April 29, 2011

Purple Daze: Review

Purple Daze by Sherry Shahan, read for my "Read Outside Your Comfort Zone" Challenge, and also for the YA Historical Fiction Challenge I'm participating in. (Thanks to the author for providing a few photos to accompany this review!)

Goodreads' description:

"Purple Daze is a young adult novel set in suburban Los Angeles in 1965. Six high school students share their experiences and feelings in interconnected free verse and traditional poems about war, feminism, riots, love, racism, rock 'n' roll, high school, and friendship.

Although there have been verse novels published recently, none explore the changing and volatile 1960's in America-- a time when young people drove a cultural and political revolution. With themes like the costs and casualties of war, the consequences of sex, and the complex relationships between teens, their peers, and their parents, this story is still as relevant today as it was 45 years ago."

Why is it outside my comfort zone? I've tried a few novels in verse before but never really got into them... I'm not too sure why, perhaps because they're often more sparse and lacking in details than standard novels. I think the few I've read have also been rather emotionally dark and dealt with depressing subject matter. I've never heard of a novel in verse set in the '60s before, though (actually, just generally I think it's a gap in YA fiction) so that particularly interested me about Purple Daze.

Did it win me over? Why or why not? For the most part, yes. It took me a little bit to get into Purple Daze, since there are six main characters, and we jump back and forth between each teen's perspective. I found it difficult to distinguish between each of them at first, but after a while I started getting to know them better. I really enjoyed the letters sent from Phil to Cheryl in particular; I felt that of the characters Phil felt the most real and his voice the most authentic. (It turns out the author based his letters on actual letters she received from an acquaintance serving in Vietnam, so no wonder!)

An actual letter from the author's friend in Vietnam.

Despite the fact that there's no central threat (other than the general threat of the war in Vietnam), and thus not really a driving, overarching plot/storyline, the tone and characters are engaging. Instead of a linear progression, we are just given glimpses into brief moments of 1965 for each teen. I had worried at first that I might have to push through this one, but I found myself getting quite caught up in it and nearing the end sooner than I would have expected.

We do see more of some characters' viewpoints (Phil, Mickey, and Cheryl, I thought) than the others (Nancy, Ziggy and Don). I would have liked a few more excerpts from the characters who were given less screen time, since they remained kind of elusive in my mind's eye. I know there were a lot of subplots hinted at (especially involving Ziggy) but because we're only given snippets from each perspective, I was left a little confused about what was going on with some of the characters. There were a few more dots that could have been connected to make their stories more clear and cohesive.

Best aspect? The atmosphere created by Shahan's writing. It's exceptionally evocative of the '60s era, and the richness and boldness of the characters' voices leaps off the pages.

The slang in this book is groovy. Neato, cool beans, hip – can I be any plainer? In other words, it was far out. (Sorry, but how many opportunities will I get to use '60s jargon in a review? Precious few.) 

And I really enjoyed the deepening friendship between Cheryl and Phil, which we see almost exclusively through Phil's letters to her from Vietnam. I did wish that we could see some of her letters back to him (and to her other friend, Mickey) but at the same time, it was fun to pick up on the hints through Phil's letters alone and have to guess about what Cheryl had written. Phil's personality really shone through in his letters, both his tough exterior and glimpses of a more sensitive side in his respect for Cheryl, and his gratitude to her for keeping up with the correspondence. Also interesting is Phil's changing relationship with the war, beginning with optimism, turning quickly to discomfort and disillusionment, and then to a harder cynicism towards the end.

The "real" Phil, in Vietnam.

If I could change something, I would... Change the 'current events' sections, as I didn't think they connected that well with the characters' stories. There were segments every so often that discussed the current events of the time, in paragraph form. While these were informative, I found myself wanting to skim or skip over them and get back to the "real" story of the six teens. They just felt too dry and textbook-like to really engage me, and broke the flow of the narratives.

Also, a glossary of '60s-specific terms would have been helpful. Some of it was understandable from context, but there were a few times that the slang or other references would go right over my head.

