Introducing: the Hacklet!
It takes me quite some time to put together a full posting. Here are my notes for the next full Hack for David Levithan’s Every Day:
When I am busy with work and life and barely having time to read (*sob*), I’ve often just written a pithy review on goodreads and moved on. Or sometimes, I just don’t have a lot to say about a book. So why not post shorter reviews RIGHT HERE? I shall call them: Hacklets. I’ve even added this as a category over there on the right-hand navigation for your future reference. Hopefully this new format will mean I can post with more regularity.
On to the Hacklet for Where Things Come Back plus a bonus anecdote and side conversation about ebooks…
Verdict: One of the most unpredictable YA books I’ve ever read. It veers from quirky to nerve-wracking and I was left feeling a bit startled by the story. There were parts of the book that felt very intense, but now, a few weeks after reading it, I have very little memory or sense of the story. This book won two prestigious library awards and is highly rated on Goodreads and Amazon.com. One reason I didn’t want to do a full hack for this book is that I think this is one of those books that people will either love or not. There’s not anything I could point to for the author to “fix”, I think this book was just not the match for me.
Perfect for: Readers who want to read something completely different. And probably fans of musician Sufjan Stevens.
Summary: Cullen is nearing the end of high school in tiny Lily, Arkansas where nothing seems to happen and where young people seem to be unable to permanently escape. Then two shocking events happen almost simultaneously: Cullen’s beloved younger brother Gabriel disappears without a trace, and a woodpecker that was thought to be extinct was claimed to have been spotted in Lily, turning a national spotlight on the town. As hopes that the woodpecker will revitalize the town rise, Cullen’s hope that his brother will ever be found wanes. Meanwhile, life goes on. Cullen wonders if he’ll get a chance to date his dreamgirl, Ada, and whether he’ll get the chance to escape his town.
I liked the nuanced portrayal of a small Southern town. I liked that the story was so unpredictable. Gabriel’s disappearance happens fairly early on in the story, but author Whaley does a great job conveying how close of brothers and friends Cullen and Gabriel are, and how utterly shocking it would be for sweet and easygoing Gabriel to disappear. I cared a lot about the outcome of this part of the story, and was deeply invested in finding out what happened to Gabriel to the point where I started getting very upset!
The woodpecker part of the story, which Whaley somewhat based on a true story, didn’t really work as well for me because it was so obvious that the woodpecker was meant as this big symbol of hope, or potentially of false hope. I get that this theme was meant to dovetail with Cullen’s other hopes, but it was a little too on-the-nose for me. There were also strong religious themes that were interesting and integral to the plot, but I think my lack of knowledge in these arena may have made it harder for me to appreciate what Whaley was doing. This was especially true with the third plot of the story that takes place outside of the town of Lily. I really don’t know what to make of it.
But I think what prevented me from really loving this book was Cullen’s narrative style. He has a few quirks which were meant to be, well, quirky, but for me were more irritating. For example, he often uses the device of referring to himself in the third person, always with the form “When one is…..he…..” ie:
“When one is sitting in the passenger seat of his best friend’s car as an overly enthusiastic hillbilly is ranting in the backseat about being snubbed by a cheerleader at lunch, his mind begins to wander and think about zombies.”
And that’s another quirk I couldn’t really get with. As an escape mechanism, Cullen will often insert zombies into a particular situation, such as when he sees his dreamgirl Ada dating a meathead jock. I think some people will find this device to be quirky and funny, but felt very forced to me.
Bonus Anecdote and Mini-rant about Ebooks!
I had just started this book and had it with me when I went to get coffee. The barista spied the cover and said, “What is that?”
And I said, “Oh it’s this YA book. Isn’t the cover awful? It’s supposed to be really good but I can’t think of anyone who would be attracted to this cover.”
And the barista said, “Oh, I kind of love that cover! It reminds me a little of Sufjan Stevens!”
And I said. “OMG, I was just reading the acknowledgments at the back of the book and the author said that this story was inspired in part by the music of Sufjan Stevens! Who I have never heard of!”
And the barista took a picture of the book, and said she wanted to read it, and we had this super fun conversation.
And that’s why Kindles and Nooks and iPads make me sad. I love being on public transportation and seeing what people are reading. Just the other week, I was out for a run and saw a teenager reading Ellison’s Invisible Man pretty intently and it made me so happy for the future of reading. I also remember being stuck in this super long line at UK Customs, and striking up a great conversation with a stranger in front of me who was reading Ann Patchett’s wonderful Bel Canto.
Ebooks give a reader privacy, but they take away the possibility for fun interactions like these.