Posts Tagged ‘Andrew Smith

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.

02
Jul
15

“So what’s a few plane crashes in the name of a good night’s sleep?” CBR7 review 39.

imageWhat if I told you that I just read a great book about a teenaged boy named Ariel? Ariel lives in an unnamed, war-torn country, and has just turned 14. On his 14th birthday, tragedy strikes, and Ariel finds himself the sole survivor in his village. Wouldn’t his tale about his travels with soldiers and regular families, about the horrors of the refuge camp, and about his new, adoptive family in West Virginia sound like something you might want to read?

Or how about if I said that I just read a great book about a strange summer camp for boys in rural West Virginia? A camp where each cabin is named for a planet, and all of the boys are there because they are addicted to being online…except for three boys in the Jupiter cabin, who happen to be there because their fathers work at the company that sponsors the camp.

Or what about a book about a failed journey to the North Pole in the late 1800s? Written in journal entry, we get the first-hand account of a ship trapped in ice, and how its crew and passengers manage the bleak and freezing environment, and an amazing discovery that they make in the ice.

Not for you? How about a book about a company that plays God, constantly tweaking both human and animal DNA? Bringing extinct animals back into the world, albeit with some strange characteristics, including a previously unseen ancient species of man. And what if that company could control these creatures with a simple remote control, and somehow turn some of these de-extinct animals into weapons of mass destruction? Would that interest you?

Hmm. What if I told you about a book about a crazy young man — dubbed The Melting Man, because his body parts are literally melting off of his body — is driving across the country in a U-Haul with an enormous bomb in the back? He hears voices in his head: a nice lady who narrates his every move, a beautiful woman who plays the accordion for him, and Joseph Stalin. Did I mention that he’s dying of radiation poisoning? How about that?

Believe it or not, The Alex Crow is about every single one of these things. At the same time. And it’s terrific. I went into it knowing nothing, and was hooked half-way through the prologue. I kept thinking “what in the hell is happening right now?”, but in a good way.

You may remember that I’ve previously dubbed Andrew Smith my Cannonball boyfriend. After the brilliance of Grasshopper Jungle and Winger, I knew I would follow him anywhere. And he does not disappoint here.

The writing is funny and outrageous and sad and frightening and real. Ariel’s backstory is heartbreaking and terrible, and his new life is strange and bizarre. The book is filled with amazing characters — the hairy legged kid, Alex the crow, the Dumpling Man, Cobie & Max, Marshmallow Jeff — that are so unlike any other people being described in YA today.

If you are looking for something completely unlike anything else out there right now, I highly recommend The Alex Crow. Smith has a new book coming out this fall — the sequel to Winger! — and the movie version of Grasshopper Jungle (directed by Edgar F-ing Wright) is in production. I expect we’ll be hearing more great things from him soon.

03
Jun
15

Another entry from my CBR boyfriend. CBR7 review 31.

Unknown-2Andrew Smith is pretty much my Cannonball boyfriend. I loved Grasshopper Jungle so, so much. The balance between its absolute insanity and the realness of its characters hooked me quickly and didn’t let me go for the entire story. And Winger? That broke my heart, took it out, and stomped on it…and yet, still left me with a glimmer of hope. I did a little happy dance when I heard it was getting a sequel, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

But reading The Marbury Lens leaves me with a difficult task — reviewing it in a positive way. I’ve been sitting on this review for quite a while and still really don’t know what to say. It had the same, true-to-life teenage characters, brilliant falling-in-love scenes, and a beautiful friendship. It was really well written, and I didn’t really like it.

The story is really tough. As in, it was brutal. It was hard to get through. Our hero (this really isn’t a spoiler) is kidnapped by a pedophile, tortured, drugged, and almost raped in the first 20 pages. And we really aren’t given a chance to come up for air after that.

Jack lives with his grandparents in California, and is about to head to London with his best friend Conner for a few weeks to check out a prestigious prep school they might go to for senior year. He’s looking forward to it, until a man named Freddy attempts the unthinkable. Jack barely escapes, but his wounds — physical, and especially mental — aren’t going anywhere.

When Jack is given a mysterious pair of glasses in a London pub, he realizes he can be transported to another world when he puts them on. And this world, Marbury, is not a very nice world. It is a world of war, disease, and violence.

And here Jack slowly starts to break down. He loses time when he puts the glasses on. He starts to struggle with his sanity. He gets violently ill when he travels between worlds. And when he sees Conner over in Marbury, and its not the Conner that he knows and loves, well, that’s when things really start happening for Jack.

Jack and Conner work together to get Jack back on track, but realize this may be an impossible task. With the support of his lovely new British girlfriend, Jack does his best to stay tethered to reality for the rest of his visit to the UK. But the struggle for Jack only becomes harder.

Once again, I’m blown away by Andrew Smith’s storytelling and his ability to portray young adults that actually seem like real human beings. This story had me tense throughout, and to be honest, it wasn’t a feeling that I really enjoyed. I was very uneasy reading about Jack and Marbury.

There is a sequel, Passenger. And apparently, there is also a re-telling of this story from Conner’s point of view, King of Marbury. I do plan to read both, but I need a break from the bleak, desolate world of Marbury, and Jack’s desperate grip on the last of his sanity.

I still love you, Andrew Smith. I’m not breaking up with you yet.




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