Book: Shine

"Shine"

This is not a ghost story, thought there are plenty of ghosts in it.

And it’s not a horror story, though some people might be horrified.

It’s not a monster story either, though there is a monster in it. And that monster happens to be me.

I fell in love with Candy Gourlay’s writing with Tall Story. Unlike so many writers, she was able to marry her Filipino heritage with her England setting in such a way that it didn’t feel forced. Maybe because she never lost sight of how her story is about siblings who just happen to be Filipino. In her new book, though, I think Gourlay struggles with the made-up town of Mirasol. And I blame the story’s reliance on superstition and flashbacks.

In Shine, the author takes us to a town where people believe in monsters; and introduces us to Rosa, a girl made to believe that she was a monster because of a birth defect. The first chapter sets up this new world beautifully. And then, in the second chapter, it all goes to pieces. Mostly because there are three stories running simultaneously, and only one of them is handled well.

Plot number one: who you are versus who you say you are.

The most interesting premise of the book, I feel, is its plot about Rosa wanting to be seen as normal. And in a town where people are afraid of her because of how she looks and how she sounds, her only solace is the world wide web. A world where she can be whoever she wishes to be. A world where her looks won’t matter.At least, not at first.

Gourlay is a master at building up the suspense of Rosa making a friend online, and discovering that he lives in the same town as her. The friendship that grows between the two feels realistic, as well as they’re need to make actual physical contact. Unfortunately, this is where the ball gets dropped when it comes to their storyline.

The plight of Rosa’s friend is supposed to mirror hers. And it does that. But it also undermines everything that we were made to believe about Rosa’s town of Mirasol. Because the town painted to Rosa by her father and her nanny seems to discriminate against everyone with Rosa’s defect. And yet gives her friend a pass–until such time when the plot needs for him to be noticed.

Plot number two: who you are versus who you think you are.

Throughout the book, we are told the story of Rosa’s mother and her twin sister. Girls who are alike in so many ways–except one has a physical defect that forces her to stay at home. Making her envious of the twin who can leave the house. While making the non-defective twin envious of the girl who gets to spend more time with their parents, their loved one. The one who gets more, because she has less.

I liked this plot best because there is a clear progression of where the characters begin, of how they handle their problems, and of where they end up in their journey. And I love how none of the characters are purely good. They are human. They make mistakes. And they do their best to make the most of what they have.

Plot number three: who you are versus who you want to forget.

Interspersed between Rosa’s need to have a friend, and the story of how her mother met her father and lost a twin, is Rosa’s need to find closure for her mother’s death. And her obsession in seeing her mother’s ghost. But when the ghost does arrive, I feel like Gourlay doesn’t really know where to take the story.

So we get the mother’s twin instead.

The monster’s twin who is in love with Rosa’s father.

And, this is unclear, who might also be the reason why Rosa’s father won’t pack his things up, to move Rosa to somewhere where she won’t be judged. Where she can be normal.

Yeah, I don’t really understand this part. I get that Rosa’s father is a man who cares for people, but at the risk of his own daughter’s safety? The daughter who was almost killed by the superstitious folks of Mirasol? If I were the dad, I would’ve packed up my things and moved as soon as that happened.

It’s this plot that’s really bringing this book down for me.

That said, I do think the book’s great writing outweigh my concerns about the story. Shine is an engaging read, and it does bring up good points about image, and how perception plays a part into our lives. I just wish author Gourlay handled some parts of the book better than she did.

But, as always, don’t just take my word on this. Check out what other people have to say about Shine:
Love Reading 4 Kids
The Book Bag
What’s Good to Do

Book: Horns

"Horns"

Once, Ig lived the life of the blessed: born into privilege, the second son of a renowned musician, the younger brother of a rising late-night TV star. Ig had security and wealth and a place in his community. Ig had it all, and more–he had the love of Merrin Williams, a love founded on shared daydreams, mutual daring, and unlikely midsummer magic.

Then beautiful, vivacious Merrin was gone–raped and murdered, under inexplicable circumstances–and Ig the only suspect. He was never tried for the crime, but in the court of public opinion, he was and always would be guilty.

Now Ig is possessed of horns, and a terrible new power–he can hear people’s deepest, darkest secrets–to go with his terrible new look. He means to use it to find whoever killed Merrin and destroyed his life. Being good and praying for the best got him nowhere. It’s time for a little revenge; it’s time the devil had his due.

It’s wonderful. It’s amazing. It’s… It’s more than I expected. And I already had expectations, after reading the equally astounding N0S4A2.

