Quarterly Reading Challenge #5 (Books 6-10)

My e-mail has shot up to an unpleasant number and I’ve considered nuking my inbox. I’d like to say I’ve been busy with important real-life details, but even those have semi-spiraled out to a point beyond taming. Rather, I’ve been busy doing the usual, which involves anything I consider a distraction. Yet I implore: academics take some priority.

Partially consumed by Life’s sharp, nondiscriminatory teeth–swallowed and nearly eroded by its stomach acid–I briefly emerge. A mountain of schoolwork awaits review this weekend, as finals live in the future of next week. I feel diminished to a high schooler when I say, “Studying? Eww.” To succeed, my reading obsession calls for an interlude and I have difficulty accepting that (obviously). Since last Sunday, I have zipped through seven books, but in my defense: three were children’s books, one a short Lorca collection, and another a graphic novel. (If you want to include last Saturday, I have read ten.) Also in my defense: despite study time, I am no closer to grasping conic section formulas than I was a week ago. Math is always a cruel beast, and I doubt half of it will apply to my future job.

“Wow, glad I knew how to locate the foci to your parabolic-shaped Scabies rash,” said no one.

But here I am, ready to list off the remaining five books for the fifth YA quarterly challenge. To see books 1-5, click here. I commence:

6) A book that involves traveling.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

Landlubbers: Avast! Ahoy, me hearties.

How can anyone be unfamiliar with this story? It took me years, I admit, to finally read Stevenson’s book despite the few film adaptions I’ve seen and enjoyed. (My personal favorite thus far is Treasure Planet, and the most intoxicating urge to re-watch it has bubbled for weeks.)

As said by the world’s favorite Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade, “We do not follow maps to buried treasure, and ‘X’ never, ever marks the spot.” Poof! What is that I heard? Only my impractical childhood dream of becoming an archeologist dying. Of course, “X” always marks the spot in the realm of piracy. It’s only a matter of whether someone gets there before you — sea adventures, rum, the disregard of hygiene, singing drunk, daily hangovers, knife fights, and I didn’t mention the best parts of all: a new vocabulary and treasure! Sign me up.

I am a little at odds, however. The first time I eyed the Treasure Island cover and began a sweep through the landscape of text, I thought it was boring. Boring! I read what felt like 100 pages in the course of a week, and I had gone nowhere except Admiral Benbow Inn. In reality, I read about 29 or so pages–if that, even–in the span of one month. Should I have not said that to spare myself embarrassment? If a twelve year old can read and love this book… Well, I have news for you: so can I. Or I can at least offer modest appreciation for its existence. Without it, there would be no Treasure Planet, God forbid.

I haven’t a clue what possessed me to stretch 29 pages through 30 days the first time around. Really. I happily finished Treasure Island in two days, but that’s not to say I clung to every word frothing with love. Paragraphs dedicated to navigation allowed a noose to strangle my interest as I skimmed. Jim, my dear, I do not care which direction this and that lies. Describe your general surrounding and it will all be okay. It goes with the book’s pirate theme, I understand, and I present no further quarrels than my tipsy attention. Except…

In film adaptions, I like the presentation of the camaraderie formed between Long John Silver and Jim. The bond is jovial and seemingly sincere, which makes it all the more fragile when Silver’s treachery punctures it. It felt like something was amiss, then, because I didn’t see a friendship blossom and weaken by reading the book. Instead, I found it halfheartedly told. Although dilapidated comprehension may be culprit, or even a different reading viewpoint, Jim’s narrative perspective felt limited at times in the depths and complexities of relationships. Because it’s told in past-tense, the rush and excitement, even peril, of this adventure read at a steady pace. Simply, I was neither eager to put the book down, nor was I flipping through pages out of hungry anticipation. I like this story, sure, but I don’t find it likeable enough to love it or lacking enough to dislike it, either.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

2) Read a humorous book!

Teen Angst? Naaah… by Ned Vizzini

After I read the 444 pages of It’s Kind of a Funny Story (which I feel obliged to defend, because the movie is nothing more than a snooze-fest), I made it a point to read more by Vizzini. I tried Be More Chill last spring. Needless to say, it didn’t work out — perhaps I will allow a second chance some other time. Instead, I took this as an opportunity to explore the pages of Teen Angst. I had no expectations for it to yank a riot of laughter from my lungs, but I hoped it could produce moderate hahaing.

This book is for anybody who relates to the woes and  mortification one can only endure by living through a misery called high school. I suspect , however, that Teen Angst more closely resonates among “nerds” — kids who sacrifice a night of sleep for a Magic card game, for example. In other words: this book is anyone who knows the awkward horrors that accompany puberty. This includes tweens, teens, and adults. All that you require is a sense of humor.

I can’t say I have had an addiction to Magic: The Gathering, but I think many of can present a portion of ourselves that own a nerd-like label. Labels are for soup cans, Raya! OH, shut up. Labels are so integrated into our schools that I say labels are practically fused into the infrastructure. Which label you were or are coined in high school is beside the point, because I have no doubts we share qualities that dip into several: jock, loner, or stoner — it doesn’t matter. We all have some geekdom in us; albeit, some more than others (and some prouder to show it than others).

Starting with the year before Vizzini’s entrance into Stuyvesant, Teen Angst? Naaah… chronicles his high school years. From failed encounters with the opposite sex, a trip to The View, rock bands, Magic cards, Ninetendo, beer, to playing Jesus, Vizzini documents it all. (That is not the entire list, of course, but it has to end somewhere.) The illustrations that join the text are too dull for my taste, resembling simplistic computer graphics. Frankly, I could do without them, as the images don’t add to the humor (at least in the edition I read). They don’t necessarily take away from the humor, either, but I’d prefer an all-text copy. The humor, while not exactly my taste, is “clean,” self-deprecating, and relatable. If this book can’t stir some memories of your own funny moments, you’re a nut!

