“Geekers Have To Geek Out”

A Review of Fat Boy Vs. the Cheerleaders by Geoff Herbach

Sourcebooks Fire, 2014

Fat Boy Vs. The Cheerleaders Geoff Herbach

by REBECCA, May 22, 2014

hook

It’s war in a Minnesota high school when the creation of a new dance team threatens the funding for band, which has come from the school’s pop machine (yeah, “pop”; this is Minnesota). Gabe (aka Chunk) is ready to take on the system—even if he has to do it one Mountain Dew Code Red at a time.

review

When I first read the premise of Fat Boy Vs. the Cheerleaders it reminded me of a kind of The Chocolate War meets Pump Up the Volume meets Mean Girls. Well, maybe that’s just what I was hoping for.

The plot is simple. Gabe is the class clown, a role he embraces in the hope of staving off bullying by laughing at himself for being fat before anyone else can laugh at him. His mother left him and his dad and has never looked back. His two best friends don’t make him feel great about himself. The only thing he really enjoys anymore is high school band. And now, even that is being threatened when the school board redesignates the funds from the school pop machine for the new dance team, which is really just all the cheerleaders with a more expensive coach.

When his beloved band and marching band camp are threatened, Gabe decides he has to take action, so he bands together (heh) with the other Geekers, as he calls them, for various protests, letter writing, and playing of “Tequila.” (Sidebar: I think it should be considered a literary crime to even mention songs like “Tequila” by name in a book as they then immediately become lodged in one’s brain. Other offenders include: “The Macarena,” “The Chicken Dance,” “Feliz Navidad,” and any song that has ever been blared out the speakers of a neighborhood ice cream truck.) Along the way, Gabe makes new friends and realizes that if he wants to stop being thought of as a clown then he needs to stop acting like it’s okay to treat him like one.

This is a light, entertaining read, and who doesn’t like a story where geeks take on the man—or, in this instance, the pop machine. Geoff Herbach does a great job of evoking a small Minnesota town and I enjoyed that the scale here is realistically small. Gabe et al aren’t trying to bring down the government or anything. They live in a small town and so one of their teachers getting arrested for drunk driving is a huge deal that instantly goes Minnekota-viral on Facebook, etc.

My two favorite characters were Gore and RC III. Gore (Chandra) is a six-foot-tall goth girl who everyone fears because she once threatened to kill some kids who were mean to her (hence, “Gore”). RC III (also not his real name) is a newly arrived jock who’s kind of a big deal but likes hanging out with the geeks more than the jocks. They are the voices of reason in a group of otherwise overreactive characters, and perhaps that’s why Gabe likes them so much. “You shouldn’t call cheerleaders bitches,” Gore tells Gabe. “Why not?” he asks. “Look what they’ve done to us.” “You don’t have to be like them,” she says (161). It’s simple and it’s true and I like her.

Gabe plays the 'bone

Gabe plays the ‘bone

Fat Boy Vs. the Cheerleaders brings up lots of interesting issues—class, race, body image, self-conception, emotional abuse, surveillance culture. And I give it credit for its themes, certainly, even if they are laid on a bit thick. The use of names as a thing that communicate our sense of self is nice: Gabe transitions from being called Chunk because he doesn’t like it, but Gore likes the nickname she was given and reclaims it, whereas RC III chose to name himself after someone he admires and simply asserts it as his name. There are some nice moments of commentary, too. For example, Gabe makes the point that, because he thought his money was going to the band, he feels good about buying and drinking four or five Mountain Dew Code Reds a day because he’s managed to convince himself that he’s winning (for band) even as he’s losing (by drinking so much pop). But, though it raises many interesting issues, ultimately, it doesn’t really dig into any of them so, in the end, it feels like the content is just to fill out a relatively predictable storyline. As a result, it’s not terribly satisfying. It would have felt meatier if the plot structured the book but wasn’t so very foregrounded.

The Scar Boys Len VlahosAnd I lay this at the feet of yet another narrative frame that totally backfires. I discussed this issue when I reviewed Len Vlahos’ The Scar Boys, which is written as a college application. Fat Boy Vs. the Cheerleaders is written as a memo from Gabe’s attorney, which is being submitted as context for the case against him (for stealing money from the pop machine). This narrative frame was totally unnecessary, as there is no threat that Gabe’s going to go to jail or anything (he stole $17.75 in change). So, no reason for it. But it has a number of downsides. The first is the one I already mentioned: that such a device foregrounds the linear this-happened-then-this plot at the expense of character development and richness. I mean, how much are you going to describe people when talking to your lawyer? And, if this were a mystery or a crime story or an adventure story, then maybe foregrounding the plot would be fine. But, though it would be a great armature for a book about Gabe, as storylines go, it’s not quite unique or unpredictable enough to be The Focus of the novel.

In turn, this contributes to the theme tourism because there isn’t any reason for Gabe to delve deeply into any issue that isn’t directly connected to the plot. Sometimes Gabe will start to talk about something and then say, “Hey. Why are we talking about this, Mr. Rodriguez? Shouldn’t we be talking about how . . . how you’re going to keep me from going to jail or something?” (7) and sometimes feels the need to justify how things relate: “This totally has to do with the pop machine” (11). By drawing attention to how he’s shoehorning things in or where he’s cutting himself off, this narrative frame just highlights these superficialities.

Frankenstein Mary Shelley

The best narrative frame!

Finally, the kiss of death: I didn’t find Gabe to be a very pleasant narrator, either. He doesn’t have any interests besides band (that we hear about) and he’s very judgmental. I don’t feel like I know him well and the shifts in his character have to be taken on faith, since he simply asserts them. And the narrative frame didn’t help this either. Because every word is something Gabe’s saying to his lawyer, there’s no internal monologue. I hadn’t thought about it in quite these terms when I reviewed The Scar Boys, but it turns out that this is a huge problem for me, since what I like most about reading is getting to know new characters. In a third person narrative, we get to know those characters through what’s said about them as well as what they say and do. In a first person narrative, we get to know them by that unique voice that is unfiltered. But in a first person account to a lawyer, or in a college entrance essay? Despite (perhaps?) best laid plans, these narratives fail to engage me because their technique is neither narrative truth nor confession. And so I’m bored.

So, I discovered something about myself as a reader, and can make sure to cross off my list all YA novels with a narrative frame that means the story is being told to a grown-up. Well, it’s all about the lesson, no?

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Sister Mischief Laura GoodeSister Mischief Laura Goode

Sister Mischief by Laura Goode (2011). Also set in Minnesota! Best friends Esme, Marcy, Tess, and Rowie are Sister Mischief, the all-girl hip-hop group that wants to take Holyhill (aka Holy Hell) Minnesota by storm. Along the way, they find first loves, lyrics, a PA hijacking, 4-H (Hip-Hop for Heteros and Homos, that is), and, of course, goats. My full review is HERE.

Fat Kid Rules the World K.L. Going

Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going (2003). Curt MacCrae startles Troy out of throwing himself in front of a subway train and demands that he is owed lunch in exchange . . . and that’s just the beginning. Soon, Troy finds himself one half of the punk band Rage/Tectonic, even though he can’t play the drums and hates anyone looking at him. Can Troy overcome his self-consciousness to embrace the musician inside? And can he save Curt from his own demons in the process? My full review is HERE

procured from: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Fat Boy Vs. the Cheerleaders by Geoff Herbach is available now.

Movie Review: Only Lovers Left Alive

A review of Only Lovers Left Alive, written & directed by the delightful Jim Jarmusch

only lovers left alive

by REBECCA, May 12, 2014

Only Lovers Left Alive is a decidedly non-dramatic meditation on immortality and love. Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) are centuries-old vampires living in Detroit and Algiers, respectively. Adam is a somber musician who makes music that no one hears and collects vintage instruments while hiding from fans of the music he released when he was well-known. He’s depressed at the state of the world, which zombies—humans, that is—have polluted and detached from so thoroughly that even their blood has become poison. Eve is a dreamy appreciator of literature who lives in a home packed with books and hangs around with her buddy Kit Marlowe (yes, that Kit Marlowe) (John Hurt). When she talks with Adam and senses his depression, she comes to Detroit to reconnect with him. While there, Eve’s sister, Ava (Mia Wasikowska), an irresponsible hedonist with a penchant for risk-taking behavior, comes to visit, throwing Adam’s routine into disarray.

