Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian- Sherman Alexie

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian- Sherman Alexie

When I was in college, I read Alexie's collection of short stories, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. I loved his work then, so I'm not sure why it took me so long to pick up this book. It was only sort of on my radar, but when I found myself sitting in my school's library waiting for students to finish reading tests, I was drawn to it on the shelf and thought I would read a little bit. Well, a little bit turned into the entire novel in short order. (Note to the FCC- since I know this is your favorite blog to read... book was checked out from my school's library)

Arnold "Junior" Spirit is a Spokane Indian living on the rez in the Northeastern United States. He is poor; his friends are poor; the entire reservation is poor and without much hope. Junior is excited to start high school, despite the beatings he is sure to receive. He's been a town punching bag since birth because of his plethora of physical defects and personality quirks. He would likely be in much worse shape if his best friend Rowdy wasn't always looking for a fight and willing to stick up for him. When Junior receives his math book in his first class and finds that it's the same book his mother used thirty plus years prior, he loses all patience and decides that he must get off the rez and go to the white school in the farm town 22 miles away. This decision leads to a backlash from his tribe and he soon fits in nowhere. Throughout the novel Junior's life gets better in some areas, but completely falls apart in others. His sense of humor and wit however, never falter.

I really loved this book. The voice was spectacular, probably due in part to the semi-autobiographical nature of the writing, but Alexie really nails it. Junior's humor and observations cut right to the bone. Alexie never shies away from the difficult and unsavory aspects of life as a teenage boy, or life as Native American. Though it was lightly uncomfortable at times for me, a white woman, to read, I could still relate and sympathize with Junior's pain and coming from a small town myself, his deep desire to leave and make his mark on the world.

Though this book is technically YA fiction, it is worth everyone reading. The pain of being a teenager is something that no one is impervious to. Though, I particularly think this book would be fantastic for reluctant readers, particularly boys. I plan to have my literacy class of struggling juniors, all boys, read this. The pacing is well done, and while the themes and issues have a remarkable depth, the language is easy to read. I also loved the cartoons throughout. They were hilarious and totally believable. I dislike books where pictures just seem to be added in but don't actually add anything to the story. These drawings moved the plot just as much as words, sometimes more so. Overall, a triumph of the teenage years by Alexie. I'm sure that this will be a favorite of many.

You can read my other reviews HERE.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Reading up on the Best YA Fantasy

I've started working on a Young Adult fantasy novel. The idea is actually from a short story that I wrote when I was 11. At the time I thought it was the best story ever and that it definitely needed to be published. The story was written for a school assignment, so I already had it typed up and I figured it was just a matter of mailing it off and waiting for my book to hit the shelves. I diligently copied the addresses of publishers from the inside covers of my books, typed up a cover letter and sent my story off into the world. Needless to say, I didn't get a seven-figure book deal. :) One or two houses wrote back, with a form letter that stated they didn't accept unsolicited manuscripts. I shelved the story for 17 years, but recently it came back to mind. It really was a good story idea... not executed in the best manner, but I decided I wanted to see if I could make something of it. Hence... my latest book project was born.

When I wrote my first novel (which I'm not even going to try to market), I just jumped straight into writing. No outline, plan, nothing. I did really well with that until about halfway through the book and then I got stuck. I had no idea how to get from the middle of the book to the end. I stopped, tried to write an outline and managed to slog through it, but I never felt like it really worked. The plot ended up being really jumbled and messy. So, to combat this problem with the current book, I decided to write an outline and have a really good, clear idea of where I'm going with this novel (and potentially this series) before I ever start that first sentence.

In preparation for writing my own YA adventure/fantasy, I decided to read seven other YA fantasies: classics, epic bestsellers, and honored authors. Here are my thoughts on each of these books, from a writer's perspective. I tried to analyze what I liked, didn't like, thought worked, would like to copy...etc. For the FTC- like they'll ever look at this blog- I purchased all of these books myself, none were gifted from the authors or the publishers.

The Sea of Trolls Nancy Farmer

Quick Synopsis: Farmer boy is taken on as an apprentice to a bard (wizard). When the Berzerkers (bad guys) capture his little sister, he has to venture to the land of trolls to help save her.

