Andrew Smith, Andrew Smith Event, Book Review, Book Tour, Coming-of-Age, epilepsy, Fiction, Friendship, Young Adult

Review: 100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith

20493997Andrew Smith is a mad scientist. I imagine him, even now, sitting in his writing laboratory playing with every imaginable ingredient and coming up with another brilliant concoction of literary gold. This might sound like the delusions of a raving fanatic or a particularly creative reviewing mind, but considering Smith’s books continue to win universal praise and, more recently, critical notice and awards, perhaps it’s not so far from the truth after all.

100 Sideways Miles is another example of how brilliantly Andrew Smith can craft a totally readable, totally relatable, completely unique story. The main character, Finn, has been immortalized by his own father, a writer who has created a duplicate “Finn” in his fiction. The science-fictional Finn created by his father, and our fictional Finn (how meta!) are more than a little bit similar. They even share the same scars, the “real” Finn having earned his in a twist-of-fate accident involving a horse that falls from the sky onto Finn and his mother. The accident has lasting impact on Finn’s family, and in the way Finn sees the world (he begins to measure time in distance, for example).

In addition to Finn, who’s still a virgin in his late teens (the horror!), we meet Cade, the ridiculously-obnoxious-but-in-a-totally-loveable-way, Cade. He’s a bit of a big brother to Finn. Every day, he comes up with a new sexually-charged descriptor to attach to the shape of Finn’s scars, which might seem insensitive but is actually his way of helping Finn relax and feel less self-conscious about his body.

Aside from the two high school boys, there is, of course, a girl or two. Including “the girl,” Julia. Finn and Julia become star-crossed lovers; Finn, the epileptic local boy and Julia, the mysterious bombshell from 2,000 miles away (Chicago) who shows up in their small California town, without warning or explanation. The two quickly, and awkwardly, form an intense bond, one which will be tested when Julia returns to Chicago. Fortunately, Finn, Cade, and a road trip to end all road trips will return balance to the universe.

100 Sideways Miles is filled with humor, angst, confusion, sarcasm, and the typical teenagers’ point of view. This means the guys encounter situations involving drugs, alcohol, sex, and “foul” language. There’s also a “damn the man” attitude expected in any coming-of-age story (what are we if we don’t rebel against the last generation, at least a little?). All of this is treated realistically, though, without being gratuitous – it makes sense to the story being told and the lives these boys are living. And when you meet Finn, you’ll understand if he needs to curse once in a while.

Smith without a doubt knows how to spin a yarn. He gets into the minds of young people and shares their experiences, in their vernacular and on their own terms. He’s done this with Stick and Grasshopper Jungle. He’s done this in Winger and with In the Path of Falling Objects. He does it in Ghost Medicine and The Marbury Lens. And yet, he does it, somehow, in a completely innovative way, every time.

So, yes, Smith is a mad scientist. He is the Victor Frankenstein of contemporary young adult fiction, and we readers have become his insatiable monsters. Is the world finally ready for Andrew Smith? No matter. He hasn’t just arrived, he’s become ubiquitous. Ready or not.


If you’re interested in hearing more about 100 Sideways Miles and/or Andrew Smith, check out the book tour hosted by Amy of Lady Reader’s Stuff!

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Andrew Smith, Andrew Smith Event, Book Review, Coming-of-Age, Dystopia, Fiction, GLBT, LGBT, Science-Fiction, Young Adult

Thoughts: Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

18079719Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

So, this is the way the world ends.  Not with a bang, but with a …uh… clacking-buzzing sorta sound? Yes, I think T.S. Eliot would be proud of Andrew Smith’s newest wasteland, which is to say, an average, all-American, small town in Iowa.  Of course, this small town just happens to be infested with gigantic, horny, insatiably hungry grasshoppers. Luckily, there is one historian present to witness and record the strange happenings that lead up to the end of the world: Austin Szerba.  Our narrator-historian is a corn-fed teenager just as horny and insatiable as the unstoppable grasshopper army. Okay, to be fair to the cannibalistic insects – Austin is probably hornier than they are.  But at least he doesn’t eat everybody. Young Szerba hilariously, but adeptly, graces his readers with the histories of a town, a family, a friendship, and the founding of a new world order.

