Un Lun Dun
Author: China Miéville
Publication Date: 2/13/07
Publisher: Del Rey
Blurb(GR): What is Un Lun Dun? It is London through the looking glass, an urban Wonderland of strange delights where all the lost and broken things of London end up . . . and some of its lost and broken people, too–including Brokkenbroll, boss of the broken umbrellas; Obaday Fing, a tailor whose head is an enormous pin cushion, and an empty milk carton called Curdle. Un Lun Dun is a place where words are alive, a jungle lurks behind the door of an ordinary house, carnivorous giraffes stalk the streets, and a dark cloud dreams of burning the world. It is a city awaiting its hero, whose coming was prophesied long ago, set down for all time in the pages of a talking book.
When twelve-year-old Zanna and her friend Deeba find a secret entrance leading out of London and into this strange city, it seems that the ancient prophecy is coming true at last. But then things begin to go shockingly wrong.
Wow. How do I describe this book? It’s on the one hand a bit of an ode to all of the quest based, parallel world containing fantasies that have come before: The Wizard of Oz, Narnia, Mary Poppins, Alice in Wonderland, most of Neil Gaiman’s catalogue, hell even Harry Potter. On the other hand, it undermines the typical tenets of these books in a way that’s a bit of a fuck you to the whole genre. It also manages to transcend both of these things and become a decent quest based, parallel world containing fantasy itself. It’s fun, playful, and sometimes just downright silly. I wish that I could morph into Will Ferrell as James Lipton right now and declare it delightful. There are a few things that I could have done without, but for the most part I really enjoyed this book.
It all starts when Susanna “Zanna” and her BFF Deeba notice a few strange things around their estate: A fox looks at them gravely, Zanna’s face appears in a cloud, a flattering graffito proclaims “Zanna For Ever!,” and odd people start recognizing Zanna around the town and calling her “Shwazzy.” One night Zanna and Deeba follow a spying broken umbrella unbrella and discover a way into London’s “abcity” – Unlondon. Soon Zanna is discovering that she’s a hero of great prophecy, destined to save Unlondon from a powerful enemy. But everything gets turned on its ear when Zanna falls to the enemy and loses her memory. Now it’s up to the Unheroes to save the day.
The city of Unlondon is wonderfully described in all its breathtaking, peculiar detail. It’s a feast for the imagination...the kind of feast where there are about twelve different utensils that you’ve never seen before, and every course is comprised of something that you didn’t even know could be classified as a food. There are so many parts of the city that I fell in love with: the donut sun, the book of prophecies (who was written by idiots), the killer giraffes, the binjas, the extreme librarians, the utterlings, CURDLE! Some of the inanimate objects in this book have more personality than human characters I’ve spent time with. But there were a few times that I felt like it was just a bit…ham-fisted. Like the character that is essentially a bunch of fish trapped in a diving suit named…Skool. Get it? Skool!
When I recently read The City & The C, it struck me as dense and hard to get into, but it really grew on me and I love the big ideas it contains. This book is like a much younger, more accessible, but also more shallow version of that book (if you subtract a noir mystery and add in a fantasy funhouse mirror). Radiohead’s Ok Computer is also much more accessible and popular than some of their later albums. This song is about feeling bored and restless with your surroundings – so much so that you want anything to happen, even something drastic.
Sisters in Sanity
Author: Gayle Forman
Publication Date: 9/1/07
"Where are they taking me?"
"It's for your own good, Brit," Dad said.
I was shoved into a small, stuffy room, and the door was locked behind me. I waited for my dad to realize he'd made a terrible mistake and come get me.
But he didn't.
For sixteen-year-old Brit Hemphill, it's hard to know who she can trust. Convinced she's out of control, her father has sentenced her to Red Rock: a center for supposedly rebellious teens, where the therapy consists of name-calling and the girls who get privileges are the ones who rat out their peers.
But then Brit meets V, Bebe, Martha, and Cassie—four girls who keep her from going over the edge. Together, they'll hold on to their sanity and their sisterhood despite the bleak Red Rock reality. Review:
Sometimes I am just not excited to read a book. (What up, book club?) I knew of Gayle Forman
from her book If I Stay
, which I wrote a gushing review of a few months back. A few of us decided to read this lesser-known work of hers together this week. I was excited to read the book because of the author and because I was reading it with friends…but not so excited about the subject matter. I assumed that this was rather well-worn territory, what with Girl Interrupted
and all. Also, I wasn’t in the mood for a depressing book. Sisters in Sanity
surprised me in a good way, and I definitely recommend it to those who are interested in YA books related to mental health issues/treatment.
