Posts Tagged ‘Andrew Smith

02
Aug
17

I’m not sure why AS King isn’t a worldwide phenomenon, worshipped by all who are lucky enough to read her books. CBR9 Review 48.

UnknownThis is the fifth AS King book I’ve had the pleasure of reading during my tenure as a Cannonballer…I read Please Ignore Vera Dietz way back in CBR3, Ask the Passengers in CBR6, and earlier this year I read the mind-bending Still Life with Tornado and the amazing Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future. And after reading this one, I found myself wondering why teens (and parents! parents should be reading these!) all over the world aren’t universally singing the praises of AS King.*

I know. These books aren’t exactly easy reading. Not only is the subject matter often upsetting (as is life), but the story is usually not told in a linear, sensible manner. King’s protagonists have often been abused or endured and survived some other trauma. Maybe they suffer from mental illness. Sometimes they wonder about their sexuality and about how their parents will handle that. And King always makes it clear: however you feel, whoever you love, whatever you do, its ok.

Her methods are strange and surreal, I’ll give her that. Glory O’Brien drank a bat smoothie that gave her the power to see the future. Vera Dietz hangs out with thousands of ghosts of her dead best friend. Sarah (from Still Life with Tornado) makes friends with different versions of herself at different ages. Astrid (from Ask the Passengers) gets her best advice from people flying over her house in jets. And it all somehow makes sense.

This time, King gives us a group of “broken” friends who are seniors in high school. One is building an invisible helicopter. One won’t ever take off her lab coat. One has magical hair that grows every time she lies. And one has swallowed herself and is now inside out. Maybe the rest of the school sees them as freaks, but together they support each other and help each other deal with what’s happened in their lives to bring them to these situations.

The book is mostly about trauma and PTSD. How do different people handle stressful and horrible situations? Some drink. Some withdraw and watch old TV sitcoms. Some become obsessed with death.  Some put themselves in dangerous sexual situations. Some are lucky enough to have the support of their friends and family to help them get better, while some have to figure it out on their own. But King shows us that help is out there, and that anyone can be saved.

SPOILERS

Stanzi’s parents really pissed me off here. Yes, I understand that losing a child is the worst thing that can possibly happen. But you have another child that you are letting slip away and she needs your help. Meanwhile, I assumed China’s BDSM mother would end up being useless. And her strength and love really blew me away.

*And, as I’ve touted before, Andrew Smith and Rainbow Rowell books should be government issued as well. These three authors understand life as a teen better than anyone I’ve ever come across. Have a teen? Know a teen? Are you a teen? Have you ever been a teen? If so, I recommend these authors.

08
May
17

This is why I still visit the YA section of my library. CBR9 Reviews 28 & 29.

UnknownThere are very few writers — of any genre — that absolutely grasp how to write dialogue that an actual  human being would say. And I think its especially difficult when it comes to YA characters. Rainbow Rowell can do it. Andrew Smith can do it. And my god, AS King can do it, too.

Years and years ago (for CBR3!!!), I read Please Ignore Vera Dietz, a book I still think about every once in a while. It was so different from anything else I had read in the world of YA, it really and truly stood out for me as groundbreaking. Then in CBR6, I read another one of King’s books, Ask the Passengers, and it was another beautiful home run from King. Her books were a bit bizarre — but so realistic. The kids had some unique issues but handled them in mature and impressive ways. These are books that I made a mental note to have on hand when Bunnybean went to high school.

Last week, I saw the new AS King book on the shelf at the library, so I grabbed it, along with one from a few years ago. Why did it take me so long to get back to an author I had enjoyed so much? I HAVE NO IDEA. My bad, clearly.

