Anyway, I've been doing a lot of fun indoor stuff this week, and I've been making sure to include plenty of reading. Really, you can only play so many computer games,
and you can only watch so many episodes of ludicrous ABC Family original programming on Netflix.
And trust me, I've been getting at least 300% of my recommended daily allowance of both of those things. But in between, I've read several delightful books:
What I Read This Week:
One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Wow. This book packs a punch. Most of the contemporary I read is pitched, I think, at slightly older readers, so it was different for me to read a book that focused entirely on family and friendship without even a glimmer of romance. In One For The Murphys, Carley Connors finds herself thrust into a foster family that she desperately wants to be part of--and she can't stand how great they seem. Carley is a prickly, clever, mercurial twelve-year-old, and she is clearly a product of her life before the Murphys. Her mother, who calls her in school to sing "Happy Birthday" at the moment of her birth, and who has midnight song-and-dance parties with her, is in the hospital after doing something unforgivable. Carley doesn't want to be around her--but she doesn't want to accept Mrs. Murphy's over-the-top kindness, either.
I was completely drawn into this story by the end of the second chapter. It was a very quick read for me because I was so absorbed. What could read like a movie-of-the-week is elevated far beyond that with characters who feel three-dimensional (even the four-year-old talks like a real four-year-old; exaggerated baby talk is a pet peeve of mine but Michael Eric Murphy passes the test.) Nothing is ever 100%; the characters aren't "good guys" or "bad guys" (well, except Carley's stepdad, who remains off-page) and the situations resolve in ways that feel realistic (and had me reaching for the Kleenex.)
I would heartily recommend this to anyone in middle school or older who wants a powerful, non-sappy story about what it means to be a friend or a family. Adult readers who have worked with children, or have children of their own, will be especially moved by Julie Murphy, I think. (I know I was. I want to know her.)
**Disclosure: I won a copy from the YAMazing Race, organized by The Apocalypsies. This is my honest review of the book.**
Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Eeeek! (I don't really love the word "squee", but I mean, I guess it's appropriate here.) I can't stop grinning. What a fantastic read. Stephanie Perkins writes what it feels like to be falling for someone SO WELL. And what it feels like when that gets complicated. And when you're trying to make new friends. And when you're awkward and confused and don't know what to do. And when you think everything is wrong. And when you find out everything is right.
Other people have talked about this book way better. But (to quote Jon Stewart talking about Bruce Springsteen) "if you like joy" (or other emotions, they're pretty much all in here), go read Anna and the French Kiss. It's a perfect summer read.
Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I. Love. Lola. Nolan. Anna and the French Kiss was a great book, and I finished it in a day. Lola and the Boy Next Door was an even better book--the kind I kept putting down after a few chapters because I didn't want it to end. (Still, it only took three days. Sigh.) Lola is such a fabulous protagonist--she screws things up in such REAL ways, but she's someone I would be friends with for sure. Her screw-ups don't condemn her to "bad person" status--sometimes she is a bad friend/girlfriend/daughter/employee/whatever, and sometimes (more often) she is a good one. She is one of the most authentic-feeling characters I've ever read. And what's more--the people around her are the same. Her best friend Lindsay, in particular, is a good-but-not-perfect friend. Both girls annoy each other sometimes, and hurt each other sometimes, and it's not end-of-the-world-level drama, because they've been friends forever and they both really care about each other, so they get past it.
Cricket Bell, on the other hand...well, he might be a little too perfect. But I guess I can live with that. Twist my arm. GEEZ is this guy a dreamboat.
I also have to give points to St. Clair and Anna (but really St. Clair in particular) for speaking up for the "easy" relationship. Growing up, as I did, on a steady diet of romantic comedies (R.I.P. Nora Ephron), I briefly labored under the delusion that real love has to be complicated on like, an epic scale. Then I met my husband and realized that actually, relationships that make both people really happy most of the time, that are "easy" (well, relatively; all relationships take work) and drama-free--those relationships are pretty great. And those relationships are really underrepresented in literature, film, and television (which I understand; you need conflict to tell a story), so it was really nice to see one here.
Stephanie Perkins, I'm sold. You're going on my "must read" list: Maggie Stiefvater, John Green, Kristin Cashore, Libba Bray--and you. Good company, yes? (Yes. Very yes.)
Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I don't know what I expected. Whatever it was, I was wrong. In turns eerie, gripping, funny/sad, bizarre, and heartbreaking, Where Things Come Back is probably the closest in style to contemporary adult literary fiction of any YA book I've read. I say that last piece not as a value judgement, but simply to note that it felt different than anything I've read lately. There was a moment, about three-quarters of the way through this book, when I was suddenly seized with the notion that perhaps everyone else in the world had disappeared--and it felt really plausible after being submerged in the world of Lily, Arkansas and Cullen Witter.
I won't try to summarize Where Things Come Back; I'm bad at summarizing under the best circumstances. But I can tell you that it's about loss, faith, belief, community, and perception. I read it in one afternoon; I recommend that method, as long as you have an afternoon plus some recovery time. This book didn't make me cry but it did make me feel truly anxious and confused in ways that I found really satisfying.
Oh, for Pete's sake, it won the Printz: more coherent people than me have written about it, so you can look for their reviews--or you can just go read it.
View all my reviews
Waiting in the Wings:
I have a bunch of titles on Netgalley that are about to pass the all-important "30 days to publication" marker, so in the next few weeks I'll be giving them priority. I don't want to mention titles here because I don't post reviews unless I can honestly give at least three stars, but check in next Sunday to hear about some upcoming releases!