Brit Hemphill lives with her father and her stepmonster. Her mother isn’t in the picture and I don’t want to spoil where she is so I’ll leave it at that. Her parents owned a coffeehouse in Portland during her formative years so she rubbed elbows with all sorts of famous musicians and took up the guitar, teaching herself how to play for the most part. Because of her mother’s absence and her father’s relationship (and subsequent child), Brit spends as much time out of the house as possible, mostly playing and touring with her band. When her father and stepmother make her go on a family vacation to the Grand Canyon, Brit is angry she’ll miss a gig but obliges. Only she isn’t going to the Grand Canyon—her dad is dropping her off at a juvenile rehabilitation center because she is “out of control.”
Anger. That’s the emotion I felt for most of the book, not sadness. I was livid with Brit’s father. Absolutely wanted (and still want) to punch that man in the face. How could he do that to his child?
I was expecting the novel to follow the Girl, Interrupted storyline and, for the most part, it did. I was pleasantly surprised, however, at the supporting cast of characters (who were far more balanced than those with Susanna Kaysen) and the relationship between Brit and Jed, her bandmate. His letters and the description of the time they spent together were both lovely and I loved the story behind the firefly references.
The writing flowed really well and all three of us that read it finished it in a day. (as far as I know) I did feel that the ending wrapped things up just a bit too perfectly, then again I am a fan of leaving things hanging—well, if it is realistic. 3.25/5 stars
Before I Die
Author: Jenny Downham
Publication Date: 4/5/07
Publisher: David Fickling Books
Tessa has just months to live. Fighting back against hospital visits, endless tests, drugs with excruciating side-effects, Tessa compiles a list. It’s her To Do Before I Die list. And number one is Sex. Released from the constraints of ‘normal’ life, Tessa tastes new experiences to make her feel alive while her failing body struggles to keep up. Tessa’s feelings, her relationships with her father and brother, her estranged mother, her best friend, and her new boyfriend, all are painfully crystallised in the precious weeks before Tessa’s time finally runs out.Review:
Tessa has been treated for leukemia for the past four years. Now, since her treatment options have been exhausted, she is spending her last few months completing a list of things she wants to do before she dies. The list includes some predictable items (breaking a few laws, driving, having sex) and a few curveballs (experiencing love, getting her parents back together) but most of the book is dedicated to Tessa’s experiences as she attempts to finish her list and come to terms with her death.
Have you ever seen that Dane Cook standup bit where he talks about how we cry? He starts off talking about how you just start out crying and then it goes downhill from there as we imagine all the worst things possible to make us cry even harder. I’m not advocating Dane Cook’s standup (I’m much more of a Jim Gaffigan girl) but I always laugh at Cook’s crying bit because he’s pretty spot-on. I read the first 50 pages of this when I was PMSing and I was like “This is so awful! It must be so terrible for Tessa and her family. She’ll never get to do x. She’ll never get to do y. Oh my God, it must be terrible for these families. Losing a child is horrible. This is awful for her brother. What if I lost MY brother? What if I died? What if one of my siblings died? I miss my grandparents. I can’t believe I wasn’t more there for my friend when she lost x. What will I do when I lose my parents?!” and by this point I can’t even open my eyes. So, yeah, I put this one back down for a week. Aaaand, when I picked it back up, I was able to complete most of the book with a straight face. (until the ending, when I totally lost it again) But the point is that I was mostly crying because I exacerbated the situation by my own volition. You might not cry in this one.
The writing in this one is pretty solid but I’m a little ashamed to say that Tessa is a frustrating character. She has a right to be selfish but she goes beyond that--she is often unnecessarily mean at times, mostly to her father. Her mother, on the other hand, deserves all the meanness Tessa could dish out to her. (which, sadly, doesn’t really happen) It takes a certain type of horribleness to abandon your sick child. It’s hard to know what to do when people are sick, or how to help your friends when they are losing or have lost someone. We are all pretty much winging it. But just being there is often enough—and Tessa’s mother couldn’t even be present for years of her daughter’s illness. She can join the father from another recent read of mine, Sisters in Sanity
, in the Awful YA Parent Club.
