Tag Archives: death

Sorrow’s Knot by Erin Bow

12 Mar

SorrowsKnotCoverTitle: Sorrow’s Knot
Author: Erin Bow
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine
Genre: Fantasy
Page Count: 368

The girl who remade the world was born in winter.

Otter is one of the Shadowed People. The free women of the forest live without men, for men are powerless against the ever restless dead. Every bit of shadow could conceal one of the three kinds of dead: slip, ghasts, and White Hands. Slip and ghasts are the little dead – unidentifiable spirits of some living form or another, they cannot kill you on their own, just give you a permanent chill, or unmake the flesh that they touch. White Hands, however, were human once, and to be touched by a White Hand means that over the course of nine days the afflicted will gradually go mad, until another Hand eats its way out, leaving the human body nothing but an empty husk. Otter’s mother is a binder, one of the powerful women whose job it is to contain the dead, and it has always been assumed that she would follow in her mother’s footprints to become a binder herself. However, when the death of the eldest binder in the Pinch unleashes a horrific chain of events, Otter’s entire world is turned upside down and everything she thought she knew about the world begins to unravel.

So, first thing first: this book is FREAKING AMAZING. As in, the best book I’ve read so far this year. It’s dark and lyrical and heavy and just so good I can’t stop thinking about it. Erin Bow is nothing short of intimidating – her writing is so achingly beautiful and fresh that there were times when I actually got goosebumps. Just for flavor, here is the first passage in which we meet one of the little dead:

Something was resting in the nest of shadows under a cornstalk, something stirring as Cricket’s hand came near. Something gawk-stretched and ugly as a new-hatched bird with no feathers and skin over its eyes. Something that moved subtly, like the earth moving above something buried. Something struggling and starving.

Gawk-stretched. GAWK-STRETCHED. That pairing of words is so perfect it makes my heart clench a little, and this entire book is full of the same evocative, lyrical language. Erin Bow is the kind of brilliant wordsmith that makes me feel like I should just give up, because I will never, ever be this good. There is a rhythm to her writing that is reminiscent of telling a story around a fire that keeps the shadows back; the repetition of certain phrases (Ware the dead!) and specific stories adds to the feeling that you aren’t reading a book, but sitting at Bow’s feet and being told a story that’s been handed down time untold.

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Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool

9 Mar

navigatingearlyTitle: Navigating Early
Author: Clare Vanderpool
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Genre: Historic fiction
Page count: 320

If I’d known what there was to know about Early Auden, the strangest of boys, I might have been scared off, or at least kept my distance like all the others.

World War II has just ended and Jack has just moved to Maine from Kansas following the death of his mother. At his boarding school he meets Early Auden, a very strange boy who never actually goes to class, lives in the janitor’s closet, sorts jelly beans when he’s stressed, and has created an elaborate fairy tale to coincide with all the numbers of pi. When both are left alone in the school during a break, Early convinces Jack to go on a quest with him into the forest of Maine to help find Pi, whom he insists is lost. Or maybe a bear, or some other suck wacky shit.

I would like to start by saying barf. I know that middle grade books are often characterized by their heartwarming…ness….and that’s one reason why I don’t read them very often, and also perhaps why so many people loved this book whereas it mostly made me dry heave. Maybe my heart is too black to appreciate this book, but the more Vanderpool tried to warm it the more I wanted to set the god damn book on fire. How in the flying fuck did this get a Printz honor? Nevermind the fact that THIS IS NOT A YOUNG ADULT BOOK; the Printz (honor), which, to quote my friend who knows what he’s talking about, is often polarizing in its weirdness, should not be awarded to something so safe and mediocre.

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The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

18 Nov

Earlier this  year I totally fell in love with Maggie Stiefvater‘s The Scorpio Races,  so when I heard that she had a new release coming out this year I got pretty stoked. Alas, while The Raven Boys is definitely a solid read, it ain’t no Scorpio Races 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 etc.

Blue Sargent had forgotten how many times she’d been told that she would kill her true love.

Blue comes from a family of bona fide psychics, and every single one of those kooky ladies has told her that if and when she kisses her true love he will die. If that isn’t a total teenage love life buzz kill, I don’t know what is, man. Every year Blue accompanies her mother to an ancient burial ground on the Corpse Road, a ley line of mystical energy where, once a year, the spirits of those who are going to die in the next year manifest. Being the only non-psychic in a family full of clairvoyants, Blue has never seen a single dang spirit, but this year she sees one: a boy named Gansey from Aglionby, the local prep school. MEANWHILE. Gansey, who is really rich and kind of oblivious as to how much richer he is than the rest of the world, is really obsessed with finding Glendower, some old magical Welsh king he believes to be buried on the ley line in Henrietta. (In other words, Gansey is kind of a crazy old crack pot mystical conspiracy theorist in a teenage body). He’s supported by a hodge podge of outcasts from Aglionby: Rowen, a surly dude who discovered his father’s dead body; Adam, hyper-intelligent and ambitious trailer trash scholarship student; and Noah, some weird smudgy kid who never eats and seems to have social anxiety. FATE means Blue is destined to get sucked into the Raven Boys quest for MAGIC. Cue: danger, romance, etc. etc. etc.