First, the newer book, Still Life with Tornado. From Amazon:

At 16, Sarah is facing what she calls an “existential crisis,” questioning whether her life has meaning or value, an event fueled by an unfair art show, a cruel teacher, a toxic and abusive family, a missing brother, and the loss of her ability to draw. Sarah wanders through the streets of Philadelphia and meets her future self at age 23 and 40 as well as her 10-year-old self. With the help of these past and future selves, she uncovers hidden memories of the vacation leading up to her brother leaving and the lies and violence that have driven her family dynamics for years. This beautifully written, often surreal narrative will make readers wonder if Sarah is schizophrenic, if she has post-traumatic stress disorder, or if she just needs to take a break from the realities of her life. Two weeks before Sarah’s crisis, her friend Carmen drew a tornado and told Sarah that it was not a sketch of a tornado but of everything the tornado contained. This drawing becomes an analogy for all that Sarah is hiding in the emotional tornado of her life, the secrets she has hidden from herself and the world. King’s brilliance, artistry, and originality as an author shine through in this thought-provoking work. Sarah’s strength, fragility, and ability to survive resonate throughout. VERDICT This is a complex book that will not appeal to all readers, but for others it will be an unforgettable experience.

I needed to steal the blurb from the book’s page, because I really couldn’t do the plot any justice in describing it. Yes, this is a serious story about bullying, about sexual abuse, about depression, about domestic violence, and about the difficulty about navigating through the teen years. It is also a strange and bizarre look at what makes a person themselves — Sarah comes across versions of herself at different ages as she makes her way across Philadelphia while skipping school. She meets her 10 year old self, her 23 year old self, and her 40 year old self, out and about, giving advice and offering an ear to listen to Sarah. Is Sarah having a breakdown, or is there something more to these other versions of herself that she meets?

Its only when all of the versions of Sarah get together, to become the complete version of Sarah, that she realizes what she needs to do in order to move on with her life and to keep her family together.

So weird. And so upsetting. Sarah’s family was difficult to read about. Her parents had a toxic relationship and her brother’s disappearance was certainly troubling. And Sarah’s ability (subconsciously) to block her past from her memory was fascinating to read about, even though we knew it was going to negatively effect her present.

When I finished that one, I immediately picked up Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future. And this one was one of the best YA books I’ve come across. Ever.

In this masterpiece about freedom, feminism, and destiny, Printz Honor author A.S. King tells the epic story of a girl coping with devastating loss at long last–a girl who has no idea that the future needs her, and that the present needs her even more.

Graduating from high school is a time of limitless possibilities–but not for Glory, who has no plan for what’s next. Her mother committed suicide when Glory was only four years old, and she’s never stopped wondering if she will eventually go the same way…until a transformative night when she begins to experience an astonishing new power to see a person’s infinite past and future. From ancient ancestors to many generations forward, Glory is bombarded with visions–and what she sees ahead of her is terrifying: A tyrannical new leader raises an army. Women’s rights disappear. A violent second civil war breaks out. And young girls vanish daily, sold off or interned in camps. Glory makes it her mission to record everything she sees, hoping her notes will somehow make a difference. She may not see a future for herself, but she’ll do anything to make sure this one doesn’t come to pass.

Glory is graduating from high school, and has constantly lived in the shadow of her mother, who committed suicide when Glory was in preschool. Glory has no plans for college or for her future, as she assumes that she’ll follow in her mothers footsteps and end up dead. She spends most of her time hanging out with her “friend” Ellie, who lives in a strange, cultish commune across the street. Not really a friend, but the only companion Glory has really ever had, they talk about their experience (or, in Glory’s case, non experience) with boys and what their futures may hold.

One night, Glory and Ellie decide (DON’T ASK WHY) to drink a desiccated, mummified bat that they found. They sprinkle the bat’s remains into their warm, cheap beers, and toast to their futures.

When they wake up the next day, they realize that everything is different. They can see the past and the future of everyone they make eye contact with. They can see the horrors that lie ahead for civilization, and Glory realizes that something has to be done to warn others about it. And so she keeps a journal.

She describes the horrible laws that will be passed, eventually taking away all rights for women. How a second civil war will tear our country apart, and how women will be kidnapped from states bordering opposing sides to be held prisoners as breeders and sexual slaves. And how rebel insurgents will refuse to accept this new society, and fight to bring our nation back together.

Glory sees the role that she is to play in this bleak future, and gladly accepts her fate if it means that she can make a potential difference. In the meantime, she struggles to accept her past, learning as much as she can about her mother and how her suicide affected everyone around her.

Another book that wasn’t easy to read, as the scenes in the future are bleak as hell. But King pulls it off. The strange powers that come from the bat aren’t really explained, but theres really no need for them to be. Just accept them and keep reading.

