Monday, November 30, 2009

The Graveyard Book
Neil Gaiman

rating: 9.5 out of 10 "books"

I saw Neil Gaiman speak about a month ago with my boyfriend at an area library but embarrassingly enough, had never read any of his works. Hearing him read a selection from “The Graveyard Book,” combined with the repeated mention of him in “The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl” by Barry Lyga (reviewed below), not to mention having seen “Coraline” and “Stardust,” I was determined to get some of his stories under my belt. As such, “The Graveyard Book” is my first attempt at doing this.

TGB is the story of Nobody, or Bod, a young boy raised in a nearby graveyard after his family was murdered when he was only a mere toddler. The beginning of the story starts off with the terrible murders, by a character known only as “Jack.” We are unaware of his motives, a theme that continues throughout the story until we finally discover his reasoning for the murders at the very end of the book. Much to the dismay of the man "Jack," the tiny toddler manages to get away before becoming the last family victim, by slipping into the local cemetery where he is protected by its inhabitants. After he is adopted by the Owens,’ a pair of husband and wife ghosts, the boy is named “Nobody,” by cemetery ghosts because he is deemed “nobody but himself.” Having been taken in by the dearly departed means that Bod is granted the freedom of the graveyard, which enables him to be undetected by the living, and also grants him the powers of the dead.

Each chapter reads as almost a separate story itself, and could potentially be read as a stand-alone from the rest of the book. From his adventures through the Ghoul Gate, to his teachings by his mentor, Silas, a ghost neither living nor dead, Bod’s life is full of non-stop excitement. He spends his time playing with the ghost children and learning to read and write by studying gravestones. But soon this cannot fill the longing that Bod develops for proper schooling with live children. More adventures ensue, and near the end of the book, Bod at last encounters his family’s killer, the man Jack.

I thought this story was excellent. Gaiman confessed that he got the idea for this story from the beloved children’s tale “The Jungle Book” by Rudyard Kipling. Although I have not read that story, I can see the correlations. Normally I don’t like fantasy stories but everything about this book was enjoyable. Neil Gaiman has a true gift with words and I recommend “The Graveyard Book” for anyone who likes a good old fashioned fun story.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl
A Novel by Barry Lyga

rating: 7 out of 10 "books"

The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl could be classified as yet another “teen angst” drama revolving around those tough teen years. However, AAFGG takes this young adult formula and turns it into something refreshingly different. Sure, there’s plenty of boy-girl drama in there, but what makes this novel special is the characters and the situations in which they are involved.

Donnie aka Fanboy, is your typical High School geek. Obsessed with comics and getting the heck out of town after High School, he spends his weekends and social time working on his secret comic book project. His best friend, uber jock Lacrosse player and secret comic book enthusiast, Cal, only speaks to him when the coast is clear of other popular jocks. Donnie pines for Dina, the popular “senior goddess,” who doesn’t give him the time of day let alone acknowledge him. His mother doesn’t understand him, and his “step-fascist-father,” can hardly relate to Fanboy’s ultra dorkiness. But as Fanboy constantly tells himself, “in two more years I can go to college. Go to college far away, where no one knows me, where I can start over. And in college, everyone is smart, so it’ll be ok to be myself and I won’t be a freak anymore.”

But a series of events crushes Fanboy’s hope for the future and his belief that once he leaves town to attend college things will be different. The only thing keeping him sane in his life filled with bully beatings and constant misery is his unlikely friendship with Goth Girl Kyra. Chain-smoking, pint-sized, sharp mouthed Kyra doesn’t take anyone’s crap. When she sees Fanboy being beaten up in gym class, she befriends him and an unusual acquaintanceship turns into friendship if not more. Fanboy reveals his secret comic book plans with Kyra, who immediately takes interest in helping Fanboy perfect his graphic novel. But as it is with any young adult novel, things between the two friends are bound for a nasty turn. The story cliffhangs after events involving a party, Dina the “senior-goddess,” an appearance of Brian Michael Bendis, and a missing bullet.

I really enjoyed this novel and was excited when I discovered Lyga had decided to and wrote a sequel to The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl. There were many mentions of comic and graphic novel writers including: Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and as mentioned previously Brian Michael Bendis. Lyga definitely did his homework researching and brining his own comic book experiences into this novel. Not only that, but his realistic characterization of his characters was suburb. It is really a treat to read young adult literature that successfully captivates the essence and turmoil of being a teen.

Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List
By Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

rating: 5.5 out of 10 "books"

This second collaboration between Cohn and Levithan (who co-wrote Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist), tells the story of Naomi, a tough city girl with seemingly little interest in anything other than her friendship with her best gay friend, Ely. Naomi and Ely have practically been best friends since birth. They’ve lived across the hall from each other in their Manhattan apartments all their lives and have shared everything from the collapse of their parents’ marriages to clothing. One thing they will not share however is men. Hence the reason for the creation of the “No Kiss List,” a fool-proof plan against a “Naomi & Ely breakup.” But a series of events threatens the Naomi & Ely relationship and leaves readers clambering to find out whether the damage can be reversed.