Just one more thing I want to mention: I was actually quite disappointed that we don't get more closure with each teen's story. I liked that it chronicled exactly one year in the life of these six individuals, and that the format of the ending mirrors the beginning, but I was left wanting to know more about how each character turns out (especially given the hints of a Cheryl/Phil dynamic). I really wanted to see a reunion of the six at the end!

Would I read more like this book? Yep, I think so. The verse format didn't actually pose as much of a problem for me as I thought it might, once I got used to it. I thoroughly enjoyed the spot-on '60s vibe I got from Purple Daze, and while I would have appreciated more plot than we're given and a centralized storyline, I do think that a novel in verse can pull off a story through "snapshots" of characters' lives more effectively than a novel of standard prose would be able to.

Final verdict: 3 shooting stars. It was difficult for me to rate this one because I don't really have much to compare it to, having not reviewed any other novels in verse yet, so I am ranking it overall. Compared just to other novels in the same format, though, I expect my rating might be a bit higher. 

Recommend for: both those who lived through the "flower power" era, and those who wish they had experienced it! Note: there is a fair bit of mature language and content in here, so I'd only recommend this one for older YA readers.

Author's website: http://www.sherryshahan.com/

The author then (high school yearbook).
The author now.

Disclaimer: I received this book for review from the author/publisher.

If you haven't signed up yet for the "Read Outside Your Comfort Zone" challenge and would like to, you can fill out the form HERE.

April 27, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: Cold Light and Queen of Hearts

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine and features books that we just can't wait to get our hands on!

This week's picks:

Cold Light by Jenn Ashworth

Goodreads' description:

"I'm sitting on my couch, watching the local news. There's Chloe's parents, the mayor, the hangers on, all grouped round the pond for the ceremony. It's ten years since Chloe and Carl drowned, and they've finally chosen a memorial - a stupid summerhouse. The mayor has a spade decked out in pink and white ribbon, and he's started to dig.

You can tell from their faces that something has gone wrong. But I'm the one who knows straightaway that the mayor has found a body. And I know who it is.

This is the tale of three fourteen-year-old girls and a volatile combination of lies, jealousy and perversion that ends in tragedy. Except the tragedy is even darker and more tangled than their tight-knit community has been persuaded to believe.

Blackly funny and with a surreal edge to its portrait of a northern English town, Jenn Ashworth's gripping novel captures the intensity of girls' friendships and the dangers they face in a predatory adult world they think they can handle. And it shows just how far that world is willing to let sentiment get in the way of the truth."

Not sure if the dark humor will be my style but it does sound like a bit of a twisty psychological mystery/thriller type, and those always keep me flipping the pages... The cover isn't really showy but I think the subtle dark tone probably suits the story, and I like that her head is turned away so we don't see her face.

Queen of Hearts by Martha Brooks

Goodreads' description:

"Coming of age in a hospital bed—a deeply affecting portrait of a teen's journey through a TB sanatorium in the 1940s

On the prairies of Canada during World War II, a girl and her two young siblings begin a war of their own. Stricken with tuberculosis, they are admitted to a nearby sanatorium. Teenager Marie Claire is headstrong, angry, and full of stubborn pride. In a new strange land of TB exiles she must “chase the cure,” seek privacy where there is none, and witness the slow wasting decline of others. But in this moving novel about fighting a way back to normal life, it is the thing that sets back Marie Claire the most—the demise of her little brother—that also connects her with the person who will be instrumental in helping her recover."

Yay, a novel set in Canada! Such a rare breed. I don't know that much about the sanatoriums and TB patients back in the 1940s, so I'm interested to find out more. I'm not crazy about the cover, but I do think it evokes the time period very well. (Although the poor author's name is so small you can barely make it out!)

What books are you waiting on?

April 26, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Literary Mean Girls

This fabulous meme is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish, and this week's topic is mean girls. Oh, how to choose only 10...