Screen Shot 2014-05-11 at 5.53.04 PMFrom the gorgeous and vertiginous opening shots of a camera spinning around Adam, Eve, and a record (music is their shared language), the stakes of Only Lovers Left Alive are clear. This is a film about perpetuity and how people connect over and over through time. It’s a film that glories in the aesthetic, and Jim Jarmusch lingers lovingly over Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton’s faces and hair the way only a lover would. They are dark and light, gloom and resignation, creator and appreciator.

Only Lovers Left AliveThere is no complicated plot; indeed, not a whole lot happens. But the non-drama perfectly echoes the sense of longevity of immortality—the sustained state where even the most dramatic happenings lose their urgency and even the most minute of difference in repetition can assert itself as beautiful. Adam and Eve are aesthetes and appreciators, and the film echoes this, too. The camera caresses the curve of a Gibson and the tangle of wires that Adam patches together with the same appreciation as the curve of the lovers’ cheekbones or the tangles of their hair. Attention, the film seems to posit, is the antidote to boredom; fascination to despair. And Adam and Eve are indeed fascinated.

This fascination makes Only Lovers Left Alive an incredibly poignant love story. Immortality is the premise that gives scale to their love, but it’s their respect for and fascination with each other that has sustained that love. With very little dialogue, Adam and Eve manage to communicate the connection they have through touch, gaze, and pointing out to one another the things that fascinate them. Jarmusch may be indulgent with his camera, but he shows amazing restraint with his script, giving us peeks of the characters and their histories but only hinting at the majority of their story. The effect is of a snapshot in time—a mere episode in lives so long we cannot conceive of them.

Screen Shot 2014-05-11 at 6.39.04 PMAdam and Eve have changed their appearance over the years to match the world around them, but in the privacy of their homes they wear dressing gowns from the 18th century and speak about friends like Mary Wollstonecraft. Detroit and Algiers are on display as similar collections of old and new, of the deterioration and resurrection of art, culture, style, and taste. The grand Michigan Theatre, which is falling down around them, but will be reclaimed, is the logical analogue to Adam and Eve’s recursivity: they reinvent themselves each generation, the world they knew before swallowed up or torn down before it’s reincorporated into the next one. The film is melancholy in its meditation on humans’ ruination of the world and its beauty, but there is a necessary hope there, too. For one like Eve, who has seen these cycles so often, destruction and death are necessary for reinvention and new life. Adam hasn’t quite her scope, and he feels the losses more acutely.

only lovers left aliveOnly Lovers Left Alive was everything I wanted a Jarmusch take on vampires to be. Swinton and Hiddleston are perfect, beautiful casting, and the glimpses we get of Detroit and Algiers are the perfect atmospheres for the film. Add in the wonderful John Hurt as Kit Marlowe, who actually wrote all of Shakespeare’s plays, Mia Wasikowska as a thoroughly charming vehicle of chaos, and the always delightful Jeffrey Wright as a stylized doctor, and it’s a pitch-perfect cast.

The only thing that irritated is the way these preternatural beings split down such traditional gender lines. The two men are creators—Marlowe a playwright and Adam a musician—and their lives are their work. The women are appreciators and consumers: Eve reads voraciously and supports Adam’s every endeavor, but creates nothing herself. Ava’s consumption is more literal; she chugs blood and makes demands, paying for them with a winsome smile.

only lovers left aliveMy favorite thing about all of Jim Jarmusch’s films is how he approaches the topic of each with such incredible respect and fascination. Only Lovers Left Alive is no exception. Each element feels considered and selected, leading to a film that looks like a beautifully curated slice of life. It’s just that these lives have been going on for quite a while.

“A World Without Fathers”: All Our Pretty Songs

A review of All Our Pretty Songs, by Sarah McCarry

St. Martin’s Griffin, 2013

All Our Pretty Songs Sarah McCarry

by REBECCA, March 3, 2013

hook

Beautiful, carefree Aurora lives every moment to the fullest and takes what she wants, whether she’s moshing at concerts, throwing elaborate parties in her mother’s crumbling Seattle mansion, or stalking her latest sexual conquest. Her best friend, our unnamed narrator, has always been content to be the moon to Aurora’s sun. They balance each other and they’re sure that nothing can ever come between them. But this summer they’re going to learn that everything in life has a cost‚ and that sometimes there’s no good choice to make when it comes to protecting the people you love.

review

I want to spend a second on the plot of All Our Pretty Songs, because I think the Goodreads blurb misrepresents it. And, although I’ll say more about it than I usually would, I don’t think it spoils anything—in fact, if I’d had a better idea of what the book was actually about, I would never have waited so long to read it!

Aurora is the daughter of a Kurt Cobain-esque figure who made it big and then died when she was a kid. Her mother, Maia, haunts the halls of their huge, crumbling house like a wraith, strung-out, leaving Aurora to do whatever she wants. Aurora and our unnamed narrator are a tight duo: they go to shows and parties together, hang out on the beach, and tell each other everything.

This summer, though, at one of Aurora’s parties, a beautiful musician named Jack shows up, and his music is irresistible and otherworldly. The narrator and Jack begin a romance, which surprises and delights her because people are always attracted to Aurora rather than her. But, as the narrator spends more time with Jack, Aurora drifts deeper into the world drugs and powerful industry people that her parents couldn’t escape. A world that will seduce Jack, too, though for very different reasons. In the end, the narrator has to go on a quest—but she isn’t sure if it’s a quest to find Aurora, or to find herself.

All Our Pretty Songs is a stunning debut by Sarah McCarry, with prose by turns lush and biting. It’s set in a realist Seattle, but, in a Francesca Lia Blockish kind of way, the city itself becomes a magical world in which music, art, clothes, and friendship create altered states that transcend realism. Then, of course, there’s the way that All Our Pretty Songs is an intertext with the Orpheus myth. Yep, as in, there is a Hades and a ferryman and other such familiar figures. I use the term “intertext” instead of “adaptation,” because:

1. An adaptation uses another story as its engine, whereas All Our Pretty Songs simply dips into the world of mythology to animate the stakes of the story, which are not the stakes of the Orpheus myth.

2. A knowledge of the myth in question does not completely give away the entire story (thank you, god, Sarah McCarry for not falling into that shockingly common trap!).

3. I hate adaptations and I love this book; so there.

Dirty Wings Sarah McCarry All Our Pretty Songs is, at heart, a story about intimacy: how it empowers us, but also makes us susceptible to grief; how it reveals truths about us, but can also distract us from discovering those truths about ourselves; and how, finally, it is a force far beyond our control. The narrator’s and Aurora’s intimacy is one of sisters, and it echoes the intimacy their mothers had before the aftermath of Aurora’s dad’s death divided them (their story is the subject of the second book in the series, Dirty Wings). The narrator’s intimacy with Jack is a revelation to her, since she’s never thought of herself as beautiful or lovable. And, as the story progresses, the narrator feels a greater intimacy with her mother as she finds herself replicating some of her mother’s struggles.

As I mentioned, I hate adaptations. I nearly never come away from them convinced that the adaptation was anything other than an uninteresting and unnecessary cheat in which the author took a narrative blueprint and danced all over it, either to lend legitimacy to their work or to avoid having to think up a narrative arc on their own. But All Our Pretty Songs completely earned its intertextuality with Greek mythology because it managed to cut to the heart of their power. The Seattle that the narrator, Aurora, their parents, and Jack live in is one in which music and art is a calling; an avocation. For them, it is worth sacrificing for—indeed, much of what they do already feels like they making sacrifices to it. Sex and drugs are just two of the ways they can both sacrifice and escape. It feels absolutely right, then, that music and drugs would narratively open up the visible world to the invisible just as they do figuratively.

It’s interesting to look at ratings of All Our Pretty Songs on Goodreads or Amazon or wherever because it’s one of the most equal distributions of opinions I’ve seen. I’m always intrigued by books where it’s split between half the people loving it and half hating it; that’s usually just an indicator of taste. All Our Pretty Songs is clearly a book that readers are ambivalent about, though. In some ways, I think it’s a very atypical young adult book, which might account for the spread: the audience it’s marketed toward isn’t expecting its slow dreaminess, or its focus on prose, or its meandering quality. And, to come full circle, I think the blurb (and the cover, which I think is a real mis-fit) sets readers up for a coming-of-age love triangle set in the Seattle music scene. And that’s definitely not what we get.

