And We Stay Book Review

  1. Spoilers ahead!
  2. . I really didn’t like the book. Click away if either will irritate you.

And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard didn’t work for me. I took it out of the library four or five times before I was able to power through. All the things I loved about the other novels I’ve read recently: complex characters, pacing and plot, use of time or flashbacks, and magical realism didn’t come together in And We Stay.

9780385740586The most interesting and relatable part of the story, Emily Beam and Paul’s relationship, was told through flashbacks. The book started out with Emily attending boarding school in Amherst, Mass. Through flashbacks the readers learned that her boyfriend Paul Wagoner brought a stolen gun into the library of their high school where he threatened Emily and then killed himself. As the story progressed, readers learned that Emily was pregnant and planning to have an abortion, which she ultimately does. Paul’s disintegrating relationship with Emily was one of the reasons he ended up with a gun in the library.

At the boarding school, Emily wrote poems to soothe her soul and deal with the trauma she went through. Inspired by Emily Dickinson, Emily Beam’s poems were interspersed throughout the book. One of the main reasons the book fell apart for me had to do with all the added poetry. Emily Beam wrote numerous poems during her time at boarding school printed on the pages of the book, but they did not resonate with me. They seemed superfluous and superficial. I skipped over many of them to get on with the story. If the author limited the number of poems, the verse would have been fine, but the poems happened often.

For example

PALL

Oh, yes, she could feel it/even though the bullet/had never stabbed her skin./ The bright white heat/ burned at her core/ where two lives/ beat, and if he’d aimed/ there and pulled the trigger,/red would have crested/ like a broken dam/ over her hands/ as her last word rushed/ up to her throat– Paul– / a sound that took no time and also lifetimes” (Hubbard 39).

It could my personal writing or reading style, but both the inclusion of the poems and the poems as written failed to engage me as a reader.

Emily also developed a quirky connection to Emily Dickinson, and the author supplied hints that the dead poet has returned to help modern Emily cope. Due to Emily Beam’s fascination with the dead poet, readers learned a lot about Dickinson’s history. While as an English teacher, I love knowing about poets, as a reader I wasn’t interested because it broke the flow of the narrative.

Finally, the connection to Emily Dickinson was supposed to be further demonstrated through magical realism, but the magic, lights turning on and snow falling, didn’t make a significant impact Emily or her poetry.  This was an area that could have been significantly improved and the magic intensified so that readers would be able to connect how Dickinson was helping Beam get through the turmoil she dealt with.

In addition, the characterization of modern-day Emily was weak and lifeless. I understand that the author wanted to portray her as depressed, but she came across as one dimensional during much of the book. I actually preferred Paul’s character better in the flashbacks because he realistic and emotional.  Her friends at the boarding school were also rather poorly drawn. The readers never really knew any of them in depth so they became stereotypical. Her offbeat roommate. K.T., filled the role while other characters came in as the artist, the jock, the rebel, etc.

Finally, the pacing was glacier slow. Nothing happened at the boarding school for most of the book other than Emily drinking coffee, writing poems, going to class, and trying not to make friends. Over all, I would not recommend the book as it was very forgettable.

I wanted to end with a positive note. The writing itself was beautiful. Jenny Hubbard is obviously a talented author who crafted beautiful prose and descriptions. “During Trigonometry with soft-spoken, square haired Mrs. Frame, Emily imagines all the identities she could invent” (Hubbard 49).  I loved the way that I could visualize that clear, initial impression of each character. I only wish that initial impression could have deepened as the book progressed.

 

 

Hubbard, J. (201$). And We Stay. Random House: New York, NY.

Everybody Sees the Ants Review

I recently finished Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King and enjoyed it. Beware spoilers ahead…

It begins with Lucky Linderman, an ordinary high school student, except that he was being bullied. Badly bullied. Growing up, he rarely felt like he fit in, but did okay, skating under the radar, until he developed a questionnaire about suicide for a class project. Then it wasn’t only teachers who took notice, but the bullies as well. Lucky became the target of Nader McMillan. The abuse finally went too far at the town pool during the summer when McMillian crushes Lucky’s face into the asphalt.

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McMillan was not Lucky’s only problem. His mom was a squid. She swam obsessively to deal with her problems, but once out of the pool pretended everything was fine. His dad was a turtle, retreating from problems, rather than dealing with them. One of those problems had appeared in Lucky’s dreams. Lucky’s father was severely impacted by the fact that his dad, Lucky’s grandfather, never made it back from the Vietnam War. Every night throughout the novel, Lucky’s grandfather showed up in his dreams as he slept.

