On the blog:
- Top Ten Characters I’d Like to Revisit as Adults
- A round-up of my favorite online reading from last week
I fully expected to love The Story of Owen. It hits several of my favorite YA reading buttons: there are dragons; the protagonist is an arty-creative girl who doesn’t quite fit in; there’s friendship rather than romance at the heart; there are involved and kind of cool parents; it’s essentially about the power of storytelling. And did I mention there are dragons? But it was a bit of a meh read for me and never quite as engaging as it could have been. Something about the pacing is a bit off. The story drags when it ought to fly. There is a lot of telling and a lot of world-building that seems a little too explicitly explained, especially when the world itself simply isn’t that interesting. There were many passages that felt like back story the author needed to write for herself but didn’t need to share with the reader.
I finally read a book in the popular I Survived series: I Survived the San Francisco Earthquake. I definitely understand why these books are gold for some readers. Super fast-paced and action-packed with characters and situations that might be a bit clichéd but also can’t help but be compelling. The sentence-level writing was actually very good, especially when you consider that very simple sentence structures are being used as well as a fairly low-level vocabulary. The historical event itself was definitely secondary to the plot—highly secondary, really. The book is only 88 pages, and several long passages were actually set in the past as the protagonist, Leo, remembered stories about his adventurous Grandpap, who had traveled west alone at age 16 to make his fortune in the gold rush. The story is less about Leo surviving the earthquake than about Leo rescuing his treasured gold nugget, which was stolen by two bullies. I expected both the historical event and the setting to feature a little more strongly: the lack of description about the setting seemed especially problematic given the plot of the story. But this book is all plot and action. There is some nice factual material about earthquakes at the end, but unfortunately my son didn’t want me to read that part to him!
Gordon Korman’s Schooled was a delight. It’s about a hapless kid named Capricorn who has grown up on a commune, completely cut off from civilization. He’s never watched TV, never eaten pizza. When his grandmother gets hurt and has an extended stay in a physical rehab facility, Cap moves to town and enrolls in eighth grade, where he naturally becomes the target of all the Mean Kids. But somehow every prank they pull on Capricorn turns against them. Capricorn has something of the Amelia Bedelia about him, but somehow it works. A terrific read-aloud and a fun story. My son is eager to read more Korman now—and so am I. It’s been years since I’ve read Korman (I loved several of his young adult novels when I was a teen), and I’m looking forward to catching up on some of the (many!) books I’ve missed over the last, oh, thirty years.
Ancillary Sword is Book 2 in Ann Leckie’s award-winning sci-fi trilogy. As with the first book, Leckie has a lot on her mind besides unique sci-fi world-building: in the second book, issues of slavery, oppression, and civil rights take center stage. I found these issues even more compelling to read about than the class and gender issues highlighted in the first book. On the whole, though, I didn’t like Book 2 quite as much as Book 1, and for a reason that surprises me: narrative structure. Book 1 was non-linear, and it took a lot of work for me to piece together what was going on and understand this world. Book 2 is linear and chronological, and many of the social structures and behaviors that are presented without comment to readers in Book 1 are explained in some detail in Book 2. I am hoping to start the third book today. And here’s a sentence I never thought I’d write: I’m looking forward to reading more science fiction this summer.