I’m incredibly excited by this debut and I can’t wait to read the second book. Are there places that feel a bit repetitive here or drag a little? Sure. But the prose is so lovely and the voice of the narrator so true that I was always compelled to read, sentence-to-sentence. If it’s not to your taste, you’ll know it in ten pages because, yes, that’s how the whole book is. But, if it is . . .

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War For The Oaks Emma Bull

War For the Oaks, by Emma Bull (1987).

Eddi McCandry just broke up with her boyfriend and her band in one night, and now she’s being chased by a dude who can turn into a dog. How much worse can things get?! Well, she could be a mortal caught in an epic, age-old war between the Seelie and Unseelie courts of the fey . . . and the dude who can turn into a dog could be forbidden to leave her side. Ever. But Eddi is a rocker and a badass, so she does what anyone would do in her position: she starts a new band—a band so good that maybe music isn’t all they’re making. My full review is HERE.

Violet & Claire Francesca Lia Block Weetzie Bat Francesca Lia Block

Ecstasia Francesca Lia Block Primavera Francesca Lia Block

Violet & Claire (1999), Weetzie Bat (1989), Ecstasia (1993), Primavera (1994), by Francesca Lia Block. Violet and Claire are a duo similar to the narrator and Aurora. All Our Pretty Songs is to Seattle what Weetzie Bat is to L.A. Ecstasia and Primavera have a Bachanalian/dystopian take on music’s power to create and destroy.

Teeth Hannah Moskowitz

Teeth, Hannah Moskowitz (2013). The line between realism and myth is blurred in Teeth, and the prose is beautiful. Check out my full review HERE, and my post on the genre of the Oceanic Gothic, of which I’m convinced Teeth is a part, HERE.

procured from: the library

All Our Pretty Songs Sarah McCarry

Rose Christo Talks about Native American and Queer Lit, Folk Metal, and Cheese!

It’s my pleasure today to welcome Rose Christo, author of my favorite new series, Gives Light, to Crunchings & Munchings!

Rose Christo Gives Light

 

 

reviewed the first book in the series on Monday, and am really excited to get the answers to some burning questions about Gives Light, music, and cheese. Welcome, Rose!

 

 

 

REBECCA:  Skylar’s muteness seems central to his relationships with people (who knows sign language, who can understand his facial expressions, and who treats him like he’s a child, etc.). He’s our narrator, so we know what he’s thinking, but were there challenges in writing Skylar’s character? Particularly in his interactions with others?

ROSE CHRISTO:  I think the narrator being mute came naturally.  When I was a kid I had problems with selective mutism, so I know what it feels like to want desperately to communicate with the people around you but to be unable to. Since the narrator couldn’t talk, it gave other characters the opportunity to project onto him. There’s also the fact that you have to choose to believe him when he tells you what he feels instead of relying on his dialogue. He’s had time to reflect on events, and he filters things out.

REBECCA:  Skylar and Rafael’s relationship is so magical—complicated and effortless at the same time. A topic that comes up on Crunchings & Munchings all the time is how notoriously difficult first loves can be. Do you see Gives Light (the book and/or the series) as a love story?

ROSE CHRISTO:  I love love. I love family. Family trumps romance every time but I think when you really love someone they become your family anyway. I guess it’s a love story, but at the same time it’s really about two boys who lost core parts of their families in the same tragedy but find them again in each other.

REBECCA:  History looms large in Gives Light, both Shoshone history and characters’ personal histories. The rich, vivid detail with which you render daily life and joy on the reservation feels so present, though. Can you talk a little bit about that relationship between history and presence in the book?

ROSE CHRISTO:  Oh, thank you. I think it’s easy to forget that America isn’t even 300 years old yet; her “history” was just a few generations ago. It was my grandpa’s grandpa who escaped the Bear River Massacre. My grandpa, Kookum’s second husband, he was born in the Saline Valley, which California snatched illegally in the 1950s and only returned to the Panamint Shoshone in increments long after he’d passed away. He died without getting to see his home again. The kids in the story are Plains Shoshone, but the issues are the same, and ongoing. History isn’t just the past. Everything that happens today is a chain reaction put in motion by the generations before us; everything we do today creates the world the next generation has to live in. Does that make any sense?

REBECCA:  It absolutely makes sense. The present we live in is always also someone else’s future and someone else’s past, and they’re inextricable.

Although YA lit is bringing us more diversity all the time, Native characters and settings still aren’t common bookstore fare. What are your thoughts about the state of Native representation in YA lit? What do you think is important that we see in the future? Do you have any favorites that you might recommend to interested readers?

ROSE CHRISTO:  One thing I think is really bad about Native characters in YA, or in any medium, is that they’re almost always used in this poverty porn kind of way. There’s this belief that we’re particularly abject and destitute but like any community we have Zitkala Sa American Indian Stories Legendsour goods and our bads. 11% of us are unemployed; but that means 89% of us aren’t. 22% of us live in poverty, and that’s by no means a happy number; but if you think for a moment, that means almost 80% of us are doing pretty well. Where’s that 80% in our media representation? Why do we constantly see the worst case scenario? We’re good and we’re bad, we’re rich and we’re poor, we’re smart and we’re stupid. Our community’s one of the fastest growing communities in America right now. I’d definitely like to see more visibility, as well as more parity.

Zitkala Sa (Lakota) is my favorite NDN author.  Not only was she the first Native American novelist but she also penned the first American opera back in 1910 (The Sun Dance).  Check her out, I think you’ll fall in love.

REBECCA:  Similarly, what about queer YA lit? Skylar and Rafael move from friendship to romance without facing too much hostility on the reservation, and Gives Light is important, I think, in talking about the ways in which culture/ethnicity and queerness inform one another. What are your thoughts about the state of queer representation in YA lit? What do you think is important that we see in the future? Do you have any favorites that you might recommend to interested readers?

ROSE CHRISTO:  This one time I went to a bookstore in my college town and immediately I noticed two things. First was that the queer lit was shoved all the way in the back of the store, in the dusty section no one looked at twice. Second was that almost every book I picked up in that section had some really sad plotline: kid gets bullied, kid gets disowned, kid gets AIDS, kid internalizes homophobia . . .  These are very real Carmilla J. Sheridan Le Fanuissues. But I want LGBT folks to be able to read books about themselves where they aren’t reviled, but cherished, adored. Show me a queer couple whose biggest problem is that they can’t stand one another’s furniture. Show me a queer couple whose computer has been hacked! Not because they’re queer, but because one of them’s a politician! Or a secret agent! In an ideal society you shouldn’t be treated differently just because of who you’re in love with. Maybe you like monster trucks and you also like a guy named Steve. I don’t see how they intersect at all, unless Steve happens to be a whiner baby who won’t let you go to the rallies on Sundays. Literature follows changing attitudes. I guess I think that if we’re going to make the kind of society we want to live in, literature is a good place to start.

The first LGBT-themed book I ever read was Carmilla.  God, it’s just the darkest, most beautiful story written on paper.  I can’t believe J. Sheridan Le Fanu got away with it in his time.

REBECCA:  Rafael’s particular and strong tastes delighted me. Do you share his love of drawing, tattoos, or power metal? (I have a sneaking suspicion that you do, because your Goodreads bio says “I used to have all my favorite metal bands listed here until I realized nobody cared about them. Then, I cried.” Well, I care about them (and am a fan myself) and would love to know!

EluveitieROSE CHRISTO:  Rafael’s the son I wish I had. I don’t like art, tattoos creep me out, fairy tales are stupid, but metal? Folk metal! Why’d you get me started on metal? Eluveitie and Moonsorrow are the best but there’s also Ensiferum, Korpiklaani, Finntroll, Suidakra . . .  Aztra are those five kids who show up at political protests with molotovs, Haggard is if every classical genius in history ditched the harpsichords to play death metal, Panopticon are a great folk/black metal band from Kentucky. “Bodies Under the Falls” gives me chills every damn time, you can practically feel the wailing of the empty ghosts echoing in your veins. Speaking of black metal, CoF wasn’t always so corny, Dusk & Her Embrace is an auditory masterpiece, pure, lyrical evil.  At Sixes and Sevens, another masterpiece, Atlantis in your headphones.

