Book Review, Coming-of-Age, Drugs, Family, Fiction, LGBT, Nick Burd, Young Adult

The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd

Plot/Story:

Dade Hamilton is an eighteen-year-old high school graduate. He is spending his summer working at Food World, avoiding his parents, making new friends, and keeping a secret he plans to take with him to college: he is gay. Dade becomes estranged from his “boyfriend,” Pablo, who is anything but a boyfriend, at least to Dade. Pablo is in the closet, too; but he also has a girlfriend, and he spends his time playing between the girl and Dade, never giving all of himself to either one, and never really knowing just what he wants. The confusion of which leads to terrible consequences. Although Dade’s last summer at home was supposed to be fun, it turns out to be a time of turmoil: his parents become estranged, his friends turn on him, and his job sucks. Until Alex Kincaid, the boy who dreams are made of, enters the picture. Suddenly, Dade’s summer turns around. He finds the courage to be who he is and, with the help of a friend, visiting from California, Dade heads to college a new man: positive, strong, and ready for life’s challenges.

Characterization:

Characterization and character development are strong points in Burd’s writing, at least in this particular story. His characters do not always do what I would hope or expect of them, but their unpredictability is believable and adds to their unique individualities. The Pablo character is particularly believable; his inner-conflict is painful, as is the outcome of his struggle.  Dade’s parents are bizarre, but in the “we all know a family like that” kind of way. Their desire to come to terms with Dade’s sexuality is also realistic, in that it does not go perfectly well, but it is also not an “end of the world” scenario for their family, as is often the case in YA books that explore this theme. Perhaps the three most interesting characters, though, are the main trio: Dade, Alex, and Dade’s friend Lucy. While I was disappointed with Dade’s final decision (probably because I liked Alex’s character so much and could not see myself coming to the conclusion Dade does), I can still understand why Dade felt the need to make the decision he made and, in a way, it is laudable. 

Prose/Style:

Aside from the proofreading errors (missing words, misspelled words, minor grammar oversights, etc) which are not necessarily the fault of the author, the overall prose and style of the story is right on par with the age and maturity level of the story, and with the intended audience. The language is smooth and engaging, supplementing the emotions of the story well and progressing the scenes without conflicting with or overpowering the story itself.  The narrative voice is sound and appealing; it is easy to sink into the story and find yourself looking up only after pages and pages have passed by, without your knowing it. 

Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.

This is a book quite simply about life and all its twists and turns. The story tackles family dynamics, infidelity, divorce, friendship (strains and strengths), coming-out and coming-of-age, first loves, sex, drugs, exploration, and substance abuse. The most important overarching theme, though, is finding one’s way, as a youth, through the mess and into one’s own. Dade is a relatively weak young man at the start of the story, a push-over. He submits to Pablo’s whims because the brief moments with Pablo make Dade feel wanted. He never questions his parents’ antics, though they are obviously unhappy and unhealthy.  He lets his “friends” abuse him, making fun of him on a regular basis and exploding rumors about him, without confutation. Through meeting Lucy, a strong, self-aware lesbian girl, and Alex, Dade’s new love interest (one who allows Dade to explore real emotions, whereas Pablo only permitted the physical, when he felt like it), Dade comes into his own. He tells his parents the truth about himself and he stands up to them and to his friends.  Dade leaves for college a changed person, confident and self-assured. He even makes the difficult choice of leaving behind what is most important to him, in order to put himself first, to take care of himself for the very first time. The Vast Fields of Ordinary is an endearing, realistic, and reassuring story about growing up without giving up; it is a story about learning how to respect others, without sacrificing one’s self. 


 

Notable Quotes:

“It’s hard to show people everything, you know?  You never know what they’ll do with it once they have it.”

Final Verdict: 3.25 out of 4.0

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Book Review, Drugs, Ellen Hopkins, Fiction, Sexuality

Tricks by Ellen Hopkins

Tricks is the separate but interwoven and common-themed stories of five average teenagers, between the ages of 15-18. Eden is a genuinely nice person, though not nearly as much of a repentant Christian as her Pentecostal-Priest father and sycophantic mother would want her to be; she falls in love with a boy who, though decent and Christian, is outside their uber-stringent faith and, because of this, she gets shipped off to a religious youth prison, where the parents hope to have the devil exorcised out of her (because a teenager falling in love out of wedlock must equate to possession). Seth is a gay teen, about to graduate from a rural Indiana high school. He falls for an older man in Kentucky who eventually deserts him and, after delicate letters between the two are disclosed to Seth’s father, he is kicked out and forced to give himself up to older men in order to keep himself housed and fed.