This is the second time I've read this book and while I like it, it doesn't blow me away. I really like Farmer's use of Norwegian myths and folktales. She really brings Norse mythology to life and integrates it into the story without sounding like she's telling a folktale. Things I didn't like: I don't really buy the relationship between the sister and brother. The little sister is ridiculously whiny and annoying and it's hard to believe that her brother keeps going out on a limb for her just because she's his sister. The book drags a little in places and then moves too quickly through some of the parts that I thought would be most interesting. This book definitely inspired me to use myths and folktales in my own novel, but I want to make sure that my characters' motivation are more believable and my pacing better.

Twilight: Stephenie Meyer

Quick Synopsis (in case you've managed to avoid any teenage girls): Clumsy, new-girl-in-town, Bella meets godlike Edward. They fall in love, but he's a vampire and could eat her at any minute. She doesn't care.

Oy... I have such mixed feeling about this book. On the one hand, it, and the entire series, is totally engrossing. I was reading this for a second time and I still couldn't put it down. On the other hand, the characters are irritating, the plot is trite and I hate the underlying "you're nothing without your man" message. I think there are a couple of things that Meyer does really well in this book. First, Bella as a person easily slips away and as a reader you can place yourself in her position. Second, she preys upon what many women want, or would at least like: a stunning, rich man who worships you. We all want to feel wanted and she really drives at the core of that desire. I don't like how simpering Bella is; she can't do anything for herself and I really don't think that is the kind of message that anyone needs. I don't particularly care for her writing. It's very flowery and repetitive. I know Edward is gorgeous, I don't need to be reminded of it every other sentence. I do think that a love story resonates with the population (obviously) so I'd like to incorporate some romance into my own novel... but not quite this much.

A Wrinkle in Time: Madeline L'Engle

Quick Synopsis: Meg Murray's scientist father has been missing for quite some time when she and her genius little brother Charles are approached by some odd beings to tesseract (a wrinkle in time) across the universe to save him from dark forces.

This is a classic in Ya fantasy/sci fi and while I do like it, I felt like it had some points which I would not copy. To be honest, it actually moved a little quickly. I wished that L'Engle would have build this world and all of the nuances of it a little more. It also ended a bit abruptly. I do like the combination of our 'regular' world and a fantasy world. Her characters also have clear, strong personalities, but at some points they felt a little too one sided and not entirely believable. The "villian" also isn't well developed and thus isn't very scary.

Harry Potter and the Sorcer's Stone: J.K. Rowling

Quick Synopsis: Eleven-year-old orphan, Harry, finds out that he's a wizard and is sent off to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. He also learns that he survived an attack by the most dangerous wizard in the world as a baby and now that wizard is after him and on a quest to return to power.

I really love Harry Potter. I think that Rowling does an excellent job of building a world and making it very believable. We're helped from it feeling like an info dump by the fact that Harry conveniently doesn't know anything either. Her characters are multi-dimensional and have real and believable flaws. Voldemort, our villain, while not really in this novel, is still built to be a formidable and scary force. As a storyteller, Rowling is impeccable. The plot moves, is interesting and the reader becomes very invested in the characters. However, as a writer, I don't think Rowling is the best. Her writing is passive often and sometimes plot points are left unanswered. Harry Potter is a phenomenon for a reason though. It's a great book.

Magyk: Angie Sage

Quick Synopsis: The Heaps are a magical family of wizards who, after their seventh son died, have been unknowingly raising a princess for the last ten years. When the evil wizards DomDaniel returns to take reign over the kingdom they flee with Princess Jenna to try to keep her safe.

I remember when this book came out and it was really being pushed as the next Harry Potter, sadly it fell woefully short. At least the first novel, I haven't read the rest of the series. The premise is interesting, but I found the plot to be very predictable and slow moving. I also felt that the characters didn't actually "do" anything. Lots of stuff happened to them, and all of the plots points were a result of who they are externally, not who they are in their personalities. I'm not sure if that makes sense, and I hesitate to explain it more, lest I really give the plot away to those who haven't read the book. The characters didn't feel are well rounded or deep. I also got pretty annoyed by how the book was typeset. Any magical words were bold and in a different font. This, coupled with all of the 'y's in words (like Magyc), really irritated me. Overall, it was an okay book, and cute, but it didn't intrigue me enough to read the read of the series.

