February 15, 2011

And May the Odds Be Always in Your Favor!

“I don’t know how to say it exactly. Only… I want to die as myself. Does that make any sense?… I don’t want them to change me in there. Turn me into some kind of monster that I’m not… when the time comes, I’m sure I’ll kill just like everybody else. I can’t go down without a fight. Only I keep wishing I could find a way to… to show the Capitol they don’t own me. That I’m more then just a piece in their Games…”
                                 ~ The Hunger Games

My dear readers,

    Young Adult literature is, quite possibly, the most under appreciated genre of literature around (right after SciFi and Fantasy). Thanks to the recent explosion of tween targeted vampire schlock and vapid Gossip Girl-esque word vomit, the genre has been written off by “serious” readers as not worth our time.
    Us mature readers want something with substance. Something with a plot. Something that deals with real human emotion and human dilemmas. Not “OMG! That vampire is sooooo dreamy!” or “How dare that skank steal my boyfriend! She’s supposed to be my BFF! WTF?”.
    Well, my friends, I’m here to tell you that YA books can have substance too. Authors like John Green and Suzanne Collins tackle the nitty gritty of human reality without the florid prose and convoluted metaphor so adored by authors aiming for an adult audience. And this brings me to the book I’m going to review for you today:
Book Two:
The Hunger Games
By: Suzanne Collins

Liasdhbv;iasubdfliahf!!!! WTF?!?!?!? Auuuugghhh!!! WOAH!!! HOLY CHEEZUS!!!! 

    I do believe that almost covers my initial reaction to this book. It is that good. To say that this book (and its two sequels) have changed both the way I view books and the way I view the world would not be going too far.

    I’m almost not even sure what to say that could cover how I feel about this book. I had to read it twice to bring myself to a point where I felt that I had absorbed enough of it to properly review it.

    The simple straightforwardness of the writing belies the complexity of the subjects with which it deals and the emotions it portrays.

    The novel takes place in the not too distant future and takes place in what was once North America and is now called Panem. The country which arose from the ashes of our 2011 society. After earthquakes and fires and floods, humanity re-emerged with a shining capitol city surrounded by thirteen districts which catered to the needs of the capital. Now, people being what they are, the thirteenth district rebelled. And was consequently squashed. As a result the Capitol instituted the annual Hunger Games, where one boy and one girl from each of the twelve districts battles to the death on national television.
    And so begins our story.

    Katniss Everdeen is our protagonist and our narrator. A sixteen-year-old girl from District Twelve, the coal mining district, who hunts illegally to support her mother and beloved little sister. Katniss does everything to protect her sister, Prim, but there is nothing she can do to protect her from the reaping. Where two “tributes” are chosen to participate in the games. Nothing, of course, except volunteer to take her place. Which is what she does when the unthinkable happens and Prim’s name is drawn in her very first reaping.

    Thus begins a fierce battle for survival and a heart-wrenching, heart-stopping, can’t-put-it-down story.

    There is very little wrong with this novel. The characters are real and imperfect and beautifully rendered. The actions scenes are clear and un-glorified. And Katniss, as our unreliable narrator, is easy to love, frustrating, and completely unpretentious.

    This book has a little bit of everything. Action, romance, suffering, hope, corruption, beauty, depravity and friendship. The only fault, if it is that, is that the first person point-of-view deprives the reader from truly grasping what has happened to the world in the intervening years. There is no map at the beginning of the book to give us our bearings and so we are thrust blindly into this grimy new world. But perhaps that’s for the best.
    This new world, in which Katniss lives, is so different and yet so similar to our own that it made my skin crawl. The sheer poverty of District Twelve contrasted by the overwhelming excess of the capital are mentioned only from Katniss’ native view point, but it is enough to see the cautionary tale woven delicately into the unvarnished prose.

    Unlike other YA books set in dystopian futures (yes, I’m looking at you Pretties), the lesson isn’t hammered into our heads. It’s drilled into our hearts. Collins truly uses the “show, don’t tell” rule to its fullest extent and never has Katniss say: “Stupid past people. Look what you did to us!”. She makes us think it ourselves.

    This is the type of book the youth of today should be reading. Forget Twilight and Pretties and Pretty Little Liars. The popularity of The Hunger Games gives me hope for the youth of America and for the book industry. As long as books like this continue to be made, people will continue to read. That I guarantee.