Whitney seems to come from the most stable place. She lives in Santa Cruz, CA with her mother and sometimes with her father (who spends most of him time in San Francisco, on business). She has an older sister who is on college and who tends to steal the lime-light; but Whitney meets a nice boy who treats her right, until she gives him her virginity. After that, she is never quite the same. She becomes vulnerable to the types of advances that a handsome, well-practiced pimp might play on her. Ginger has had a horrible life, since about the age of ten, when her hooker mother started selling Ginger to her clients as well. Ginger is still a decent girl, though, who loves her grandmother and who does all she can to help take care of her mother’s other children, since no one else will. She escapes with her girlfriend (lesbians – to clarify), only the escape isn’t much of an escape at all. Ginger is forced to turn herself into her mother in order to survive.

Finally, we have Cody, a well-meaning, typical teenage boy – he has friends, girlfriends, and a dopey job. He likes sex and gambling and driving around in his car. He has a troubled younger brother, but a great mother and step-father. Then, the step-father passes away, the house is threatened to be taken from them, Cody’s gambling problem leads them further and further into debt and, suddenly, Cody realizes he must find ways – even the most horrifying and degrading ways to a teenage boy – to care for his family. These five characters are “the tricks.” They all find their ways – willingly or not – from their hometowns across the country (Indiana, Idaho, California) to the breeding ground of sin and depravity, Las Vegas. Here, their separate stories are woven into one harrowing song.

Each of the characters’ stories is well-developed and believable, though terrifying and sad in its own way. While it can be a bit difficult to follow the timeline, since each small chapter is a new narrator, it is still possible to distinguish between the two male characters, for instance, and the three females. Still, much of this is due in part to the scenery and the characters surrounding them, not to mention the subject matter. When sexuality is one of the main forces, it makes it much easier to recall which character is in play at the moment. The characters’ language and tone –dialect, slang, inflection, vocabulary, etc. – were nearly identical, though they were all from different social, religious, and economic backgrounds and from different parts of the country. This was, in my opinion, one failing of the novel. That being said, each of the characters did show some growth (negative or positive) throughout their own portions of the book. Each character changed in some way, and so was distinguishable from his or herself when comparing the start of his or her journey to the end of it. Had this not been accomplished, I do not know whether the book would have served much purpose at all; fortunately, the argument is moot because the characters did experience much, and changed in many ways, even though it was hard to tell who was talking when (I sometimes had to flip back a few pages to see the name of the speaker at the start of the segment).

I was intrigued by and happy with the prose and style over-all. The narrative is broken up into little pieces of intermingling story-telling. Each character’s story progresses in time but the stories are split up so that the characters have equal speaking time, and so the reader gets to see where each character is and what he or she is doing as time moves forward. Also, it is written in a type of free-verse which, fortunately, is actually just free prose. There are interesting short poems that start each chapter and that (I noticed after two or three) contain a one-sentence subject matter indicator taken from each poem. Also, the final line from one story becomes the entrance line and/or theme for the next character’s story. It was all quite cute – I’m not sure how else to put it. It works very well, it is engaging and it moves the story along very well. Though the entire book also appears to be written in verse, due to the structure, it is not. Given the sensitive subject matter and the need to connect each of these individual characters with an over-arching thematic element, I think the style was a good choice – it allows the book to work as a cohesive collection rather than a hodgepodge of inter-connected but spliced short-stories.

I truly enjoyed the many ways which the book’s structure allowed the story to work together as one larger element. The short poems and creative threads which wove from one story to the next, though the characters had nothing to do with one another, was great – because the characters were all dealing with the same issues: survival, sexuality, abuse, and making adult choices. Being a J.D. Salinger fan, I cannot help but think how horrified he would be to read a work like this, which places young adults in such dangerous, precarious situations, with no real hope in sight. A majority of the five characters do not “get out” of their situations and this, in a way, makes the book hard to like. It also garners a great respect for the author. The subject matter she delves into here is not fun or light-hearted, so one would hope for a happy resolution, at least, particularly since the subjects are children. Hopkins knows, though, that un-happy endings do happen, particularly to these groups of children impacted in such a way – forced to sell their bodies to survive; caught in an inescapable web of drugs and abuse; lost to any chance at resolution or reunion with their families. As an end note, I can understand why parents would not want their children reading this book. It is scary and it is dangerous. If I were a parent, I would be horrified to learn that my children were exposed to these types of themes, this type of language. That being said, if I were a teenager – I would absolutely pick up a book like this, in part because of the dangerous elements and also in part because I was a teenager like these teenagers; I knew kids who were in trouble, kids whom no one knew how to talk to, whom everyone whispered about. Perhaps, if I had more exposure to responsible literature, done for a purpose and not just to be shocking or pornographic, I might have had a better understanding of what was happening around me; of how to deal with it; of where to get help.

