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 Hate U Give

I shouldn’t have come to this party.

This one is probably going to be relevant for a long time coming, and that’s why I’m unsure how to go about this. As one of the blurbs on the back of the book says, everyone should read it, maybe especially if it makes you uncomfortable, but how do I put into words why you should read it?

Maybe because it gives a face to Ferguson, to Black Lives Matter, to Flint and all the other cases in which it’s easy to think of an entity, instead of a collection of individuals. Starr is one of the few black people on a very fancy school, which makes her feel like she’s living two versions of herself. When she witnesses a shooting, it’s harder to keep those two apart.

But it’s not just Starr’s story. It’s her family, her community and the endless attempts of being heard and seen as people, instead of thugs, low-lives, useless. Angie Thomas balances that impressively, and even though there are rough patches to get through, you’ll be so attached to the people you’re reading about, that you just take it.

And again, definitely a book I would have rather seen in my YA Literature class than another white boy story.

The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas, HarperCollins 2017

The Painted Boy

The boy had finally fallen asleep.

I’m pretty sure the last time I read a Charles de Lint novel was before I started this blog, but Widdershins impressed me so much that from time to time I’d still check if I could find more of his in my libraries. The Painted Boy is clearly for younger audiences, providing a more accessible but less eerie, dream like and wonderful story (if those aren’t nostalgia goggles).

The Painted Boy from the title is Jay Li, a teenager that has a large dragon on his back (not tattooed) and is sent off to unfamiliar territory to finish his studies. Jay is part dragon, and will have to do something he won’t know until he’ll experience/see/know it.

Good thing (“”) he ends up in a town held hostage by different kinds of gangs. Of course he has to learn to become one with the dragon and his surroundings, but hey, all this was part of the learning curve, after all.

The magical elements add the necessary spice, else it would have been an oatmeal kind of story: okay for everyone, but nobody’s first pick.

The Painted Boy, Charles De Lint, Viking 2010

Trouble is a Friend of Mine

Of course I didn’t like Digby when I first met him.

I never read a Nancy Drew novel (I think), but I’m pretty sure this could be the more reluctant, twenty-first century version of one. Protagonist Zoe mentions it as well, so I’m definitely onto something.

After the divorce of her parents, Zoe moves to a small town where’s she pretty quickly adopted by the town’s outcast, Digby. He wants/needs her for his research regarding missing girls. His lack of metaphorical bed manner doesn’t enthuse Zoe a lot at first, but plenty of shenanigans happen for her to slowly come round to his hypotheses.

He’s a weird but appealing fellow, and it’s not like Zoe is surrounded by new friends and an understanding mother. So instead of a high school story, the reader gets a small town detective with character descriptions that Celeste Ng would appreciate.

It’s a quick, smart read. The only thing I’m still unsure about is the ending; this novel is one of the very few cases in which there could have been a few more chapters to round things up a bit more completely.

Trouble is a Friend of Mine, Stephanie Tromly, Penguin Random House Company 2015

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

What’s surprised me most about seeing my sister dead is the lingering smirk on her face.

Right now I’m following a school course about Young Adult Literature, which I’ve got to read four different books for. All of those have white protagonists, only one of those four is female. I read It’s Kind of a Funny Story next to this one, and guess what; both involve depression. So hey kids teachers, YA with Good Subjects come in other colours as well. Anyway, this was my soap box, let’s move on to the novel.

Julia’s good, sensible, perfect Mexican older sister is dead, and now Julia has to wear the brunt of her mother’s attention and emotions, and her father’s absence. As she never was the perfect Mexican daughter, this doesn’t make daily life any easier. Julia wants out, wants to live life to the fullest, and doesn’t care for getting married and becoming a mother, but that’s not how it’s supposed to be.

These struggles get extra layers when Julia’s mind goes in overdrive about everything and when she discovers that her sister might not be so perfect after all. How to keep that all in, because you’ve got no-one to share it with?

Julia so very clearly wants to escape and move on, but just like It’s Kind of a Funny Story‘s Craig, she’s got too many tentacles keeping her down. Still, the novel manages to end on a high note, and leaves me eager to visit Chicago one day.

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, Erika L. Sanchez, Alfred A. Knopf 2017

The Power

Dear Naomi,

I’ve finished the bloody book.

And Dud Read in February goes to The Power. If there wouldn’t have been some well timed critiques read, I would have walked headfirst into disappointment, because so many people were so_positive about this one.

I mean, Margaret Atwood supported the author in this (at least, that’s what’s mentioned in the acknowledgments), critics mentioned a science fiction story that would make you question patriarchy, the poison of the male fragility, how power corrupts and so on. All that, and teenage girls managing to shoot electricity from their hands.

But then there’s the execution, and the execution is crummy. There’s no fiber, no rhythm, no connection between the characters, the chapters, the paragraphs. It’s an idea dump, sketches of world building that are deserted before you can imagine the image. There’s no push to care about these characters, the worlds they (try to) destroy or build up. It’s not refined enough to add men(‘s right activists) without making it feel like the story is excusing them, and the conclusion of Power Corrupts is clear from early on.

Just don’t bother; I’m sure there are books out there with similar themes that do manage to come out more balanced.

The Power, Naomi Alderman, Hachette 2016

 

The Hidden Oracle

Hoodlums punch my face
I would smite them if I could
Mortality blows

Looks like I’m on a bit of a fantasy kick these past (two) months; good thing it can be such an impressively versatile genre.

Rick Riordan is quite a familiar name in the genre, within the subgenre of YA. There’s been two movies, there’s plenty of books that brought Greek mythology to teens. Literally and figuratively.

This time it’s about – yep, right there in the title – Apollo. The god is turned human, but that doesn’t mean things go along breezily. Quests, monsters, demigods! And meeting your offspring.

Yes, the tongue is firmly in the cheek, but Riordan still manages to pass some mythology facts along. It’s all in seemingly effortless fun, and the twist might even surprise you. And if you’re looking at a way in for both reading and/or learning about Greek mythology, this and Riordan’s other work is a super accessible first step.

The Trials of Apollo: The Hidden Oracle, Rick Riordan, Hyperion 2016