A Great and Terrible Beauty: Libba Bray

Quick Synopsis: In 18th century England, Gemma Doyle is sent to a finishing school after her mother is mysteriously murdered in India.  At the school Gemma befriends some of the popular girls and they soon form a secret club revolving around Gemma mysterious magical abilities.

There are a few things that I really liked about this novel. I really enjoyed the time and setting of the book. I'm not a huge historical fiction person, but this was interesting. I liked the bond between the characters and how their personalities played off of each other. They all had strong traits, but it didn't feel gimmicky or stereotypical. The plot was interesting, but it was very slow moving. I didn't feel like there were enough interesting questions consistently raised to keep my interest. I kept reading because I generally keep reading, but I can imagine others putting the book down several times in the book. The only other thing that bothered me was how the girls spoke in the book. They sounded far too modern and at times it jarred me out of the story.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: C.S. Lewis

Quick Synopsis: Four children find a secret world called Narnia in the back of their uncle's wardrobe. In this world one of the children falls into the clutches of the evil White Witch who has forced the world into a perpetual winter, with no Christmas. The three other children band together with a lion to bring good back to Naria.

This is another classic and I really love this book, as well as the entire Chronicles of Narnia series. I know that some people don't care for the "Jesus allegory", but I find that it isn't as in your face as some make it out to be. I would really like to have a deeper meaning in my novel as well. Maybe not quite as overt as Lewis, but something with some substance. The characters don't have quite as much depth as I would like, and like A Wrinkle in Time, I felt like it could have had more meat to the plot and description. The book moves quickly from the ordinary world into Narnia and then even faster through the plot points, but I wish that Lewis had slowed down at times.

So, there you have it. My take on some of the best YA fantasy novels. Or at least the best fantasy nobels that I knew of and had to read. :) I'd love to hear your take on the best YA, or Adult, fantasy. What are your favorites?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

New Year...new blog

So, it has again been far too long since I've written here. I'm not sure that anyone particularly missed me, but I'm back, regardless. 2009 went out with... well... it went, and I'm glad to see it gone. '09 was a year of a lot of trials for me health, work, writing, life in general. I'm really hoping that '10 is a true fresh start and will bring some peace and organization to my life.

I didn't make specific resolutions this year. Normally, I am the type to make resolutions, and promptly break them a few days later, but my overall resolution is to just get my life together. I want to organize my time better, organize my writing time more, get my health back in line, get my finances and career back in line, just get my act together in general. We'll see how it turns out, but so far I feel like I'm on track at least.

Since I'm trying to focus my time more and eliminite superfluous things I'll be paring down the focus of the blog. Not to make excuses, but part of the reason I haven't blogged is because I never feel like I have things to talk about that really fit into my "read, write, knit, panic" idea. I'm constantly knitting, but rarely remember to take pictures of my works in progress, or when they're finished for that matter. And a knitting blog without pictures is pretty boring. I always have plenty to panic about, but I'm also trying to focus on the positive more. So the knitting and panicing aspects of this blog will be no more. I'm going to focus on writing about what I've been reading, and what I've been writing. I've read mixed reviews on whether authors should reveal their process as they work on a novel, but I have always wondered how authors write and find it terribly interesting. I don't know if my own journey to publication will be quite as intriguing, but I'd at least like to document the process.

I also debated blogging about my heath trevails and what I'm doing to try to solve the variety of problems that I have. There isn't a lot out there from a first hand perspective about the illnesses that I have, so part of me feels like I should tell my story to help others, but another part of me really doesn't want to add anything else to my plate. We'll see. If I do decide to blog about it, I think I'll start a separate blog so as not to muddy the waters further.

At any rate... if you're still even reading this... look for more of a focus on reading and writing in the coming months. I'm going to shoot for blogging twice a week or so. If my track record is any indication this means that I'll blog twice a week for about a month and then no one will hear from me until July. Trying to break old habits though.

So, here's to a productive 2010 for all readers of this blog. I'd love to hear your resolutions, or goals, or whatever your hopes and dreams are for the new decade. I'm always inspired by the dreams of others. :)


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