The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (CBR8 #52 – Cannonball!)

Alexie cover

Normally I have my Cannonball book picked out in advance. I know what my goal book is for the big reviews. 2016 hasn’t really worked out that way, so as I was packing my bags for a quick 48-hour trip to visit my family I had just finished book 51 and knew the next one would be *the* cannonball book. I of course grabbed Cannonball Book Club’s pick, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.

Can I just say that you all rocked this choice? It was great.

It’s my policy to do pretty vague/non-spoiler reviews of book club choices. Know that I really loved this book and it made my nearly 5-hour flight delay bearable (I probably finished this book in three hours).  Junior is great, Alexie writes him with such clarity, honesty, and truth. And in turn, Junior is able to relate a year in the life to us in precise, genuine, and emotional ways that suck you in. Also, it includes one of my favorite things… a list of favorite books (even if I worry about Junior’s taste).

alexie book list

Here’s a summary for those of you still on the fence: Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, based on the author’s own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by Ellen Forney chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from one life and replace it with another.

The discussion topics and reminder post will go up later this week and we’ll meet over at Cannonball Read on September 1 to chat about the book.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

Curtsies & Conspiracies (CBR7 #30)

I admit that I had no immediate plans of reading the rest of the Finishing School series by Gail Carriger when I finished Etiquette & Espionage. Sure, the book contained all of the wit and witticism one would expect from a Carrier steampunk novel, but it just didn’t grab me the same way Soulless had a few years ago. Well, my friend Crystal Clear had the book the second ready and waiting and dropped it off for me to read. I’m really rather glad she did.

Curtsies & Conspiracies picks up almost immediately after E&E. Sophronia and her friends are in the middle of their first year at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality, and it’s time for exams. Some do very well, some less well, but all are being put to further tests. These various plot threads all come to a head when Sophronia learns that there may be more to a field trip to London than is apparent at first. There is a conspiracy afoot-(as the title of the book would have you be ready for) However, this conspiracy may have dire implications for both supernaturals and humans.

It’s this part of Carriger’s novels that I really enjoy, the solving of plots. Carriger weaves in old standbys from the novels of manners and overlays them with the idea that since so much of a woman’s life was and is about subterfuge; wouldn’t they make the best possible spies? Sophronia is certainly proving herself up to the task, but being a girl of 14, there are certain consequences she doesn’t foresee and Carriger doesn’t shy away from them. This was certainly an improvement in tone from the first outing in this series.

I find myself looking forward to the third book, Waistcoats & Weaponry whenever it finds its way to my door.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

Paper Towns (CBR7 #22)

The longer I sit with my reactions to Paper Towns by John Green the more and more it grows on me. Normally I would have finished this book and had the review up within 24 huors, but life was not cooperating this weekend so instead its been nearly three days since I finished the book before I’ve sat down to examine my thoughts. They are many, and they are varied, which is why I think I’m sticking with a 3.5 rating rounded down to 3. Let’s discuss why:

Paper Towns  is built around the last few months of senior year for Quentin and Margot. Q is your average kid from high school. He has his people (the band kids), he has his best friends (Radar and Ben), he has his weird parents (psychologists!), and he has the girl he pines for (Margot). What John Green excels at is taking characters like these and infusing them with the pathos of the young, without coming across as maudlin or whiny, or worst of all – fake. These characters, as a group, are perhaps Green’s best foray into a full cast of well-developed characters.

Plot wise, there were fits and starts. I hated the introduction. I put the book down for nearly a week after reading it. I don’t know that pulling the information that Q and Margot found a dead body together when they were very young is important as our first data point for these characters. We certainly don’t need several pages of Q explaining how this was the defining moment of what came after. At least not up front. What does come after is Margot going on a revenge campaign and then disappearing, first with Q and then without, we’re along for the ride of watching Q sort out who Margot is to him and their friends, and more importantly who Margot is to herself.

Empathy is the crucial piece of this novel. As we spend time with Q he is learning to empathize with his friends, his parents, and even the bully a few blocks over. He’s also learning that its incredibly difficult to truly know anyone, and if you don’t make the attempt, then you have nothing but an empty place holder where that person should be. The best part, the happiest reading was Margo and Q’s night of adventure. But the pacing of the book struggled after Margot took off and we’re left with Q as he struggles with these big questions.