Lacuna Coil Unleashed MemoriesYou know Lacuna Coil? [R: Yes, love them!I wrote to Andrea as a kid, when I was going through a messed up time and needed some guidance from an adult. He wrote back to me. Not just once, but several times. And he was in Italy, and he was on tour. I will never forget what he did for me.  I will never not love metal. I don’t know what a Goodreads bio is but I guess they got that right.

REBECCA:  I’m so glad I asked (and so charmed to know that about Andrea from Lacuna Coil)! So, can you tell us a little bit about what your experience with self-publishing has been? How did you choose to go that route, etc.

ROSE CHRISTO:  Writing is fun, but I never treated it seriously until my best friend asked if I could write him some stories where gay characters get to be heroes. This relates back to [the above discussion of queer lit], I think—he was at this dark place and he just wanted to see himself portrayed as normal for once, instead of this perpetual pariah. I started writing for him and at some point, I can’t remember when, he told me to publish the titles for kicks. Everything I write is with him in mind. If he likes it, it’s a keeper. If he doesn’t, it never sees the light of day.

REBECCA:  I have a theory that everyone has at least one hidden talent, no matter how random or seemingly useless. Will you tell us yours?

nebulaROSE CHRISTO:  Ha! I’m really good at physics. I was going to be a physicist until I thought, “That’s not going to help my community.” If you show me a picture of a nebula I can probably identify it. I have favorite nebulae and that’s really nerdy. Uh, I got second place in the National Latin Exam a few years back, so if you ever find a time machine please call me. I make good tea? But I hate tea. Yuck.

REBECCA:  What is your favorite food or drink to make while writing?

ROSE CHRISTO:  My dad’s family are mostly Plains Cree from Box Elder but my mom’s side were all Irish Travelers, so this leads to really weird combo dishes, like pumpkin spice frybread with hot cabbage sodmay. The last time I cooked sodmay while I was writing the tomatoes came out pitch black. I still need to replace the smoke detector. Two of them, actually. Damn.

REBECCA:  Mmmm, pumpkin spice frybread sounds amazing! Finally: cheese is very important to Tessa and me, so we’ve got to know: what is you favorite cheese?

ROSE CHRISTO:  Commod cheese. There was this tribal building on the Fort Hall rez that handed out giant blocks of commod cheese to the families that fell on hard times. Even if I were fabulously wealthy I think I’d be buying that stuff in bulk. Melt it and put it on frybread and you’ve got yourself a five star meal. I wish I could give you some right now.

REBECCA:  Oh my god, I wish you could too. Rose, thanks so much for being willing to chat about Gives Light! I loved the series so much and I’m so excited to get to spread the word.

ROSE CHRISTO:  Thank you very much for reading my stories. That’s amazing to me, and it’s really humbling.

Check out Rose Christo’s entire Gives Light series. I promise you will be wowed!

Rose Christo Gives Light Rose Christo Looks Over gives Light Rose Christo St Clair Gives Light  Why The Star Stands Still Rose Christo Gives Light

Why Fans of Young Adult Literature LOVE The Voice

The Voice

by REBECCA, October 2, 2013

Obviously, I am talking about myself; I love The Voice with a passion that I usually reserve for soft cheeses in ash rinds. I love it because I love music and great vocalists, but there are plenty of other shows I could be watching were it only good singers I was after. No, it’s the narrative structure of The Voice that makes it so compelling, and its tropes are straight out of YA fiction.

With or Without You by Brian Farrey1. Overcoming an obstacle to get a chance at your dreams is a major trope of YA lit. The Voice milks this trope for everything it’s worth: each singer tells the story of how she got into music—stories of everything from disfiguring accidents, racism, and terminal illness to the deaths of loved ones, brutal bullying, and devastating acts of nature. But what gets each and every one of them through their hardships is the power of freaking music, y’all. Now, I know that probably sounds cheesy (and not in the good, ash-rind sort of way), but there is really nothing that gets me as much as the way that people can transform the horrible, the unfair, and the devastating into art. I did a whole post last year that was a list celebrating YA books that feature characters who use creativity as an outlet because I really think it’s one of the most powerful stories there is. And to hear those stories and then watch these singers come on stage and just annihilate . . . well, it’s pretty inspiring.

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills2. Relatedly, unlike American Idol et al, which operate according to a cattle call mentality, where we laugh at as many contestants as we clap for, The Voice is totally sincere. Sure, the coaches make fun of each other good-naturedly, but at the end of the day their genuine passion for the voices they’re hearing is humbling. Relationships between a mentor and a hopeful are definitely the stuff of YA fiction, even though many of the contestants on The Voice aren’t young adults. The show’s sincerity, further, makes it doubly easy for me to feel good about my devotion to it. Where some similar shows either take themselves too seriously or seem to be laughing at anyone who really invests in them, The Voice feels more like the Magic: The Gathering group that met at lunch in your middle school and was legitimately psyched to find other people as excited about getting down to it as they were.

Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going3. Because the premise of The Voice is that the coaches cannot see the singers until they choose to turn their chairs around for them, the disconnect between what a singer sounds like and what she looks like is a theme on the show with which any YA reader will be very familiar. Dynamite singers discuss the way the music industry has been unwelcoming to them because they aren’t white enough, young enough, thin enough, attractive enough. Over and over, we hear stories of prejudice and bullying that makes the singers feel like their only fair shot is to audition blind, which is what led many of them to The Voice. This is an issue that looms large in YA fiction, certainly. The limitations that we place on ourselves, our talents, and our ambitions based on how others treat us, or how we believe they see us, is at the heart of a lot of YA lit, as is breaking through the ceiling of those limitations.

Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins4. Once the blind auditions are over and each coach has assembled a team of twelve, the Battle Rounds begin, in which two singers from the same team sing one song in an epic sing-off for the chance to continue in the competition. This is a Hunger Gamesworthy drama that wreaks Machiavellian havoc on the singers, the coach that must make the decision, and the viewer. Forcing the coach and the viewer to choose between two very different, but both appealing, singers is precisely the tension that makes the much-loved/oft-scorned trope of the love triangle so powerful (and so polarizing) in YA lit. It’s intoxicating to know that there is so much talent to choose from, empowering to decide who is worthy of staying, and humbling to have to end someone’s dream. I mean, at least that is totally how I feel every time I’m forced to choose between two really attractive, really talented people who want to date me. Right?

The Culling by Steven dos Santos5. Because The Voice has to be watched in real time (if you have tv, which I don’t) or online (which I do), there isn’t the option to marathon it (my favorite way to watch tv), which is a real shame, because the arc of The Voice is not that of your mama’s reality show. Unlike most reality tv shows, which are episodic and therefore repetitive, there are multiple phases of The Voice, so we watch the singers develop, see their personalities as artists cohere, and get attached to them, just like characters in a novel or fictional tv show, which is a really smart narrative choice. First we’re introduced to the singers’ backstories and fall in love with their voices. This is like the first quarter of a book where we meet the characters and see who’s who. Next, before we’re too, too committed, but after we’ve formed allegiances, we have to watch singer after singer die from exposure, arrows to the throat, poison berries, and tracker jacker stings be eliminated from the competition in the Battle Rounds. But wait! There are steals, whereby some lucky singers are saved and switch teams, shifting allegiances immediately—just like when a character is blackballed by her friend group and has to find another table to sit at in the cafeteria (or my father moves cities and has a new favorite sports team).

Friday Night LightsThen, after the teams have been whittled and stolen down to their very essences, when you think you couldn’t bear to lose even one more person, most of them leave you and go off to college! Ahem, I mean, get eliminated. Because the third stage of competition finds us in the Knockout Rounds, where two singers from a team compete against each other with songs they each choose for themselves. Here singers’ personalities emerge even further and who the judges choose to continue in the competition depends as much on their song choice and vision as it does on their execution. This is the part of the book where a character realizes that she has to be true to herself because even if she succeeds, if she does so on someone else’s terms, it ain’t nearly as sweet. Finally, the Live Rounds shift the power from the judges to the voting audience, changing it from Debate Team to Popularity Contest (there goes the neighborhood) in a display of “taste” that has often been as heartbreaking as having your school cancel its football program, if you know what I mean.

