Review: I Crawl through It by A.S. King ~ our collective delusions

Those are the wrong answers.

hi AS King fan who is totally confused and disappointed! Shall we have a chat so you can decide if you want to finish the book? Or if you’re done, figure out if you even liked it?

You are probably reading this review because your head is filled with wtf, and you want to know are you crazy. You’ve loved Please Ignore Vera Dietz and Ask the Passengers and Everybody Sees the Ants, so you are totally down with how AS King plays with the idea of “reality”*, but this new book just seems a bridge too far. Nothing makes sense. It’s hard to get a grasp on these characters, or the rules of the story. You get that King is being experimental, but you came with a certain set of expectations about what a King story feels like. And this story just feels TOO weird and fractured.

So here is my advice, which is only spoilerish in the sense that because I stuck with it to the end, I figured some stuff out for myself, so you reading my thoughts might rob you of the experience of figuring things out/interpreting things on your own:

1) There’s a line near the end of the book where a character is laughing about how weird their town is. So I decided that all of the odd characters and absurdist behavior of the powers-that-be at the school can be taken at face value within the rules of this story-setting. At the beginning I assumed that one or two of the main character teens were individually delusional and narrating the story “unreliably” because they were having a break with “reality”* and that was their coping mechanism. And to some degree this is true, but I think one of the points that King tries to make is that we are collectively delusional. Other reviewers have said that they think King’s surrealist metaphors here are a gimmick that don’t work, and I found that to be true for most of the book UNTIL I decided to stop taking them as only metaphors, and accepting that they were “actually” “real”*. So in other words Dali’s melting clocks can both be metaphors and actual melting clocks, if that makes sense. Asia’s inside out body can both be a metaphor, as well as a thing that was “really”* happening.

2) *you gotta give it to King that she’s made her life’s work poking at the concept of “reality”, which I can only assume is always in air quotes in her head. Which I kindof agree with. So be prepared for some metaphysical shizz.

3) Another clue that King is interested in our collective delusions or our collective behavior as opposed to the idea that one individual is out of step with “reality” is this story of  Fuenteovejuna that one of the characters share about 2/3 of the way through. It’s the story of a medieval town in Spain that basically takes collective action or possibly collective responsibility for an act of vigilante justice. It’s not clear if it’s a Spartacus situation or a  Murder on the Orient Express situation, but the idea of a collective reality is definitely there. So for those of you trying to figure out who was sending the bomb threats to the school, I think the allegory of Fuenteovejuna is the best answer you are going to get.

4) Finally, this is really the first book of King’s where it is collectively narrated. Yes, in Vera Dietz, you had a few characters narrating but the story was ABOUT Vera. This story is not about one character. It is about a group of four teens, about a town, about a culture, about a collective reality that often seems absurd.

So my 4 hints above might help you understand/appreciate what King is up to, but will you like it? Of course I cannot answer that for you.

For me: I liked it. From an intellectual perspective. Emotionally, not so much. Even though the characters are all dealing with trauma and all have moments of transformation or redemption, the collective story made it difficult for me to connect with any of the characters. And I hate to say it, but having read so much YA about so much trauma, I didn’t really find anything new here. Yes, the way the story was constructed was very very very different. But in terms of what it had to say, I didn’t find much new to think about or feel.  I also just didn’t particularly enjoy some of the grotesqueries in the book – appreciated them structurally, but I didn’t enjoy them.

Finally, I want to talk about the cover and the jacket and how it seems like the book is “about” the collective delusion of forcing students to take standardized tests to assess them. It’s definitely a theme in this story, but I do not think it is THE theme. King isn’t really taking a hard stance on anything, I don’t think, except that: we all individually and collectively create delusions and realities; there are no answers; people forget to ask questions.

Advertisements

Review Hacklet: Boy 21 by Matthew Quick ~ The Little Prince in Basketball Shoes

boy21_cover

The cover is weird before you read it but becomes perfect after you’re done

 

Summary: The book is narrated by Finley, a white Irish kid in a rough, mostly black town close to Philly. He lives for basketball, even though as point guard, he’s a role player and doesn’t get the big scores. He’s a quiet, reserved kid, just trying to keep his head down so he doesn’t get mixed up with either the Irish or black drug dealers or gangs. At the start of his Senior year, his coach puts him in charge of a new kid, Russ, who’s moved to town to live with his grandparents after his parents were murdered. Russ was a highly recruited basketball star out in California, but after his parents’ murder he’s become withdrawn and eccentric, calling himself Boy21 and claiming to be from outer space. Boy21 ominously believes he will soon return to space and rejoin his parents.

Finley accepts Boy21’s eccentricities and heeds his coach’s command to help him and convince him to play basketball again, even though it might mean that Finley would lose his spot on the team to the much more talented Russ. The book is really all about Finley trying to walk many thin lines without making a dangerous error: helping Boy21 without fearing the possible competition; being friends with a black guy while living in the Irish part of town; balancing dating his longterm girlfriend Erin with dedicating himself fully to basketball; staying on the good side of the gangsters and mobsters without being pulled into that life. These razor-edged tightrope walks and the shortness if the book makes this a gripping, tense read.