Here’s the thing, though.  The premise of the book, as outlined above, might sound a bit ridiculous.  And, in spots, it’s far from believable.  This is because it’s rooted in science-fiction which, by its very nature, is not meant to be entirely realistic; yet, we know that much of science-fiction has indeed anticipated our actual scientific discoveries and technological advancements (anyone notice that Star Trek had tablets and wireless communication devices decades ago?). On the surface of Grasshopper Jungle, then, is an action-packed coming-of-age story with groovy, original and horrifying science-fiction elements.  Dig deeper, though, and you’ll find that Smith is asking some seriously profound questions about life, power, love, independence, and responsibility.

So, maybe mutated humanoids-turned-insects who breed like there’s no tomorrow (‘cause there ain’t, folks) isn’t your bag.  This book is still probably for you.  Why?  Well, because of everything else that Andrew Smith gives us in this book.

For example, we are saved from totally wigging-out over the nasty self-inflicted bug invasion at the core of the story by the presence of three very real, very believable, and very human protagonists who happen to be mired in a wonderfully messed up ménage à trois.  Robby loves Austin.  Shann loves Austin.  Austin loves them both.  It’s confusing and it’s painful.  It’s erotic and it’s maddening.  It’s teenage life in the Midwestern United States, where a young man is coming to terms with his sexuality, his family history, and, yeah, the realization that he just might be the destroyer of the world, the savior of it, and the chronicler of the whole damn thing, too. Holy shit.

What else can I say about this book?  Andrew Smith understands young adult males like few writers out there today.  He also has a superhuman ability to weave incredibly fantastical tales with deeply moving stories about the human experience and what it is like to grow up feeling different.  After Stick, and Winger, and so many other incredible books, it is impossible to deny that Smith has a cosmic connection with the teenage male psyche and all that comes with it.  So if you are prepared to enter that deeply disturbing, sometimes heartbreaking, but always hilarious world of the teen boy mind, then you will find no better avenue than this.


Suggested Reading For:

Age Level: Young Adult+

Interest: Science-Fiction, Coming-of-Age, Sexuality, LGBT, Friendship, Dystopia, Family, Fictional History. Midwest USA, Corn.


Notable Quotes:

“We never heard sirens in Ealing. It’s not that bad things never happened here, it’s just that nobody ever bothered to complain about it when they did.”

“History does show that boys who dance are far more likely to pass along their genes than boys who don’t.”

“I was on the conveyor belt toward the paper shredder of history with countless scores of other sexually confused boys.”

“Good books are always about everything.”

“History never tells about people taking shits. I can’t for a moment believe that guys like Theodore Roosevelt or Winston Churchill never took a shit. History always abbreviates out the shit-taking.”

“History shows that an examination of the personal collection of titles in any man’s library will provide something of a glimpse into his soul.”


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Addiction, Andrew Smith, Andrew Smith Event, Book Review, Drugs, Dystopia, Paranoia, Violence, Young Adult

Review: The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith

The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith
Final Verdict: 3.5 out of 4.0
YTD: 34

This review may contain minor spoilers.


Plot/Story:
3 – Plot/Story is interesting & believable.

