June 12, 2015

You Were Made for Me (Review: Made for You by Melissa Marr)

24261482Made for You
Melissa Marr
Harper Collin’s Childrens 2015

When Eva is victim of a hit and run in her sedate North Carolina town, she is confused.  Who on earth would hit someone with a car and not stop?  Who would want to hit her?  Eva is, after all, Little Miss Popular with a locally noble lineage and all the right sort of friends.  However, the matter of who hit her takes a back seat to the fact that she has woken from her accident with a strange ability.  She can now, through touch, foresee how those around her are going to die.  While her new gift seems at first a curse, she quickly realises that she was only the first victim of a killer who will stop at nothing to get to her and that her death sight might be the only chance she has of saving not only herself but also her friends.  At her side stands Nate, an old not-quite-the-right-sort-of-friend, who has drifted back into her life after a long absence.  Together they find themselves locked in a struggle with an unknown assailant – one that could easily end in both of their deaths.
Eva is a perfectly nice character.  Born into a life of privilege, she’s very aware of her status and influence but hasn’t let it go to her head.  However, she does have an air of superiority about her – particularly in terms of her peers.  You get the impression that she finds them all a bit vacuous.  To be fair, they seem a bit vacuous.  From the jealous ex-boyfriend, to the cadre of giggling girls, they are all vaguely irritating and at times you wonder why she hangs out with them at all.  Yet she seems to genuinely care for them and they for her, in their own way, and when she starts envisioning their imminent deaths her panic is palpable. 

Luckily, Eva has Nate who is by far the most multi-faceted character in the whole shebang.  There is something terribly attractive about any character who is told the unbelievable and solidly, loyally believes and Nate is one of those.  Luckily, Marr has made him smart, caring and slightly mysterious rather than painting him as a love-sick puppy.  He is not, in fact, unlike Wicked Lovely’s Seth – another Marr creation of definitive swoon. While Made for You’s narrative largely stems from Eva, it is interspersed with a first person narrative from the mystery killer whose rambling reasoning is all unsurprisingly disjointed and creepy.  However, these sections are one of the novels failings as they somewhat quickly clue readers in to who the killer is.  Perhaps this was intentional but removing this core mystery just leads to a lack of general suspense – something that Made for You was already sadly lacking. 

Melissa Marr has proved her writing chops with the fantastically detailed and compelling Wicked Lovely series.  However, Made for You falls pretty flat in comparison.  It’s surprisingly short and at times oddly over-sentimental.  The core premise is a strong one but not entirely unique and what it really required was a strong, dark undercurrent or at least more of an edge than it has.  Yes, the killer is creepy and yes Eva’s ability has interesting repercussions but it’s hard to care about a cast of characters that, for the large part, are pretty badly underwritten.  There are some great ideas that don’t really get the page time that might make them compelling (the idea of the language of flowers is a great one, but seems to get lost in the mix) and the grand denouement seems predictable by the time you reach it.  The killer, while creepy in his obsession, comes across almost pantomime-like in his villainy and Eva, while readable enough, lacks any real depth of personality.

Ultimately, Made for You is a rather disappointing read from a writer who is truly excellent when on top of her game.  For those looking for a genuinely compelling story of a similar ilk, I highly recommend Kimberly Derting’s Body Finder series while Barry Lyga writes a truly terrifying killer in his acclaimed I Hunt Killers.  For those wanting to try out Melissa Marr as a writer, her Wicked Lovely series really is great as is her adult offering, Graveminder – start with these and perhaps leave Made for You for another day.

This review was brought to you by Splendibird really wishes that she'd liked the book more.  Thank you to the publisher for sending us this title to review.

April 13, 2015

It's Pretty, But Is It Art? (Review: I'll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson)

I’ll Give You The Sun
Jandy Nelson
Walker 2015

Noah and Jude are twins, linked in that ineffable way that twins so often seem to be.  Inseparable for their childhood, things start to change as they get older and I’ll Give You The Sun tells their story from two points in time and alternating perspectives: Noah at thirteen and Jude at sixteen.  Hugely talented artists, we see them as they compete and negotiate, taking nothing off the table – not the moons, the ocean, the stars… not even their mother.  As we read their wildly different realities it quickly becomes clear that they are telling their story from opposing sides of a terrible tragedy and that, for all their trading of the world and everything in it, there is far more at stake than the sun.

Noah’s narrative voice is strikingly resonant and entirely unique.  An artist, his world is a painting made real, a kaleidoscopic whirlwind from the palette of a mad painter, swirled through with emotion and confusion, ambition and longing.  Struggling with worn down truths and surprising new edges, not least the boy next door who gives him whole new universes, Noah longs for his sister even as she drifts from his reach.  He is a character that is extraordinarily alive and his battle with himself is shot through with moments of sheer joy that will lift reader’s hearts even as his world darkens.

Seemingly the less talented twin Jude, in the three years between Noah’s narration and hers, has changed from the punchy, adventure seeking, rebellious sister that Noah watched with such awe and dread.  Instead, she lives in a world that has been muted and drained of colour.  Everything she touches seems to crumble and she seems haunted by what might be an angry ghost or what might be her own suffocating conscience. She’s a sculptor, encased in her own stone prison, endlessly reaching for a brother she no longer recognises nor is sure she deserves. Her grief and wearisome guilt is tangible on every page yet so is her latent passion and she’s a fascinating character to get to know.

