Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Review of Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson.

Again I'm ignoring my promised books to review. Instead, I'm reviewing Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, because of the Wesley Scroggins incident that has authors and readers 'speaking loudly'.
I read Speak roughly a month ago, due to great reviews of it from friends and on the internet. Also because it was a Printz Award honor book, and I always find myself fond of Printz Award winners.

The blurb of Speak reads:
Melinda Sordino busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops. Now her old friends won't talk to her, and people she doesn't even know hate her from a distance. The safest place to be is alone, inside her own head. But even that's not safe. Because there's something she's trying not to think about, something about the night of the party that, if she let it in, would blow her carefully constructed disguise to smithereens. And then she would have to speak the truth.

So Speak begins as Melinda starts the school year friendless, alone, and depressed. She has a highly disfunctional family, literally no friends, and thus no one to talk to. She rarely even speaks.

Throughout the narration of Melinda's bleak days at school and home, she lets on in flashbacks the events that lead up to her current state of friendlessness. She broke up a party the year before when she called the cops. The people who despise her for doing so have no idea that she was, in fact, raped at that party.

Melinda initially refuses to speak up about her abuse, and suffers through seeing the rapist at school day after day, being constantly reminded of it. Eventually, she speaks up.

Speak is a story that many girls could relate to. Every two minutes, someone in the USA is sexually assaulted. Forty-four percent of those people are women under the age of 18. It's common for rape victims to not speak up about their ordeal. Speak is an inspiring story for anyone; but specifically for those women, it encourages them to speak out.

Scroggins' opinion piece calls for censorship of this book, calling it "soft pornography" because of the two rape scenes it features. That label alone is both invalid and horrible. Pornography is designed to incite sexual excitement - to imply that rape is at all exciting for the victim is just plain sick.

Other authors targetted by Scroggins - such as Sarah Ockler, author of Twenty Boy Summer - and readers are Speaking Loudly against Scroggins' piece and against censorship. Both Saundra Mitchell and CJ Redwine, favorite authors of mine, have Spoken Loudly on their blogs, in brilliant fashion (Mitchell's post here, and Redwine's here).

Speak is a book everyone should be able to read. Censorship stands in the way of that - it decides for you what you can and cannot read. I give Speak a 5/5.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Review of Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

I have this inclination to buy any book that I've heard of before that my library doesn't stock whenever I see it in a store. That's what happened to make me read Thirteen Reasons Why. I'd heard of it from a friend, couldn't find it at my local library, but then bought it on impulse when I saw it.

The blurb reads:

Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker—his classmate and crush—who committed suicide two weeks earlier.
On tape, Hannah explains that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out how he made the list.

The premise of this book is quite intriguing. Asher said in a interview printed in the back of the paperback of the book that he likes books with unusual formats. His debut novel, Thirteen Reasons Why, had that unusual format. It had two simultaneous narratives running: one told first-person from Clay's perspective, and the other told by the late Hannah Baker through her suicide tapes.

Though the premise was interesting, and the prose was well written, Hannah's character really irked me. In her tapes, she comes off as melodramatic and overly sarcastic for someone so supposedly depressed. The events leading up to her suicide don't seem serious enough to make her take her own life. For instance, (mild spoiler warning), the first tape details her first kiss with Justin Foley, and the subsequent rumors that more than kissing was done. I can understand some melancholy about that situation - but sending the tapes onto him, making him feel unneccessarily guilty?

Though, after the tapes are finished, and Clay sends the tapes on, the book does improve. In between listening to the tapes, Clay narrates his trek around town, following all the places Hannah talks about. More than once, he sees a girl from school named Skye (this is the first time I've ever read of a character with my name)(also, another spoiler warning). He describes her as once popular and bubbly, but now more reserved and sad. She portrayed all the characteristics that Hannah did preceding her suicide. During the tapes, Clay expresses guilt at not trying harder to help Hannah, and for not noticing her downfall. The book ends with Clay calling after Skye in the hallway, doing for her what he failed to do for Hannah.

I found out after reading this that someone had actually made Hannah's tapes, and they can be found at

My final verdict is that I'd be interested in future releases from Jay Asher, and I give his debut a 3 out of 5.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Review of Paper Towns by John Green

I read Paper Towns simply because I'm a die hard nerdfighter (click here to see what I'm on about) and John Green is one of my favorite authors.

The cover to the hardcover Paper Towns is interesting in itself (what you see picture left is the paperback cover, which I own). There are actually two covers, one picturing Margo happy, and the other picturing Margo sad. This will be explained later in the review.

So, Paper Towns opens with a prologue about a young Quentin (the main character, known as Q to his friends) and a young Margo (his neighbour) finding a body in the park. The book isn't a murder mystery, as you would expect from that opening. In fact, the body has little to no significance later in the novel except as something Q reflects on. But, what I love about this plot element is how Margo comments, while considering that the man committed suicide, "maybe all the strings inside of him broke." That, in my opinion, is a beautiful way to describe an ugly thing.

Back to the present, Quentin is eighteen and his graduation is just around the corner. One night, seemingly out of nowhere, Margo coerces him to join in her in midnight mayhem. These days, Margo is popular, and Q's a nerd, and so, they aren't friends, per se. But Q has always loved her. The day after this, Margo goes missing.

Q finds from Margo's parents that this isn't exactly uncommon, and they decide not to even try to find her this time. Q decides to follow the tenuous clues she left him: a poster in her window facing his, a Walt Whitman poem, and whatever he recalls from their conversation the night before about living in a 'paper town'. Thanks to a certain Nerdfighter tumblr, I can give you the actual quote:

"Look at all those cul-de-sacs, the streets that turn in on themselves all the houses that were built to fall apart. All those paper people in their paper houses burning the furniture to stay warm. All the paper kids drinking the beer some bum bought for them at the paper convenience store. Everyone demented with the mania of owning things. All the things paper-thin and paper-frail."

In John Green's own words, "Paper Towns is about love and loss and a Walt Whitman poem". He also says that "Paper Towns is about what we do and do not see when we imagine each other".

A recurring idea through the book is how people see each other, thus the hardcover covers. Everyone Margo knew imagined her differently, none wrong or right. She could be interpreted as Happy Margo, by the people who knew her as popular in school. Sad Margo, by people like Q who got a glimpse of how she was behind the facade she wore at school. Though Q originally thinks of Margo as his miracle, he begins to realise that she's just a girl.

Paper Towns is a perfect mix of humor and heartbreak, a winner of the 2009 Edgar Award for Best Young Adult Mystery, and studied as part of English curriculum in schools. I give it a 5 out of 5.