So, it is for these reasons (and more, like, say, awesome music, and the fact that it resurrects Carson Daly from his mid-to-late-1990s MTV Total Request Live VJ past and puts his crooked little face back in the action) that I am totally, unapologetically a fan of The Voice. And, I’d wager, they’re why a lot of YA lit-loving folks love The Voice when they couldn’t care less about shows like American Idol. What do you think? The Voice: love it? hate it? indifferent to it? Tell me why in the comments!

Boo, Banned Books; Yay, Band Books! 10 Books About the Power of Music

A List of 10 Books About the Power of Music

Pump Up The Volume

by REBECCA, September 25, 2013

So, it’s Banned Books Week, an annual celebration of the freedom to read/time when a number of people discuss the value of the books that a bunch of yahoos have banned. Scads of smart people have written about the issue of censorship; I wrote about it last year HERE, and Tessa wrote about it HERE. These are all valuable conversations to be having.

But rather than rehash what others have said, I’ll just keep it simple. There is no situation in which I think banning books is anything other than misguided, small-minded, ineffectual fascist fretting and I don’t have anything else to say about it. So, this year, I’m going to focus on the positive: there are some awesome books about how powerful and necessary a form of self-expression music is. This year, instead of banned books, I give you BAND BOOKS WEEK: a list of 10 Books About the Power of Music! All descriptions from Goodreads.

Sister Mischief by Laura GoodeSister Mischief by Laura Goode

“Listen up: You’re about to get rocked by the fiercest, baddest all-girl hip-hop crew in the Twin Cities—or at least in the wealthy, white, Bible-thumping suburb of Holyhill, Minnesota. Our heroine, Esme Rockett (aka MC Ferocious) is a Jewish lesbian lyricist. In her crew, Esme’s got her BFFs Marcy (aka DJ SheStorm, the butchest straight girl in town) and Tess (aka The ConTessa, the pretty, popular powerhouse of a vocalist). But Esme’s feelings for her co-MC, Rowie (MC Rohini), a beautiful, brilliant, beguiling desi chick, are bound to get complicated. And before they know it, the queer hip-hop revolution Esme and her girls have exploded in Holyhill is on the line. Exciting new talent Laura Goode lays down a snappy, provocative, and heartfelt novel about discovering the rhythm of your own truth.” My review is HERE.

Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. GoingFat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going

“Troy Billings is seventeen, 296 pounds, friendless, utterly miserable, and about to step off a New York subway platform in front of an oncoming train. Until he meets Curt MacCrae, an emaciated, semi-homeless, high school dropout guitar genius, the stuff of which Lower East Side punk rock legends are made. Never mind that Troy’s dad thinks Curt’s a drug addict and Troy’s brother thinks Troy’s the biggest (literally) loser in Manhattan. Soon, Curt has recruited Troy as his new drummer, even though Troy can’t play the drums. Together, Curt and Troy will change the world of punk, and Troy’s own life, forever.” My review is HERE

If I Stay by Gayle FormanIf I Stay by Gayle Forman

“Mia had everything: a loving family, a gorgeous, admiring boyfriend, and a bright future full of music and full of choices. In an instant, almost all of that is taken from her. Caught between life and death, between a happy past and an unknowable future, Mia spends one critical day contemplating the only decision she has left. It is the most important decision she’ll ever make.” It’s music that brings Mia back to life and music that she lives for.

The sequel, Where She Went, is told from Mia’s boyfriend Adam’s perspective. “It’s been three years since the devastating accident . . . three years since Mia walked out of Adam’s life forever. Now living on opposite coasts, Mia is Juilliard’s rising star and Adam is LA tabloid fodder, thanks to his new rock star status and celebrity girlfriend. When Adam gets stuck in New York by himself, chance brings the couple together again, for one last night. As they explore the city that has become Mia’s home, Adam and Mia revisit the past and open their hearts to the future-and each other.”

Just Listen by Sarah DessenJust Listen by Sarah Dessen

“Last year, Annabel was “the girl who has everything”—at least that’s the part she played in the television commercial for Kopf’s Department Store. This year, she’s the girl who has nothing: no best friend because mean-but-exciting Sophie dropped her, no peace at home since her older sister became anorexic, and no one to sit with at lunch. Until she meets Owen Armstrong. Tall, dark, and music-obsessed, Owen is a reformed bad boy with a commitment to truth-telling. With Owen’s help, maybe Annabel can face what happened the night she and Sophie stopped being friends.”

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-MillsBeautiful Music For Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills

“‘This is Beautiful Music for Ugly Children, on community radio 90.3, KZUK. I’m Gabe. Welcome to my show.’ My birth name is Elizabeth, but I’m a guy. Gabe. My parents think I’ve gone crazy and the rest of the world is happy to agree with them, but I know I’m right. I’ve been a boy my whole life. When you think about it, I’m like a record. Elizabeth is my A side, the song everybody knows, and Gabe is my B side–not heard as often, but just as good. It’s time to let my B side play.” Beautiful Music For Ugly Children gets an automatic Band Books Week bump for being about a radio show and therefore being associated with Pump Up the Volume’s Hard Harry! My full review is HERE.

War For the Oaks by Emma BullWar For the Oaks by Emma Bull

“Eddi McCandry sings rock and roll. But her boyfriend just dumped her, her band just broke up, and life could hardly be worse. Then, walking home through downtown Minneapolis on a dark night, she finds herself drafted into an invisible war between the faerie folk. Now, more than her own survival is at risk—and her own preferences, musical and personal, are very much beside the point. By turns tough and lyrical, fabulous and down-to-earth, War for the Oaksis a fantasy novel that’s as much about this world as about the other one. It’s about real love and loyalty, about real music and musicians, about false glamour and true art. It will change the way you hear and see your own daily life.” My full review is HERE.

Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony JohnFive Flavors of Dumb by Antony John

This one’s about the power of music even for someone who can’t hear it. “The Challenge: Piper has one month to get the rock band Dumb a paying gig. The Deal: If she does it, Piper will become the band’s manager and get her share of the profits. The Catch: How can Piper possibly manage one egomaniacal pretty boy, one talentless piece of eye candy, one crush, one silent rocker, and one angry girl? And how can she do it when she’s deaf? Piper can’t hear Dumb’s music, but with growing self-confidence, a budding romance, and a new understanding of the decision her family made to buy a cochlear implant for her deaf baby sister, she discovers her own inner rock star and what it truly means to be a flavor of Dumb.” Tessa’s full review is HERE.

The Lucy Variations by Sara ZarrThe Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr

Lest we forget about classical music: “Lucy Beck-Moreau once had a promising future as a concert pianist. The right people knew her name, her performances were booked months in advance, and her future seemed certain. That was all before she turned fourteen. Now, at sixteen, it’s over. A death, and a betrayal, led her to walk away. That leaves her talented ten-year-old brother, Gus, to shoulder the full weight of the Beck-Moreau family expectations. Then Gus gets a new piano teacher who is young, kind, and interested in helping Lucy rekindle her love of piano — on her own terms. But when you’re used to performing for sold-out audiences and world-famous critics, can you ever learn to play just for yourself?”

Lament Books of Faerie #1 by Maggie StiefvaterBooks of Faerie series, Maggie Steifvater

Book one is Lament. “Sixteen-year-old Deirdre Monaghan is a painfully shy but prodigiously gifted musician. She’s about to find out she’s also a cloverhand—one who can see faeries. Deirdre finds herself infatuated with a mysterious boy who enters her ordinary suburban life, seemingly out of thin air. Trouble is, the enigmatic and gorgeous Luke turns out to be a gallowglass—a soulless faerie assassin. An equally hunky—and equally dangerous—dark faerie soldier named Aodhan is also stalking Deirdre. Sworn enemies, Luke and Aodhan each have a deadly assignment from the Faerie Queen. Namely, kill Deirdre before her music captures the attention of the Fae and threatens the Queen’s sovereignty. Caught in the crossfire with Deirdre is James, her wisecracking but loyal best friend. Deirdre had been wishing her life weren’t so dull, but getting trapped in the middle of a centuries-old faerie war isn’t exactly what she had in mind . . .” My full review is HERE.

