Alex, Approximately

He could be any one of these people.

En als je dan even iets lichters nodig hebt, zonder gelijk je haar uit het hoofd te trekken omdat het allemaal zo vreselijk dom is, ga je voor een tienerromance die vanaf het tweede hoofdstuk duidelijk voor je neerzet hoe het af gaat lopen. Niks mis mee.

Hoofdpersoon Bailey is een groot fan van klassieke films, chat daarover met een leuke, slimme, vriendelijke jongeman online (Alex), en verhuist naar zijn dorp zonder het hem te vertellen, zodat ze kan ontdekken of hij in het echt net zo leuk, slim en vriendelijk is. Maar dan ontmoet ze een vervelende maar leuke jongeman op haar nieuwe werk, en wordt de vraag om Alex steeds kleiner. Oh nee, hoe zal dit nu aflopen.

Alex, Approximately voorkomt dertien in een dozijn te worden door een paar scherpe randjes die de motivatie van Bailey goed onderbouwen. Verder is het zalig zwijmelen in een surfersparadijs.

Alex, Approximately, Jenn Bennett, Simon & Schuster 2017

The Marriage of Opposites

I always left my window open at night, despite the warnings I’d been given.

Visually stunning, to start out with a cliche compliment. A book that could very well be turned into a TV show, but is vibrant, bright and visual enough to not necessarily need the obvious image to accompany the story. The story is the image, full of them, bursting in technicolour.
The blurb talks about the life of the mother of painter Camille Pizzarro, but ‘story about stubborn woman on a small island in the 1900s’  would have done fine as well. Rachel isn’t impressed by what her parents, religious community and society tells her to be and do, and fights their ideas in many ways. Old stories, mythology and distance to the rest of the world turn her into a heroine in a magical-realistic world.
That doesn’t mean that she’s likeable full time, the woman is stubborn and arrogant and stubborn. Camille – being her carbon copy – doesn’t make things easier inside the family (home). It does make for bigger surroundings, with Paris becoming a participant of the story later into the book. And through Hoffman’s words, Paris might have never looked lovelier.
Still, this is Rachel’s book, and she deserves it.
The Marriage of Opposites, Alice Hoffman, Simon&Schuster 2015

A Window Opens

I drag my suitcase out from under the bed and start packing.

Eentje die niet op De Lijst stond maar mijn aandacht trok met de cover en blurb ‘voor fans van Where’d You Go, Bernadette‘. Daar ben ik het maar een heel klein beetje mee eens, trouwens. De kaftkleuren komen nog het meest overeen. A Window Opens is voor fans van boeken, lezen en vrouwelijke karakters die het wagen menselijk te zijn.

Voor Alice (eind dertig, man, drie kinderen, part time baan) gaat alles heel redelijk, tot er voor financiële redenen een nieuwe baan gevonden moet worden. Eerst lijkt de perfecte gevonden te zijn, en snel ook. Vervolgens beginnen andere categoriën in haar leven uit elkaar te vallen.

Dit is geen boek anti-werkende moeders of een lofzang voor minder werken en meer leven. Dit is Alice’s verhaal en zij leert wat wel en niet voor haar werkt. Met en lekkere sneer naar nieuwe start-ups die altijd boeken lijken te haten.
Het is chick-lit zoals elk navelstarend manspersoonboek dude-lit is, hier zijn de karakters alleen (veel) beter ingekleurd dan bij de zwakkeren in het genre. Alice lives and learns, en al zijn het geen mindblowing lessen, ze zijn wel van het soort dat niet vaak genoeg herhaald kan worden.

Een fijn boek gewoon, klip en klaar.

A Window Opens, Elisabeth Egan, Simon & Schuster 2015

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

Child 44

Since Maria had decided to die, her cat would have to fend for itself.

I was too late to watch the movie. I think I made the right decision reading the book (first).

No-one in the Soviet is safe from the system, not even those enforcing it. It all starts with the murder of a child. But murder is a crime, and crimes only happen in capitalist societies, so the protagonist has to deny it happening, naming it an accident to make it easier and safer for everyone. Of course that safety doesn’t last long.

How do you prove a crime if every authority wants it not to be one? Main character Leo and his wife quickly discover that it’s a brutal path, the communist society being another player in this detective story. The story itself is fiction, but every insane government rule or fear mongering is bizarre enough to be believed by the rule of truth being stranger than fiction.

For those interested in the Soviet and okay with pretty visual violence imagery, definitely a recommendation.

Child 44,  Tom Rob Smith, Simon & Schuster 2008

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

The Age of Miracles

We didn’t notice right away.

This is a terrifying story. This is humanity against the world and – even though most of us rather not think about it – the world “winning” without an effort.

Main character Julia’s transformation from child to teenager can be evenly lined up with the things Earth is going through. Some things are hard to notice, while others are clear, touch changes. And it can’t be stopped or turned back, no matter how hard you try.

As her world speeds up, the entire world starts slowing down. Days grow longer and longer and it’s adjust or die. Birds fall from the air, cults pop up left and right and trees and plants slowly die. Normal life is clung to until it’s clear that it doesn’t work any more, no matter how hard you try to lie to yourself.

The Age of Miracles is a heavy, depressing story about things lost. It gets underneath your skin and festers there with all to believable doom scenarios about the environment. Yet at the same time it’s a small, bittersweet story about growing up and losing your innocence.

The Age of Miracles, Karen Thompson Walker, Simon & Schuster 2012