Poor Jack.  Sixteen years old and still a virgin.  Then, in one night, he has the opportunity to lose his virginity with the girl he likes, but chickens out; or, he can join his best friend in a threesome with his girlfriend, but he chickens out.  Later that night, he is picked-up by a doctor on a park bench and suddenly whether or not he remains a virgin may not be his choice, anymore.  Thus begins an incredibly wild ride, wherein Jack and his best friend, Conner, find themselves phasing in and out of two very different worlds.  In this world, they are inseparable, sharing a bond of love like that between two brothers.  In the other world, the hidden world seen only through the Marbury lens, they are mortal enemies – victims of entirely different circumstances and determined to survive, by any means necessary.  As Jack tries to balance between these worlds, he struggles with the fear and pain which were results of that horrible night with the doctor.  He meets a girl, tries to love her, but continues to drift away, like a junkie who can’t fight the desire for his next fix.   Jack and Conner, bound not just by their friendship but by what they did before their trip to London – what they did before they were introduced to Marbury, must find a way to come together in both worlds, or risk losing everything.


Characterization:
3 – Characters well-developed.

Usually, I am a fan of the characters in Smith’s stories.  He pays attention to characterization and character development because most of the stories (Stick and Ghost Medicine, in particular) are about the characters and their experiences.  The Marbury Lens, though, seems to be much more about the story and the bizarre worlds within it than it is about characters; because of this, I feel, the characters are lacking a bit.  Conner is probably the most likable and well-developed of the bunch.  Jack is interesting, but his back-and-forth perpetual decline seems permanently hopeless – if recovery or stability were ever a possibility (even if it turned out to be false hope or misleading), that would have added a great deal to his depth.  Jack’s parents are interesting in their absence, but his grandparents, in their presence, are shallowly evaluated.  Jack’s girlfriend, too, is rather dull – and their love story is not very believable, particularly considering the short time Jack & Conner spent in London, and how messed up Jack was (although, much of his time spent with the girlfriend is not shown to the reader directly, because he is simultaneously with her in the “real” world, while also with the boys in Marbury).  Perhaps the “real world” characters are less developed, though, because the intrigue is meant to be in Marbury.  Jack’s compatriots there, Ben and Griffin, are much more interesting, likable, and real than anyone, save Conner, who Jack might now outside of it.  Conner, of course, is present in both worlds, though, which might explain why he is the most interesting of them all.


Prose/Style:
4 – Extraordinary Prose/Style, enhancing the Story.

The story is fast-paced, strange, and disturbing.  Its prose matches these elements in various ways.  To keep up with the pace (the boys are not in London very long, nor is Jack in Marbury very long, but much has to happen in this time), Smith has constructed the prose into small pieces, like tiny bursts of energy being detonated over and over again.  There are some slower moments, such as when Seth is telling his story through Jack, but these are few and far between, and are helpful in keeping the reader from feeling burnt-out or overwhelmed by the rapid-fire sequence of events, particularly the back-and-forth between “real” life and Marbury life.  The construction is also linear, but not, which reflects the strangeness of the story.  Jack will return from a short visit to Marbury (what seems like a few hours), only to find that days have passed in the real world, and he has no idea where he is or what has happened.  Photos, letters, text messages, voicemails and others’ memories will serve to fill-in the gaps for Jack. Ultimately, the pace, style, and construction of the work help to set its tone, which is dark and unrestrained.


Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.
4 – Additional elements improve and advance the story.

Paranoia.  Guilt.  Addiction.  Self-abuse.  Violence.  These are the primary themes of The Marbury Lens.  At the beginning of the story, we find a classic case of “boy gets drunk and ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time.”  He is abducted and nearly raped, two events which will remain with him forever.  But the true haunting comes from what happens when he and Conner find Freddie Horvath, the disturbing doctor, and decide to punish him for what he has done.  There is an exploration of cruelty to innocents – from Jack’s experience at the beginning, to Seth’s tale (a ghost who shares his story with Jack, and who suffers brutally for a so-called moral mistake he made when he was a boy, in the late-1800s).  Of course, Marbury itself is a place of violence and destruction, where all people are hunted down by monsters and brutally murdered and devoured.  What is most interesting, perhaps, is what makes it possible for Marbury to exist – what allows certain people to see through the glasses, when others see only blackness.  Jack, Seth, Freddie, Henry, and Conner – they all exist in both places.  They can all see Marbury, and the can see so because they all share one common, terrible experience. 


Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: HS+
Interest: Violence, Guilt, Paranoia, Addiction, Dystopia, Multiverses, Escapism. 


 

Notable Quotes:

“Mind the gap.”

“What if the world was like one of those Russian nesting dolls?  What if we only saw one surface of it, the outside, but there was all kinds of other stuff going on, too?  . . . What if you had a chance to see a different layer, like flipping a channel or something?  Would you want to look?  Even if what you saw looked like hell?  Or worse?”

“. . . in Marbury there’s no doubt about the nature of things: good and evil, or guild and innocence, for example.  Not like here, where you could be sitting in the park next to a doctor or someone and not have any idea what a sick and dangerous sonofabitch he really is.” 


I read this book as a part of the Andrew Smith Saturdays event, hosted by Smash Attack , Not Now I’m Reading, Lady Reader’s Bookstuff and Roof Beam Reader

 

There is a read-along of The Marbury Lens currently taking place at Smash Attack Reads

The sequel to The Marbury Lens (Passenger) will be released on October 2nd, and I will definitely be getting a copy!

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Andrew Smith, Andrew Smith Event, Book Review, Coming-of-Age, Death, Family, Fiction, Friendship, Grief/Recovery, Ranching, Young Adult

Review: Ghost Medicine by Andrew Smith

Ghost Medicine by Andrew Smith
Final Verdict: 3.0 out of 4.0
YTD: 32


Plot/Story:
3 – Plot/Story is interesting & believable.

Ghost Medicine is Andrew Smith’s debut novel and, though there are some similarities to his later works (elements of danger, young protagonists, brotherly relationships at the core of the narrative), it is also quite a bit different.  The story is about Troy Stotts, a teenager who lives alone with his father and who is trying to deal with the loss of his mother.  He and his friends set out to have a summer of “Ghost Medicine” – a summer in where time stands still.  Troy works on the Benavidez ranch, owned by his best friend’s father.  The girl Troy is crushing on just happens to be Troy’s best friend’s sister, so a delicate balancing act beings, wherein Troy must figure out how to maintain his friendship with Gabriel while also building his relationship with Gabe’s sister, Luz. Joining this trio for a summer of danger and wild abandon are Tom Buller, a rough-shod ranch-hand youngin’ who is impossible not to fall in love with, and Chase Rutledge and his father, the deputy sheriff, one of whom harbors a violent anger toward Troy and his friends, the other of whom wants nothing but to retire with his full pension, even if that means lying about or ignoring his son’s misdeeds. It is a thrilling, precarious, life-changing summer – a summer none of them will ever forget.


Characterization:
3 – Characters well-developed.

Troy Stotts and Tom Buller might be two of my new favorite characters in YA fiction.  Tom Buller, especially, was impossible not to be attracted to; his primary characteristics include a hilarious sense of humor, a strong sensitivity, and a die-hard loyalty to his friends.  Troy, too, is incredibly loyal and brave, although a bit self-involved at times (he heads off for days at a time, and at all hours of the day/night, without much concern for how his Dad will worry).  Their friendship and the relationship they build with a lonely older woman, is indicative of what the summer of Ghost Medicine is all about: passion, freedom, and doing what’s right.  The two, together, are a joy to watch and, with the addition of Gabriel, Luz, Mr. Benavidez and other solid supporting characters, allows for a moving and entertaining story, progressing the plot in ways the narration does not always manage to do.  


Prose/Style:
3 – Satisfactory Prose/Style, conducive to the Story.

