Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Shall I Stay or Shall I Go?

If I Stay by Gayle Forman
5Q 4P; Audience: J/S

It's no secret that a lot of teens fight with their parents on a regular basis and are waiting impatiently to graduate high school and go to college, preferably someplace away. Mia is not one of those teens. Her family is close. They don't just love each other, they like each other and enjoy spending time together. So when there's a rare snow day in their little part of Oregon, Mia's parents decide it's a perfect day for a family car trip and Mia and her little brother Teddy enthusiastically agree. The snow's not the kind that amounts to anything, so they figure it's perfectly safe. It's not. The four of them are happily talking and listening to music when a four-ton pickup truck going sixty miles per hour plows into them so hard the force of it tears off the doors and pushes the passenger seat clear through the driver's side window.

You don't walk away from an accident like that. Except...Mia does. When the sounds of the crash stop echoing, she can still hear Beethoven's Cello Sonata no. 3 playing. She walks up the embankment and sees the devastation: the crumpled car, the pipe in her father's pocket and his brains scattered on the pavement, her mother's blue lips and red eyes that make her look more like a zombie than someone who was laughing and breathing and living just two minutes ago. But where is Teddy? She frantically searches for a sign of him. There! His hand, sticking out a ditch! But when she gets closer, she realizes the hand sticking out of the ditch isn't Teddy's. It's wearing her bracelet, and the body is wearing her clothing. The body isn't Teddy's. It's hers. No, you don't walk away from an accident like that.

Mia doesn't understand what's going on, why she and her body seem to be two separate things. What she does understand is that her parents are dead and her brother is badly injured. She understands that she can walk, invisible, among her doctors, her friends, and her relatives. She can hear their conversations, but she can't communicate with them. She can only watch them as they sit in the waiting room or by her bedside, grieving and loving. It is a nurse's comment that eventually gives her a clue. If she's "running the show", does that mean that if she lives or dies is up to her? If so, should she stay or should she go? How you make a decision like that?

The love in this book is almost palpable. Reading Mia's flashbacks of times spent with her family made me wish I could be a part of their circle. Teddy is adorable, and Mia's parents, both music-loving former hippies, are wise, loving, and totally cool. Two weeks after finishing the book, Mia's father still feels real to me. I melted a little when Mia described his transition from hippie to middle school teacher, and I'm getting a warm feeling from just remembering how he and her mother talked Mia through her first-recital fears. These were good people. Mia's boyfriend Adam is just as likable. He's a rocker and she's a classical cellist. Despite that seemingly wide difference in sensibilities, music both brings and binds them together. The expression "She played me like a cello" has a whole new (and fairly erotic) meaning for me now. Mia is not a romantic. Even as she describes their tender moments and first kisses, she doesn't try to pretend that the relationship didn't have less rosy moments or that she wasn't always secure in it. There's a maturity to their relationship and the way she understands it that resonates.

Music is a constant thread throughout the book. Whether it's rock or classical, music is the common language, and it doesn't matter that they aren't speaking the same dialect. Music is love, and love is music. The book is music is love.

If I Stay is heartbreaking and poignant, life-affirming, and powerful in its simplicity and depth. I can't wait to share it with other readers.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

All That Glitters Is Not Gold

Need by Carrie Jones
3Q 5P; Audience: J/S

Imagine this: There's a small, isolated town in Maine. Boys start disappearing from that town. Not just one boy. A few. No clues are left behind. No signs of struggle, no footprints to track. Maybe just a little gold glitter here and there. No arrests are ever made, but after a few weeks the disappearances stop. But the boys are never seen again. Now picture this: It's about thirty years later. Zara, a South Carolina girl through and through, hates the cold and has no interest in living in a small backwoods town. But her stepfather has recently died, and she is so devastated by his death that her mother is afraid she's going to do something drastic and final. She needs to get her daughter away from the pain of her memories. Where can she send her? She sees no choice but to send Zara to live with her stepgrandmother up in Maine, to the same town where all those boys disappeared so long ago. To a town where boys are disappearing again.

Zara arrives in Maine depressed and angry. She also thinks she might be going a little crazy. She keeps seeing this guy everywhere she goes: in the airport when she left home, in the airport when she got to Maine, on the road on her way to her grandmother's. Who is this guy? What does he want from her?

Zara goes to school depressed, angry, and scared. A kid in a fancy car almost smashes into her in the parking lot. Sparks fly. He's Nick. He's hot. He's bad. Need I say what happens next?

Of course, there's another rival for Zara's affections, as well as new friends. There are also secrets and danger. A lot of both, in fact. Because that mysterious guy Zara keeps seeing? He isn't good news. Pixies tend not to be. Especially pixies who kidnap young boys and have plans for Zara.

Unlike some other heroines of recent supernatural-themed books, Zara is not the type to sit around and be babied. True, she's a pacifist and quite familiar with various phobias, but she's also feisty and angry, and she's not about to be bullied around, whether it's by Nick, Luke, or a pixie. Whatever the pixie king wants, pacifist or not, he's not going to get it without a fight.

Musings, leaning towards a rant:

I was prepared to like Need a lot, based on what I'd heard about it. And I thought I did like it. It was, for the most part, an enjoyable read. But every time I think about it now that I've finished it, I find myself getting more and more frustrated with it, because I think an interesting premise and likable characters were compromised by poor logic and unbelievable character actions.

I'm a librarian. I use the Internet every day to find information. Google is my friend, but it's not a miracle worker. No way do they have enough information to plug into Google and find the answer to who/what is stalking Zara. I know that sounds like a petty complaint, and maybe a lot of people wouldn't even notice, but it took me right out of the book.

I had a hard time believing the sequence of events. Wouldn't you think that when boys started to disappear again, the people who had inside knowledge of what had happened thirty years ago would realize what's probably happening again? Wouldn't you think that the
werefolk (highlight to see the missing word) who battled the pixies before would give their kids the training and information they need to battle them again, instead of letting them figure it all out themselves? Isn't that the logical thing? Then why doesn't it happen? This whole aspect of the book (the werefolk ) felt strangely incomplete and underdeveloped.

Last, but hardly least, and trying not to say too much: Zara's mother sending her back to Maine in this situation? Not buying it.

Read this one for the fun of it, but turn down the volume on your inner critical reader first.