Monday, December 30, 2013

More Books (from the last 24hrs)

A short and sweet post on some more books.  Last night I finished The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and...well...I guess I enjoyed it (I definitely enjoyed the first half of it immensely).  But as a whole, not so much.  As a lover of Russian literature, which she was obviously using as a springboard here, I would much rather prefer to turn to Crime and Punishment (my favourite book of all time) in order to dig deep into the world of discomfort, lowlife, paranoid delusion, rather than this.  To be fair, C&P is entirely brilliant and Tartt is not asking to be compared to Dostoyevsky, however I think she may be secretly hoping for it.  For which, of course, I can't blame her.  If I could have stopped halfway through I would have thoroughly enjoyed this book.

So I finished that last night, and I decided to read some of Harriet's books today.  So first up I read The Garden of Empress Cassia by Gabrielle Wang.  I couldn't warm to her writing style - very stark, bare, but not in what felt like a deliberately authorly manner, if that makes sense.  There just weren't any parts of the story that seemed to hold any description.  For a novel about beauty, I'm guessing there were only a handful of adjectives used.  Odd.

REVIEWTitle: Tuck EverlastingAuthor: Natalie BabbitGenre: young adult, coming-of-age, fantasyMy Rating: ★★★★ (3.5 stars)____
“All things shall perish from under the sky.”
So says a line from an old song I remember singing as a child. It is true that everything in this world, breathing or not, is transient. People die, rocks corrode, plants wither… everything vanishes because that’s the way it should be. But how would you feel about an eternal life? Would you consider immortality as a gift or as a curse?
Natalie Babbit’s ground-breaking novel, Tuck Everlasting (published 1975), tackles the abovementioned questions. Ten-year-old Winifred Foster gets bored with her too-prim-and-proper life and decides to run away one day. She chances upon a teenager named Jesse Tuck drinking from a spring—perhaps the fountain of youth?—and discovers a secret that a certain family keeps for almost a century. Being the only person who learns of the secret outside the line of Tucks, Winnie must join the family in protecting the secret from someone who wants to make a fortune out of the spring. Rich and compelling, the book justifies its shortness by a good reading experience brought about by flawless prose and a series of events that will keep you turning pages.
The book, surprisingly, does not focus on romance; at its core it is about Life and Death, without touching overly serious matters that might lead to something related to the Bible.  I loved its flick adaptation as a kid—yes, including the romantic bits in it. But the book has a little girl as a main protagonist and Babbit is a well-known children’s lit writer so it is quite understandable that it wouldn’t go too deep into the things the movie zeroed in on. The book-verse Winnie “adores” the seventeen-year-old (in actuality a 104-year-old) Jesse, and the latter offers her a chance of living forever with him by giving her a vial of water from the magic spring. With a world teeming with greed revolving around her, the choice Winnie makes at the end is a mature, touching one. She does not fear death—she fears an unlived life instead.
I can vaguely remember the scenes from the movie so I wouldn’t be pointing out more similarities and differences. All I know is that they’re both beautiful in their own unique ways.
Digressing a bit, while reading the book I have to admit that I sort of remembered Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight. It starts in that scene in the woods where Winnie asks Jesse his age. His body is eternally seventeen, but he’s over a hundred and four years old. This bears a striking resemblance with Edward and Bella’s meeting in the woods, including that asking-of-age situation. Also the thing with the Tuck family—aren’t they moving every twenty years or so because the people are wondering why they are not getting old? Same with the Cullens. As for Bella wanting to be a vampire—wanting to be immortal, technically—so she can be with Edward…didn’t Jesse try to convince Winnie to drink from the stream so they can live together forever? The choices of the female protagonists of both books differ and I have to say I prefer Winnie’s more mature choice over Bella’s.
But really, that’s not the whole point, yes? As I go read more and more books, I get to know how many derivatives the Twilight Saga has. *le sigh* Just saying.
Anyway, this review isn’t about Twilight. Tuck Everlasting is a satisfying read (though a bit too light, since it is a kid’s book LOL). Still, it’s a modern classic you would enjoy in one sitting so go grab it now. :D

Next I read Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt.  The absolute opposite to Gabrielle Wang - stuffed full of some beautiful imagery, but not overblown or flowery enough to keep a younger reader at arms length (now, words are sensitive - one for the Bernie fans out there - ignore this aside if you have no idea!).  A sweet, meaningful novel, full of bigger questions and concepts (immortality, morality, cycle of life and death) to facilitate classroom discussion, which is why I imagine it has lasted so well in the American curriculum.  Without much dialogue, the reader is confronted with larger blocks of text which isn't necessarily appealing to many young readers.  I'd definitely recommend this for the more literate reader from about 9yrs+.  The ideas behind it could still easily be used in early high school discussion sessions as well.

And then finally this afternoon I read Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead.  This woman is a powerhouse of brilliance.  I read When You Reach Me last year, I think it was, and marveled at her ability to write a novel that seemed without genre.  Liar & Spy is not anything other than a middle school novel, however it is a brilliant example of it.  Yet again she provides a twist at the end that is not just a twist for the sake of plot alone - it draws out greater depth in the characters, causes pause and reflection from the reader on events that have passed and allows a resolution that could not have been previously predicted.  With both of her books I have yet to feel manipulated when I read the 'twist' (something I dislike about 'surprise' endings, which is ludicrous and hypocritical since my book has a twist at the end; I can't seem to satisfy myself as a reader *or* a writer!).  Back to the novel however - it is first person, 13yr old (I'm guessing) male protagonist who has had to move, is being bullied at school and meets a boy in his new apartment building.  Honestly, one of the most refreshing novels I have read in a while.

I'm determined to keep a more thorough record of what I've read throughout the year and despite a lot of 2014 no doubt being about textbooks and theory, I'm hoping to keep up my love of reading children's fiction.  Next up is another book I bought for Harriet for Christmas - I Am Malala

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