January 15, 2011

An Introduction and a Book

“....a book is a mirror that offers us only what we carry inside us, ...when we read, we do it with all our heart and mind, and great readers are becoming more scarce by the day.”
                                                                                         ~The Shadow of the Wind

My dear readers, whomever you may be,

Welcome! I have decided, after long months pondering how best to actively join the internet community, to write a blog about the thing I know best. Not, though some of my friends may disagree, the Broadway musical but books.

We hear, every so often, of the dying art of the book, how teenagers today don’t have the time or the inclination to devote to the quiet art of reading. We are surrounded by interactive and social media which feeds us driblets of information in scattered fragments and disjointed “updates”. Bookstores are closing, from the tiny neighborhood store which is silent and smells of paper and binding glue to the giants like Borders which play music over speakers and where you have to step around people reading in the aisles.

People simply don’t read enough. And it’s not just those of us who have grown up in the era of online social networking. My parents, as an example, rarely sit down to read a book unless they’re on vacation. My dad looks on my overflowing bookshelves with the affectionate exasperation of someone who doesn’t quite grasp why I would feel the need to burden myself with the care of so many books (a habit which has recently become far more of a burden with four moves in the past two years).

But enough about me for now. What you are really here to read is a book review. Am I right? Of course I am.

Book One:
The Shadow of the Wind
By: Carlos Ruiz Zafón

    The Shadow of the Wind is a mystery novel, a coming of age tale, a romance, a condemnation of corruption and the disparity of wealth. But above all, it is a love letter to the beauty of the art of writing.

    The novel takes place in post Civil War Barcelona in the 1930’s and 40’s and is the coming of age tale of a booksellers son, the motherless Daniel Sempere.
    On a misty early morning not long before Daniel’s eleventh birthday his father brings him to a place where the mystery begins: The Cemetery of Forgotten Books. A rabbits warren of dusty tomes crammed onto scarred and battered bookshelves, Daniel is allowed to take one book from it’s depths. He chooses (or rather is chosen by) The Shadow of the Wind. A book by an author he has never heard of: Julián Carax.

    Daniel spends an entire night captivated by the lurid tale (which is never told to the curious reader) and resolves then and there to read every novel by Carax. But here is where the mystery begins, for Daniel discovers that though several Carax novels were published, very few remain in circulation. For some man has gone about for the last few years burning every copy of Carax’s novels that he could get his hands on.

    Thus Daniel, curious and desperate to read more of Carax’s novels, is thrust into a world of shadows, childhood friendships gone awry, betrayal, doomed love, and tortured souls. As he grows to adulthood, Daniel’s life and that of the mysterious author become intertwined as more and more of the tragic tale comes to light.

    Ruiz Zafón writes that “few things leave a deeper mark on a reader then the first book that finds its way into his heart. Those first images, the echo of words we think we have left behind, accompany us throughout our lives and sculpt a palace in our memory to which, sooner or later—no matter how many books we read, or how many worlds we discover, or how much we learn or forget—we will return.”
    The words are meant to apply to Daniel and The Shadow of the Wind but, they ring as a universal truth. Those who do not have a book like that simply haven’t read enough books. And I am sure that, if I had not already found such a book, The Shadow of the Wind would have been mine.

The prose is elegant and deftly weaves together Daniel’s life as he grows towards maturity and the mystery of Julián Carax and his disappearing books. Through Daniel’s eyes we discover the truths and lies that surround the tragically doomed figure just as we watch Daniel himself grow into himself and learn about the beauty and harsh reality of the world.

    It is, quite simply, a page turner. There is no part of this book where the action slows down to the point of boredom and monotony (the downfall of quite a few otherwise excellent books) and yet the author takes the time to flesh-out each character to the point where they seem to jump off the page. He describes the flawed people which populate this novel with vivid language and subtle clues, giving us young Daniel’s impressions with startling clarity.

    The mystery of the novel is compounded by the unreliability of it’s narrator. For, in his innocence, Daniel is prone to believe whatever he is told by a pretty woman. Just when you think that you know the truth of the history behind the burning books, a new discovery is made that twists the events into a whole new truth.

    There is a sadness inherent in each character, even the young and unformed, which, while at times overblown, is heart wrenching and draws the reader into a deeper sympathy with Daniel and Carax, who to the end remains a mystery.

    The Shadow of the Wind is a beautifully written and well-crafted novel. Occasionally over-sad but always captivating and engaging. Ruiz Zafón keeps you guessing to the very end. And after all, isn’t that what a good mystery is supposed to do?