Happy Labour Day, and welcome back to Weekly Reads! It’s been a busy and somewhat thematically scattered week, so I thought I’d do a roundup of what I’ve been reading.
In case you’re wondering why it’s so scattered: I’ve cooled down on ordering recent, buzzed-about YA to try to get through some of the material that has been sitting around on my shelves, which is a pretty eclectic mix of also-YA (but less recent), Canadian literature, short story and poetry collections, and graphic novels.
Are these things weird to review side-by-side? Probably. But part of why I want to have a not-just-YA blog is because I want to smash the attitude that I’ve seen that any of these things are more or less “legitimate” reading (or writing).
Also, an update: I’ve officially finished 95 books for the 95 books challenge. Which was the reason for this blog, but I still have the rest of the year, so I’m going to keep reading and talking at you. My new goal is 125, but I’m going to take November off for Nanowrimo. Because I really like setting goals that involve time constraints and counting, apparently.
Without further adieu: novels.
A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray
Premise: Young adult Sliders with a love triangle, a mysterious corporation, and nerds. (Remember Sliders? Okay, fair enough, but it’s a dimension-hopping show.)
The Good: The worlds that the characters hop across are fairly vivid and imaginative; it’s fun to see the protagonist trying to puzzle them out. When the writing spends time caring about art (and, to some sci-fi extent, the laws of physics) as much as its characters do, it grounds itself nicely.
The Bad: The only character whose desires we truly know are the protagonist’s, only the book starts by lying to us about what she wants: she’s in another world claiming she wants to find and kill a guy, but we quickly see in her mind that she’s not really about that. The book drags for this reason: Marguerite knows what she wants and tells us, but she also…takes a while to realize it even though she knows and we know. Meanwhile, the desires of every other major character (the two love interests, the antagonist, etc.) are kept unknown until they’re piled up in late-game twists at the end, by which point they lose impact for how close together they’re piled and far away they are from where they were hinted at, and because we spend a long middle of the book realizing that Marguerite is really into the guy she told us she was really into from almost the beginning. (I also dislike this on another level: love triangles that are utterly predictable are not a source of tension; no more of them, please.)
Overall: This was okay; the good was pretty good, and the bad was annoying but slightly offset by an interesting premise that isn’t a letdown—yet. I might read the second book. I give it six Fabergé eggs and a tube of paint.
Ms. Marvel: No Normal and Ms. Marvel: Generation Why by G. Willow Wilson (illustrated by Adrian Alphona & Jacob Wyatt)
Premise: A geeky teen girl gains superpowers and decides to help people; also she’s a Muslim from New Jersey.
The Good: Kamala is wonderful. She’s a funny, smart teen girl who just wants to fit in and has to accept (and embrace) that she doesn’t. She is both an everyperson (as a fangirl, as a member of the younger generation) and an entry point for many people (me included) into learning more about her culture (her parents are Pakistani immigrants) and faith, since a lot of her sense of responsibility and how to negotiate her identity is attached to those contexts. (We get a variety of characters who reflect different aspects of those values, so I don’t feel like there’s stereotyping, but I’m no expert on this subject.)
The Bad: I’ve never been a particular fan of superheroes with ill-defined powers that just seem to plot-suit the situation, but you really can’t blame the writing for this one, since Kamala is taking up a mantle.
Overall: If you are into comics, you should read this. I’m going to buy the next trade and start catching up.
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
Premise: Vaguely semiautobiographical short story-driven novel about the Vietnam War experiences (and post-war experiences) of the author and his company, with a lot of thoughts about the nature of storytelling and war.
The Good: Where these stories really hit is in the details, which is probably why The Things They Carried, the titular story, is one of O’Brien’s most famous pieces of writing: because he can convey a lot through that list of items on the soldiers in the company. (Or through the things a man sees on his sixth circuit of a drive around the lake, or in a description of the wounds caused by the explosion of a grenade.) I also had a lot of feelings about his ruminations about storytelling and truth, and how facts are not always the best way of telling a story, or even of telling a truth, because they don’t convey the realities of a situation or a feeling.
The Bad: I’m sure there are things you could take to task about this book, but I’m not the one to do it: I know very little about American politics prior to my lifetime (which O’Brien more or less avoids) and I’m not a usual reader of war books; I came for the craft and the way of thinking through storytelling, and on those points, he really delivers.
Overall: With little real basis of comparison among books of its type, I can only say it’s a 9/10 for me. If you are interested in war stories or are a writer, I’m confident in saying it’ll be worth the time for you.
Thanks for tuning in, and I’ll catch up with you Thursday!