And yes, the future that Glory sees is completely bleak and awful. But she does what she can to prepare herself — as well as society as a whole — by keeping her journals and making note of who is responsible and when.

AS King is a totally badass, original voice. I plan to go back and read all of the other books of hers that I’ve missed.

 

17
Apr
17

I wanted to love this. But I just couldn’t bring myself past feeling lukewarm. CBR9 Review 24.

UnknownThis book was practically a sure thing for me. It has an adorable little porcupine on the cover. I can’t resist! I mean, LOOK AT HOW CUTE THAT IS. It also has a blurb from my Cannonball boyfriend, Andrew Smith. Just reading the words ANDREW SMITH is like catnip to me. Seriously, I was destined to love this book.

But I just didn’t. And I don’t really get why.

Carson is uprooted from his life in NYC for a summer in Billings, Montana, against his will. His father (who abandoned him and his mom when he was three) is dying and Carson’s mom demands that they go home and nurse him in his last months. Carson isn’t excited about this at all.

Until he meets Aisha, the funniest and most beautiful girl he has ever seen. Its love at first site. Except that it isn’t.

Because not only is Aisha living in the woods behind the Billings Zoo, she’s been kicked out of her house by her Jesus-fearing father for being a lesbian. And so Carson brings her home to live in the basement with him. He knows his psychologist (and psycho-babble spewing) mother won’t be able to say no.

From there, the book becomes a road trip quest to find out the truth — about Carson’s father and grandfather, about whether or not there is a God, about how people decide who to love, and about choosing your own family when the one you were born with isn’t quite right for you.

From Montana to Utah to California, Carson and Aisha slowly get to know all about each other, both the good and the bad. She finds out about how he grew up without his alcoholic father, and how his father had also grown up without his own alcoholic father. Carson learns about how Aisha’s father chose religion over his own daughter, and how that rejection taints Aisha’s vision of everything around her.

Yeah, this is a quirky YA road trip book, but its filled with serious shit. A lot of talk about God, depression, alcoholism, abandonment, racism, homophobia, and AIDS. Carson uses humor as a means to deal with these serious topics…and that’s where the book lost me.

I get that a lot of people use humor to deal with tragedy. We’ve all done it at one time or another. And if Carson wants to use it to mask his real emotions, fine. I just didn’t find any of his humor all that humorous.

Everything in the book that was supposed to be hilarious fell extremely flat for me.

All of the funny, ridiculous improv? Bugged the crap out of me.

The puns and the jokes? Annoyed me to no end.

And the porcupine? Cute at first, but the longer his backstory and history went on, the less I cared.

I don’t know. Maybe I just wasn’t in the mood for this one. The characters were interesting (especially everyone who Carson and Aisha met on their trip), and I liked the end result. But I just really didn’t like Carson all that much and wasn’t charmed by any of his charming qualities.

Don’t worry, Andrew Smith. I’m not mad at you. You’ll always be my Cannonball Boyfriend. This just wasn’t my favorite book.

30
Sep
16

And the moral of the story is, never doubt Andrew Smith. CBR8 Review 49.

unknownLongtime Cannonballers know of my obsession with all things Andrew Smith. From the moment that I first read Grasshopper Jungle I was obsessed with reading as much of this work as I could, as quickly as possible. When I finished his books, I started reading the books that he tweets about and books by friends of his. I discovered AS King and We Are the Ants. So when I saw that the highly lauded Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda actually had a blurb from Smith on the cover, really, I need no further praise than that.

And Andrew Smith was right, of course. He called it “a remarkable gift of a novel.”

Here’s what I love about writers like Smith, Rainbow Rowell, and now Becky Albertalli: they write about teens, but they treat them like fully developed human beings. Their characters say things you could imagine actual people saying. They do funny things, awkward things, stupid things. They make mistakes, and sometimes learn from them. These are real people in real situations (well, except for that giant praying mantis invasion): problems with friends, questions about love and sex, wondering about sexuality and gender, balancing home life and school. You know. Stuff that literally every human goes through at some point in their lives.

