending seems to be a bit rushed, which really breaks the initial fun down. Not bad, not very good either.

Rash, Pete Hautman, Simon & Schuster 2006

two way street

I’m a traitor to my generation.

The feminist side of me cringed several times about the clichés on how men and women should act, the little super romantic teen inside me could only squeal with pleasure with every high school dream that came true. two way street is not up there with other recent YA I read, but definitely entertaining enough for a quick summer read.

Courtney is going on a road trip to her college. With her ex-boyfriend. Of course when all this was planned he wasn’t an ex, there was no MySpace girl he broke up with her for and she thought she had a happy life. Now it’s hurt feelings, trying hard not to show those feelings and all the annoying quirks you can only like in a loved one. Locked up in a car.

Of course things aren’t completely what they seem and is the ex-boyfriend not the bad guy. The ending is a bit abrupt, but the fuzzy feelings will probably linger.

two way street, Lauren Barnholdt, Simon Pulse 2007

Telegraph Avenue

A white boy rode flatfoot on a skateboard, towed along, hand to shoulder, by a black boy pedaling a brakeless fixed-gear bike.

What an incredible load of ‘manpain’, good gracious. I know that a (main) character doesn’t necessarily has to be likable, but the amount of self-pity combined with a very flowery prose (not a comparison-possibility missed) makes Telegraph Avenue (an American High Fidelity) tough to work through.

The main characters come in pairs: old friends and music store owners Nat and Archy, old friends, wives of the music store owners and colleague-mid wives Gwen and Aviva and Titus and Julius. The second is Aviva and Nat’s son, the first is Archy’s son, returning to him after fourteen years of no relationship. Gwen doesn’t know about him and is carrying their first child together. Besides that there’s a big competitor threatening the music store, something happens during a delivery and Archy’s no good father returns to just add to the mess.

It’s not like there’s nothing happening, nor that the things happening are badly written. It’s just that all of the adults, with more weight on Archy’s side and less on Gwen’s, are so incredibly full of self pity and anger and a paralyzing lack of motivation that it pulls you down in a dark hole of frustration. Where is that machine that you can use to kick fictional character ass into gear?

Telegraph Avenue, Michael Chabon, Harper 2012