In fact, I’ll Give You The Sun is filled with fascinating characters, all of whom are beautifully drawn by Nelson’s unique hand.  Interweaving the story of Noah and Jude is a father who comes into focus differently depending on whose eyes view him; an erratic, all-consuming mother; a dead, yet surprisingly vocal grandmother; a boy with a face like a cracked mirror and a bowler pitching meteorites.  All are compelling although if there is one weakness in the book it is the twins’ father, who is seen so differently by each of his children that he never entirely comes into focus for the reader.

The writing, as with Nelson’s The Sky is Everywhere, is exceptional.  Weird and truly wonderful, her prose lifts from each page and is vivid, visceral and lush, allowing the reader to transcend the basic plot and envelop themselves in a world that is a splurge of winding words and heavy metaphor. It shouldn’t work, particularly the level to which that heavy metaphor is used in each and every sentence, but it does.  Magical, yet real, readers will find themselves entranced by this imagining of traded suns and grandmother’s who float by propelled only by magenta parasols.

While Nelson, as with her debut, riffs on sex, death, life, love, lust and identity – and does so with thought-provoking aplomb – what I’ll Give You The Sun is really about is the intangible relationship between twins: the endless push and pull, ebb and flow of two distinct hearts wrestling for ownership of a shared soul.  It is fascinating, different and brilliant.  For lovers of the gorgeous madness of Andrew Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle and the billowing prose of E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars this is surely a must read.  For everyone else, if you love words and those who use them beautifully, this is your book of the year. Highly recommended.

This review was brought to you by Splendibird who spent her morning stroll along the beach searching for red sea glass and sand dollars, so thanks for that Jandy Nelson.  You can read her equally glowing review of The Sky Is Everywhere here. I'll Give You The Sun is available now. Thank you to Walker Books for providing us with a copy of this title to review.

March 26, 2015

Secrets and Lies (Review: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher)

Thirteen Reasons Why
Jay Asher
Razorbill 2007

Slightly late on the uptake - story of my life - but I have been looking forward to this for a while now. Goodreads reviews are hugely mixed and there has been a fair bit of controversy banded around.  So is the fuss justified we rightly ask?

Clay arrives home from school to a package on his doorstep.  The package has no sender or return address and contains 7 cassette tapes explaining the 13 reasons why Hannah Baker, Clay's schoolmate and object of his affections, chose to end her life.  The tapes are being sent on a "round robin" to each of the people involved in the reasons for Hannah's decision, meaning that Clay knows almost from the opening of the book that he has, in some way, contributed to the suicide of a friend. And the vast majority of this book is simply the reader listening in real time as Clay hears these tapes for the first time.

And I loved this.  The reader is given next to no context to this story - we know very little of Clay and all we know of Hannah is really what she chooses to divulge from her own perspective.  The reader is essentially a voyeur to one night that changes Clay's life, after which we are left to draw our own conclusions as to how he has been affected by what he has learned.  So what has he learned? What could a teenage girl believably have thought of as justification to take her own life?  Well, as you may have expected from a teenage girl and to avoid any specific spoilers, a lot to do with friends, or the lack of, boys and the way she is perceived by others.  At the time of reading each "tape", I remember clearly thinking that a fair few of the 13 reasons when considered in isolation were ridiculous.  But considering, as Hannah calls it, "the snowball effect", suddenly I was completely invested and convinced of the downward spiral of this poor girl.  Factor in the helplessness of Clay who is hearing Hannah's reasoning for the first, and voice for the last, time, the effect is pretty unique and utterly entrancing.

And so to one of the more controversial discussions points, the elephant in the room.  There are bloggers, publishers, parents and others who believe, in some cases very loudly, that Thirteen Reasons Why glorifies suicide.  I disagree.  Whist I can see that Hannah being our narrator, and a very eloquent one at that, along with the odd manic-pixie-dreamgirl trait would have some people think she is exuding control from the great beyond, I don't think this is a glorification of her choice. Hannah had a story to tell that, for many reasons, she didn't have the opportunity to tell in life and so chose to tell it afterwards.  As she says herself, the tapes are not about revenge, she has forgiven almost all who are mentioned in them, they are about the chance to be heard and it is so important for us to remember that that is the one thing so many in similar circumstances do not feel they have.  To suggest that anyone, even a fictitious character, does not have the right to share their story with the world after taking a decision which was theirs and no one elses, I can't help but think would send a dangerous message, a message that would read, "You made the choice so your story doesn't matter".

For me, Thirteen Reasons Why isn't primarily a book about suicide.  It's a story of grief and acceptance and acknowledgement, the acknowledgement that our actions, however small, directly affect all of those around us and we must use them wisely.  But, mild controversy aside, a really strong read.  I enjoyed it greatly.  It's accessible without being simple and thought-provoking without being preachy (which I am aware I have more than made up for with this review).  Proof that a small leading cast of really well written characters along with some fantastic scene setting gets you far. Good work Mr A, looking forward to reading your other offerings soon.    

This review was brought to you by Polka-Dot Steph.  Who is worried that she's been a bit ranty.  But we believe it's an articulate and interesting rant. So, er, there.