...I wrote about Tess Sharpe's Far From You, and holy cow, it is just SO GOOD:
I have six and a half pages of notes in front of me, but they can be condensed into four words: I LOVED THIS BOOK. It’s about friendship, loyalty, trust and love; about betraying the person you love most in the world in order to save her; about addiction and grief, guilt and shame; about fear, family, and about how no one knows how long they have in this life: sometimes, someday never happens.
Eleven-year-old Dini loves Bollywood movies, and she ESPECIALLY loves Bollywood star Dolly Singh. But she just realized that there's something unusual about Dolly's most recent movie: there are no happy songs. Not a single one. And now, according to her Filmi Kumpnee magazine, something IS up with Dolly, and scuttlebutt says that that something is HEARTBREAK.
So when her mother is awarded a grant that will allow the family to move to a small town in southern India for two years, Dini is devastated about leaving Maryland and her best friend Maddie behind... but she's excited about the possibility of finding and meeting Dolly Singh, too!
It's about the difficulty of long distance friendships, and about the importance of staying true to your friends, but it also shows that there's room in our hearts for more than one good friend. It's about love of home, about the pleasure that comes from exploring a new place, and about how new places can eventually feel like home. Coincidences abound—Dirk Gently would approve of The Grand Plan to Fix Everything, because it very much supports his theory about the interconnectedness of all things—and there is charm and warmth and humor on every page.
Krishnaswami's rhythm is really distinct, and while it took me a little while to get used to it, I ended up loving it. And I loved how she put words together. I loved that instead of saying that Dini moodily flips a page, she said Dini flips a moody page. And I loved Maddie's first line upon learning about Dini's big move: Maddie is flipping through the pages of the Filmi Kumpnee magazine without seeming to look at anything. "Maybe you'll get to meet Dolly," she says in a small, brave voice. OH, SHE JUST BREAKS MY HEART. (In a good way.)
As in Penny Dreadful, Abigail Halpin's illustrations are spot on: they echo the lighthearted tone of Dini's adventures, and include lots of details from the text. Love.
In addition to the illustrations, there are magazine articles and texts and letters and so while it's primarily a straight-up novel, fans of the scrapbook and journal-type books are likely to enjoy.
I've got nothing.
It's a hug in book form. Also, MONKEYS. PEACOCKS! INTERESTING CAPITALIZATION! AND CAKE.
When I picked Mafia Girl up, I was CONVINCED that it was historical fiction.
As it opens with the main character and one of her best friends getting pulled over while A) driving a stolen Porsche 911, B) looking for an outlet that sells Louboutins (our narrator hilariously tries punching 'Louboutins' into the GPS), and C) after a dinner comprised solely of beer and Ritz Bits, I put my critical thinking skills to good use and concluded OH WAIT, THIS IS A CONTEMPORARY.
Gia loves her father and she loves her family, but all she really wants is to be out of the life. While being the daughter of a powerful mafia don has its perks—most notably that she can get her hands on pretty much any commodity she wants—she hates that her peers both look down on her AND fear her (although, to be honest, the latter comes in handy sometimes, too), and she's uncomfortable with the violence and death that are connected to her own personal comfort and economic status.
Gia's voice. Readers who don't like stream of consciousness or digression will DEFINITELY dislike it, but as I like both of those qualities, it worked for me. She comes off as honest, too, even in talking about moments that don't put her in the most flattering of lights.
Gia's sexual appetite. Props to Blumenthal for allowing Gia to lust after someone and for allowing her to pursue that feeling without branding her a slut. I do have some issues with that storyline, but I did appreciate that aspect of it.
Her best friend, Clive, who she describes as a "totally unique, asexual, standout person who looks, acts, dresses, and thinks differently from everyone else on the planet." Their friendship is by far the strongest and most interesting one in the book, and I loved Gia's blasé acceptance of Clive's sexual orientation.
The cultural depictions in the book—both Gia's Italian heritage and the mafia stuff—reads as cartoonishly stereotypical.
The love story—between Gia and a cop—is problematic on two major levels, neither of which is addressed. #1: She's underage and he's got to be in his early twenties at LEAST. #2: Her pursuit of him is extremely uncool, especially given that he asks her to stop. Animal magnetism doesn't justify stalking, and her choice to ignore his discomfort was just... yuck. If you're having difficulty seeing the yick factor, just reverse the gender roles. See? Yick.
Also, we're supposed to care about and root for things to work out between them, but we never get to know him at all. Criminy, Gia hardly gets to know him at all, and she's the one who supposedly falls in love with him. The physical attraction, I buy—there are some extremely effective steamy moments—but the LOVE? Not so much.