Albertalli gives us the wonderful Simon, a closeted gay high school student in Georgia. Nobody knows his secret, except for two people. The first is his secret, online penpal, Blue. The second is Martin, a kid from the school play that Simon is in who stumbles across some of the emails between Simon and Blue and uses them to blackmail Simon into setting him up with Simon’s adorable friend Abby. (whoa. total run-on sentence. but its just one of those teenage situations that practically begs for run-on details).

As Simon and Blue continue to email and open up to each other about their lives and their feelings, Simon tries to figure out just who Blue might be. All he knows is that they go to the same school, but nothing else.

Meanwhile, Simon deals with coming out to his friends and family, his sister going away to college and changing the family dynamic, and the jealousy between two of his friends who both fall for the same guy.

I loved Simon’s family and their unquestioning support of Simon. I appreciated that his dad, who had made tons of gay jokes in the past, felt bad about it but had really never meant any harm. Just showing how his casual, throwaway remarks really bothered Simon was an important insight into their relationship.

When we finally find out who Blue is, I wasn’t disappointed. I wish Simon and Blue all the luck in the world and hope that someday we get a whole Becky Albertalli universe (like Sarah Dessen’s world or Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl/Landline bits) of books and get to catch a glimpse of future, happy Simon.

My apologies to Becky Albertalli, who is clearly an amazing new talent. I didn’t mean to make your review all about Andrew Smith. Its a compliment, I swear. I just can’t help myself.

 

26
Apr
16

Eat the bacon, Henry. CBR8 Review 21.

 

Unknown-2We are the Ants is a story about high school and first love. Its about depression and suicide. Its about survivor’s guilt and grief. Its about sexual identity and standing up for your true self.

Its also a story about being abducted by aliens and given a choice about whether or not the earth is worth saving.

Henry Denton lives in a small town in Florida with his overworked mom, his senile grandmother, and his pain in the ass older brother and his pregnant girlfriend. He’s still in mourning over the suicide of his boyfriend Jesse a year before, but is trying to move on by fooling around with another boy at school. He also has a tendency to be abducted by aliens.

On one of his visits to the alien ship, he’s given a choice: In about 150 days, the world is going to end. If he pushes the red button the aliens show him, he can prevent the apocalypse. But Henry just isn’t sure he wants to do that.

He’s had enough bullying. He’s had enough mourning. He’s had enough of watching his mother struggle to get past his father leaving years before. He’s had enough of seeing his grandmother lose more and more of her memories and herself. He’s not sure he thinks this troubled world is somewhere that his future niece/nephew should have to suffer through.

And so Henry doesn’t push the button when he’s given the option. But he thinks about it.

And then Henry meets Diego, and Diego gives Henry so much more to consider about the world.

I’m gonna go ahead and put this book up next to Exit, Pursued by a Bear and pretty much everything I’ve ready by Andrew Smith* (my Cannonball spirit animal) over the past few years as an example of a Young Adult book that gives us much more than its label would lead us to believe.

All of these books deal with serious life issues in a realistic way. Some good, lots of bad. these books have characters that are alive on the page, like real people you have come across in your lifetime — they talk and interact like actual human beings. These books scare me to death when I think about the fact that I’ll have a teenager in a few years, but I’m glad that I’ll have this small arsenal of books at my disposal when various problems arise.

The author did a wonderful job making these characters seem real. They talked like real people (although some of the Kardashian references might be stale in a few years). Not all of the characters were likable but they were all relatable — Marcus sucked but I felt bad for him all the same. Charlie had his moments but was somewhat horrible at the beginning.

And I loved how Diego’s sexuality wasn’t a huge thing for him to deal with. He loved Henry, and that was enough. He didn’t worry about how that labeled him. It reminded me of the very awesome wine scene in Schitt’s creek (WAIT. WHAT? You aren’t watching Schitt’s Creek? GO, AND GET THEE TO AMAZON PRIME!):

My favorite was Audrey, the former best friend of Jesse, and third angle in the triangle that was made up of Jesse and Henry before his suicide. Her pain and her loyalty were heartbreaking, and her use of sarcasm and humor was a delight. In particular, when she tried to explain to Henry that it was OK for him to have feelings for Diego:

“I don’t deserve him.”
Audrey shrugged. “Probably not. But he doesn’t deserve you, either. Maybe that’s why you’re perfect for each other…You like bacon, right?” Audrey asked.
“Duh.”
“So, when you’re offered bacon for breakfast, do you refuse because you’re worried about what’s going to happen when it’s gone?”
“No.”
“No!” Audrey smacked me in the chest. “You eat that bacon and you love it because it’s delicious. You don’t fret over whether you’ll ever have bacon again. You just eat the bacon….Eat the bacon, Henry.”
…”I’m assuming Diego is the bacon in that analogy.”
“I need another drink.”

