A Wednesday Treasure

January 24, 2008 at 4:03 am (Books, Young Adult Fiction)

As I was going home earlier today, I stopped by the Book Room at my local library, where they sell books that aren’t being taken out often enough. Wandering through the piles of books, fingering the dusty spines as I passed each table, my eye caught something familiar. It was “The Fastest Friend in the West” by Vicki Groves.

I must have read this book about twenty times when I was in middle school. Lori was so much like me as a preteen: socially awkward and shy, slightly overweight. Some of the elements of this book I have never forgotten. One of my random recollections from the book is when Lori mentions that her old best friend is no longer her best friend because over the summer she lost weight, started washing her hair every day and learned how to dress. For the longest time, I literally thought THAT would fix my own life. Amazing the things that you pick up and carry with you.

I came home tonight, dropped my purse by the door and sat on the steps. I started flipping through the book again, reliving my fifth grade past as I relived Lori and Vern’s friendship (Vern is a fellow outcast at their school), and Lori’s eventual discovery of Vern’s homelessness. There were so many things in the book I still remembered clearly. There were also some things I had clearly forgotten. I had forgotten about Lori’s self-imposed transformation; when she paints her room to look like the ocean, with shells on the walls, and a new name for a new scene. Lorelei, after a mermaid.

I feel wild, what a rush back into middle school memories. Such an awkward time, and so many books that I read to escape the awkwardness…


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Meg Rosoff’s “What I Was”

January 19, 2008 at 5:14 am (Galleys, Young Adult Fiction)

On the back of the galley for Meg Rosoff’s “What I Was” is this line: “Advance Reading Copy for media, booksellers and bloggers” – the first time I have seen bloggers mentioned in the media disclaimer on an ARC. So, because Random House invited it, here are my thoughts:

After reading “How I Live Now” and “Just in Case”, I became fully conscious of the fact that Meg Rosoff is one of the most original voices in contemporary YA literature, topped only by the inestimable Markus Zusak. She has a wonderful skill at writing sentences that alternate seamlessly between lyric flow and knife-sharp edges. Her ideas are fascinating and she expresses them with wit and intelligence, having faith that her readers (though young) are neither unaware nor uninterested, and will explore such varying themes as sexuality, identity, war, and destiny, along with her.

That being said, in almost every respect other than her gorgeous writing style (which is as finely tuned and haunting as ever), “What I Was” failed to captivate me and, I thought, didn’t approach the brilliance of her previous two novels. For one thing, I found myself unable to connect with any of the characters, who I thought for the most part were difficult to know well. The un-named narrator is cold, and without the “swift, incisive” opinions he insists he has. Finn… well Finn is surprising. I won’t lie and say I saw that development coming (I didn’t, at all), but I did find it rather weird. The pitiable Reese is probably the most clearly developed character, completely memorable for his social weakness and lingering presence, and his mouth “opening and closing like a fish”.

I also did not love the name of the book, which I found rather dull and not very exciting. I just didn’t think we were any closer at the end of the book to understanding “what” the narrator “was”. For all that they are not really a part of the story (and many may think I am making too much of a small matter here), interesting titles are crucial. Aside from the marketing power of a gripping title, those are the first few words in which you have the chance to say something about the tale that is coming. There’s an immense satisfaction in reading a book through to the end, and realizing that the title is perfectly suited to what you have just read. Somewhere near the middle of this book, the narrator catches a glimpse of Finn and, in his head, calls him “my boy king”. Now wouldn’t that have been some title?

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