24 Hour Library

A Library Blog by Abby Hargreaves

Tag: 2.5 hearts (page 2 of 2)

Abby Reads: Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy

Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy
Balzer + Bray, 2015, 352 pages
YA Fiction

For a while now, in all of the book blogs I follow, I’ve seen an explosion of Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’. This review is not about Dumplin‘, but about another of Murphy’s books, Side Effects May Vary. In this novel, high school student Alice discovers a secret her truth-obsessed mother has been keeping just before Alice is diagnosed with cancer. With the uncertainty of her illness, Alice decides this is a great time to get back at her bullies and adversaries through humiliation tactics. Not counting on getting well again, Alice has to handle the consequences of her actions when she is declared healthy by her doctor.

Maybe I wasn’t paying close attention to Side Effects May Vary, but the book just wasn’t that memorable for me. Though the characters were really refreshing for young adult fiction (more on that later), and the plot was relatively original (despite blurbs insisting fans of The Fault in Our Stars would love this one), there have been multiple times since I’ve read it where I had to go, “Oh, yeah — I forgot I read that. What was it called? What was it about?” Part of the problem of not really remembering much about it is not really knowing what it was that made it so bland. As I’ve mentioned both characters and plot were interesting, I suspect it was the prose, though I don’t recall it being bad — it was just there. It conveyed a story, it did its job, and that was it.

But for all that, the book is full of great moments that, as a whole, are not greater than their individual parts. Murphy places her characters in really interesting places that felt new and untouched, despite other books that have scenes in similar locations — doctor’s offices, school gyms, beach houses. They’re not terribly common in fiction, but they’re not exactly uncommon, either. Despite this, each place felt fresh and each place enhanced the moments which took place in them. This seems paradoxical — bland prose that somehow makes the settings present and bitingly real? Maybe it’s the mundane style of the language that grounds the rest of the novel making it almost hyper-real. I realize the vagueness of this review isn’t very helpful, but the vagueness is the best representation of the book.

Right — so, characters. If you’re looking for a book which allows you to fall in love and cheer for the main character, this isn’t it. Alice is incredibly unlikable to the very last page. This makes an interesting point about fiction and literature — does a character have to change and learn after they’ve experienced the conflict of their novel in order to make the work worthwhile? Certainly other pieces of literature have taken on this topic (more adeptly, no doubt), but Murphy does it well enough to make it evident. Alice is vengeful, mean, manipulative, uncommunicative, and spiteful. This is the case even prior to her diagnosis, but it’s especially true after (and, okay, we can attribute that special degree of meanness to her fears and the “screw it” attitude that can come with impending death). But it’s so different from the timid, bookish, painfully nice girls you see in young adult fiction over and over again. And, while I don’t know that it works especially well here, I appreciate the attempt all the same (and humbly request authors write more unlikable protagonists).

Another central character, Harvey, serves as Alice’s best friend/love interest. He’s got a lot of interesting things going on, too, despite his trope-y nice-guy persona. While being a nice guy, Harvey isn’t too afraid to stand up to Alice when she’s being awful (you know, often), and he’s complemented nicely by two other tertiary characters who play greater roles than just place-holders, thankfully.

The primary issues I have with Alice and Harvey are, interestingly enough, one of the places they overlap significantly. Alice, a former ballet dancer, has given up dancing due to a seeming lack of interest, though her teacher (Harvey’s mom) remarks how wonderful a dancer she is. Meanwhile, Harvey feels similarly about piano, which he has agreed to play for his mother’s ballet classes. I’m frustrated at this cliché of having a hobby and being a borderline-prodigy at it but not finding it fulfilling. I don’t think it serves much of a purpose and it never really has.

This final disappointing plot point aside, Side Effects May Vary isn’t bad, it’s just not terribly memorable. If you’re looking for something a little different and some quick escapism, this might be an option for you and, with the right level of expectation, you’ll enjoy it.

❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Quintana of Charyn by Melina Marchetta

Quintana of Charyn by Melina Marchetta
Candlewick, 2014, 528 pages
YA Fantasy

It had been quite a while since I read the book leading up to the final installment of The Lumatere ChroniclesFroi of the Exiles. So, when I picked up Quintana of Charyn, I knew I was getting into somewhat complicated politics (especially for a YA novel) and I was likely to be lost. That ended up being exactly what happened. I say this because I feel like my review of the book is “tainted” because of it. Givenimage1 (5) that the first two novels combined well-surpass nine hundred pages, I was reluctant to reread them in preparation for Quintana of Charyn. Plus, I was really looking forward to Quintana despite the lack of memory I had regarding Froi. Anyway, all this to say the book is probably at least a little better than how I’m going to describe it, especially if you read it together with the first two rather than waiting seven months to finally get around to it.

Oh, and there will be spoilers for Finnikin of the Rock and Froi of the Exiles because, you know, that’s the nature of sequels.

Onward!