*This book even has a lovely homage to one of my favorite Andrew Smith books, Grasshopper Jungle. In one of the possible scenarios that Henry imagines the world ending, he sees a world in which giant cockroaches are bred by a government scientist named Dr. Andrew Smith (!) and used to control super strains of bacteria. But not all goes as smoothly as envisioned:

On 29 January 2016 a pair of CroMS escape from a laboratory in Austin, Texas. They begin to breed. As a result of their increased size, CroMS possess a ravenous appetite and devour everything in their path…Austin is overrun in three days. Texas in two weeks. The United States in less than a year…When CroMS are the only living creatures remaining on the planet, they consume each other.

Cool, right?

ENDING SPOILER ALERT! SERIOUSLY!

Remember a few years ago, when everyone was talking about The Life of Pi, and the vague ending? Where we were left to decide for ourselves which version of the story we wanted to believe? We Are the Ants reminded me of that, a little bit.

While we never know for sure if Henry’s abductions were a psychological creation or not, its up to us to decide how Henry’s future will be, or if he even gets to have one.

I think he does, and that in his case, it definitely gets better.

 

03
Nov
15

These two books are so good I really don’t even have anything to say. Just read them. CBR7 Reviews 58 and 59.

FullSizeRenderI just finished reading Carry On, literally seconds ago. And just before that, I had the pleasure of reading Stand Off. Not only were these the two best YA books I’ve read in ages, but they were just two of the best books I’ve read. Ever. Full-stop.

Nobody out there can touch Cannonball favorite Rainbow Rowell and Andrew “my Cannonball boyfriend” Smith right now, as far as I’m concerned.

Many people have touted Carry On before me. And I”ll gladly jump on that bandwagon, waving my Rainbow flag.

I’ll admit, I was nervous about this book. The Simon Snow parts of Fangirl were not my favorite. I was afraid that this was going to be the book that finally disappointed me. And unsure about the whole meta-ness of a book about a book in a book. But my god. I loved this damn book. I loved every single thing about it. Except for the fact that it had to end.

From the first handful of pages — when Penelope says that she likes wearing magical capes with her school uniform because it makes her feel like Stevie Nicks — I was all in. The characters, the plot, the magic and the “normal” all together was simply perfection.

Rowell’s ability to write real dialogue and thoughts is simply amazing. Taking something as mundane as:

SIMON:
…I wish I knew what he was thinking…

BAZ:
I don’t know what I’m thinking.

and giving it heat and emotion and making every single person who has ever fallen in love know exactly how both characters are feeling? So great.

Even Rowell’s throw-away lines and descriptions are little treasures, like when Simon first met Baz’s brothers and sisters:

They all look like Baz’s stepmum: dark hair, but not black like Baz’s, with round cheeks and those Billie Piper mouths that don’t quite close over their front teeth.

Or when Agatha finds herself in the Mage’s messy office:

…There are books everywhere, in stacks and lying open. There are pages ripped out and taped all over one wall. (Not taped — stuck to the wall with spells.) (And this is exactly the sort of thing I’m sick of. Like, just use some tape. Why come up with a spell for sticking paper to the wall? Tape. Exists.)…

Come on.

Really, the only writer out there who comes even close to breathing life into characters like this is Andrew Smith. You may remember how I ranted and raved about the heart-wrenching Winger earlier this year. That book made me ugly cry. And I loved it for its beauty and its honesty. Stand Off is the sequel to Winger.

Did Winger need a sequel? Maybe not. It had a strong ending. But I was so happy to come back to Ryan Dean’s world, to make sure that he was OK. I really just wanted to check in on him, give him a hug, tell him I was here if he needed me.

