November 23, 2005

Random Reviews

You know, there are really no new stories. Pretty much every novel we read is just a spin off of an archetype. Sometimes, the plot shows through threadbare and worn, but mostly I'm surprised by how well the retreads work. Cameron Dokey's two novels The Storyteller's Daughter and the modern ghost story twist How NOT To Spend Your Senior Year are two retakes on a couple of very old stories. Both work, but for different reasons.

Storyteller is an older story than most. A retelling of Ali Baba's classic tale, the storyteller's daughter, Shahrazad, inherits her both her mother's blindness and her talent for spinning an enchanting yarn. This saves her life for days -- but then what? Dokey fills out the blanks in this story in a way that makes it both more logical and more palatable than the original fragments, and creates some poignantly sweet moments as well. Containing an intriguing blend of romance and history, this novel was a long, slow trip into another realm, what an enjoyable YA fantasy should be.

Senior Year has been retold, but not in a classical sense. It's a typical spy-life story: Girl frequently changes schools, without wondering why. Girl finally discovers that she and her parent are on the lam, for their own safety. Girl refuses to go underground one last time without telling the boy she loves that -- she loves him. Just one more time... Because of girl's bad judgment, chaos ensues and death and drama follow.

Yep, you've read this one; simply add Caroline Cooney and it becomes an epic tragedy. Dokey, however, decides on a bit of slapstick. The girl in question, one Jo O'Connor, decides to go back to tell the boy she was crushing on that she wasn't quite dead, not really. Except he decides he's seen a ghost. He tells the school counselors, and... then chaos ensues. It seems the ghost was more intriguing than the girl, and once there are 'Jo O'Connor Sightings' all over campus, it seems it's time for the intrepid troublemaker to rise from the grave -- one more time... a rather complicated tale, but without the Tragic Mistake Costs Girl Her Family's Life shadings, so it's actually pretty funny.

Both of these are quick reads, and lots of fun for a holiday weekend. And, since it's not only being obligingly holiday-esque, but it also looks like rain tomorrow, what better time?

A book that's not a quick read is How I Paid for College: A Novel of Sex, Theft, Friendship & Musical Theater by columnist Marc Acito. This novel was on my List because I thoughtit was nominated for a National Book Award. (Turns out that's another book I just picked up from the library, which I have yet to review.) This novel instead was on a list of "most popular fiction" or some such. Okay. The title sort of explains that. I don't know how many teens get past the title and actually read the densely narrated literary romp, but at least a whole bunch of them check it out from the library.

There's got to be some netherland between YA lit and ...whatever this is. This is set in the 80's, and there's a lot of ...mmm, self-revelation? Multi-syllabic words? Oh, and did I mention so much sexual activity that borders on becoming everyday? It's a definite coming-of-age/coming out story, but set in such a radically different time that it's almost another genre. It very much reminded me of something jennifer s. might write, or might enjoy (and I'd love to hear her take on it, at some point!). What I personally didn't enjoy about it was that there was so much sex that it was blasé. There was hardly any breathless newness to it, or the freshness which seems characteristic of the YA lit. genre. On the other hand, the novel got absurdly good reviews, from "endearing" to "goofy" to "rolicking." It was readable, but everyone was aggressively sexual, aggressively alternative, aggressively worldly and cool and Artsy, most of all. I guess it just ran right past me.

However, I'm pretty sure that, as opposed to standing in line for a $9.50 movie on Thanksgiving day, it's a good deal.

more reviews anon...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oh, good! Glad you reviewed this one. I was vaguely interested in reading it after seeing it on that YALSA list, but couldn't find it at the library last time I was there.