This is a list of the books I read in 2010, with a few of my thoughts on each.
|Brooke and Keith Desserich
Notes Left Behind
Two ordinary parents write their candid reactions to their daughter's journey through cancer. Specifically, an incurable, rare form of brain cancer called diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG). Their elder daughter, Elena, was diagnosed with this disease, leaving them to grapple with the implications. They started a journal of their experiences for their younger daughter, Grace, hoping they could preserve some of Elena for her sister as well as document what they felt, but since they shared this on the Internet, it got a lot of attention. What's incredibly special is that since Elena's tumor affected her ability to speak, she turned to writing love notes for her family in order to communicate, and after they finally lost the battle with cancer, for months afterwards they were still finding these sweet notes that Elena hid all over the house for them to find after she couldn't be there anymore to say she loved them. The whole story and the parents' honest commentary was very touching, and the book itself was technically well-written but a bit difficult to read sometimes due to occasional lack of context. (Some of the scenes are very well orchestrated because Brooke and Keith Desserich took us into the experience, but then there'd be a skip and we'd have no idea what happened in between. Sometimes a personal journal is difficult to follow because of stuff like that.) The photographs interspersed throughout of Elena, the family, and Elena's love notes were heartwarming, and the parents did a very good job of exploring the hauntedness, terror, anger, and unconditional love that rises to the surface in situations like this. Their "seize the day" message is unfortunately not one that most people would be able to take to heart unless something like this happened to them, so I hope it's helped more parents hug their kids and more people pursue life to the fullest while they've got it.
The Adventures of Ook and Gluk: Kung-Fu Cavemen from the Future
This was another one of those graphic novels by Pilkey that pretended to have been written and illustrated by his Captain Underpants characters Harold and George. It was a rather amusing, absurd romp through terrible caveman grammar, badly written dialogue, silly situations (like mecha dinosaurs and defeating evil businessmen with kung fu), and it had its silly flip-book violence. What I like best about it is how well Dav Pilkey duplicates some of the mistakes/styles children actually produce when they create, and yet still manages to get more sophisticated humor into the package.
Artemis Fowl: The Atlantis Complex
This was probably my least favorite of the Artemis books, but I still liked it. The writing style had some almost Douglas Adams-style narration quirks (which may have been the result of Colfer having recently written And Another Thing . . . ), and I liked those, but I kept falling off the wagon during some of the lengthy explanations/exposition during action scenes. The concept, however, was really fun. Colfer keeps finding new ways to make Artemis interesting, and while he also "fought himself" in the last book, this time he's basically fighting a form of insanity unique to people with villainous pasts and fairy associations. I won't spoil it for people who haven't read the book, but for those who have, I must say I really enjoyed Orion's character. I didn't much understand Turnball's motivation, though. He seemed like he was kind of a jerk just to be a jerk (though the motivation to return to his wife was of course understandable; it's just that he was even a jerk to HER in the first place!), and contrary to the way Colfer usually spins believable, layered plots, I found it less than believable that a loophole for villainous fairies existed through runes. Someone with no magic seems like they shouldn't have access to that kind of ability to control others. Anyway, I also did the translation on the fairy message on the bottom, and it was also kinda disappointing: Just sort of a ramble about Artemis's Atlantis complex and how he kept playing with a coin while a therapist watched him and wondered how to treat his disease.
Children of the Star
First, the bad news: the writing style of this book was frequently a bit on the indulgent side. It also had many semi-transparent plot issues in which I predicted the outcomes partially because the characters focused so fiercely on anything but. Essentially, she sometimes gave so much attention and depth to her red herrings that it seemed incongruous when her very cerebral characters never even considered certain possible outcomes until they were presented as revelations. Bit of a dead giveaway sometimes, which did help create the slight "directed written-ness" I sometimes sensed.
