Monday, August 23, 2010

Book Reviews

So yeah, I should be writing a ton. Just doing some revising and reading a ton instead. Went to the library on Friday and picked up four YA books. Read two Friday and two Saturday and my heart just basically broke, because sad books are the best and I LOVE them. So, here are my thoughts after musing for the weekend:

This is What I Did: by Ann Dee Ellis

(Okay, Ann Dee was my faculty advisor at WIFYR, so I already love her, but holy cow, this girl can write!) In her stunning debut novel, Ellis tackles the difficult subjects of domestic violence and bullying with grace and honesty. Through poetic line breaks, illustrations with handwritten notes and an almost stream-of-
consciousness style, we learn that Logan is struggling with a secret. As the consequences of past events and the secret itself comes to light, the painful truth breaks through, stabbing out of Ellis' spare delivery with perfect and searing clarity. This is What I Did: is brutal, beautiful and honest. (I know it's the second time I used honest, but it's so fricken great how HONEST this book feels.) Ellis should be proud of herself. I cried over Logan and now I just want him to be okay. (Tell me he's okay, Ann Dee!) Wonderful book. Read it.

Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson

Seventeen year-old Tyler Miller isn't a loser. But everyone thinks he is. So are people's perceptions what make us? Or do we make ourselves?

In Twisted, Halse Anderson also raises questions about bullying and its effects. Do parents have to hit to cause trauma? Are we fated to become what people think we are? How much can one person take? Tyler takes a lot of abuse. The reader aches for him to come to an understanding of his worth as a human being as well as some kind of reconciliation with the characters who stand in his way. An uncomfortable look at a situation common to many teens as well as the current state of suburban familial decay. So many of our kids are in trouble, but where is the trouble coming from? Twisted rings true with frightening familiarity.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
by Sherman Alexie

Chapter One Title: The Black-Eye-Of-The-Month Club

Our narrator Arnold Spirit opens telling us that he was born with water on the brain. Through his ironic tone and dry wit, the reader is led into an intimate view of his home, family and culture on the Spokane Indian Reservation. As Arnold attempts to navigate the uncertain world of his freshman year in high school, his tale is told with humor and heart-breaking honesty. I don't remember the last time I cried and laughed at a book simultaneously. This book reminds me of Alexie's script "Smoke Signals", another piece that made me laugh and cry at the same time. Alexie brings across the confusion, anger, fear and thrilling highs that accompany teenage years. In Arnold's own words, "It was a beautiful and ugly thing."

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

First line: "So she tells me, the words dribbling out with the cranberry muffin crumbs, commas dunked in her coffee."

Wintergirls is about Lia, an older teen suffering from anorexia. The writing style is gorgeous, with beautiful imagery, unforgettable characters, and a chilling message. It is a sad, sad, haunting story that gripped me from beginning to end. Lyrical, stunning, heart-rending. I read it with one hand either covering my mouth or my heart. The whole time. I can't say enough. Read it.

So my favorites were This is What I Did: and Wintergirls. Both radically different from one another in style. Both contemporary YA. Both fabulous. And after reading them, I think, "People are scary and beautiful and frightened and ignorant and broken and perfect. I need a good snuggle with my sweetie."

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Attention Deficit

I'm so distractible.

It's frustrating, but I am entirely to blame for any lack of progress due to distraction. I can say that yes, I have been helping a writing peer get his manuscript ready for submission, which can take any number of hours per day, depending on what we're doing. I can say that yes, I have been doing chores: dishes, laundry, errands to get ready for school.

But I have also watched the second half of So You Think You Can Dance: Season 7, played Rock Band with my husband and read another whole book (after I finished The Book Thief) and a half when I should be writing.

Maybe I got a little burned out, writing for hours a day and the pace isn't meant to be maintained that long. Maybe I got a little burned out with the subject matter. As many are fond of saying, my manuscript is "DARK". Maybe I got a little burned out after receiving feedback from so many sources that I needed to center and remember that I'm only on the first draft and not to take it personally.

Chill out Alicia! Take a deep breath, drink some water, draw a picture, wash your hair.

So, I am back on the writing track today, finishing up chapter ten and starting eleven. I adore and appreciate everyone (Christian, Carol, Geary, Tyler, Jon&Rach) for all the feedback, encouragement and writing love.

Back to it!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Book Review - The Book Thief

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I finished it this morning. My tears were silent, because my husband was sleeping next to me. But I had to cough at one point and quickly wiped my eyes. Because tears on my face tend to excite him:

"Are you okay? What's going on? Is something wrong? Are you sad? What can I do to help?"

And I thought it would be better for him not to wake up that way. So I whispered an apology and he rolled toward me and put an arm across me and I read the rest of Markus Zusak's book with my husband's warm breath on my cheek.

And I thought, "Where did this book come from?"

I mean, I know it came from the mind of Markus Zusak. But it also came from courageous Germans, and a reprehensible man with words in his fists and a square black mustache, and starving Jewish prisoners who held hands with Death.

I first heard about this book at WIFYR. The title on a thousand pairs of lips, whispered everywhere. I don't remember exactly what was said about it, except one workshop member said my manuscript reminded him of The Book Thief and I heard over and over, "You haven't READ it?"

And I thought, "How great could it be?"

I didn't know. Now I do. Great and wonderful and searing and painful and perfect. PERFECT. I haven't read many perfect books. I actually stopped believing a book could be perfect anymore. I want to tell everyone about it, but I think I'll cry when I start to form the words. I want to buy twenty copies of it and hand it out to my parents, my brother, my friends, my children (they'll have to get a little older), my neighbors.

Markus Zusak. I want to shake your hand and say thank you. I wonder how you were made. You remind me of Athena, born fully-formed from the forehead of Zeus. I think, "Markus Zusak, where did you come from?" I know there are answers, completely mundane and logical. But none of them would match what The Book Thief has meant to me.

And I think I will start the book again this evening, and make notes in the margins and highlight passages that inspire me.

Well done, Markus Zusak. The Book Thief is unforgettable.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Hi ho! Hi ho!

It's off to work I go.

Off to working really hard on my manuscript. Now that I have free-time on my hands until school starts in three weeks. Let's see how far I get.

A chapter a day will keep me on track. Maybe even two chapters!