Little (Grrl) Lost


Posted by Cobalt | Posted in , , | Posted on 9:16 AM

Rating: 1.5/5 stars

This review will be fairly short, because I was disappointed in this book and don't feel like spending much time on it. The premise seemed promising: a young girl, displaced and resentful after her family moves from their farmhouse to an anonymous city suburb, discovers that there's someone living behind the walls -- someone small, but with a big attitude. The two unlikely friends -- Goody Two-Shoes T.J. and the punk-rock 'Little' (the term for the diminutive not-fairy people) Elizabeth find common ground in their frustrations and confused longings. Both girls learn from each other as well; T.J. is in awe of Elizabeth's fierce independence and adventurousness, while the rebel Little discovers that some of T.J.'s cautious planning is necessary in a world that's much larger and more dangerous than she realized.

I wanted to like this book -- I remembered reading The Blue Girl by de Lint and enjoying it quite a bit -- but Little (Grrl) Lost was just...boring. Not even in that nothing really happens, plot-wise, but the characters themselves are all horribly flat and dull. T.J. isn't just a Goody Two-Shoes -- she isn't interesting at all, even when she starts 'rebelling' and 'finding herself.' All of the characters are more or less one-dimensional, and Elizabeth's tough girl act is so transparent it's not even worth the effort. No one seems capable of emotional complexity or interest; a character is either happy or sad or angry and that's it -- no mixed feelings, contradictions, denial, etc -- and then they go ahead and tell other characters about their feelings and motivations like they're in a casting call or something. It's all so mundane and stereotypical and irritating, like listening to someone describe their dream about being back in high school and forgetting their locker combination -- and then expecting you to care about this for who knows what reason. It broke my heart, because how can you make a book with fairies and magical creatures this boring? How?

On the one hand, I can appreciate what de Lint was doing in creating a teenaged character who isn't totally angsty and dark, living in a broken home with a distant father and a neurotic mother and a brother who does drugs/joins a gang/plays gory video games all day. T.J.'s family is obviously grounded and loving and close, and even Elizabeth comes to realize that her parents aren't completely illogical pod people -- but there's a spectrum for all this, and de Lint avoids the Cyclonic Trauma Zone of Teenagedom by shoving everything into Stagnant Pond Land.

Supposedly the characters develop and grow and find new places in the world. I mostly stopped paying attention about halfway through -- honestly, Elizabeth could've gotten eaten by a cat and T.J. run over by a bus without causing a blip on my emotional radar. At least that might have been more interesting.

Diary of A Chav


Posted by Cobalt | Posted in , , | Posted on 8:26 AM

Rating: 2/5 stars

Shiraz Bailey Wood wants you to know that she's totally not a chav, alrigh'? Even though she goes to Mayflower, aka Superchav Academy, where their Christmas specials always tend to end up with the cops getting called, and yeah she wears hoodies but adults are just totally prejudicial and all, it's a fashion choice not a felony. Shiraz wants to set the story straight, see, and confides in her diary about the crazy antics of her friends and family in a working-class British suburban life -- trials that include dealing with an 'artistic' older sister who rails against commercial society, an obnoxious and smelly younger brother, a boy-crazy best friend and a morbidly obese dog with a passion for junk food. Not to mention her own mother, who's been getting into screaming matches with Cava-Sue about wasting her time at university when she should be getting a job and finding a nice rich bloke to settle down with...

Shiraz has her hands full, but she keeps a level head through these whole messed up mental situations -- until she meets Wesley Barrington Bains II and gets a bit unsettled (after all, guys aren't usually this fun to talk to and his eyes are so gorgeously green). Can she keep her cool and hold her family together? And how can she stop all these teachers from moaning at her about grades and applying herself and her career prospects?