I will start by saying that when I first read the blurb of this book, I was a little backed off by the true love/destiny feel of it. It seemed like Stiefvater was maybe going to head back into purple melodrama territory, and I don’t like her writing as much when it’s in that camp. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the overall tone, which is one of preordained mystery, class tension, and of repression: repressed emotions, repressed energies, repressed sexuality, respressed secrets, and repressed MAGIC, all just waiting to boil over and explode. The romantic melodrama contained in the first sentence was all but absent, which was sweet, sweet relief.

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Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

7 Oct

Well, it’s been a whopper of a week, folks. Between sicksies and worksies and all around busy..sies, I haven’t had much time to write. I almost considered just NOT reviewing John Corey Whaley’s wonderful Where Things Come Back because it has a shiny medals on its cover so probably doesn’t need my promotion, but what the hey. It’s such a treat I thought I should probably go ahead and share.

I was seventeen years old when I saw my first dead body.

Cullen Witter is a snarky, intelligent teenage boy longing to escape the black hole that is his sleepy hometown of Lily, Arkansas. His world, both in micro and macro, unravels with a series of dramatic events during the summer before his senior year in high school. It starts with his cousin dying of an overdose, continues with Lily getting obsessed with the supposed reappearance of the extinct Lazarus woodpecker, and then things come completely undone when his beloved, sensitive fifteen-year-old brother, Gabriel, inexplicably disappears without a trace. Meanwhile, Benton Sage, a failed missionary trying to re-create his life after returning from a failed mission to Africa in utter disillusionment inadvertently infects his college room mate, Cabot Searcy, with an obsessive religious fanaticism, starting a chain of events that slowly draws these two disparate narratives together like ill-fated magnets.

I’ll start by saying that this is one of those books that makes me feel insecure about my own writing. Not only did this book win the Printz, which is prestigious enough, but it also won William C. Morris YA Debut Award. So, not only is this book really well-written and stupid full of literary merit, it’s also John Corey Whaley’s first book ever. Seriously? Just get out of here. I will say, however, that there were certain other Printz contenders that I loved more (ahem Scorpio Races ahem), but that’s more personal taste than anything else.

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The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

22 Jul

As a longtime avid consumer of storytelling, I’ve slowly put together a mental list of writers who have made me cry longer and harder than I would care to admit: Patrick Ness, Philip Pullman, J.K. Rowling, Joss Whedon. Now, granted, I cry pretty easily, but as far as I’m concerned a writer’s ability to bring me to tears speaks to their ability to make me care about their characters. I sometimes think that reading or engaging in narrative of any kind brings on a sort of temporary lunacy in me; how else can you explain getting hysterical over someone or something that doesn’t actually exist?

I started thinking about all this crying gobbledie gook after I watched the series finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer a couple nights ago after a year long binge of the entire series in chronological order. It was one of those things where I was unsure whether I wanted people there for emotional support or not, and now that that trauma is over I can honestly say I am so happy I was home alone, because the word “crying” doesn’t adequately describe the sounds that were coming out of me.  Point being, sometimes I wonder whether I want to knight these tear-jerking writers for making me love their characters so much and sometimes I want to sue them for emotional damages. Now, after reading The Fault in Our Stars, John Green has made his way onto my STOP MAKING ME CRY, YOU JERK list.

Hazel was thirteen years old when she was diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer, and fourteen years old when a miracle drug dragged her from her death bed. Two years later she is stuck in a rut of depression (a “side effect of dying”) when her parents force her to go to a cancer kid support group where she meets an Adonis with a prosthetic leg, Augustus. They develop an existentially fraught relationship that juggles the meaning of life, mortality, and making out.

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A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

30 Apr

I have pushed Patrick Ness‘ bleak dystopian Chaos Walking trilogy on just about every reader I know for the past couple of years. You don’t like science fiction? I don’t give a damn, and why are we even friends, anyways? Whereas the Chaos Walking books read like 1,000 pages of tears and anxiety attacks (and I mean that in the very best way), his newest offering, A Monster Calls is a sombre, graphic exploration of guilt and loss adapted from Siobhan Dowd‘s final offering, unable to be completed due to her death.

The first time the monster visits thirteen-year-old Conor at seven minutes past midnight he is not frightened, but relieved that it is not the same monster he has been dreaming (nightmaring?) of since his mother first started her cancer treatments. This monster is a manifestation of the ancient mythological Green Man, and it has come to tell Conor three stories. In exchange, the monster wants one thing: the truth. As the monster’s visits continue, its stories of destruction and rage become indistinguishable from Conor’s own violent outbursts in reaction to his mother’s rapidly deteriorating condition, so that the reader is left to wonder whether the monster is real or if it is just a fevered imagining of Conor’s disturbed and grief-stricken mind.

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