1 heart  I loved this book from the beginning, but then got mad at it and then got un-mad at it and then I loved it again. I was mad because I was feeling clever about 40% of the way in, when I made the connection between the character Boy21 and the Little Prince, but then about 60% of the way through the book, one of the characters referenced The Little Prince and I felt less clever, and just a bit anxious about Boy21’s detached claims that he would soon be leaving planet Earth for the cosmos. I was also worried the book would end up being a blatant adaptation of Saint-Expury’s work. I started waiting for the metaphorical snake. But it soon became clear that the author was only giving the slightest homage to The Little Prince, and the story went in its own odd direction. So in the end, I got to feel clever again for noticing the connection and gratified by the story’s surprise ending.

I loved the eccentricities of Boy21 and how Finley easily takes them in stride, and loved seeing their friendship develop. There was a lot at stake, both in the present of the narrative and because of the brutal back stories of the characters that you find out later. I loved the unpredictable nature of the story, and the quirks of all the characters. Some people seemed turned off by the “weird” hard-to-classify nature of this book, but that’s exactly what made me love it.

1 scissorsThe only thing I couldn’t quite buy was that Finley and Erin had been dating for years, and were Seniors, but seemed to not have proceeded past making out and holding hands. It’s not that I think this was bad, it just seemed a little unrealistic that two fit, athletic teens who love each other wouldn’t be having a more intimate relationship. In some ways, I think it was a fine choice to not have that be a distracting element to the story, but it was just a little difficult to believe and made me wonder why Quick made this choice. We know that Finley is repressing a lot of emotions, but is this supposed to part of it? Or was Quick trying to make a point about how Erin and Finley were best friends first, and that their friendship was the most important element of their relationship? I actually did feel taken out of the story a little by what I perceived as something so unrealistic.

 

Review Hacklet: The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson ~ I yawped

It totally is.

It totally is.

1 heartI have to make this one a hacklet instead of a full hack because almost all the things I want to talk about are way too specific and spoilers in the sense that it was such a delight to come across certain little parts of this book and I’d hate to be that person who ruins someone else’s reading/watching/viewing/listening experience by nudging them and saying “Just WAIT until you get to the part where…!” I don’t want to be that guy.

So I’ll talk more generally. This book is full of all the elements that potentially make a book a turn-off for me: a love triangle, a bitchy rival, wall-to-wall quirky characters, Wuthering Heights references,  a (yet another) main character numb with grief, a (yet another) missing mother, bits of poetry written by the griever, a love interest that acts like a jerk and yet is still pursued by the narrator, and to top it off, the reviled first person present tense (FPPT) narration. Toxic, right? Nope. This book made me yawp. An honest to goodness Whitman-esque yawp.

In fact, though very different, The Sky is Everywhere gave me the same feeling I get when I read that Whitman poem. Warm, expansive, tingly, full of feeling, earthy. Whitman’s poems invites you to take a sky’s eye view of life, and you can guess from the title, that this book does too. Nelson is very daring to explore the intensities of grief and love and how those wires can get dangerously intensified or even crossed. And yet despite these intense emotions, the book was expertly leavened by the right amount of humor.

I enjoyed this book so much that I had to stop reading a few chapters before the end, so that I wouldn’t have to leave it. The story ends perfectly, and yet I wish it had kept going on. I want to live some more with those characters. I think for now, I’ll go re-read that Whitman and yawp some more.

 

Review: The Loop by Shandy Lawson ~ YA “Groundhog Day”

TheLoop

Good story - Let's hack it and make it great

Good story – Let’s hack it and make it great

 Verdict: A fun, suspenseful thriller that is most fun if you suspend your critical thinking about its many plot holes. It’s a quick read and definitely gives you back the right amount of entertainment for the time it takes to read.

Perfect for: People who like stories and movies that mess with time (such as the wonderful Before I Fall, “Groundhog Day”, “Looper”).  People who like fast-paced quick reads.

Summary: Ben and Maggie are destined to repeat the same two days in an endless loop – a loop that starts with them running into each other as strangers in a mall and ends with them getting killed by a relentless adversary. Can they alter enough small parts of their endlessly repeating experiences to break free of this deadly loop?

Continue reading

Review: The Queen of Water by Laura Resau ~ when fiction isn’t truer than non-fiction

At last, a cover that does not lie

At last, a cover that does not lie

Some redeeming elements; major hacking needed

 Verdict: An inspirational story that shines some light on the struggles of semi-enslaved servant girls taken from rural indigenous Ecuadorean villages. While the story is a lightly fictionalized account of a real person’s story, it lacks the narrative propulsion of fiction and the feeling of truth of a memoir.

Perfect for: Readers who like tales of young people from other cultures who survive horrible situations against all odds, such as McCormick’s Sold, Ryan’s Esperanza Rising, Perkins’ Bamboo People.

Summary: Virginia is born into a dirty shack to indigenous farming parents in rural Ecuador during a time (the story is set in the 1980s) when whiter upperclass “mestizos” made life miserable for the generally lower class indigenous people. At the age of seven, Virginia’s parents agree to let her work as a servant and nanny for a mestizo couple hours away in another town.  Instead of paying her wages, the couple treats her as something between a slave and an indentured servant, all the while calling her “daughter” and promising her Continue reading