A cute story, and Shiraz has character coming out of her ears, with a narrative voice that never falls flat. Her family is endearingly nuts, of course, and its clear that they love each other, shouting matches aside. I wanted to like this book more, because of a review that really praised the wacky hilarity -- it was amusing and light, but nothing laugh-out-loud for me. I almost found the mother depressing; her life is so shallow and narrow, and part of Shiraz's struggle is finding her own path instead of just going with the general flow. But this may have been personal -- I was having some flashbacks during Shiraz's factory work assignment that were highly unpleasant. I was invested enough in the story to care about what happened to Shiraz, but I'm not sure I'd pick up the sequel unless I had free time to kill. Still, it's a snappy story with a likeable narrator, finding and delighting in everyday absurdities and dancing on the edges of farce -- even if it doesn't exactly plumb the depths of meaning or character.

Shadowed Summer


Posted by Cobalt | Posted in , , , | Posted on 8:01 PM

Rating: 3/5 stars

Iris grew up in Ondine, Louisiana, a little one-stoplight town where nothing ever happens, and she begins the sweltering summer by casting spells and raising ghosts in the graveyard with her friend Collette. Just like always -- except this time the ghost talks back.

It's Elijah Landry, the town's only mysterious incident: the story of the seventeen-year-old boy who disappeared one summer night, leaving only a few drops of blood on his pillow. Now Elijah seems to want Iris's attention, leading her on a chase to dig up his story -- but in the process, she stirs up her community too, raising long-buried prejudices and unspoken griefs, and unraveling a mystery that ties back to her own father's childhood secrets.

If you wanted to be snappy, you could call this a cross between To Kill a Mockingbird and The Sixth Sense -- but that only covers the superficial elements of small-town intrigue and dead people. This book feels like a coming-of-age tale, and it is, but it doesn't come near the classics in capturing the confusion, possibility, and bittersweet aching loss of growing up.

A lighter read, it does a good job of drawing sympathetic characters and sketching the scene of a tiny town during a humid, hectic summer. But I was disappointed in the ghost aspect of the story -- Elijah seemed too flat and distant to matter much, even with all the poltergeist-ey hijinks that he pulls. We hear about him only secondhand, through stories and old photographs. That's probably the point because the story is more about the community and how people cope with horror and tragedy, but Elijah just felt too dead to matter much. (Har har). Iris is a solid companion for the trip, at least, and keeps a firm backbone through her own personal haunting.

Good summer read for a lazy, hot afternoon.

The Forest of Hands & Teeth


Posted by Cobalt | Posted in , , , , | Posted on 8:34 AM

Rating: 4/5 stars

Mary lives in a village surrounded by the Forest of Hands and Teeth, and every day she hears the moaning of the Unconsecrated outside the fences. Her life is limited and isolated, hemmed in by the iron rule of the Sisters and the constant reality of death -- and yet Mary dreams of the ocean and other impossible stories that her mother has passed down to her, memories of life before the Return.

Before the dead began to rise up and consume the living, creating the world of survival and fear that is all Mary has ever known. She is safe within the fences -- as safe as anyone can be -- but Mary hungers for more. When her world crumbles, she must fight to survive in the midst of horror, and faces the hardest choice of all: whether to give up her dreams or push forward into the darkness. Into the Forest.

This story has beautiful prose that quietly snakes around you, then winds in tightly and traps you in Mary's world. Understated yet compelling, showing a dark mirrorglass world of death and yes, zombies, but in a way that totally avoids the cheap flatness of a splatterfest horror film.

Because this isn't really a story about zombies (they are important with the killing and Infecting and all, sure) -- it's a story about longing and desire and emptiness and hope. And though Mary, Carrie Ryan actually makes it all interesting and challenging, because her protagonist is complex and believable (even if she tends to overshadow the other characters by comparison -- and btw, love triangles pretty much always suck). Mary is flawed and furious and she wants so much, and even the parallels of zombie living-flesh-hunger and human love-safety-spirit hunger don't feel clunky in this context.

Not an upper by any means, but a gorgeous read that will guarantee you'll never look at zombies the same way again.
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