Final Verdict: 4.0 out of 5.0

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2013 Challenges, Allen Ginsberg, American Lit, banned books, censorship, Classics, Classics Club, Drugs, Events, Fiction, Gay Lit, Giveaways, GLBT, Jack Kerouac, LGBT, Literature, Read-Alongs, Reading Challenges, Reading Event, Sexuality, William S. Burroughs

The Beats of Summer: A Reading Event! (Sign-Up Post)

Welcome to the sign-up post for:

BeatsOfSummer-ButtonThe Beats of Summer: A Reading Event!

Summertime is coming, and what better time than Summer to immerse ourselves in the works of the most rebellious, daring, and “hot” generation of American writers??

For this event, the goal is to read as many pieces of “Beat Generation” literature as you want to, from June 1st through July 14th. Audiobooks, fiction, poetry, and non-fiction all count, as long as the writer is considered to be a part of the Beat Generation.  Memoirs, biographies, essays, theory/criticism or other works of non-fiction written about The Beats are also acceptable!

Update: We are looking for volunteers to provide Guest Posts and/or offer Giveaways throughout the event. If you would be interesting in participating in this capacity, please fill out This Form. And Thanks!

What is the Beat Generation?

“In American in the 1950s, a new cultural and literary movement staked its claim on the nation’s consciousness. The Beat Generation was never a large movement in terms of sheer numbers, but in influence and cultural status they were more visible than any other competing aesthetic. The Beat Generation saw runaway capitalism as destructive to the human spirit and antithetical to social equality. In addition to their dissatisfaction with consumer culture, the Beats railed against the stifling prudery of their parents’ generation. The taboos against frank discussions of sexuality were seen as unhealthy and possibly damaging to the psyche. In the world of literature and art, the Beats stood in opposition to the clean, almost antiseptic formalism of the early twentieth century Modernists. They fashioned a literature that was more bold, straightforward, and expressive than anything that had come before.”  –The Literature Network

I will post throughout the event to  discuss different subjects related to The Beat Generation, its writers, and its influences on later movements in literature, film, and music, as well as my own reviews of the Beat Generation books that I finish.  I will also be offering giveaways, and I am hopeful that some participants will be interested in writing guest posts or hosting giveaways of their own, to make this more interactive!

Below is a  list of writers and works of The Beat Generation.  This list is by no means comprehensive, it is simply a starting point.

Major Writers:
Richard Brautigan
William S. Burroughs
Neal Cassady
Gregory Corso
Diane DiPrima
Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Allen Ginsberg
John Clellon Holmes
Joyce Johnson
Hettie Jones
Jack Kerouac
Joanne Kyger
Gary Snyder
Carl Solomon

Important Works:
Dharma Bums
Gasoline (poetry)
Howl (poetry)
Minor Characters (memoir)
Naked Lunch
On the Road
Queer
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (memoir)

Affiliated Writers/Biographers:
James Campbell (This is the Beat Generation)
Carolyn Cassady (Off the Road)
Ken Kesey (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest)
Brenda Knight (Women of the Beat Generation)
Matt Theado (The Beats: A Literary Reference)
Tom Wolfe (The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test)

In the meantime, if you would like to host a giveaway or provide a guest post, please: CLICK HERE.

And if you want to sign-up to participate in The Beats of Summer (yay!), just leave a comment on this post saying YOU’RE IN! Maybe include some of the books you hope to read.  I plan to read Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey, Howl by Allen Ginsberg, and Desolation Angels by Jack Kerouac.

Please also post the button somewhere on your blog (in an announcement post or in your blog’s side-bar) so that we can spread the word, gather excitement, and encourage participation.  It goes without saying that this is meant to be a positive, fun, and educational event – it’s an at-will project, so negativity is a no-go!