Lucky attempted to save his grandfather each night, and these escape attempts helped him cope. In his dangerous, wartime dreamscape, Lucky was strong and heroic. I constantly questioned, was it only a dream because Lucky woke up with more than memories. Items such as cigarettes and chewing gum were at his bedside when he awoke.

The protagonist had another secret as well. Ants. The insects helped him cope with life and provided advice. They were his cheering squad, his conscious, and the inner voice that allowed him to successfully navigate the harsh realities around him.

After Lucky’s last run-in with Nader at the pool, his mom rushed him away to her brother’s house and the rest of his summer was spent in Tempe, Arizona. There, Lucky bonded with his Uncle Dave, until he learned his uncle was not the stellar man he pretended to be, cheating on Aunt Jodi who turned to pills to cope. He also met an older, wiser teen, who he crushed over. She faced problems of her own, but her situation finally allowed Lucky put his life into perspective.

What I loved about the book was the reality and complexity of the characters, family dynamics, and the plot, which is why I spent so much time outlining it above. Often, I parents are made out to be cliché in books about teens, but all the characters were realistic and believable in Everybody Sees the Ants. I especially liked how Lucky’s mom was portrayed. As a reader (and mom), I could see how much she cared for her son even if she didn’t know what to do about the bullying. While all the characters displayed shortcomings, which only made them more realistic, the relationships came across as truthful and loving. At the end, there was hope for a better future.

It was interesting to view the world through Lucky’s eyes, giving the reader a truthful teen perspective. He disliked his overbearing, pill-popping aunt until he realizes she was coping with a cheating husband that everyone in town seems to know about. Once Lucky realizes his aunt’s life is as complicated as his own, he shows empathy for her situation and develops a connection with her.

The pacing was exceptional, and I enjoyed how the author took Lucky away from the bullying for a while so he could examine life and find himself. Ants was an intense story, but it could have been much darker. Removing Lucky from the bullying gave the reader much needed levity because even though the reader is removed from the day to day bullying, they learn about how truly heinous the situation had become for Lucky. When he shares the “real story” to his new friends it was emotional. I guessed the twist early on, but still felt the impact of it, when the truth was told.

The use of magical realism remained excellent throughout the story. It could be hard for a reader to suspend disbelief if the magical realism doesn’t ring true enough, but I had no problem believing the magical realism of Lucky’s dreams and loved how at the end, Lucky brought his grandfather’s wedding ring to his dad. Magical moment. Tears. Throughout the novel, the author also used the dreams as a way to help Lucky escape from reality. In the dreams, he was both physically fit and mentally strong. By the end of the story, Lucky realizes he brought those same qualities to his day to day life.

My critique of the story centered around the fact that it read a little dated. Even though it was written in 2014, there were no cell phones. This left me confused. In addition, the ants, a figment of Lucky’s imagination, also left me a little chagrined. While I was able to embrace the dreams as magical realism, the ants were a little harder to accept. At points, I wondered what their role was in the novel.  These were minor faults in a stellar read.

Five ants!!!! Over all, a great read and one I would highly recommend to students.

Sadie by Courtney Summers

Intense and emotional. I couldn’t put the book down.  Author Courtney Summers’s novel will haunt readers after they’ve turned the final page. While the ending will not leave some (ME!) entriely satified, the book tackles themes that every parent hates to think might happen to a child, especially their child. This was not an easy book to read with many possible triggers including drug addiction, sexual assault, and child abuse, but so well done that readers will be reaching for tissues or living the anger Sadie, the protagonist,  emotes.

34810320._SY475_Sadie’s first person point of view is  interspersed with West McCray’s podcast. Both gather clues. Sadie want’s to find one of her mother’s boyfriend and get revenge for a horrible thing he did. McCray wants to find Sadie. I wasn’t sure I would enjoy the disjointed narrative, but it never felt that way.  Instead, I loved how the pieces of the narrative puzzle connected by the end.

Sadie jumped off each and every page. She damaged and seeking revenge. She doesn’t understand how amazing she was for taking care of her sister Mattie, she still searches for the good and gentle when her entire life has been anything but that. “I would let his gentleness take me somewhere else,  let myself pretend what it might be like to belong to someone” (91). Because she still has hope for a better future, so do readers. This is also why there is a special place in my heart for Javi and Ellis, two minor characters, who show Sadie that the world is not all bad. 

The writing is wonderful from the details describing characters to the imagery.  “I swallow hard, lick my lips, the ghost taste of the shot still on them” (91). The characters aren’t flat or stereotypical. Many aren’t likable, but they come across as entirely realistic. That means you will meet plenty of assholes and liars along the way.