Knowing Joe Hill’s background, I always assumed I wouldn’t like his works. See, while I respect Stephen King and I love his premises, I was never a fan of his writing. I don’t know why. So when I picked up N0S4A2 before, it was with trepidation. After all, Joe Hill was being hailed as someone who is carrying on his father’s legacy. I was wary. But I ended up liking his style of writing. Horns, my second foray into Joe Hill’s world of horrors, cements the fact that he is not like his father at all.

Yes, he has Stephen King’s knack for creating a mythology so complete that anything that happens within the story is unquestionable. But in their handling of words, I would lean to Hill as being the more accessible one. Maybe because he has a younger voice, and has a better hold on how readers now take in words. But that can’t be true, right? After all, Stephen King continues to be widely read. More widely read than his son, if you think about it. But this is a topic that’s separate from Horns, and this is a post about said book, so let’s get on with the discussion.

Horns is a book of ironies: the devil performs miracles, while the good guy is awarded horns. And what I like about the book is that it plays with these ironies, it explores these characters, and we are not spoon-fed information about why something is happening. Things happen. Shit happens. And everything is taken in stride. The story is messy. Realistically messy. Nothing feels preordained, even when you think you know where the story is finally going.

I loved how Hill presented Ig as someone who doesn’t see himself as a good guy. He is presented as the most hated man in their community. And yet, as we get to know him, page by page, we decide for ourselves who Ig really is. That he isn’t the devil he’s being painted out to be.

And I love how Hill tackles the idea of people doing things that aren’t the things they want to do; that their innermost voice can say vicious things while presenting a virtuous front. It’s the idea of identity, and how we consciously shape how other people see us. And what happens when that ability, to create our own identity, is taken away from us.

Horns tells the story of Ig, but at one point in life or another, Ig has been us. Subjected to judgment by the court of public opinions. Given a verdict without the proper trial. And all we can do is to keep on keeping on. To live our lives despite what other people are saying. To give the effect of not being affected, while doing our best to set things right–to set us right.

Horns is a study of people at their most base form: as creatures who want to be liked.

Suffice to say, I loved the book and I think people who share my taste would too. If you find yourself agreeing with most of my reviews here at the blog, then this book is probably for you too.

But, if you need more opinions, then why not check these blogs out:
The Write Place
The Horror Hotel
Empires and Mangers

Book: The Rules for Disappearing

"The Rules for Disappearing"

She’s been six different people in six different places: Madeline in Ohio, Isabelle in Missouri, Olivia in Kentucky… But now that she’s been transplanted to rural Louisiana, she has decided that this fake identity will be her last.

Witness Protection has taken nearly everything from her. But for now, it has given her a new name–Megan Rose Jones–and a horrible hair color. For the past eight months, Meg has begged her father to answer one question: What on earth did he do–or see–that landed them in this god-awful mess? Meg has just about had it with all of the suits’ rules–and her dad’s silence. If he won’t help, it’s time she got some answers for herself.

But Meg isn’t counting on Ethan Landry, an adorable Louisiana farm boy who’s too smart for his own good. He knows Meg is hiding something big. And it just might get both of them killed. As they embark on a perilous journey to free her family once and for all, Meg discovers that there’s only one rule that really matters–survival.

I’m on the fence on whether I liked the book or not. On the one hand, I like the cinematic premise. I like the idea, and for the most part, the execution of it. I like the logic that the main character employs in trying to figure out what the story is behind their placement in Witness Protection. But the cinematic premise is also my biggest bone of contention with The Rules for Disappearing.

You see, when you watch a movie, you’re not always privy to what your main character is thinking. You can be, some movies employ narration or voice overs, but suspense thrillers usually let the action speak for itself. Which is why in movies, left-of-field twists work. In books though, withholding information, even if it’s important and organic to your story, makes your main character an unreliable narrator. And that’s when we get into a bit of trouble. Because it’s hard to trust an unreliable narrator.

Also, it’s hard to get romantically swept away when your main character is constantly reminding you that she shouldn’t be falling in love. It kills the mood. And makes her a tad unlikeable when she disobeys her own rules.

And that’s just the tip of why I don’t know whether The Rules for Disappearing is something I would recommend to people or not.

I did enjoy reading the book. A lot. It was a very fast read, and for the most part, I was very engaged in what was happening to the main character. But, and please bear in mind that I am not a resident of the United States of America, the plan our main character tries to pull to get her family out of Witness Protection in the last quarter of the book was very unbelievable. Highly improbable. And that ruined the book a little for me.

Which is kind of sad since the ending was very chilling. And would make you want to read the sequel, even as you wonder if the book actually warrants a sequel. I guess when I do eventually pick up the follow-up, I’ll just cross my fingers and hope that the events don’t unfold the way it did here–unrealistically.