In no particular order:

1.) Hattie from Ella Enchanted – oh, how she grates on the nerves. I hate the way she manipulates Ella for her own ends once she finds out about Ella's obedience curse. She's so stuck-up, selfish and smug that every time I read it I get all indignant all over again on Ella's behalf.

2.) Alice from Beautiful Malice – there's something more than a little wrong with Alice. I think she has histrionic or borderline personality disorder, perhaps; whatever it is, it makes her extremely unstable mentally and emotionally and very controlling when it comes to her "friends."

3.) Lina from the Luxe series – actually, most of the characters in the Luxe series are morally reprehensible, but Lina is somehow worse than the others because she is so desperate to rise in the social ranks that she'll do absolutely anything to keep her standing. Penelope, at least, is mean out of revenge and what she thinks is love; Lina is mean just to feather her own nest.

4.) Sally Biddle from the Boston Jane series – she is just plain infuriating. Basically, a snotty, condescending bully in nice clothes, with a real talent for knowing exactly where someone's weak spot is.

5.) Selia from The Goose Girl – I know I've mentioned her before on these lists, but she really is the lowest of the low. Gifted with people-speak magic, she uses her talent abominably to wrap everyone around her little finger and get precisely what she wants.

6.) Isabella Thorpe from Northanger Abbey – she is a real piece of work. So sly and cunning, pretending to love Catherine's brother and really only being interested in money.
Evil. Pure evil.

7.) Tamara from Crown Duel – she starts out very nasty, determined to make a fool of Meliara, and then eventually she becomes more of an ally. She never really becomes friendly, though.

Don't be fooled by the sweet smile.
8.) Lucy Steele from Sense & Sensibility – she's quiet and devious, and subtly cruel. She swears Elinor to secrecy regarding Lucy's engagement to Edward, all the while knowing that Elinor has feelings for Edward. And then she digs the knife in just a little deeper by continually bringing the topic up - in private, of course.

9.)  Catherine from Wuthering Heights – I only read this one once (once was enough) so I don't remember the details, but I do remember Catherine was spiteful, vindictive, catty and incredibly self-centered. A mean girl? Methinks so.

You deserve to wander the moors forever, Catherine.

10.) Jane from the Twilight series – one word: sadist.

A Cornucopia of Dystopia Winners!

Time to announce a couple of winners for my A Cornucopia of Dystopia giveaways...

For the ARC prize pack of Bumped, Possession and Wither, random.org selected #9 as the winner, which was...

For the Awaken ARC giveaway, random.org selected #8 as the winner, which was...

Candice J!

I've sent both winners e-mails, and Aislynn has already responded. Candice, you have 72 hours to get back to me before I select another winner.

Edited to add: And both winners have now confirmed!

Congrats to you both!!

And remember, there is still an Enclave giveaway going on (open internationally) and a Divergent ARC giveaway (open to Canada only) if you haven't already entered them!

April 23, 2011

YA Through The Ages: the '80s

We saw last week that YA fiction really began to take off in the 1970s...but if you thought that was impressive, then the '80s will really wow you. The "golden age" of YA fiction continued into this decade and YA literature seemed to explode in just about every direction. This is also when we start getting into lots of books that I grew up reading when I was younger, so I have a soft spot for many of these!

The trend of realistic novels looking at some of the darker/grittier issues teens face continued, with novels such as the Tillerman Cycle by Cynthia Voigt (Homecoming, 1981; Dicey's Song, 1982, won 1983 Newbery Medal; A Solitary Blue, 1983; The Runner, 1985; Come A Stranger, 1986; Sons from Afar, 1987; Seventeen Against the Dealer, 1989), Katherine Paterson's Jacob Have I Loved (1980; 1981 Newbery Medal), and Nancy Garden's Annie on My Mind (1982), which was one of the first LGBT YA books published and still one of the most well-known today.

 I'm sensing a bit of a theme here...the 'forlorn teen posture' must have been popular in cover design back then.