I felt like the most interesting part of the book had nothing to do with Tessa’s list or her budding love. I most enjoyed her interactions with her brother. The factoids they shared and the frank discussions about what happens when you die were so interesting to me—I’m still thinking about the way the author described being buried under an apple blossom tree. (I loved that bit) And I also really enjoyed Tessa’s notes to her family and Zoey. These arent’ really spoilers, in case anyone is wondering…
I have no clue who I would recommend this to. My Goodreads friends are all over the ratings scale and I’m staking my flag down in the 3-star zone. I guess if you “enjoy” books about death and dying, or if you are looking for a cry, this might be a good pick for you. I mean, sometimes I watch Little Women just to cry when Beth dies. We’re all a little messed up—at least, I hope it’s not just me.
Author: Connie Willis
Publication Date: 6/25/07
Publisher: Subterranean Press
Theodora Baumgarten has just been selected as an IASA space cadet, and therein lies the problem. She didn't apply for the ultra-coveted posting, and doesn't relish spending years aboard the ship to which she's been assigned. But the plucky young heroine, in true Heinlein fashion, has no plans to go along with the program. Aided by her hacker best friend Kimkim, in a screwball comedy that has become Connie Wills' hallmark, Theodora will stop at nothing to uncover the conspiracy that has her shanghaied.Review:
I won't tell you what D.A. stands for, as it would ruin the story. I will tell you that this story has gotten me all excited to read more of Connie Willis
' books. In my mind, I always thought that she wrote inaccessible sci-fi (fine, go ahead and laugh at me), and maybe she does—I’ll find out soon enough. But this story was an absolute funfest to read. And it only takes about 20-30 minutes if you’re interested in that type of incentive…which I sometime am. (Anything to up my count. Damn you, Goodreads Challenge!)
Theodora attends a traditional high school at a time in the future when most kids are taught in online classes from home but her parents sent her to regular school to increase her chances of getting into The Academy. Students spend years trying to get perfect grades, taking classes on obscure space-related topics and learning random skills, all in the hope that they will get selected to go into space. Despite nearly every
student dying for the opportunity, Theodora has never had the desire to go so imagine her surprise when a school assembly is called and a representative is there to congratulate her on her acceptance. She never applied, so what the heck is going on?
It’s a bit cliché and reads like a less genius-ridden, war-minded Battle School and Theodora spends most of her time being a downer, complaining, and sneaking around, but I enjoyed where it ended up going at the conclusion. I only wish the story continued so I could see her develop even further.
This short story came to me as a recommendation from my query for 'YA in space' on Goodreads. Since you can't close a query, I will probably continue to get recs on it until I am 50 but you know what? That sounds great to me! I'll never tire of space stories. Kaethe recced this one to me, and a huge thanks go out to her for it. Even if it is does end up being whatever the female equivalent of blue balls is…in that it ends when I wanted it to go on for much, much longer. 4/5 stars
If you like this, you might also like Academy 7
by Anne Osterlund, the Ender's Game
series and Shadow
series by Orson Scott Card, Across the Universe
by Beth Revis, the new Starfleet Academy
series, and the Galahad
series by Dom Testa.
A War of Gifts (Ender Saga, #5)
Author: Orson Scott Card
Publication Date: 10/30/07
Blurb (GR): Orson Scott Card offers a Christmas gift to his millions of fans with this short novel set during Ender's first years at the Battle School where it is forbidden to celebrate religious holidays.
The children come from many nations, many religions; while they are being trained for war, religious conflict between them is not on the curriculum. But Dink Meeker, one of the older students, doesn't see it that way. He thinks that giving gifts isn't exactly a religious observation, and on Sinterklaas Day he tucks a present into another student's shoe.
This small act of rebellion sets off a battle royal between the students and the staff, but some surprising alliances form when Ender comes up against a new student, Zeck Morgan. The War over Santa Claus will force everyone to make a choice.
You know that part in Good Will Hunting when Robin Williams finally gets Matt Damon to realize that his childhood abuse was not his fault? Yeah, this book is kind of like that except I didn't want to sleep with the main character (which would be illegal since he is 8) and I didn't get the visual of how weird looking Matt Damon is when he cries.
What's that? You want an actual review? Well, FU. I think that's in the spirit of all the gift-giving and moral value reaffirmations that abound in this book.