Sign-ups are open from now through June 15th.  If you sign-up after June 15th, you can still absolutely participate, but you may not be eligible for some of the early giveaway prizes.

To Share/Discuss on Twitter, Use Hashatag #BeatsOfSummer

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2013 TBR Pile Challenge, Book Review, Drugs, Gay Lit, GLBT, Homophobia, Homosexuality, Lauren Myracle, LGBT, Mystery, Young Adult

Thoughts: Shine by Lauren Myracle

8928054Shine by Lauren Myracle
Final Verdict: 3.5 out of 4.0
YTD: 31

Plot/Story:
4 – Plot/Story is interesting/believable and impactful (socially, academically, etc.)

Cat and Patrick are best of friends.  Cat is a tomboy who doesn’t mind getting a bit dirty and who doesn’t realize just how pretty she is.  Patrick is a bit of a nerd and an introvert, though he does have friends.  He’s also openly gay, which is brave considering he and Cat live in very rural North Carolina.  As Cat becomes a teenager, she learns, in a terrible way, just how much her body has changed and how she has begun to catch the eye of boys her age (and older).  Although the disturbing thing that happens to her is only alluded to during the first part of the story, it clearly affects her relationship with her family and with her friends – she, too, becomes introverted and, because of this, is not with her best friend Patrick when the book’s major tragedy strikes.  She blames herself for not being there to help and, on her quest to find out what happened and to bring the criminal to justice, she also begins to repair herself and her old friendships, and even to seek out new ones. 

Characterization:
3 – Characters well-developed.

Although some of the characters, such as Jason, a friend of Patrick’s who, like Cat, is determined to find out what happened to him, seem a bit too conveniently placed to be believable, most of them are integral to the plot, work well with the story, and fit in with the particular group of people in this particular place that Myracle has created.  Mama Sweetie, Patrick’s grandmother, leaves a legacy for Patrick and Cat even after she is gone; Cat’s father, brother, and aunt, all play pivotal roles in developing her character and her response to Patrick’s tragedy; her friends (The Redneck Posse) are realistic in their actions, good and bad, and in the ways they treat one another, as well as any outsiders.  They are complex enough, too, to add further mystery to the plot and to complicate Cat’s investigation, not to mention her own attempt at reintegrating herself with the group.  The minor characters, such as the church ladies, the meth cooker, and the bar tender, are static (some might say cliché), but they do round-out the community environment and serve their purposes.

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

For the most part, I found Myracle’s prose to be perfectly suited to the reading level and the tone of the novel.  She clearly knows a great deal about this particular region (or areas like it) or has researched it enough to portray it in a realistic way.  That being said, the dialogue (and internal monologues) sometimes came across as less than natural.  Still, it was well-written and well-executed.  Allowing Cat to be the narrator post-incident, and to reflect on those incidents (her major pain as well as Patrick’s) while she was investigating what happened, was a great approach, as it allowed the protagonist to grow and mature in a recognizable way.  Seeing Cat as a child, through her own memory, and watching her come to terms with difficult things in her life, particularly when she begins to understand the reasons why some of the people in her life may have let her down, provides much of the power and depth of the story, so crafting the plot this way and then delivering it so that it unfolds naturally and slowly was a smart, creative choice.   

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

Cat, though the hero and protagonist of this book, also has her own demons to deal with and personality flaws to overcome.  Part of what makes this story such a good one is that it is not just about one mysterious hate crime or one person’s attempt to solve it.  Cat learns a lot about herself along the way – she is forced to admit to herself that even she was sometimes guilty of silent acquiescence, allowing others to bully her friend Patrick because she was afraid that, if she stood up for him, she might become the target.  Similarly, Beef’s story is also moving and doubly complex because of the two major secrets he carries.  This story isn’t just about friendship or a rural town’s bigotry; it’s not just about the rich versus the poor; it’s not about underground drug cartels or incompetent police forces.  It’s about a community steeped in tragedy, a community that is all of those things and more, all at the same time, and about a group of people who are trying to live as best they can when faced with obstacles great and small.   

Suggested Reading for:
Age Level:  Young Adult (13+, with some mature elements)
Interest:  Coming-of-Age; Friendship; Homophobia; Rural South; Identity Issues; Family; Poverty; LGBT; Mystery; Drugs; YA.