There are loads of plot elements—bullying; the school election; collateral damage related to her father's work; the romance; depression, loneliness, and suicide—but they never gel into a cohesive whole.
...I talk about Paul Acampora's I Kill the Mockingbird, which I found hugely enjoyable:
Say that you’re browsing Twitter one day, and Wil Wheaton retweets something from a group called I Kill the Mockingbird. Being a book-loving person, you’d totally get curious and click through, right? I know I would.
...and I just now realized that I forgot to mention YET ANOTHER thing I like about the book: the cast of characters is notably diverse, and said diversity is never an ISSUE. It's just an everyday part of life. Which is always nice to see.
Due to the zoning in her town, Reyna is starting her freshman year at a different school than all of her friends. When abrasive, honest-to-a-fault Olive Barton takes an interest in becoming her friend, Reyna is torn. She's somewhat concerned about becoming friends with a social pariah—see "abrasive" and add "fashion-victim", "ongoing battle with the Queen Bee", and "seemingly humorless"—but mostly, she's just happy to have someone to eat lunch with.
Her friendship with Olive leads to her worldview expanding, to her assumptions being challenged, to sitting down and reconsidering identity and reconsidering friendship: what she wants to put into it, what she wants out of it, what it even IS.
Points to Kocek for her complex portrayal of Reyna: her freakout about Olive's coming out is not at all flattering, but it felt clear to me—although certainly not to Olive, and not even to herself at first—that said freakout was about change, about being thrown for a loop, than about really having an issue with Olive's sexual orientation. Even when she stoops to being nasty to Olive about being a lesbian, it's not really about that. (Not that it makes it any less hurtful to Olive, but again, PEOPLE ARE COMPLICATED.)
Along those same lines, points to Kocek for allowing Reyna and Olive to both indulge in some really crappy behavior without demonizing them: sometimes people who're generally pretty nice react to confusion or hurt feelings by lashing out and acting like jerks.
I could go on about all of the details that make Reyna's perspective so believable and well-rounded—her tendency to filter everything she sees through her own past, which leads her to make some big (and erroneous) assumptions about other people. Put simply, Kocek risks the 'unlikable' label in order to be honest. (Not that there's anything wrong with 'unlikable' characters: I, for one, tend to enjoy them! Except stupid Joffrey. But that's different.)
It's possible that I'm just super-sheltered, but it seems unlikely to me that a teacher in a somewhat affluent school district in contemporary Connecticut would get away with such overtly bigoted behavior in the classroom. Every time he opened his mouth, I just saw the words EVENTUAL LAWSUIT hanging over his head in blinking neon, and I can't imagine that A) the administration wouldn't have felt the same way and B) that the administration wouldn't have HEARD about it before they did. High schools are hotbeds of gossip: that sort of stuff doesn't stay under the radar for long. So I found that storyline difficult to buy.
Levi is too perfect to be believed: he's more patient than most adults would be with Reyna's slow journey towards acceptance of the idea that Gay People Are Regular People, Too; I found it bizarre that he continued to like her even during her (admittedly brief) stint as a bully; and the I Have Two Mothers reveal was a little too pointed for me.
Along those same lines, the Queen Bee was a totally two-dimensional monster.
A bit message-y—sexuality, bullying, suicide, grief, stepmothers, alcoholism, runaways, and more!—but some really strong character development and a thoughtful, bravely complex look at friendship.
...which sets out to be a love story, a ghost story, a story about abuse, and a story about family. Of the four, the ghost story comes the closest to being successful. The idea of a ghost that can travel via and control water is scary in and of itself, and Ward really makes great, cinematic* use of it, sometimes with powerful, gushing torrents, sometimes with insidious, creeping mold. Ghost Rob’s growing strength is rivaled only by his malevolence, and Carl’s deteriorating mental state—despite clear signs of an actual haunting, at times I wondered if it really might all be in Carl’s head—adds to the tension.
As it sadly didn't do a whole lot for me, I went ahead and recommended some OTHER books that I enjoyed much more...
INCLUDING A CERTAIN SERIES STARRING MISS SHIRAZ BAILEY WOOD.
And also one that I haven't read yet, but that LOOKS really super.
Sidenote: Due to the water and the palette, this cover is pretty ambiguous... but if the girl on the cover is supposed to be Neisha Gupta, with her "big brown eyes" and skin with "honey tones", then it looks like the UK cover has been whitewashed.