Smith is clearly a talented writer and storyteller and though this is his first novel, it demonstrates an understanding of language, pace, and tone that makes it clear to readers: “This is a writer.”  The story, though, does move rather slowly – it felt, sometimes, like swimming through molasses – liquid enough to move forward, but at a reduced pace.  Perhaps this is fitting, considering the story takes place in a dusty old ranch town, far from the nearest city.  Things are bound to be slowed down, here, and Smith’s prose does make the reader feel that.  Fortunately, the story does move forward without stalling, even if it is going slowly.  The characterization and the minor hints at danger and intrigue create just enough tension to keep things interesting, and keep the pages turning. 


Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.
3 – Additional elements are present and cohesive to the Story.

Perhaps the most interesting sub-elements of the plot are the various forms of “Medicine” that Troy creates, to suit certain situations that the boys (and Luz) find themselves in throughout the story.  Some Medicine makes them strong and some makes them disappear.  But the Ghost Medicine makes them have a summer that will last forever.  Troy is on the cusp of manhood and this summer is really the last between his boyhood and his adulthood – the story is not just about him coming to terms with the loss of his mother, but also with the loss of his innocence, his childish freedom.  His friends are on a similar path, except for Gabey who everyone seems hell-bent on trying to protect and to save from growing-up.  Unfortunately, the events of the summer do not spare anyone.  We all must grow up sometime.  


Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: MG+
Interest: Friendship, Family, Coming-of-Age, First Love, Rural South, Ranching, Grief/Recovery, Loss, Death/Dying

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Andrew Smith, Andrew Smith Event, Read-Alongs

Wrap-Up: Stick by Andrew Smith

So, we have come to the end of Book 2 in our Andrew Smith Summer reading plan!  I don’t know about you, but I have had a great experience with both books (In the Path of Falling Objects and Stick) so far.  I’m really looking forward to our August choice, Ghost Medicine, the discussion for which will be hosted over at Not Now, I’m Reading.

I really only have one question this week:  What did YOU think of the book?  Were you surprised by the ending?  How did you feel about Bosten’s situation and about Stick’s determination to find his older brother?  Do you have hope for the boys and their future?

If you’re interested in what I thought, over all, feel free to check out my review.  There will also be a giveaway of our September book, The Marbury Lens, coming soon from Smash Attack Reads, so keep your eyes peeled for that!

See you next week for Discussion 1 of Ghost Medicine!

August: Ghost Medicine (Hosted by Not Now…I’m Reading)

  • 8/4: Chapter 1 – 8
  • 8/11: Chapter 9 – 15
  • 8/18: Chapter 16 – 22
  • 8/25: Chapter 23 – 29
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Andrew Smith, Andrew Smith Event, Read-Alongs

DISCUSSION: STICK BY ANDREW SMITH (PART 3)

Welcome to the Discussion Post for Part 3 (Pages 107-216) of Stick by Andrew Smith.

 

1.  In the first part of “Next”, we meet three new characters: Aunt Dahlia, Evan and Kim.  These three seem clearly different from those in Bosten & Stick’s home world (even different from the characters who aren’t as crazy as the boys’ parents).  Is Smith drawing some kind of distinction between regions?  Is there something distinctly “Californian” and something distinctly “Washingtonian” about these worlds – and, if so, where do the boys belong?  Wherever it is, do they still belong together? 

2.  Paul & Bosten break-up.  Paul & Bosten get back together.  Paul is gay, then bisexual.  He is with Bosten, then he is with a girl and can’t have that kind of relationship with Bosten ever again.  But, then they get back together.  Is the back-and-forth here believable – why or why not?  Is this normal teenage exploration/confusion?  Does the difficulty do anything (positive or negative) for the story overall?

3.  The boys’ parents split up and, while Stick is staying with Emily, he gets a phone call from his mother.  On the call, she sounds somewhat different – more parental than we have seen her in the past.  Is this an expected change?  We see “Dad’s” rage in full force not much later, so he clearly hasn’t changed, but is it possible that “Mom” might have been molded by Dad?  Or are they both equally brutal, separate or apart?  