A sub-category here would be the 'sad, depressing, character-is-going-to-die' novels. Namely, Lurlene McDaniel books. I will admit that I went through a Lurlene McDaniel phase when I was younger, but thankfully that was fairly short-lived (LOL, pun not intended). Some of her novels from the '80s include Six Months to Live (1985), I Want to Live (1987), Goodbye Doesn't Mean Forever (1989), and Too Young to Die (1989). These covers are too fantastic to pass up:

 Oh, the old-school hospital beds...and the headband. And the teddy bear, which is clearly an extremely critical addition to the storyline.

The lighter realistic stories kept on going strong as well. Paula Danziger published a bunch more novels in that vein (with some pretty fantastic titles): There's a Bat in Bunk Five (1980), The Divorce Express (1982), It's An Aardvark-Eat-Turtle World (1985), This Place Has No Atmosphere (1986), Remember Me to Harold Square (1987), and Everyone Else's Parents Said Yes (1989).

 The covers were pretty much gigantic fails, though. Seriously, these look like those books you are assigned to read in elementary school to learn a moral from. Which is SO not what they are really like.

Lois Lowry wrote some more in her Anastasia Krupnik series, including Anastasia Again! (1981), Anastasia at Your Service (1982), Anastasia, Ask Your Analyst (1984 – love the title of this one!), Anastasia Has the Answers (1986) and Anastasia's Chosen Career (1987). And one of my favourites, the Alice series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, got started in this time period. It's a fabulous blend of humor and heartfelt emotion, and tackles problems that all teens encounter. The first was The Agony of Alice in 1985, followed by Alice in Rapture, Sort Of in 1989.

This is the 1988 paperback edition...and it's actually my copy! Yep, now that we're into the '80s I can actually start pulling books off my shelves for some of these pictures.
Then of course, there was also the ultra-frothy (and ultra-popular) Sweet Valley High series by Francine Pascal. I never read these so I'm not altogether sure what the draw was, but the early covers are priceless. I could do an entire blog post just about them.

"I am so winning this staring contest..."

And 27 books later, they STILL haven't given up...
"You look a little out of control. Let me just take your pulse for a minute..."

Yep, that is so totally the face I make when someone kidnaps me. Or taps my shoulder. Whatever.

"Ugh! Get that germy handkerchief away from me!"
YA fantasy really started getting creative in the 1980s. Up until then it had mostly been the epic, traditional fantasy that frequently involved such staples as a quest, a battle against the dark power, and a determined young protagonist (often male) to carry it off, with the help of companions. But in the 1980s the authors started testing the waters a little bit more and pushing the boundaries on what could be considered fantasy.

Topping this trend was Tamora Pierce, of course, whose Song of the Lioness series (Alanna: The First Adventure, 1983; In the Hand of the Goddess, 1984; The Woman Who Rides Like a Man, 1986; Lioness Rampant, 1988) should be on every teen's must-read list in my opinion. This was THE series that got me hooked on YA fantasy (before then I was a pretty die-hard realistic-fiction-only kind of reader), with such engaging kick-butt female characters and action-packed plots.

 These covers are actually a lot better than I thought they would be. Although...why is she wearing what looks like a mini-skirt in the first cover?? That can't be very practical...

 And I didn't picture the Dominion Jewel as being so huge. It looks like it's about to crush Alanna. *blinks*

And this is my copy of the first book, a 1989 paperback edition. It was actually my sister's originally, but I read it so often (as you can tell by the well-worn cover) that she eventually just gave it to me.

Equally famous is Diana Wynne Jones, who published her extremely successful Howl's Moving Castle in 1986, which branched out from typical fantasy in being humorous, quirky, and altogether unique.

Okay, I adore Howl's Moving Castle, but this cover frightens me. There is a lot going on here: Howl in the foreground, then Calcifer the fire demon (who by the way, is not evil like he is shown here), then a castle outline super-imposed in the backdrop, and a tiny scarecrow shadow in the bottom right-hand corner. It's kind of like a monumentally disastrous collage.
Diane Duane started in on her Young Wizards series (So You Want to be a Wizard, 1983; Deep Wizardry, 1985), which blends fantasy with science fiction in a modern-day setting.