Ballad Books of Faerie by Maggie StiefvaterBook two is Ballad. “In this mesmerizing sequel to Lament, music prodigy James Morgan has joined his best friend, Deirdre, at a private conservatory for musicians. James’ almost unearthly gift for music has attracted the dangerous attentions of Nuala, a soul-snatching faerie muse who fosters and feeds on the creative energies of exceptional humans until they die. Composing beautiful music together leads James and Nuala down an unexpected road of mutual admiration …and love. Haunted by a vision of raging fire and death, James realizes that Deirdre and Nuala are being hunted by the Fey and plunges into a soulscorching battle with the Queen of the Fey to save their lives.” My full review is HERE.

Cherokee Bat and the Goat Guys Weetzie Bat #3 by Francesca Lia BlocCherokee Bat and The Goat Guys (Weetzie Bat #3) by Francesca Lia Block

“Once there was a slink-chunk, slam-dunk band called The Goat Guys. Cherokee Bat danced and sang. Witch Baby, Cherokee’s almost-sister, pounded the beat on her drums. Raphael played the guitar, and Angel Juan kept the rhythm on his bass. They made music that sparkled like fireworks, and audiences loved them. But with success came power, and power was a dangerous thing. Cherokee and The Goat Guys were swept up in it-and soon it was threatening to destroy them. Until Cherokee realized that it was up to her to save them all . . .” This is the third in the Weetzie Bat series and it totally stands on its own!

BONUS Francesca Lia Block duo that has music at its core: Ecstasia and Primavera.

Ecstasia by Francesca Lia BlockEcstasia: “Siblings Calliope and Rafe, along with Dionisio and Paul, are Ecstasia—the most popular band in Elysia, a city of jewels and feathers, of magic and music, where the only crime is growing old. Then Calliope’s visions take her to Under, where the Old Ones go to die, and where her parents had vanished long ago. Rafe joins her there, in search of the Doctor, who can bring back the dead to ease their loved ones’ broken hearts. And that is when rapture turns to nightmare.”

Primavera by Francesca Lia BlockPrimavera: “From the very moment she was born, Primavera’s songs made water flow and flowers blossom. She brought new life to the desert where her family lives. But even in Paradise there are dreams that cannot be fulfilled. Primavera is in love with a man who can never be hers–so when a handsome stranger offers her the gift of a horse-headed motorcycle, Primavera leaves home in search of the magical city of Elysia. But in Elysia, Primavera discovers that she has left behind everything she truly needs, everyone she truly cares about—and, if the city has its way, she will never find her way back home.”

Happy Band Books Week, my lovely readers. Tell me about your favorite musical YA reads in the comments. TALK HARD!

Fat Kid Rules the World!

A Review of Fat Kid Rules the World, by K.L. Going

Putnam Juvenile, 2003

Fat Kid Rules the World K.L. Going

by REBECCA, April 15, 2013

characters

Troy: this secret punk fan is paralyzingly self-conscious about being the Fat Kid

Curt: anything but self-conscious, he is an infamous, often-homeless and always-hungry punk rock dropout

Mr. Billings: Troy’s ex-military father who is by turns disapproving and supportive of Troy and Curt

Dayle: Troy’s fit, jockish little bro who seems like an asshole but might just need a little TLC

hook

Curt MacCrae startles Troy out of throwing himself in front of a subway train and demands that he is owed lunch in exchange . . . and that’s just the beginning. Soon, Troy finds himself one half of the punk band Rage/Tectonic, even though he can’t play the drums and hates anyone looking at him. Can Troy overcome his self-consciousness to embrace the musician inside? And can he save Curt from his own demons in the process?

worldview

As I began reading Fat Kid Rules the World, I kept thinking, “gosh, you know, this book is kind of reminding me of King of the Screwups for no apparent reason,” forgetting completely that the wonderful K.L. Going also wrote King of the Screwups. I mention this because Fat Kid Rules the World affected me similarly to King of the Screwups: I found myself really moved by the voice and consistently surprised by the incredible nuggets of wisdom that characters managed to smuggle in under the pretense of casual observation. Fat Kid Rules the World is Going’s first novel, and it’s the novelistic equivalent to what my friend, A—, refers to as “the perfect 90-minute movie”: it’s 183 taut, beautiful, disciplined pages in which every new scene adds layers to the characters and every bit of dialogue further fleshes them out.

Fat Kid Rules the World K.L. GoingSeventeen-year-old Troy is 296 pounds and 6’1”, as he tells us in the second sentence of the novel, just before he tells us that he’s “trying to decide whether people would laugh if [he] jumped” in front of a subway train (1). “I’m not being facetious; I really want to know. Like it or not, apparently there’s something funny about fat people. Something unpredictable. Like when I put my jacket on and everyone in the hallway stifles laughter. . . . I don’t get angry. I just think, What was funny about that? . . . There’s got to be something, right? Right?” (1). Troy’s entire sense of himself is as The Fat Kid, so when the skinny kid on the floor of the subway distracts him long enough to prevent him from taking that “fateful step forward,” he’s shocked that anyone is even speaking to him. And thus, a friendship between Troy and emaciated, smelly, mismatched Curt is born.

Fat Kid Rules the World is set in early 2000s New York City and the descriptions of filthy subways, busted diners, and punk dive bars are the perfect backdrop to Troy and Curt’s adventures. Curt is a force of nature and he has set his sights on Troy. Troy finds himself doing things he’d never have imagined, but he can’t understand why Curt would want to spend time with him because he still can’t quite see himself as anything other than The Fat Kid. Slowly, as he meets some of Curt’s friends—like Ollie, who gives him drum lessons—and finds joy in drumming, Troy begins to imagine that there might be more to him than his weight. And it’s this realization that struck me the hardest.

There has been a lot of necessary discussion here and on other YA book blogs about the depictions of fat people in YA novels—see, in particular, Kelly’s excellent post, “Weight, Body Image & Body Portrayal in YA Books” over at Stacked. One thing that keeps coming up in these discussions is our dissatisfaction with authors who write fat characters as possessing no character traits except fatness; characters who have no particularity—as if they’re constructed from the outside-in, from the views of those who gaze upon them. In Fat Kid Rules the World, Going manages both to capture the incredibly damaging self-consciousness that comes from Troy hating his fat body for what he considers its limitations and the attention it garners and also to show the way that Troy can leverage his joys and talents against the messages that society gives us about weight, which he has internalized. And, most importantly, this isn’t the story of a character who finds himself by losing weight; it’s the story of a character who finds himself by losing himself in music.

what were this book’s intentions? did it live up to them?

DIY punkAt the heart of Fat Kid Rules the World is Going’s rather sophisticated thesis that the punk scene’s DIY ethos is the antidote to Troy’s sense that he is worthless by the standards of mainstream culture into which he has been indoctrinated. Because he’s fat, Troy dresses in the plainest clothes possible, to avoid drawing attention to himself; he has nothing up on his walls, as if he’s created a prison to punish himself; he keeps his love for a local punk band secret because he believes it’s at odds with being The Fat Kid. In short, Troy has stripped himself of any distinguishing features in an attempt to disappear:

“‘You have got to . . . I mean, really you should do something about this room,’ [Curt] says. ‘You’ve got nothing up here. No Big T trinkage or any such sort of thing. Where are the band posters? Where’s the graffiti?’ He frowns disapprovingly, then turns his gaze to me. ‘And you must spice up those clothes, man. Not for the sake of spiciness, per se, but simply because they’re not you. There’s no Big T in your big Ts.’

He’s cracked himself up and I stop long enough to stare at what I’m wearing. Bland tan pants. A T-shirt that reads DOG DAYS OF SUMMER.

‘There’s not much in my size—’ I start, but Curt interrupts.

‘Screw that,’ he says. ‘ You make your size. You make your walls. It’s not about what’s out there.’

Then what’s it about? I almost ask.” (50)

What it’s about, is Troy learning that just because he’s fat it doesn’t mean that he can’t claim the things he loves: “I am a participant. With one gesture I’ve moved from the world of imagination to the world of funky sweat stench and ear-ringing volume” (94). What it’s about, by the end, is Troy learning that he can turn his unique, and sometimes shitty, experiences into art. (I won’t ruin them for you, but chapters 70 and 71 are exquisite.) Troy doesn’t come to love his body, but he comes a little bit closer to accepting it as a part of him instead of renouncing it; he doesn’t get a major record deal and become a rock star, but he finds joy in self-expression; he doesn’t change the world for everyone, but he changes things for his brother and for Curt. If King of the Screwups hadn’t convinced me that I should make K.L. Going a must-read, Fat Kid Rules the World definitely has.