And poor Ryan Dean. He was not OK. Stand Off is all about his senior year at Pine Mountain boarding school, his relationship with his beautiful girlfriend, Annie, and the aftermath of last year’s vicious hate crime.

Ryan Dean makes terrible mistakes in his day-to-day life. But he knows it. He has panic attacks at night. He’s losing weight. He’s terrible to his new roommate, and things aren’t going great with Annie. But how does a teenage boy get over the death of his best friend?

The dialogue is real, and my favorite bits are when Andrew Smith just lets Ryan Dean go on a rant, just like a real teenager would.

Okay. So, you know how when sometimes a person who you think is an okay guy tells you something you know he’s been holding inside for a long time and it makes you feel really bad for him and you try to think of a thousand things you could do or say to make him feel better, but there’s just nothing you can do at all — which is why I now understood how none of the rugby boys at dinner wanted to talk to Nico — so you just feel awkward and sad and stupid because you really think the other guy (who you think is an okay guy) probably just needs a hug from a friend and to hear a friend tell him “none of this bullshit matters,” but you don’t think you can do anything like that, so you just keep your hands in your pockets and you say nothing and you feel like a massive pile of shit and you know he feels like shit and there’s, like, this huge, incredible, growing shit supernova swallowing you up and making you both feel so terrible and you’re not really looking where you’re going because it’s dark and you’ve just cut through the woods and your toe gets stuck beneath a goddamned tree root (screw you, goddamned tree) and you fall down in wet tree mulch and get a cigarette butt stuck to your forehead because your hands were in your pockets and this happened to be the — air quotes — assembly hall — end air quotes — for the Pine Mountain Nicotine Club and then the guy you think is an okay guy is laughing, and that makes you feel better, because of all of the things you thought about that might make him not feel so shitty, gravity was not on that list?

Yeah. That’s what happened.

And screw you, gravity.

Not as heart-breaking as Winger, but still lovely. This book made me laugh and cry. Just like real life.

Seriously, if you aren’t reading Rainbow Rowell yet, what can I say? What’s wrong with you? GET THEE TO A LIBRARY! And Andrew Smith? So good. Go out and read Grasshopper Jungle before the movie comes out. His books are crazy and amazing and non-stop everything.

30
Sep
15

More from my Cannonball boyfriend. He can do no wrong, really. CBR7 Review 54.

Unknown-2I love discovering new authors and then devouring their entire bibliography. It’s like a little present, just for me.

And I’m still making my way through the early books written by my Cannonball boyfriend, Andrew Smith. So far, I’ve loved Grasshopper Jungle, The Alex Crow, and Winger. And while I didn’t 100% love The Marbury Lens, I was intrigued enough by its unique darkness to pick up its sequel, Passenger.

Passenger is just about the darkest, most psychologically frightening, YA book I’ve ever come across. And I mean that in both a good way and a bad way. This was tough reading, folks. But it was worthwhile.

A quick overview of The Marbury Lens: Jack suffers a major trauma (he is kidnapped by a sexual predator) and after his escape, is given a weird pair of glasses by a total stranger. He finds that the glasses bring him to another world called Marbury. Marbury is not a nice place, but Jack can’t stay away from it. He sees people he knows over in that other world, and works desperately to save them from the horrors of Marbury — war, disease, mutants, you name it. Jack is never really sure if Marbury is real, or in his messed up mind, until his best friend Connor comes to Marbury with him. Marbury makes them sick — physically, emotionally, mentally — but they keep on going back.

The version (or versions, I guess) of Marbury that we see in Passenger are even worse. Children killing in order to survive. Monstrous creatures that can change you into a mutant cannibal in seconds. Huge, flesh eating bugs. Ugh. So much unpleasantness that turns these regular kids from California into different, harder versions of themselves.

But what works for me is Andrew Smith’s writing. He deftly mixes all of this horror with a beautiful friendship, one worth traveling through all of these horrible worlds for. Jack and Connor travel from world to world to find and save each other. Smith touches on mental illness, suicide, and sexuality, but doesn’t let any of these important topics take control of the story. They are just part of the story, and he is so skilled at writing teenage characters, that these issues just weave into the narrative.

These two books aren’t especially pleasant experiences, but I’m so glad I read them. My Cannonball boyfriend is the best.




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