These covers aren't too bad, actually – I especially like the second one where they're riding on the dolphin fins (these are actually sharks below the surface – straight from the author herself!) and she's almost falling off.

We can't forget a couple other very well-known names in the YA fantasy department: Robin McKinley and Madeleine L'Engle. Robin McKinley's novel The Blue Sword (1982) was a 1983 Newbery Honor book, and The Hero and the Crown (1984) won the 1985 Newbery Medal. Meanwhile, Madeleine L'Engle was continuing her series about the Murrys and O'Keefes with Many Waters (1986), A House Like a Lotus (1984), and An Acceptable Time (1989). L'Engle also wrote the third book in her Austins series, and arguably the best-known: A Ring of Endless Light (1980; 1981 Newbery Honor). I read this one multiple times when I was younger and really loved it (of course, I adore dolphins, so that could be part of the explanation there.) Actually, I've also featured it as a Forget-Me-Nots pick before.

Yep, this is our well-worn copy of it. Maybe it's just for nostalgic reasons but I still quite like this cover...the water looks so inviting!
Jane Yolen got in on things too, with the first three books in her Pit Dragon Chronicles (Dragon's Blood, 1982; Heart's Blood, 1984; A Sending of Dragons, 1989).

The 1984 paperback version we have. Gotta say, it looks a little bit like he's dancing a waltz with the dragon.

And these are the first edition hardcovers! I got these as discards from the library.
And then at the end of the decade, Francesca Lia Block came along with her novel Weetzie Bat (1989), which apparently is a "dream-like" novel about genies and wishes, that also touches on tough issues like AIDS and homosexuality.

I haven't read it myself, but the cover is definitely giving out a surreal vibe.

In this decade, it looks like science fiction became a genre in and of itself within YA. Orson Scott Card is famous for his novel Ender's Game (1985), which was originally intended for an adult audience but was later listed on the ALA's "100 Best Books for Teens." Both William Sleator and Christopher Pike also penned novels with the sci-fi essentials of spaceships and aliens: Sleator with Interstellar Pig (1984), and Pike with The Tachyon Web (1986). And Monica Hughes wrote her Isis series: The Keeper of the Isis Light (1980), The Guardian of Isis (1981), and The Isis Pedlar (1982).

 Looks like she was taking a leaf out of Alanna's book with that barely-there mini-skirt. And the second cover shows...Aragorn, Gandalf and C-3PO?

YA historical fiction was holding its own as well. Ann Rinaldi came on the scene with Time Enough for Drums (1986) and The Last Silk Dress (1988). Lois Lowry published Number the Stars in 1989, which went on to win the 1990 Newbery Medal. Maus I: My Father Bleeds History (1986) by Art Spiegelman took a completely different tack to WWII using a graphic novel format and animals as the main characters.
Love the original cover of this one. Very striking and eye-catching.
Philip Pullman, who later became famous for the His Dark Materials fantasy series, published the first two books in his historical mystery Sally Lockhart series, The Ruby in the Smoke in 1985 and The Shadow in the North (originally The Shadow in the Plate) in 1986.

Well, it's pretty basic, but I do like the rich colour of the crimson gem.
I believe this one is supposed to depict some wolf-like creature feeding on a body. Yes, I can see that. Kind of. If I squint.
And then there were Eva Ibbotson's historical romance novels, which I believe were originally intended for adults but have since been reprinted as YA. These included A Countess Below Stairs (1981; now titled The Secret Countess), Magic Flutes (1982; now titled The Reluctant Heiress), A Company of Swans (1985), and Madensky Square (1988).

I actually would have thought both of these were fantasy novels, just based on the cover. Especially with a title like Magic Flutes. But no.

In the horror arena, R.L. Stine was making his name known. His Goosebumps series came later, but even in this decade he was doing well with titles such as Blind Date (1986), Twisted (1987), The Babysitter (1989), and Hit and Run (1989).