Fat Kid Rules the World movie Matthew LillardhackersMatthew Lillard (who also performed the audiobook of Fat Kid Rules the World) recently directed a film version, which I watched immediately after finishing the novel, and which I really disliked, unfortunately. It takes Going’s gritty, reflective story and translates it into a slick, toothless forming-a-band story that only gestures at the hard edges of the book. But I’ll give Lillard a pass because I love him so much as Cereal Killer in Hackers.

readalikes

Punkzilla Adam Rapp

Punkzilla by Adam Rapp (2009). Runaway Punkzilla hops a cross-country bus from Portland to Memphis to see his dying brother for the first time in years. On the ride, he catalogues  his misadventures in Portland in a very unique voice.

King of the Screwups K.L. Going

King of the Screwups by K.L. Going (2009). Liam has made it, as far as high school life goes: he’s handsome, stylish, popular, good at sports, and fun. But everything he does disappoints and infuriates his businessman father. Finally, his father kicks him out of the house and Liam goes to live with his uncle, Pete. In a new school, Liam decides that maybe he can reinvent himself into someone his father could respect . . . and maybe even love? Adore this book!—check out my complete review HERE.

Sister Mischief Laura Goode

Sister Mischief by Laura Goode (2011). Best friends Esme, Marcy, Tess, and Rowie are Sister Mischief, the all-girl hip-hop group that wants to take Holyhill (aka Holy Hell) Minnesota by storm. Along the way, they find first loves, lyrics, a PA hijacking, 4-H (Hip-Hop for Heteros and Homos, that is), and, of course, goats. Check out my full review HERE.

procured from: the library

Play Me A Song!: Ballad by Maggie Stiefvater

A Review of Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie (Books of Faerie #2) by Maggie Stiefvater 

Flux, 2009

Ballad Maggie Stiefvater

by REBECCA, February 4, 2013

           Ballad is the sequel to Lament, the first in the Books of Faerie series. Check out my                review of Lament HERE!

characters

James Morgan: bagpiping prodigy James has had the crap stomped out of him lately, isn’t speaking to his best friend, and is starting a new school where he doesn’t know anyone. And the school year hasn’t even started yet.

Nuala: a half fairy who must feed on the genius of humans, she has her sights set on James.

Mr. Sullivan: James’ English teacher . . . and, it turns out, much, much more.

Deirdre: James’ erstwhile best friend (and crush), she is also the cloverhand who has drawn Nuala and the other fairies to her and James’ school.

hook

“Music prodigy James Morgan has joined his best friend, Deirdre, at a private conservatory for musicians. James’ almost unearthly gift for music has attracted the dangerous attentions of Nuala, a soul-snatching faerie muse who fosters and feeds on the creative energies of exceptional humans until they die. Composing beautiful music together leads James and Nuala down an unexpected road of mutual admiration . . . and love. Haunted by a vision of raging fire and death, James realizes that Deirdre and Nuala are being hunted by the Fey and plunges into a soulscorching battle with the Queen of the Fey to save their lives” (Goodreads).

review

Lament Maggie StiefvaterBallad picks up soon after the events of Lament leave off. Ballad, though, is a very different book. Different setting (music conservatory Thornking-Ash), different characters, and different narrators (James and Nuala).   James, still distraught over losing Deirdre to Luke Dillon and almost being eviscerated by the fairy queen, is at sea in his new school. There is no music teacher who has anything to teach him on the pipes, he doesn’t know anyone, and he’s depressed. Also, he hears mysterious music emanating from a mysterious and otherworldly horned creature. Into this mess, enters Nuala, who offers to make James’ musical gift even more otherworldly (in exchange for his life force, of course, no big deal). James turns her offer down, but Nuala keeps hanging around and though they begin antagonistically, they are increasingly drawn to each other.

I admire Maggie Stiefvater for doing a series where the focus totally changes from the first book to the second. I really like James as a character and I was excited to read a story from his perspective. Ballad felt like it could be a stand-alone novel in some ways. And, bonus, Thornking-Ash is a boarding school. And you know how we feel about boarding school books!

Ballad Maggie StiefvaterI love music and was really taken with the premise of Ballad. But it was a slow starter for me—I think because I didn’t really like the character of Nuala. Nuala just wasn’t a character who really came alive for me. The narrative shifts back and forth from Nuala’s perspective to James’ and Nuala’s sections just fell a bit flat, especially in comparison to James, whom was a great, complex character. I loved seeing the hints of James that we saw in Lament really get filled out here. Little details, like the way James writes on his hands, came together beautifully with the cosmology of the book (but I won’t say how), and it’s just such little details that make me such a fan of Stiefvater’s work.

It was interesting to think of Ballad as a rehearsal of some of the themes that come so to life in Stiefvater’s most recent book, The Raven Boys, which I loved (full review HERE). The sections of the book that involve Mr. Sullivan and James’ roommate trying to figure out what’s going on with fairy magic reminded me so much of The Raven Boys.

Requiem, the third in the Books of Faerie series is forthcoming next year. To quote Maggie Stiefvater, “currently, the first two words of the rough draft are ‘Luke Dillon.’”

procured from: the library

Sharing Our Snacks: Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John

Welcome to another edition of Sharing Our Snacks, in which Rebecca and I each recommend YA brain food that they think the other would enjoy crunching and munching!

Sharing our Snacks

Five Flavors of Dumb

Antony John

Dial Books, 2010

dumb_215

review by Tessa

Rebecca tacked this title onto her email of Sharing Our Snacks ideas, saying it was “a book I really, really wanted to like but just didn’t.”  If she hadn’t suggested it I may not have picked it up – not for any reason, but just because… just because. But I’m glad that I did. Now I can more enthusiastically booktalk it to people who are looking for music-related realistic fiction.  I even made this collage last night in its honor, using only models from the Crate & Barrel Catalog, foil from Trader Joe’s honey-mint patties, fine-point Sharpies, and my interesting magazine picture backlog (which honestly needs replenishing). Oh, and a phrase from a rad Nikki McClure calendar.:

5flavorsofdumb_001

Accordingly, my review will also be collage-y.

BASIC PLOT (courtesy of Antony John’s author site):

“Piper has one month to get a paying gig for Dumb—the hottest new rock band in school.

If she does it, she’ll become manager of the band and get her share of the profits, which she desperately needs since her parents raided her college fund.

Managing one egomaniacal pretty boy, one talentless piece of eye candy, one crush, one silent rocker, and one angry girl who is ready to beat her up. And doing it all when she’s deaf. With growing self-confidence, an unexpected romance, and a new understanding of her family’s decision to buy a cochlear implant for her deaf baby sister, Piper just may discover her own inner rock star.”

I’ll get the CONS out of the way first:

Rebecca, I feel you. Five Flavors of Dumb is uneven. It tackles many issues – deafness, Deaf culture, feeling like an outsider among outsiders, navigation of cool, taking on job responsibilities, figuring out who in your band is undermining everything, understanding music history, tough sibling relationships, tough parent relationships, estranged friendships, uhh… I think those are the main ones.

So, to cover those things requires a lot of plot, and the plot gets lost sometimes. There’s a whole mystery involving an anonymous internet commenter sending Piper and Dumb around Seattle to learn about the deep, dark side of being a famous musician, and while the trips are intriguing, the mystery itself gets dropped for so long I found myself wondering if it had been forgotten.   Time shrinks and expands in weird ways throughout the story (I should’ve taken notes on this so I could back my assertion up, but I didn’t and I apologize).

Finally, one must brace oneself to suspend their disbelief when reading Five Flavors of Dumb, because the premise of trying to become a band manager to make money for college is a thin one. However, a book about applying to scholarships and making a budget would not be as interesting or dynamic. So. I understand.

So we can get to the PROS:

The good news is that John gets the emotions down, and the ins and outs of familial, friendly, and romantic relationships were more than enough to keep me reading.  For me, the pros outweighed the cons and I enjoyed reading about Piper and even found her world believable (despite the exception mentioned above.)  In order of importance to me:

– PARENTAL PAIN

Piper’s dad has an emotional IQ of zero when it comes to his oldest spawn.  This guy! I wanted to invent a pinching machine to follow him and pinch him whenever he did or said something blockheaded or particularly carelessly hurtful, and believe you me he would be covered in tiny bruises after about 10 minutes.