Notable Quotes:

“I loved everyone who said yes to the world and tried to make it better instead of worse, because so much in the world was ugly.”

“Knowledge was more powerful than fear. Love was stronger than hate.”

“Girls kept their bodies tucked in tight, while boys took up every inch of room they could.”

“We all mess up.  It’s what we learn from our mistakes that matters.”

“You know it’s them books what make you talk funny.”

Shine is Book #8 completed for my 2013 TBR Pile Challenge

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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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Book Review, Coming-of-Age, Drugs, Epistolary, Favorites, Fiction, Giveaway, Giveaway Hop, Giveaways, Monthly Review, Psychology, Sexuality, Stephen Chbosky, Young Adult

Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Final Verdict: 4.0 out of 4.0

YTD: 15

Disclosure:  This is a book that I have read five times, now, but have yet to review.  The first three times I read it were in the pre-blogging days, so naturally I could not have posted any thoughts about it.  The fourth time, I wrote a brief comment but could not bring myself to write anything constructive. This time, I set out to read the book with the intent of reviewing it. 


Plot/Story:
4 – Plot/Story is interesting/believable and impactful (socially, academically, etc.)

Fifteen-year-old Charlie is a wallflower.  Like a wallflower, there is something strangely beautiful about him.  He is silent but observant; shy but determined to please; introverted but filled with love and compassion.  His story starts in August, 1991, just as he is about to begin his first year of high school, and it ends almost exactly one year later.  He has lost someone close to him and is clearly confused about how to deal with his feelings about this loss (amongst the other complicated growing pains he experiences); so, he decides to begin writing letters to a stranger – someone who he once overheard a mutual friend talking about.  The recipient of Charlie’s letters is never disclosed – we do not know his/her name or age, his/her profession or relationship to the people in the story, just that s/he is considered trustworthy and addressed by Charlie as “Dear Friend.”  This friend becomes the unwitting conduit for Charlie’s coming-of-age.  In this year of his life, he builds and compromises friendships; he is exposed for the first time to some of the darker elements of life; he learns to drive and to dance; he goes to parties and reads books. Most importantly, though, Charlie becomes Charlie.  He blossoms from a wallflower into a “participant” – and he learns how to feel infinite.  


Characterization:
4 – Characters extraordinarily developed.

Since the entire book is comprised of letters written by one character, to one person, it would be easy to question the narrator’s reliability and to wonder about the development or accurate representation of the other characters involved.  Charlie, however, seems to have only one major fault, and that is honesty (as when he is dared to kiss the prettiest girl in the room and doesn’t kiss his girlfriend).  While Charlie certainly seems to have mental issues – possibly a mild form of schizophrenia (many other reviews seem to think he is Autistic, but I would disagree) – he never comes across as the type to mislead his audience, particularly as the audience is, for all intents and purposes, just one person, his “Dear Friend” and the only one in whom Charlie confides everything.  The narrator’s reliability being established, then, allows the reader to believe Charlie’s story and to watch as he grows through experience and heals through memory, acceptance, and forgiveness.  While other characters in the book, including Charlie’s family and friends, and his favorite teacher, Bill, do not evolve as much as Charlie, they are, however, natural characters, believable in every way.  The situations these people find themselves in, from first loves and broken romances, to family holidays and personal tragedies, are written with a realistic passion, as one who is watching and engaged in the drama but who has nothing to gain from sensationalism would write them.  This makes the events, though not experienced by each of us, relevant to all, because they are facts of life. In the end, these characters are just people and these people are just living.


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

At one point in the story, Charlie’s teacher, Bill, tells him that some books are “very easy to read but very hard to ‘read well.’”  This book just happens to fit that mold – its language is simple and straightforward, but it is littered with sub-context and deeper elements which are introduced at the start of the story, nursed throughout, then, finally, come to fruition at the end. 

The novel is structured in a one-way epistolary format.  It is almost a diary, except that each entry is a letter to an unknown stranger, and that stranger never responds.  Because these letters are being sent off to someone who is not expected to reply, and because (we can assume) no copies of the letters are being retained by Charlie, they tend to be much more personal and provocative than even a diary or journal might be (because, subconsciously, we all worry that someone might find our diaries and expose our secrets, or at least confront us with them – which is of particular concern when the writer is a teenager living at home with his parents and siblings).  For this reason, because the letters are assumed secret, they are simultaneously simple but revelatory. 

