So this month was supposed to be my month to catch up on all those classics I never read, but things being as they are… the month got away from me and I decided to read YA books instead (one great thing about teen books- quick to read).
Throne of Glass, by Sarah J. Maas
This book is coming out this summer so keep an eye out for it (hopefully with a new cover?). It’s being touted as Hunger Games meets Game of Thrones, which- not having read or seen G o T– still seems pretty apt. Our heroine, Celaena, is not your typical damsel-in-distress, she’s a highly trained assassin who, when we first encounter her, has just spent a year mining salt in a labor camp. She’s an outlaw and an unrepentant killer. Fortunately, she is soon sprung from the prison camp to go the capitol and compete to become the king’s “champion” (read: killer who has to do all his dirty work in his quest to take over the world).
And so the story progresses from there, with Celaena competing against the country’s most dangerous thieves and murderers in order to win her freedom- if she fails to become the champion it’s back the salt mines for her. And along the way we encounter a mysterious eastern princess, ghosts, and hounds of hell; a handsome prince, and a rugged and demanding captain of the guard.
It took me a little while to get into the story but once I did it was pretty fun- a nice escapist treat. I don’t want to give to much away, as this book isn’t out until August, but one of my favorite things was reading that Sarah J. Maas got the idea for the story when she thought- what if Cinderella doesn’t go to the ball to dance with a handsome prince, but to stop an assassination?
Chopsticks, by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral
Obviously the most remarkable thing about Chopsticks- a recently released YA effort by Jessica Anthony and designer Rodrigo Corral- is its format. It’s a multi-media presentation: a story told not only in words but in photographs, and wine bottles; paintings and programs for recitals (also in YouTube clips and songs if you opt to check out Chopsticks online)
The “novel” does succeed in that it is very aesthetically pleasing with interesting photographs. It also has an interesting hook at the beginning, and clever twist at the end. But ultimately the story fell a little flat for me. Due to the nature of the bare-bones storytelling style- and the fact that the book can be read roughly in the amount of time it takes to watch an episode of Glee– you don’t get invested in the characters or even know quite who they are. And, unfortunately, the promise at the start of the book: of a mystery to be solved- never really bares fruit.
Ultimately it’s an interesting idea that was executed quite nicely, but this style can’t beat the regular old words-on-paper way of storytelling (but I would like it if there’s someone out there who can try this again and prove me wrong).
The Silver Blade, by Sally Gardner
In this follow up to The Red Necklace, Gardner clearly shows her gift for storytelling as well as that flair for that illusive quality (especially when it comes to teen fiction)- originality.
Essentially picking up where the previous novel left off, The Silver Blade begins with the heroics of the magical gypsy boy, Yann Margoza, and his efforts to ferry various nobles to safety away from the deadly guillotine, as the French revolution rages in Paris. At the same time the reader knows that, contrary to our protagonists beliefs, evil-villan-to-end-all-evil-villains, Count Kalliovski, has not died, but instead has made a deal with the devil to save his life and is living underground is the catacombs of Paris in, quite literally the most creepy and macabre residence ever- featuring walls made of human bones covered in gold foil.
Along with the action- poising the characters between the evil plottings of Kalliovski and the righteous fervor of the the French Revolution run amok- the readers are treated to the passionate and unlikely romance between Yann and Sido.
It is a sad truth for American YA readers that Sally Gardner is not as well known as stateside as she is in her native England. With The Silver Blade like The Red Necklace and I, Coriander before it, Gardner deftly weaves historical fiction and magical realism in a way that is particularly suited for teen audiences while also not talking down with them. With Gardner you always get a completely unique and vivid voice.
Lexapros and Cons, by Aaron Karo
Hmmmm… What to make of a book that starts with a description of the narrator’s masturbation tally? And yes, you read that right.
In all seriousness though, Karo’s narrator describes life as a teenage boy with a frankness (while at times can a bit TMI) that is quite refreshing. Chuck Taylor (yup, just like the shoes- you got it) is a High School senior who in typical angsty fashion has a lot of things bothering him, but the number one thing he is facing is his OCD (hence the self-abuse tally marks). His OCD interferes with his life so much that he can’t fathom going on the Senior class camping trip (Dirt, and bugs, and nature? No way!) and he even sabotages a chance to kiss his dream girl.
Even with some of the more awkward or crude passages from the book, you can help but admit that the Karo is only being true to what teens boys are really like. Lexapros and Cons is like a reader’s version of movies like Superbad– that at times have cringe-worthy moments, but most importantly have charcters that are truly kind-hearted and endearing. It also has to be pointed out that the novel, along side the likes of South African novel, Spud, by John Van De Ruit, answers that all too apparent dearth of quality teen books for boys (that aren’t about slaying dragons). In the end Lexapros and Cons is a cute quick read that manages to capture life as a teenager today (as part of the “facebook” generation) without being to hokey or clichéd.
Note: I received this book as a giveaway from Shelfawareness.
Also read this month: The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick; Juggling, by Barbara Trapido; The Marriage Plot, by Jeffery Eugenides; and Every Contact Leaves a Trace, by Elanor Dymott.
Next Month’s theme: “Classics”. I will actually get to these books next month, come hell or high water!