Oh, how I love these early horror book covers. The girl looks a) like she is freezing cold, despite the large baggy sweater she's got on, and b) positively creepy. I would be more disturbed about hiring her to watch my kids than anything lurking around in the bushes. Although you've gotta love that tagline: "Every step she takes, he'll be watching." Dun-dun-DUNNNNN...

Lois Duncan continued publishing YA suspense novels, such as The Third Eye (1984), The Twisted Window (1987) and Don't Look Behind You (1989). Christopher Pike was becoming a big name in the thriller section as well. He published a whole slew of these novels in the 1980s, such as Weekend (1986), Spellbound (1988), Gimme a Kiss (1988), Scavenger Hunt (1989), and Last Act (1989).

 Well, their cover design may have been deplorable (oh, that cheesy font!) but you can't say it wasn't consistent. I love the tagline for Spellbound, too: "You can close your eyes...it won't help." *tries to cue spooky music but dies laughing instead*

"Gimme a Kiss" as a title for a thriller? Seriously?

Finally, there seemed to be a bit of a push for books specifically targeting teen guys. The survival stories Hatchet (1987; 1988 Newbery Honor) and Dogsong (1985; 1986 Newbery Honor) by Gary Paulsen would fit here, as well as sports books like Chris Crutcher's Running Loose (1983; football), Stotan! (1986; swimming), and The Crazy Horse Electric Game (1987; baseball). Basketball fans, never fear, your sport gets covered by Walter Dean Myers in his novel Hoops (1981) and its sequel The Outside Shot (1984), and Bruce Brooks in The Moves Make the Man (1984; 1985 Newbery Honor).

With a wolf perching on his forehead and a hatchet buried in his skull, it's all he can do to carry on.
I know this is a long post already (congrats if you've made it this far!) but two things in particular strike me about YA in the 1980s. The first is that authors seemed to have become more versatile, switching genres very successfully. Lois Lowry, for instance, did both light realistic fiction (the Anastasia series) as well as heavy historical fiction (Number the Stars). In addition to Jacob Have I Loved, Katherine Paterson wrote a historical novel set in China in the 1850s, called Rebels of the Heavenly Kingdom (1983). Christopher Pike, as we have seen, stepped outside of thriller territory to try his hand at a science fiction novel with his book The Tachyon Web.

The second is that there was still only a smattering of novels with POC characters, perhaps even fewer than in the 1970s. Walter Dean Myers wrote several featuring African-American characters from Harlem, such as Hoops and The Outside Shot as well as Won't Know Till I Get There (1982), Fallen Angels (1988) and Motown and Didi: A Love Story (1984). He also wrote fantasy novels with black characters, such as The Golden Serpent (1980) and The Legend of Tarik (1981). Other voices to add to this category were Virginia Hamilton, whose novel Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush (1982) was a 1983 Newbery Honor book, and Bruce Brooks with his previously mentioned The Moves Make the Man.

The poor horse must be excruciatingly hot in that outfit.
In terms of other ethnic minorities, though, there weren't a lot to choose from. Dogsong features an Inuit character. Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind by Suzanne Staples (1989; 1990 Newbery Honor) is about the life of a Pakistani girl. Rebels of the Heavenly Kingdom centers around two Chinese teens. But really, the pickings were pretty slim.

YA had solidified itself as a completely independent category of fiction by the end of the 1980s. This was reflected in the creation of the Young Adults' Choices lists (1987) and the Margaret A. Edwards award (1988). Up until then there hadn't been any specific award for YA fiction, only awards for children's books (into which YA was often put) or other categories.

So...which of these books have you read? Loved, liked, or hated? Any important titles I've missed (I couldn't possibly cover them all here!)? I've read a *lot* of the fantasy novels mentioned as well as the light realistic fiction, and much less of the darker realistic, sci-fi, "boy books," POC, and horror/thriller categories. Which would you recommend I add to my tbr list?

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