My rating: 3/5 stars.

8) A book that has a character who is a fighter or warrior of some sort.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I love this series, and I’m going crazy from THG withdrawal. Nothing, it seems, can’t soothe my hunger for more Hunger Games.

In my book review, I didn’t dare touch on allusions and cultural references found in THG. People often compare Panem to Ancient Rome, and if the names don’t tip you off, then The Games themselves must. The people of District 11 are described as dark-haired and dark-skinned, a possible and likely reference of slavery in the South’s ‘Black Belt’ region. Collins is a savvy writer, so I don’t question that most of what I spy is there by coincidence. In fact, I find THG much more engrossing for these allusions and the trilogy itself has become one of my favorites. But what can I add? Articles and blog posts about THG allusions are wide-spread (check out The Mad Reviewer’s THG & Ancient Rome post), and I’m more fitted for discussing character and plot development.

Because I’ve already reviewed The Hunger Games, I won’t loiter. I know I went on a rant of sorts, calling out Peeta’s lack of diversity and said Gale is one-dimensional. Was I grumpy, or would you agree with me? Count THG as a series I’m likely to re-read, but I maintain my Peeta comments for now. As for Gale? I will come back to Gale. The romantic subplot didn’t convince me of any sincerity the first time around, and I’m not sure I will feel differently the next time I pick this book up.

Katniss remains bloated in confusion throughout the story in book one (and two and most of three), just as Peeta  isn’t presented outside of his Katniss-infatuation. Don’t get me wrong: I like Peeta. He’s personable, aware of his faults, and a charismatic guy influential in words. Just once, couldn’t Peeta have a bad day? Most of his character growth occurs in response to events that happen in Catching Fire and Mockingjay, as does the growth of others: Katniss, Prim, and Gale.

Collins has a knack for writing well-paced suspense, which is what kept me reading and feeling eager to finish the series. My curiosity fizzled due to my spoil-party, so it was an unexpected feeling when the anticipation to reach the THG end returned once I started Catching Fire. I came to care about characters — not necessarily the main ones, but the likes of Cinna and Finnick, and I was either saddened or elated depending on what happened to which character. Overall as a series, I highly recommend it.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

9) A book with a sick character — recovering from an injury, disabled, terminally ill, etc.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

TFiOS is another book I reviewed, so I will limit what I say as to not sound repetitious.

Green, as always, gives a wondrously witty and funny set of characters. How often, can I ask, are teens this smart? Per my experience, I say rarely. Normally, I would conclude that this makes Hazel and her friends unrealistic, but Green makes his characters so charming and endearing that I somehow find them believable. Concerning TFiOS in particular, I’m also fond over the fact that John Green manages to write a teen cancer book with reveling amusement.

This is, however, an issue I had while reading. There are moments near the end that are simply both sad and sincere, but Hazel’s humorous voice can still be heard given appropriate moments. The humor and grief therefore felt out of balance as one dominated over the other. In this case: humor came out victor, grief sitting just beneath it.

But hey: this is a John Green novel. How can you not at least try TFiOS out for yourself? As a female character, Hazel is a great departure from the more angsty or emotionally upset Margo and Alaska. (This is not to say that Margo and Alaska are disappointing characters. Looking for Alaska holds its position as my favorite Green book thus far.)

My rating: 3/5 stars.

10) A book written by a male author.

Every You, Every Me by David Levithan

Come on, Levithan super fans, send your hate mail. I’m prepared.

I present yet another negative review, although it is certainly less ranty than the one I wrote for Burd’s The Vast Field of Ordinary. Because I’ve already summarized the plot in my review (and because I’d like to avoid a second recap), I will pass on a plot summary and skip right on over to: ouch, that is a lot of angst. Every word, in fact, is just oozing a sticky mess of it.

What was Levithan thinking, then, when he decided to strike a line through more than half his text? The number of times I glance at the struck-out wording doesn’t seem to matter, as I grow none the wiser for it. The bulk of words that have an unpleasant dash running through them needn’t be struck through in the first place! Had Levithan altered his phrasing and added insightful information (hence not restricting readers to a character’s surface), little strike-through would be necessary. This is ignoring the fact that half of the struck-through text fails to give a positive effect, working against the content instead.

“What’d you do last night?”
I never do anything. “Not much, you?”

I wonder why Evan, our narrator, can’t address this to the audience instead of trying to conceal it. Oh, Evan, you broody boy, your teen angst is showing.

It’s true: I dislike strike-through. As noted in my review, I find it aesthetically unappealing and therefore annoying unless someone uses it sparingly. Regardless, I accept that some contemporary writers enjoy incorporating it into their writing. That’s fine, but there’s only so much a writer can do with strike-through until it becomes an abused element. Well, Levithan abused it.

Unlike Collins, I can’t say David Levithan writes suspense well. The pacing is poor, moving the story too quickly or allowing weighty brooding to take up unnecessary space. I wasn’t drawn to the mystery of Ariel, nor did I feel compelled to find out who is stalking Evan and why. The concept of this book shows promise, but somewhere along the way things went terribly wrong. Characters, with their unrealistic teen dialogue (which is far, far removed from Green’s wit and charm), are explored as vastly as the depth of a shallow puddle.

Combine strike-through misuse with flat characters and a lackluster plot, and you’ve just concocted Every You, Every Me.

My rating: 2/5 stars.

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One thought on “Quarterly Reading Challenge #5 (Books 6-10)

  1. Pingback: Quarterly Reading Challenge #5 (Books 1-5) | midnight coffee monster

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