Welcome to my blog. I often think I was born with a book in my hand. I have always enjoyed reading, but more importantly, talking about books. This blog is partially about reviews, but is really a forum to talk about what I'm reading, and express all of the thoughts and feelings that there simply isn't room for in a professional review. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on your favourite books as you follow my reading journey.

Monday, April 22, 2013

A YA Author To Know: Sara Zarr

Back in 2007, I came across a novel by a new YA author by the name of Sara Zarr called The Story of a Girl. It is a story about making a mistake that follows you throughout your teenage life. About having an identity that doesn't reflect who you really are, and longing for someone who really knows you and loves you no matter what.

Needless to say, I was blown away. That's why, when I was given the opportunity to join a book club that would be discussing Sweethearts- another work by this author, I knew I had to jump on it. In fact, I loved it so much, I promptly read my ARC of her upcoming book The Lucy Variations, as well as the two other novels I hadn't read yet.

Sweethearts, like all of her novels, places a strong focus on identity. Jenna, (formerly known as Jennifer) has put a lot of effort into re-inventing herself. Gone is the fat, bullied outcast Jennifer from her Elementary School days, and in her place is Jenna- a slim, fashion conscious, popular high school senior. Jenna has everything going for her. She's got a couple of close gal pals, she's dating one of the hottest guys in school, and she's everything Jennifer wasn't.

When her childhood best friend Cameron suddenly reappears in her life after disappearing without a trace years before, Jenna is conflicted. Seeing him digs up the past she's worked so hard at burying, but it also reminds her of what it feels like to have someone in your life that knows you inside out, and loves you for who you are- not just who everyone thinks you should be.

Identity and belonging are a recurring theme in Sara Zarr's novels, and her heroines struggle with their perceived and their real selves. This is an idea that really speaks to me, and I'm sure to her readers as well. How often do people make judgments about us based on a single act- and how it seems indelibly tethered to  us no matter what we do. Jenna is a mask. A carefully constructed mask that keeps anyone from knowing who Jenna actually is. But wearing that mask is lonely, and what Cameron's reappearance in her life makes her realize is that Jenna, for everything she seemingly has, is intensely lonely. Whether or not she and Cameron can or will be together is irrelevant. What matters is that he makes her reconsider her world and herself, and realize that she can be strong without the mask.

One of Zarr's novels, titled Once Was Lost (re-titled What We Lost), most aptly describes her heroines. From Jenna to Lucy (in Lucy Variations) to Jill and Mandy (in How to Save a Life), they are all a little bit lost, and they all, in their own way are saved (not necessarily by a guy). They are simply trying to find their places in the world, and the journey isn't an easy one. It means a lot of bumps along the way, a lot of pain, and a lot of self-discovery and introspection, but these girls do survive, and they carve out a life for themselves in the best way they can. There are no guarantees that they will live happily ever after, but there is hope that they will, and that, along with beautiful writing, is what makes her stories so compelling to read.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket: A Whimsical Middle-Grade Read

Alistair and Eleanor Brocket pride themselves on being absolutely normal. They have normal jobs, a normal house, a normal dog, and two normal children, and they turn their noses up at anything out of the ordinary.

Then Barnaby is born, and he's anything but normal. From the moment he is born, Barnaby defies the laws of gravity, and he floats. After 8 years of being horrified by this absolute defiance of everything that is normal (normal children manage to keep their feet firmly on the ground), the Brockets make the terrible decision- they cut his weights and send him floating off into the air like a balloon. At first Barnaby is frightened, but what ensues is a remarkable journey around the world that introduces Barnaby to a cast of unusual characters, and teaches him that maybe being different isn't so abnormal after all.

John Boyne, who ever since The Boy in the Striped Pajamas has been a favourite author of mine is back with another  sweet, middle-grade offering.

Barnaby is a sweet and charming character. From the moment he exits the womb and floats up to the ceiling, his parents set to work trying to make him "normal". Other than the floating thing (which is unusual), Barnaby is a typical little boy with a big heart and an accepting nature. He accepts his new circumstances without fuss or tears, and he simply sets about trying to find a way back home. While he understands that his parents did a terrible thing, it's still home, and where else would an eight-year-old go?

The characters he meets are diverse and interesting, and not all of them are kind. More than once he encounters someone who would exploit his difference, or simply mistreat him, but amazingly, he never wavers from his goal. I particularly like that while all of his encounters are brief (some lasting only a day or a few hours), he manages to touch the lives of so many of the people he meets, as much as he is touched by them.

 In an age where teaching children to accept all kinds of people is more than essential, this book fits perfectly, and they will enjoy the imagination and the fanciful storyline. Overall it is an enjoyable and whimsical story, but- and this is a big one-  I also found the message to be so front and centre all of the time that I found myself practically shouting "Ok- I get it!" by the end of the book, and this really detracted from my ability to completely lose myself in it.

Recommended, but a bit too obvious for my taste.