This novel and I got off to a rocky start. Within the first few pages I was bombarded with a flurry of symbols and names that left me confused and discouraged. It took a few reads of some very nonsensical sentences accompanied by symbols to figure out for example, that a character named Robin was actually two people, one male one female, distinguished by slightly different symbols. The first chapter gives us a look into Naomi’s train of thought, detailing her knack for lying (“Lies are easier to process”—Naomi), to her indifference towards others. She describes levels of “I love you’s” that she says to various people, but none seem to embody the true meaning of love. Even Naomi’s feelings towards her boyfriend, Bruce the Second (named as such because of the existence of a former boyfriend named Bruce), are less than real. The recklessness of Naomi and Ely is reminiscent of the CW version of Gossip Girl. Ely is hardly any better than Naomi, going through boyfriends quicker than the season’s fashions go out of style.

For the first portion of the novel I didn’t feel the smallest bit of sympathy toward the two main characters and questioned my commitment to finishing the book. However, the two-dimensionality of the characters was rounded out by the inclusion of other characters’ points of view including: Bruce the First, the High School boy who has not been able to sleep ever since he and Naomi broke up forcing him to join a group of fellow insomniacs, nicknamed the “Bruce Society,” in the wee hours of the night; Bruce the Second, Naomi’s current boyfriend, who struggles with his feelings and identity throughout the story and who appears to be the total opposite of Naomi in every way (Bruce on telling the truth: “There is something so intimate about saying the truth out loud. There is something so intimate about hearing the truth said. There is something so intimate about sharing the truth, even if you’re not entirely sure what it means.”); as well as other characters such as the Robins, Gabriel, and Bruce the First’s twin sister, Kelly.

In the end, I really enjoyed this book especially because I felt that it included many truths and lessons. I even grew to enjoy encountering the slew of symbols that accompanied Naomi’s chapters, eager to decode the meanings.

Youth in Revolt: The Journals of Nick Twisp: A Novel
By C.D. Payne

rating: 3.5 out of 10 "books"

While recently perusing the shelves of my local bookstore, I was intrigued by this soon to be new addition of the “book-turned-movie” genre of literature. I had seen the preview for the Michael Cera movie, and having seen the pattern of one character type movies he usually stars in, was interested in seeing if this was just another outlet for him to perfect his stumbling loserish teenage boy type roles. Final decision: Undecided. While this novel by C.D. Payne seems right up Cera’s alley, the book does possess some interesting if not disturbing situations. But alas, this is neither a movie review nor a critique of Michael Cera, so let’s get on with the book review.

The main character of this story is Nick Twisp, an oversexed thirteen year old, who despite his best efforts, has yet to lay any claim to the “sex” in oversexed. He professes himself an only child, even though he has a sister (who left the family household as soon as she could to become an air stewardess, an action reminiscent of the lovely Zooey Deschanel in the film “Almost Famous.” But again, this is hardly a film review.) Nick’s life is characteristic of any angst ridden teen’s life; harsh parental figures, uncontrollable hormones (which present a persistent problem for Nick), and the pressures of High School. But what makes Nick’s story bizarre is the dysfunctionality of it all. He lives with his mother and her numerous line of sleazy boyfriends; from beer guzzling truck driver Jerry and gentle giant Wally; to cruel, abusive cop Lance. Nick’s own lazy father is more interested in landing his next young bimbo than finding a job to pay child support and spends his court appointed time with his son, handing out chore after chore for Nick to do around his house.

Youth in Revolt chronicles a year in Nick’s life although it hardly feels like it with all the trouble Nick finds himself in. When Nick meets the beautiful intelligent Sheeni at a religious motor home park Jerry takes the Twisps to for a vacation, he pledges to do all he can to win her over and most importantly, to win her into his bed. Before Nick leaves Sheeni for his hometown of Oakland, California, Nick and Sheeni make a pact to sleep together once Nick accomplishes Sheeni’s list of demands for Nick’s “de-flowering” date. Things turn sour however, when Nick’s home life goes south following incidents involving a plot to make his best friend Lefty’s sister sorry for sibling war waged, a Lincoln car/camping trailer disaster, and numerous situations involving sex. Following Sheeni’s suggestion to “revolt” his constant groundings and home “lockdowns,” Nick happily finds himself thrown out of his home to be sent to live with his deadbeat father who just so happens to have found a job as writer for the trade magazine Progressive Plywood, located in Sheeni’s hometown of Ukiah. But as Nick’s life can never stay on track for long, his plans for bedding Sheeni are once again delayed when she spills the news that she has been accepted at a very prestigious French-speaking academy in Santa Cruz.

What follows are Nick’s twisted attempts to bring Sheeni home and bring down anyone who tries to stop him. Even when Nick believes he is helping someone out, his plans always seem to end in the worst way. For someone who claims intelligence, one would have thought he’d be able to think things through a bit more. From cross-dressing, religion-hating dogs and illegal birth control smuggling, to attempted suicides, homelessness and homosexuality, this book is definitely not lacking in the bizarre. Oftentimes, one is left to ponder whether Sheeni is playing Nick the entire time and how the book can possibly end, but all is revealed in the last 40ish pages of the novel.

I still am not sure how I feel about this book. At times I felt like putting it down and never picking it up again, but in the end I was glad I stuck with it. If you can get over all the sexual crudity and hormonal actions that accounts for a majority of Youth in Revolt, I believe this book is worth reading. In reality, Paynes "Twisp" is probably more realistic than many of the YA stories chronicling teenage boys and the confusion most of them feel about topics like girls and sex. At least give it a chance for the rather unbelievable chain of events that occur in this story.