4.  And, all hell breaks loose.  Bosten is gone, Stick hits the road to find him & encounters a world of danger.  Willie and April are creepy from the start, and the old cracked-out dudes who want stick to “pay” his way to California are certainly just as disgusting as the boys’ Dad, which begs the question:  Are so many perverts necessary to the success of this plot?  The book is meant to have some shock value, but how believable is it that the boys would each run into pedophiles at nearly every turn?

That’s it for this week!  Looking forward to a great discussion!  Feel free to add anything else you feel is valuable, or ask any other questions you might have yourself, now that we’re two-thirds of the way in… Don’t forget to check back next Saturday, when we will be discussing the end of the book, “Last” (Pages 216-End).

July: Stick (Hosted by Roof Beam Reader)

  • 7/7: First (Part 1): Pages 2-59
  • 7/14: First (Part 2): Pages 60-103
  • 7/21: Next (Part 1): Pages 107-216
  • 7/28: Last (Part 2): Pages 216-292

So, we are coming to the end of Stick.  Up next is Ghost Medicine, which will be hosted in August by Not Now, I’m Reading!

August: Ghost Medicine (Hosted by Not Now…I’m Reading)

  • 8/4: Chapter 1 – 8
  • 8/11: Chapter 9 – 15
  • 8/18: Chapter 16 – 22
  • 8/25: Chapter 23 – 29
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Andrew Smith, Andrew Smith Event, Blog Post, Read-Alongs

DISCUSSION: STICK BY ANDREW SMITH (PART 2)

Welcome to the Discussion Post for Part 1 (Pages 60-103) of Stick by Andrew Smith.

 

1.  Early in Part 2, Stick compares his mother to two women, first to Emily (comparing their bathrooms) and then to Mrs. Lohman (Stick’s mom with a cigarette & knife in her hands, threatening him about spending time on the phone; and Mrs. Lohman telling him how they would love to have him over anytime.  Then comes Mrs. BuckLey and Stick’s comment: “Something was happening to me. Everything was changing.” Is it important for Stick to realize these distinctions, between his mother and other women?  Do you think women will ultimately play a larger role in his story?

2.  Oh, boy – did Bosten have a secret, or what!?  Did you see this coming?   How is it likely to impact the nature between Bosten and Stick, and the relationship between Bosten (and/or both the boys) and their parents?

3.  Saint Fillan’s Room.  It has to be mentioned – what do we think about this?  We talked last week about the parents being physically abusive, but this room adds a whole new level to it, doesn’t it?  Think about how the boys have to clean it – empty and scrub the pail – after they were beaten in that room and left there in solitude, sometimes for days at a time.  I have to ask again – what’s up Mom & Dad!?

4. At one point in this segment, Stick makes the point: “I wasn’t sure how punching someone would make me feel like having balls made a difference.”  Ironically, later on, he actually does get hit in the balls, hard, and finally stands up for himself by punching the guy in the nose.  Other than this being great irony, what does it say about stick – both his early statement and the fact that he finally stood up for himself?  Could it have anything to do with what Emily said about Stick making fun of himself?

5. Dad. We’re finally beginning to understand. So, it seems when he is drunk, his true nature and problem comes out – but only with Bosten.  Why do you think Dad confuses Stick for Bosten – and, if he hadn’t passed out, do you think Stick saying who he was would have mattered?  Now that Stick knows what’s been happening, and he and Bosten have talked about it, what next?

 

Don’t forget to check back next Saturday, when we will be discussing Part 2 (Pages 107-216).

July: Stick (Hosted by Roof Beam Reader)

  • 7/7: First (Part 1): Pages 2-59
  • 7/14: First (Part 2): Pages 60-103
  • 7/21: Next (Part 1): Pages 107-216
  • 7/28: Next (Part 2): Pages 216-292

Also, have you entered to win a copy of next month’s Andrew Smith book, Ghost Medicine

Head over to Not Now, I’m Reading for your chance!  The giveaway ends July 14th (today)!

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