While researching other thoughts and opinions on the book, I have found that one of the primary points of contention for many readers is the underdevelopment (so they say) of the main character, Charlie.  Throughout the book, we discover that Charlie is considered to be a rather smart individual.  He is given extra projects by his English teacher and he regularly receives perfect scores/grades on his schoolwork.  Some have wondered, then, why Charlie writes in such a simplistic way.  Looking back, though, and reading critically, there are two things to keep in mind: first, that Charlie is considered to be smart for his age; he is at no point called a “genius” or “brilliant” or any other superior term- just smart; second, Charlie himself admits early on to preferring common vocabulary, as opposed to loftier language (which he finds pompous and pointless).  In contemporary Young Adult fiction, a trend has developed wherein teenage characters are given the narrative or dialogic voice of Ivy League college graduates.  This is, I think, unfair to the readers and, though it might make the characters more interesting and the story more edifying, it does not represent the typical teenage voice.  Chbosky, on the other hand, aims to depict an honest teenage writer, one who is not composing essays or communicating with scholars, but who is simply writing letters.  These letters allow him to release emotion and, eventually, to reconnect him with some deeply-buried, painful and important memories.  His writing allows him to heal – it is simple but poignant and, most of all, it is real.


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

This is absolutely a story which tackles many issues, from rape and abortion, to teenage sex, drugs, and suicide.  Some readers might find the amount of dramatic material overwhelming or off-putting, but when one compares this story to others which approach teenage life in a similar way, such as Go Ask Alice, it is clear that The Perks of Being a Wallflower aims to be nothing but honest.  Charlie is an unconventional narrator and his story is composed in an unconventional way but, ultimately, he is just a confused American teenager trying to find himself in a world that seems to be always changing.  Not every one of us will have dealt with all (or any) of these issues, in high school or as adults, but these things do happen and wishing them away –ignoring them- will not change their reality.  Charlie, like some readers, does sometimes disengage himself from the more disturbing things that have happened to him, or around him – but the moral of the story is that growing-up means learning to live and learning to live means participating in what goes on around us.  Ready or not, life happens – there is good in it and there is bad in it, but the meaning of life is in how we live it; it is whether we choose to navigate our own way or to get lost in the current; to be the wallflower, or the participant.


Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: Young Adult
Interest: Coming-of-Age, Family, Friendship, Identity, Sexuality, Abuse, Drugs, Psychology


Notable Quotes:

“Things change.  And friends leave.  And life doesn’t stop for anybody.”

“I just need to know that someone out there listens and understands and doesn’t try to sleep with people even if they could have.  I need to know that these people exist.”

“So, this is my life.  And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.”

“I really think that everyone should have watercolors, magnetic poetry, and a harmonica.”

“What’s the point of using words nobody else knows or can say comfortably?  I just don’t understand that.”

“We accept the love we think we deserve.”

“I know that things get worse before they get better because that’s what my psychiatrist says, but this is a worse that feels too big.”

“I am very interested and fascinated by how everyone loves each other, but no one really likes each other.”

“Sometimes people use thought to not participate in life.”

“Everyone else is either asleep or having sex.  I’ve been watching cable television and eating jello.”

“So, I guess we are who we are for a lot of reasons.  And maybe we’ll never know most of them.  But even if we don’t have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there.  We can still do things.  And we can try to feel okay about them.”

“And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.”


Related Links:

Smash Attack Reads, Reviews The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower Movie Information

Shooting Stars Mag Interviews Stephen Chbosky


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Book Review, Coming-of-Age, David Levithan, Drugs, Family, Fiction, Friendship, Gay Lit, GLBT, Sexuality, Young Adult

Review: The Realm of Possibility by David Levithan

 

The Realm of Possibility by David Levithan

Final Verdict: 3.25 out of 4.0

YTD: 09

 Plot/Story:
4 – Plot/Story is interesting/believable and impactful (socially, academically, etc.)