But the good news is that even though the story sometimes functions as a frame story for what is apparently the author's partial manifesto (and is liberally spiced with almost unreal idealism), I enjoyed the ideas presented. I thought the main character, Noren, was a spectacular example of a multi-layered character. He questions what he perceives to be an evil system of religious belief and social inequality, challenges it expecting the worst, finds (of course) many answers and even more questions, and ends up having to acknowledge that the rewards often come to people who don't want them anymore. I enjoyed the incredible reverence with which knowledge is handled, and how preservation of human life and accomplishments were considered so vital that keeping them justified some terrible moral contradictions. This is also one of the only books I've ever read in which faith is relentlessly explored, found to not always essentially mean "belief without reason," and found to have positive value without demanding the surrender of the intellectual mind . . . all WITHOUT frequently sounding preachy. I really enjoyed Noren's honest exploration of questions, faith crises, his own and others' psychology, his ability to love and be loved, facing the unknown and unknowable, and ability to self-sacrifice without acting like it didn't hurt.
|Julie Anne Peters
I didn't really care for this book but it got better at the end. I have liked most of the author's other stuff, but even though this wasn't a BAD book, I didn't relate to the main character very much at all. (This is probably good because she was in an abusive situation.) Main character Johanna is a gay teenager with a crush on the impulsive, destructive, beautiful Reeve Hartt (nice name, huh?), and this is the story of her desperate attempts to be loved. Johanna herself is not in the world's greatest family situation--her older sister is all she has now that her parents are dead, but Tessa is sort of standoffish and has her own problems, so Johanna basically applies herself in her job and volunteering and, of course, daydreaming about sex with Reeve. Johanna's also got issues with her friend Novak, who keeps kind of pushing her away and pulling her in at the worst times (like, when Reeve happens to be there and misinterpret it as romantic interaction). Reeve is in an even worse situation, and has a twin brother who's described as being autistic. They have been physically and sexually abused for most of their lives and their mother is a drug addict. While Johanna is drawn in trying to get Reeve to like her, all Reeve does is sort of respond to Johanna's attention just enough to make her think there's hope . . . and then there's violence and emotional abuse, pretty much every time. I basically had a problem with that not only because it was abusive, but because the main character didn't appear to have much of a motivation toward wanting Reeve except that she thought she was pretty and compelling. (I understand a lot of the other interaction was based on being sort of "broken" herself while trying to put the pieces of another person together, so that's why I can "forgive" her for it, but I just didn't really feel convinced by her love.) The healing toward the end after catastrophic events went a little fast and felt sort of tacked on, but I'm glad it was there, and if Johanna was a real person I'd wish her the best.
The Spell Book of Listen Taylor
|There were so many good things about this book. First, I'll hit the plot: There's an overarching set of circumstances tying everyone in this book together, but the picture is big enough throughout most of it that you cannot see the threads. Consequently, the big surprise, namely, the Zing Family Secret which gets thrown around all through the beginning of the book, actually stays a secret until the author damn well wants you to see it. Second, let's look at the characters: They're all real, sympathetic enough that even when they do incredibly stupid, dishonest, or nonsensical things you can feel for them, and they're vulnerable each in their own way. Listen was a wonderful character as a sensitive and awkward seventh grader with no friends (and keeper of the Spell Book, of course), and I liked the wackiness of Marbie and Fancy Zing (Marbie with her sleepwalking, Fancy with her ridiculous novel-writing attempts) . . . and Cath, she was so easy to relate to as she sat at the crux of everything important. Their ordinary selves were entertaining enough even without their extraordinary circumstances, and while I would have preferred a slightly more distinctive voice for the characters, I followed their individual personalities well enough. But lastly, the narration is where this author truly shines (as usual). There is some incredibly clever wordplay and bittersweet metaphor use in this book, and the ordinary is truly brought to life as people weather snowstorms and personal disasters, have affairs and suspect each other of having affairs, and deal with bee stings and broken vacuum cleaners. And after the Zing Family Secret belongs to the reader as well, there is still the drama to unfold as we watch who gets to learn it, what circumstances reveal it, and most importantly, what then? The ending made me think "And . . . ?" Exactly. And then . . . the characters lived on, despite it not being a "happily ever after" story. (And I must say I'm pleased with this first book I've read of Moriarty's where she doesn't tell the story entirely in text-based communication between the characters.)
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