It’s an achievement to portray very darkly abusive parents and caregivers, for sure, but I sort of think it’s an even bigger achievement to portray the everyday slights, the subtle emotional abuse, that can go on in a family. Is abuse too strong a word? I don’t think so. Piper is shut out from being appreciated as a person and she is made to feel lesser than because of her preference for using ASL and because her parents STOLE HER COLLEGE FUND WITHOUT CONSULTING HER.  But of course she still reaches out for love from her dad and mom, and it’s heartbreaking to see the ways it isn’t returned as her parents are caught up in providing for her baby sister.

– SIBLING LOVE

Piper does love her baby sister and she struggles with trying not to feel jealous of the cochlear implants and the attention that baby Grace is getting, in a realistic way. And she loves her brother, but they’re not over-the-top besties. They squabble but ultimately have each other’s backs in a way I find familiar, being a sister myself.

– TAKE-CHARGE-ITIVENESS

Piper tackles her problems practically and speaks up when she feels she’s being underestimated, despite also feeling like an outsider because of her hearing impairment and being without her moved-away best friend who can’t even bother to get on Skype once in a while. I like that about her and I like seeing how she tries to solve her problems without trying to become a tough chick stereotype.

– BAND DYNAMICS

There should be more portrayals of being in a band, and how much work it is to make a song and play together and deal with 2, 3, 4 or more personalities and ideas of how to make money. And how awesome it feels when it comes together.

– MUSIC HISTORY

The bits of the book where Piper investigates the history of Kurt Cobain and Jimi Hendrix are fascinating. I put down the book and did more research about Hendrix afterwards. (That’s why I tried to have her holding a record album in the collage, even though it’s impossible to tell that it is supposed to be a record – also to reference a very poignant scene with her dad.)

In Conclusion

Despite its uneven flow, Five Flavors of Dumb had emotional depth, brought out the history of its setting, and showed what it’s really like to try to work as a group. And so I’d recommend it to other readers wholeheartedly.  Does that speak to any of your feelings of meh, Rebecca? I’m curious to know if you remember more about why you weren’t into it.

Awesome As Awesome: Lament by Maggie Stiefvater

A review of Lament: The Faerie Queen’s Deception (Books of Faerie #1), by Maggie Stiefvater

Flux, 2008

Lament Maggie Stiefvater

by REBECCA, January 9, 2013

characters

Deirdre Monaghan: a shy and brilliant musician, when her eyes are suddenly opened to the world of Faerie she knows her life will never be the same again

Luke Dillon: fascinated by Deirdre, he appears just around the time things start getting weird . . .

James: Deirdre’s best friend, a piper who is always ready with a joke or late-night support, as the occasion requires

Granna: Deirdre’s grandmother, attuned to the world of Faerie

Sara: Deirdre’s superficial coworker who just might be an ally (and is definitely not good at ice cream scooping)

hook

At a local music competition, Deirdre meets Luke, a mysterious boy who seems to know just what buttons to push to get her to explore abilities she never knew she had. As Deirdre’s musical talents blossom and she falls for Luke she also finds that she is a cloverhand—someone who can see fairies—and that something about her has caused the Faerie Queen to feel threatened. Threatened enough to have her killed. But is her relationship with Luke more likely to save her life, or to get her killed?

worldview

Lament Maggie StiefvaterLament: The Faerie Queen’s Deception is Maggie Stiefvater’s first book, and I’m not at all surprised that the first book of such an awesome talent was published by the equally awesome Flux, one of my favorite publishers. Now, anyone who reads Crunchings and Munchings knows that I’m a big Maggie Stiefvater fan (check out a review of The Scorpio Races HERE and of The Raven Boys HERE)! The first Stiefvater book I ever read was Shiver, which I thought was beautiful, although the rest of the series wasn’t quite my cup of tea. Still, even though I wasn’t super taken by Linger, the second in the series, I remember thinking: this woman’s writing is gorgeous and I’m absolutely going to check out whatever she writes next. And I did. But somehow I managed never to get around to the Books of Faerie series. But never fear, fair readers, for I finally got my act together.

Lament is a totally charming take on what can happen when a human catches the eye of the fae. Deirdre is smart and quite likeable, and I loved that she played the harp. Her relationships with the other characters are well-drawn—her quippy and totally comfortable one with James, her exasperating one with her overprotective mother, and her close but mysterious one with her grandmother, and her avoidant and creepy one with her aunt. Most importantly, of course, is her relationship with Luke, which she doesn’t trust but can’t seem to give up on.

Lament Maggie StiefvaterLuke finds Dee in the bathroom where she is vomiting up her nerves before a music competition. When she turns to see him she recognizes him from her dream the night before. And things only get more confusing after that. Somehow, Luke knows of abilities that Dee hasn’t even discovered in herself yet: that she can compose gorgeous harp music on the spot, that she has mad guts, and that she can see fairies. After she meets Luke, Dee starts seeing . . . things . . . four-leaf clovers seem to appear everywhere, she is sure she sees a pack composed entirely of her own dog, and then, well, there is the little matter of a newly acquired case of telekinesis. And did I mention the mind-reading? Oh, yeah, and the fairies. What in the holy hell is going on? Only Luke seems to know for sure, and when Dee looks into Luke’s mind, what she sees is extremely disturbing. And why does she still crave his presence . . . if he’s a murderer?

Populated with a number of devious, beautiful, scary, and downright wacky fae, Lament is our world only better. It keeps its mundane where it belongs (Dee works at an ice cream shop and has the misfortune to own a mother-procured cardigan set) and introduces delightful bits of the otherworldly just when we want them. Best of all, unlike many recent entries into the paranormal romance genre that feature a supernatural boy who expresses his love by being a creepazoid, Luke is a complex but non-abusive fellow. I mean, yeah, he’s assassinated people and all that, but the Queen made him do it. After all, she does hold his soul captive.

what were this book’s intentions? did it live up to them?

Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie Maggie StiefvaterLament delights in a number of different mythologies and stories about faeries, and the combination creates a rich world that feels internally consistent but not imported from any recognizable stories. The throughline is music: faeries are musicians of otherworldly skill, so Deirdre’s talent shines their light on her. The scenes of music in the book are some of my favorites, and make me doubly excited to get to the sequel, Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie, in which Dee goes to a music conservatory!

It is also the story of a first love. Dee never dated in high school (as Sara never forgets to remind her) and now that she is seeing Luke she realizes that people only ever noticed her for the things she was good at—never just for herself. Luke’s “fascination” with her vacillates between feeling gratifying and feeling yet again like someone who just appreciates her talents. Either way, their relationship, though vexed by the whole maybe-he’s-trying-to-assassinate-me issue isn’t nearly as angsty as it might have been which is, depending on your tastes, a huge relief or a bit of a let-down. For me, it worked because it highlights that Lament is not, first and foremost, a romance. Luke catalyzes Deirdre’s coming into her own but he doesn’t own her. At least not in this book. Thus, one of my biggest pet peeves is avoided: the heroine needn’t sacrifice her [life/passions/future/autonomy/options/family/etc.] for her first-ever relationship, which probably won’t last anyway. JUST SAYING!

The pacing here was mostly good, although the final scenes felt a tad rushed (and the character of the Faerie Queen a little flat). However, Lament didn’t fall victim to series-itis, in which an author doesn’t bother to give the book a real conclusion since she knows there will be sequels. It ended on a good note while still opening the story up for the sequel. Best of all, I think we’ll get more James in future books; I’m so glad that he, too, was not sacrificed on the alter of first love. All in all, I can’t wait to read the rest of the series!

readalikes

War For the Oaks Emma Bull

War For the Oaks by Emma Bull (1987). In this ass-kicking book by Emma Bull, Eddi McCandry finds herself in the middle of a war between the Seelie and Unseelie courts. All she wanted to do was put together the wickedest rock band this side of ever, and she accidentally made magic. Not a terrible turnout, Eddi. My full review is HERE.

Tithe Holly Black

Tithe (The Modern Faerie Tales #1) by Holly Black (2002). Kaye is used to living in crap motel rooms and dingy apartments, touring with her mom’s band. But when they end up back in New Jersey for a spell, Kaye rescues a mysterious stranger and finds herself in the middle of a power struggle between two Faerie kingdoms.

procured from: the library

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