Quintana picks up not long after Froi ends. Now pregnant with Froi’s child (which is a Big Deal because of the curse), Quintana is left to defend for herself, having spent her entire life within the walls of the palace. Meanwhile, Finnikin continues to struggle with Isaboe’s relationship with Froi and his relationship – both as husband and advisor. Plus, the women of the valley are wondering how Quintana got to them and why she’s there. Froi is working to track down Quintana, still struggling to manage the guilt he feels about, well, everything.

Quintana just didn’t do it for me. It felt long and meandering and mostly aimless. While Froi and some combination of Finnikin and Froi’s parents and maybe some other friends romped around the continent, the back-and-forth of travel didn’t have the same excitement as in Finnikin of the Rock or even Froi of the Exiles. Characters who became big players in Froi still hadn’t gripped me by the heartstrings (though I knew they should have), so I skimmed through their scenes, even though those scenes were some of the most interesting.

Isaboe becomes almost completely unlikable by the third book of The Lumatere Chronicles, and perhaps never more so than in the climax of the novel, in which she takes great action but in a way that came across as begrudging. This was especially jarring given that this is such a huge difference from when we knew her as Evangeline. Up until this point, Marchetta excels at creating strong women as characters. In Quintana, she seems to forget that women need not take on macho characteristics to be considered strong. Instead, she masculinizes the actions, sentiments, and language of her women, tearing them away from what made them so great in the first place. The odd part of this is, so much of this novel is rooted in inherently female experiences: menstrual cycles, pregnancy, and oppression in a male-dominated world.

The characters I referred to as recently-made-big-players deserve their own book or even spin-off series. I never felt Marchetta introduced them well enough in Froi and, despite their rather large arc in Quintana, they still felt secondary to the now-dislikable main cast (that is, Finnikin, Isaboe, Froi, and Quintana). It further occurs to me, now that I’ve listed these main characters, that while the entire series is, at its heart, about Isaboe, Isaboe is the only character of the four who doesn’t get a book title. There’s no Isaboe of the Throne, for example, to Finnikin of the Rock, Froi of the Exiles, and Quintana of Charyn. My understanding is, this is it. There’s a short story to accompany it all on Marchetta’s website, but no plans for a fourth book. And frankly, I don’t think there needs to be in terms of plot. But I still feel, particularly for an arguably-feminist series, Isaboe was cheated.

❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Selkie Girl by Laurie Brooks

Selkie Girl by Laurie Brooks
Alfred A. Knopf, 2008, 262 pages
YA Historical Fantasy

Before I read Selkie Girl, I took a look at some of the reviews on Goodreads. While I tend not to put a lot of stock in what other readers are saying about a book, particularly on a platform which lends itself to brief, spur-of-the-moment

photo (1)_minireviews, I noticed that there was a common complaint: the cover was not at all reflective of the book. This is accurate. While the cover of the edition I read suggested mermaids (other than the title), if you do not know what a selkie is prior to reading the novel, you might believe that a “selkie” is another word for mermaid. This is true to some extent — selkies are typically defined as a mythical creature that can live in the physical form of a seal or human. But the cover also suggests a modern take on the selkie myth.

Brooks’ YA novel takes place in an unspecified time, though it’s easy to imagine the protagonist, sixteen-year-old Elin Jean, mucking about in late-1700s Scotland. A loner in her hometown, Elin Jean fears the taunting and cruelty of her peers. Her webbed fingers keep her from making friends and developing a sense of self-esteem, leaving her to befriend the selkies that come ashore and shed their seal skins on Midsummer’s Eve.  Elin Jean’s limited human contact consists mainly of her family: Mither, Fither, and Grandfather. But they are keeping a secret from her — one that affects them all.

Like many bildungsromans, Selkie Girl focuses largely on what it means to “be yourself” and “know yourself.” Elin Jean’s understanding of herself is severely stunted as a result of her isolation and low self-esteem. She has no sense purpose other than a great desire to interact with the selkies and struggles to identify what characteristics are strictly Elin Jean.  While Tam McCodron, Elin Jean’s love/hate interest, seems to have a pretty good grip on himself, he, too, learns much through the pages of the novel.

Admittedly, the plot takes some unexpected turns. In some instances, it relies too heavily on life-threatening drama. Elin Jean experiences a number of events which have the potential to kill her. While this works a few times, it eventually becomes an overused hook in the novel, leaving the reader to wonder, “Can Elin Jean really be so careless?” Unfortunately, while there were many plot points that were unpredictable, the main twist was blatantly obvious. Dealing mainly with the theme and a particular relationship in the novel, the revelation of this twist can leave the reader disappointed as it seems like such the obvious choice.

The writing style wavers in strength throughout the story. It is the antiquated style (and lack of technology) in the novel which clues the reader into an era, but it takes Brooks some pages before it reads naturally. After settling into the style, it becomes a sort of lulling lyric, until a large plot shift occurs about two-thirds through, and the speech patterns and vocabulary feel unnatural again. Overall, the writing style needed some more work and might have benefited from some modernization and paring down.

❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

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