Friday, May 23, 2014

We Were Liars is so true it hurts

I read We Were Liars two times, start to finish, within days. It's that good, that fascinating, that compelling.

I had read e. lockhart's The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (a Printz Award Honor Book and finalist for the National Book Award) and fallen in love with her brilliant storytelling, so when the buzz started for We Were Liars I was excited. No disappointment here. This is another brilliant book--one that left me thinking about the multiple ways people can love and hurt each other, the deceit of behaving as expected, the emptiness of privilege, the danger of moral superiority.

This is one of those special books that is both entertaining and thought-provoking.

 We Were Liars takes place mostly on a private island owned by a super-wealthy, manipulative patriarch who summers there with his grasping daughters and fed-up grandchildren. What ought to be idyllic instead seethes with jealousy and desperation, leading to unbearable tragedy. But no more can be said about the plot, because it would be criminal to give away anything that will spoil it for the next reader. This story is a mystery, intricately crafted. In my second reading, I saw clues that could be taken in more than one way. The effect was I didn't see what was coming but accepted its authenticity when all was revealed. And it was so real it hurt to the marrow.

We Were Liars isn't a long book, nor is it heavy with description, but the description it delivers is crisp, fresh, and vivid.

 So here are some examples to show lockhart's style, which is simply stunning:

 (A beautifully-written, gripping couple of lines about abandonment and loss) The bright red shame of being unloved soaked the grass in front of our house, the bricks of the path, the steps to the porch. My heart spasmed among the peonies like a trout. 

(A snippet from the POV character, Cady, about herself) I own a well-used library card and not much else, though it is true I live in a grand house full of expensive, useless objects. 

 (Cady about her migraines following an accident she can't remember) Welcome to my skull. A truck is rolling over the bones of my neck and head. The vertebrae break, the brains pop and ooze. A thousand flashlights shine in my eyes. The world tilts. I throw up. I black out. This happens all the time. It's nothing but an ordinary day. 

(Cady's description of the first time she met Gat) His nose was dramatic, his mouth sweet. Skin deep brown, hair black and waving. Body wired with energy. Gat seemed spring-loaded. Like he was searching for something. He was contemplation and enthusiasm. Ambition and strong coffee. I could have looked at him forever.


Saturday, May 3, 2014

Expanding horizons in reading

If you've been on Twitter, Tumblr, or other media in the last few days you've probably noticed #WeNeedDiverseBooks and #DiversifyYourShelves, a grassroots movement to increase diversity in books for children and teens.

I decided to go to an independent bookstore and ask a bookseller for suggestions to expand my (already crammed, I might add) shelves. She was great, taking time to not only point out books but talk about each one.

I bought some titles by authors I didn't know and added some by authors I did.

Among my new books is Matt de la Pena's The Living, a disaster-at-sea story with a protagonist from Otay Mesa near the border between Mexico and California. Shy is a towel boy, a water boy, on a cruise ship. His economic background is a world apart from the passengers, but he figures by summer's end he'll make enough to help out his mother, score some gear, and take a girl out.

I love his voice as he considers the last thing: He'd get a reservation at a nice spot, too. Cloth napkins. Some fine girl sitting across from him in the classy-ass booth. Maybe Jessica from the volleyball squad. Or Maria from down the street. All eyelashy smiles as whatever girl glances at him over her menu. "Get whatever you want," he'd tell her. "You ever had surf 'n' turf? For real, I got you." Yeah, he'd play it smooth like that.

Matt de la Pena is a fantastic speaker--funny, heart-breaking, and inspiring. I heard him at the SCBWI LA conference last summer. Using himself as a case study about finding your voice as a writer, he said he was told in second grade he couldn't advance because he couldn't read. He formed an opinion of himself as a bad student, but in high school he began writing poems because he liked the rhythm of language. Eventually, he got into a writing program. He said he decided not to worry about where he fit in but to just work his ass off.

His other books include Ball Don't Lie, Mexican WhiteBoy, We Were Here and I Will Save You.

In my pile o' new books is Bird in a Box by Andrea Davis Pinkney, who also spoke at SCBWI. Set in the 1930's, this novel features three kids looking for hope and finding it in a young Joe Louis, who had a chance to become the next heavyweight champion.

The rest of my new purchases: Crow by Barbara Wright, Fire in the Streets by Kekla Magoon, Saint Louis Armstrong Beach by Brenda Woods, Every Day by David Levithan. I also bought Shades of Earth by Beth Revis, the third book in a futuristic space trilogy, in which humans and society have become homogenized, an interesting concept.

Oh! and for my Kindle, I purchased Best Ramadan Ever by Medeia Sharif.

It will be impossible to remember all the diverse MG/YA books I've ever read but to mention a few I enjoyed: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz; Marie Lu's Legend series; Ash by Malinda Lo; Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan. Also I'm a big fan of Paolo Bacigalupi's teen and adult books. And Sherman Alexie!

In the slightly more adult category any book by Susan Straight is a cultural treasure.