Other things that Green did that I thought were good was using some heavy hitters of the artist world as big portions of the story, Whitman, I’m looking at you. I also appreciated greatly that the ending wasn’t afraid to be real and true to the characters’ intent. There was no 11th hour change of personality, just discovery and understanding.

Narfna spoke eloquently in her review of how books like Paper Towns are so important for the work they do in teaching us NOT to create Manic Pixie Dream Girls/Boys in our own lives. As much as Margot can be argued to fit into that category, it’s a superficial reading of the narrative, at best. In many ways Paper Towns has the same basic plot points of Green’s earlier works:  a character missing from the narrative through line while being its catalyst (Looking for Alaska) and a road trip story (An Abundance of Katherines), both with a young, male, protagonist. And for that reason, and some stumbling in the beginning, I can’t quite convince myself today to rate this book a 4, but I might later. Reading this book also had me dropping my rating for The Fault in Our Stars down to a 4 from a 5, so I’m obviously up for changing ratings.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

Fangirl (CBR6 #26!)

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Rainbow Rowell is one of my two favorite new authors of the past few years. She and Lyndsay Faye have been rocking my literary world, and I am so glad for it. I saved Fangirl to be my 26th book this year, and timed it to coincide with my vacation. I had planes and beach ahead of me, so the timing was perfect.

And there is so much to love about the story of Cath. So much that is good, and interesting, and superbly executed. Really, I’ve come to expect that I will simply fall in love with Rainbow’s characters because they are so real, and I do. Every. Single. Time.  I love Rainbow Rowell, and it’s easy to see why.

But, (and there is a but) several days after finishing the book I’m still hung up on the ending that wasn’t. I follow Rainbow on Twitter, where she is just as lovely as you could hope, and there are a lot of people who tweet at her about those three words at the end of Eleanor & Park. I have never understood those people. Until I got to the last 5 pages of Fangirl. And then I just wanted more. I wanted more Cath and Levi, more Simon Snow and the Eighth Dance, and more Carry On, Simon.  I wanted more of all of it. I wanted more than just the signposts pointing me in the direction of the resolution; I wanted to see it there, on the page, right in front of my nose.

I am apparently very needy.

I think I’m needy because in oh so many ways, I am Cath. I was the girl who wouldn’t go down to the cafeteria because “all the trickiest rules are the ones nobody bothers to explain to you. (And the ones you can’t Google.” I’m the person who doesn’t understand how people are naturally ‘on’ all the time and don’t need time alone to recharge. Writing can feel like running downhill towards the thing that makes sense, while real life seems to be out on the edges. I need my own Wren or Reagan to pull me back in from the outside edges. Heck, I want to be as quippy as Reagan.

So, what am I trying to say? That I loved this book. That I wanted to live in it some more. That I get fanfiction now more than I did before. But I just can’t seem to round this one up to a 5 star book. (until I did, after reading Landline.)

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

Eleanor & Park (CBR5 #29)

I love Rainbow Rowell’s characters. Even when we aren’t meant to like, or agree with them, she manages to fully flesh them out in a way that at the very least makes them relatable. Which, to me, is something to aspire to as a writer. I can only hope that the characters I scribble can someday become so fully fleshed out.

The two main characters, as the title suggests, are Eleanor and Park. Eleanor is the new girl in town. She moves back in with her mother and stepfather after a year’s separation from them in which she lived with friends of the family, her mother has convinced her stepfather to let her return to the family. While having to navigate rebuilding relationships with her younger siblings, she also must navigate a new high school filled with people who – in the way of high school – are always looking to attack the new and different.

Which brings us to Park. He is different .He is different from his brother, from his parents, and from the other kids at school. But he grew up in the neighborhood and his Korean mom, whom his dad met while deployed in the military and everyone has become accustomed to his family. He has perfected the level of friendship and interactions which allow him to fly under the radar. Until Eleanor gets on the bus and the only open seat is next to him.

This is a YA book, and our protagonists go through a pretty typical high school plotline. But, there’s more depth to Eleanor and Park, and to their lives, than you might expect. Unless, of course, you’ve read Rainbow Rowell’s work before.

Read it.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.