But this is me, and other people have other opinions. So why don’t we mosey on down to their little corners of the world wide web and find out what they have to say about the novel:
The Flyleaf Review
Oh, Chrys
Young Adult Book Haven

Book: Stargirl

"Stargirl"

Stargirl. She’s as magical as the desert sky. As strange as her pet rat. As mysterious as her own name. And she captures Leo Borlock’s heart with just one smile.

But when the students of Mica high turn on Stargirl for everything that makes her different, Leo urges her to become the very thing that can destroy her: normal. In a celebration of nonconformity, Newberry Medalist Jerry Spinelli weaves a tense, emotional tale about the perils of popularity–and the inspiration of first love.

I’ve received a lot of recommendations for this book. And it’s strange how long it took me to get to this book. But I’ve read it now, and wow, I can understand now why people keep recommending this book.

Stargirl is one of a kind. And I’m not just saying that about the character. The book is also one of a kind. The way it handles the issue of conformity, of popularity, of doing one’s best to carve their own identities while also fitting in with everyone else.

The book is a memoir of sorts. Of a time gone by. Of a girl who could have been, but never was. Of being innocently mean, and unapologetically naive. And our main character, Leo, doesn’t shy from pointing out the mistakes he made–of the things he did that ruined the possibility of a happily ever after for him. And it’s refreshing.

It’s an honest look at what it’s like to be a teen. Or, at the very least, of how our character saw himself as a teenager. I’m almost thirty now, and this is how I remember myself when I was younger. Feeling on top of the world. Feeling loved. Feeling the crushing humiliation whenever I became the center of unwanted attention. Feeling the burning despair of being pointedly ignored by people whose approval you want.

We all wanted to be liked. And that’s what the book is about. That’s what the book underlines, by introducing a character who doesn’t care what other people think of her. And it shows us how impressions and the need for approval can either stunt our emotional growth, or make us better people.

Stargirl is a wonderful book that would fit very well in high school libraries. To remind teens that the world will judge you, that the world will force you to conform into societal molds that are deemed acceptable–that you might grow into a person you don’t actually like…but that you have the power to change what you don’t like.

That in the end, what’s important is that you like yourself.

Now, let’s see what other people have to say about Spinelli’s Stargirl:
The Geek Girl Project
Readers by Night
Build Enough Bookshelves

Book: Also Known As Rowan Pohi

"Also Known As Rowan Pohi"

Bobby Steele and his friends  Big Poobs and Marcus are bored, waiting for tenth grade to start at dreary Riverview High. So the idea of inventing an imaginary kid and writing up an application for him to attend Whitestone Academy, a fancy prep school, is kind of appealing–fun, even. Name: Rowan Pohi. Grade average, hobbies and activities, a letter of recommendation from a nonexistent football coach…no problem.

But then–a surprise! Rowan’s application is accepted.

The boys agree that it’s time to back off and put the whole prank to rest. But Bobby is having second thoughts. Rowan has a chance at everything he–Bobby–wants, and Rowan doesn’t exist. Why shouldn’t Bobby claim it for himself?

Identity. In a world that has more than a billion people, and in an age where everyone is connected somehow, we’re always trying to assert ourselves, establish ourselves, and basically tell everyone that we are unique. And we are. But what about those people who would rather be someone else? The ones who want to escape from the lives they’re living now?

This is the story of Also Known As Rowan Pohi. What starts out as a joke begins a lying game where our main character has to choose between being who he is, and who he wants to be known as. It deals with the issue of escape, of how your family defines you before you can define yourself, and the freedom of being given a clean slate.

I think it’s the perfect novel for high school kids who are about to enter college. Well, the ones here in the Philippines anyway.

What age do we graduate from high school? 15 or 16. We enter college at the time when we’re not yet adults, and yet we’re given the chance to be one. Even if it’s just at school. Suddenly, the world we’ve known since we were kids have been exponentially expanded, and you can start anew with your life. This is when you start to experiment, start to see yourself away from your family, the friends you made–this is when you find you.

Bobby Steele, our protagonist, isn’t in that place yet. He’s still in high school. But he’s the age we are when we enter college. When he wants to be separated from the past of his family, the inadequacy that he feels in his own life. And when he’s given the chance to start over–he takes it. And has to deal with the fact that he has to live in two worlds: the one he really lives in, and the one he wants to live on. And this duplicity cannot last long–and it doesn’t. Secrets have this nasty habit of getting out before you want them to… Before you’re ready to deal with them. And that’s the problem that Bobby faces in this book.

What we get from how he deals with the aftermath of his lie is a wonderful story about self-acceptance. And about owning up to mistakes.

And a book that’s something I would want to recommend to young readers.

But that’s just me talking. Let’s see what other people have to say about Also Known As Rowan Pohi:
The Diary of a Bookworm
My Shelf Confessions
Early Nerd Special