While considered young adult, Sadie was not written for teens. It connects to all people, no matter what age. While I love this book, I’m still struggling with the end. I NEED MORE. If you want closure, be prepared to be disappointed, but the reader gets enough that the book feels both satisfying and complete. Cliffhanger, not really, but maybe. Closure. No. Read it anyway.  Five huge, bright stars.

Need more about the ending? Check out http://wendythesuperlibrarian.blogspot.com/2019/02/epic-spoiler-review-sadie.html

This Is Where It Ends Review

I’ve decided to dispense with stars for this one. I couldn’t rate This Is Where It Ends easily on a scale from one to five. The subject matter is too intense to give it a glib score. Instead, I thought I’d go over what I liked and what, if anything, could have been improved. Remember, I’m attempting this from a writer’s perspective rather than going on pure emotion.

24529123But pure emotion is a good place to start. I give the author, Marieke Nijkamp, a lot of respect for tackling such a tough contemporary subject. When I think about writing about topics such as bullying, assault, or school shootings, my first thought is that it would be too emotional, too real. I’m a teacher and I live close to Newtown where the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting occured. And I have to say, for me the book was not an easy read. I was swept up in the narrative and suspense, but I can’t say I enjoyed it. I wanted to grab a trashy romance after and escape from reality.

From a craft level, I thought the author’s use of time created tension and suspense. The chapters were done in multiple perspectives but they also contained a time stamp that advances in small increments. The book starts with Chapter One going from 10:01 to 10:02 am. Most of the book takes place in an hour. The pacing was spot on except, as a reader, I was frustrated by the portrayal of the police. It seemed to take them FOREVER to get to the school and start doing something.

I loved the use of multiple perspectives, but had issues with some of the characters. A few came across with too similar in voice, and I had to keep checking names until I learned who was who. Others too stereotypcial. Even though some characters came across as the rebel or artsy student, they all had huge problems outside school that no one seemed to notice or care about.

Spoiler alert. Don’t read on if you don’t want to learn some of the details. For example Autumn and her brother lost their mother less than two years ago. Their father started drinking and beating on them. No one does anything. Sylv’s mother has been diagnosed with what sounds like early onset Alzheimer’s. In addition, Sylv is sexually assaulted, but she doesn’t tell anyone. Her brother guesses at what might be wrong but does nothing except explain how she pushed him away that year and he wished he knew why.  Finally, Sylv and Autumn are a couple, but can’t let anyone know because the school wouldn’t accept them as gay. Only one other student has come out and it doesn’t sound like it went well.

This caused a couple problems. While I understand that backstory is required to build to the shooter’s motivation, everyone involved with the shooter had an incredibly chaotic life. At times this made it hard to wrestle with both understanding the shooter and the character’s backstories. A lesser problem I had was the author has many characters talk about the school, Opportunity High and what a great place it is, but most of the things readers learn directly contradict that it is a great place full of opportunity.

While I didn’t like all the characters, I did like the use of multiple perspectives. It made the single hour portrayed in the novel captivating, tense, and heartbreaking for the reader. Along with the multiple perspectives, there were texts. I thought the texts were an interesting idea, but could have been taken further. They seemed like extras rather than an important part of the story.

There is one perspective the reader does not get. The shooter, and I was left wondering why? Readers understand the thoughts and feeling of those who know him (his sister, ex-girlfriend, tormentor, etc), who were part of his life, and in some way pushed him into action, but we never get his thoughts. The shooter’s thoughts would have added a much needed layer to the story.

Worth the read. Absolutely. But only when you’re having a really good day!

 

Black Friday is For Books

Black Friday is for book shopping too!

CON BoxsetTwelve Months of Awkward Moments and Carnival of Nightmare available on B&N and Amazon @ https://amzn.to/2BZef2Q

 

Giveaway for Amazon GC and e-books starts Monday.

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Check out the book tour:

November 26th
Within The Pages Of A Book
Abooktropolis
It’s a Book Life
Cindy’s Love of Books

November 27th
Birdie’s Bibliotheca
Moohnshine’s Corner 
The Phantom Paragrapher 
Amy’s MM Romance Reviews 
Booky thoughts and me

November 28th
A British Bookworm’s Blog
1-800 Books
Heartbeats Between Words
Hauntedbybooks
Book Briefs

November 29th
The Crafty Engineer’s Bookshelf
Set a Spell Book Blog
Rockin’ Book Reviews
Books We Love
The Spacejamber Reviews

November 30th
Melanie the Homebody
BOOK JUNKIE REVIEWS
Book Reviews by Steph
Coffee Books and Cakes
bookish bibliophile

December 1st
Desired Reads Bookblog
Bookstanista
Fiona Reads and FoodSpots
Dauntless Books and Penguins

Enter the giveaway at:

https://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/d04251232751/