“There’s the girl who is in love with Holden Caufield.  The boy who wants to be strong who falls for the girl who’s convinced she needs to be weak.  The girl who writes love songs for a girl she can’t have.  The two boys teetering on the brink of their first anniversary.  And everyone in between.” This is The Realm of Possibility, as described by the Knopf paperback edition’s book blurb.  “One school. Twenty voices.  Endless possibilities.”  At the core of this collection are the separate but equal themes of independence and necessity.  As we grow up, as we create our own identities, we must learn the balancing act of individuality and belonging.  We must learn how to be strong and capable, but we also must learn how to be pliable and vulnerable.  The twenty interconnected stories in The Realm of Possibility explore all the different aspects of growing up and coming of age – from dealing with a loved one’s illness, to committing to a serious relationship; from learning what it really means to be strong, to allowing one’s walls to come down – taking a chance at loss, in order to gain.  For this group of teenagers, life has just begun – and the possibilities are endless.  


Characterization:
2 – Characters slightly developed.

The structure of this work automatically places characterization at a disadvantage.  Because the book is made up of twenty short segments, written by twenty different narrators, there is not much room for growth or development of any single character.  There are a few reoccurring characters (those who write one segment and who are then included as a main character in someone else’s segment), but, because the sections are written like diary entries, each portion still says more about its narrator than about anyone else, which means there are only 10 or so pages for each of the twenty important people. This is a difficult for me, personally, because I am a reader who truly enjoys rich, deep, whole characters.  That being said, the characters and their stories work together very well and, despite being flashed at the reader in short bursts, they are certainly interesting and emanate all the emotions that Levithan intended them to: fear, courage, love, abandon, despair.  While I cannot applaud the characterization in this book (simply because it was not a main element) – I can adamantly suggest that the lack of character development in this book was no disservice to it, because the rest of the elements – particularly the exploration of individuality and “possibilities”- are the core of this book and hold everything together quite nicely.  


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

The stories are written in free verse of various forms and the prose, in this way, adds a certain element of characterization which is generally lacking (as mentioned above), because each narrator has his or her own physical and emotional voice – distinguishable from the other stories in the timeline. One item I take issue with is the many instances of whole pages left nearly blank, with just a few words or sentences.  This is something I have come to expect from young adult novels of a certain type (and from certain authors).  At first, it was charming, but the more often I encounter it, the more it starts to feel like a clever ploy to make extremely short books lengthier by page number, if not by word count.  This does not mean that the stories which are structured in this way are ineffective (far from it, in most instances), but it does sometimes leave me wanting more.  In this book, where the stories are so interesting and the language so engaging, it was frustrating to oftentimes have so little to revel in.  Other than that minor irk,  Levithan captured me with his prose and language the way he always does: completely.  His narrative voice(s) are so pure, so believable, and so welcoming – it is impossible not to sink into these stories and enjoy yourself, simply because the language is just so comfortable.  Most of us have been in these situations, or ones similar to them – and whether the reader is still in high school, just out of it, or finding high school a distant memory- the language coupled with the messages and the familiar feelings drawn from each story, will ring bells for nearly everyone. 


Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.
4 – Additional elements are present and enhance the Story.

The Realm of Possibility is a sort of short story collection whose overall narrative revolves around a group of students from the same high school.  Some of the stories are directly interconnected, while others are only slightly related.  It is similar in structure to Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, in that all of the stories are connected because their primary characters exist in the same place and time, often with overlapping elements throughout the larger work.  Setting up the narrative this way allows Levithan to explore twenty different personalities existing (and co-existing) at the same time, but with very different circumstances, situations, and messages. The two strongest segments, in my opinion, are “Escapade” and “Possibility” – which are, incidentally, the last two stories in the collection.  These two drive home the message of friendship and future –the messages of hope and individuality that have been developing throughout the entire book.  Ultimately, reading this book was a delight.  It is a quick, simple read, but one which evokes real emotions and memories because the various situations described are so relatable and the people so believable.  Although the characterization section of my review brings the overall rating down, the book feels much more, as a whole, like a “4” than a “3.”        


Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: MG, YA+
Interest: High School, Coming-of-Age, Interpersonal Relationships, Family, Mental/Physical Health and Coping, Sexuality (Heterosexual & Homosexual).


Notable Quotes:

“There is certainty in a ring.  The non-ending, the non-beginning.  The ongoing.  The way it holds on to you not because it’s been fastened or stretched or adhered.  It holds on because it fits.”

“…the things that hold us are only as strong as the faith we have in them – you go on the bridge because you trust it will not fall.” pp

“My parents are okay with me being gay but they would kill me if they saw me with a cigarette.”

“Getting what you want is just as difficult as not getting what you want. Because then you have to figure out what to do with it instead of figuring out what to do without it.”

“You will always be my always.”

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