Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Atlas of Unknowns by Tania James

Although they tell you never to judge a book by its cover, in this particular instance, the cover of Atlas of Unknowns is one of the best examples of symbolism and theme that I've ever seen. The cover shows a picture of a butterfly with a map superimposed onto each wing - one of under-developed/rural India and one of Queens, NY. Anju and Linno are sisters living in Kerala, India with their poor father and grandmother. When Anju wins a scholarship to a prep school in America (by betraying her sister), Linno is the one who has to keep the remaining family together. There's a lot of other important secondary characters, but ultimately, the purpose of this book shows the rocky relationship between the sisters. Though they are completely different individuals and at different places in the world, they are still family.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Testimony by Anita Shreve

Avery Academy, set in the woods of Vermont, seems like the last place for a scandal to happen. Unfortunately, all bets are off when it comes to teens and alcohol. When a sex tape is found involving 3 boys and a 14 year old girl, countless lives are shattered and not many are spared - whether it's the headmaster, the boys themselves, or their poor parents who are left wondering "how could this have happened?"

I really liked the use of multiple points of view for this novel, because when something scandalous happens, it helps to hear all sides of the story. This could have easily been written from a headmaster's perspective (or even from the character of Silas) and it would have been great, but having so much insight from so many people really made this book seem more 3 dimensional to me. Jodi Picoult follows the same strategy for her novels, even going so far as to change the font depending on the character (which seems a little much, but whatever), and it's a fabulous way to wrap so many narratives together.

My only (small) complaint was that Shreve uses TOO many narratives that at times, it got a little confusing. I understand why she wanted to show how the scandal affected lots of individuals, but in all honesty, hearing the lunch lady's perspective really did nothing for the story. Other than that, it was a great read!

Perfect Fifths by Megan McCafferty

Acting as the final novel in the Jessica Darling series, Perfect Fifths wraps up the 6 year relationship between sarcastic cynic Darling and mysterious bohemian Marcus Flutie and all their dysfunctional glory. The time is 2010 and Jessica is racing to catch a plane to a friend's wedding. By a major coincidence, Marcus happens to be at that same airport at that exact moment. Though the two haven't spoken to each other in years, you know how this book is going to end right from the get-go.
At first I really enjoyed the Jessica Darling series, but this one felt like a stretch to me. There are virtually no other appearances by former major characters - in essence, this book is just one long conversation between Marcus and Jessica, which is nice, but gets old. McCafferty pulls some weird stuff as well - an entire part of the novel occurs in haiku form and another in pure dialogue. Sometimes it works, like how readers can actually get Marcus' perspective FOR ONCE, but most of the time, it's just irritating. However, I'm a person who enjoys closure and that's definitely what I got from this book.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

In the wake of Twilight's massive commercial success, some YA works have been generating a lot of buzz. If I Stay is one of those books (there's already discussion of a movie deal), though there are virtually no reasonable comparisions between the two in terms of plot, character development or theme. In spite of this confusion, If I Stay remains a short and sad tale about 17 year old Mia who is hovering between life and death in a coma at the hospital. While on a winter drive, an oncoming car smashes into her car, killing her parents and younger brother. Mia must decide if she wants to "leave," that is, die and be with her family, or if she will "stay," and live a life of an orphan.
I won't ruin the ending, but I will say that this book did make me tear up a few times, especially considering that all of the characters in the book are just so nice. Flawed, but genuinely nice. I'd be curious to see how the film stacks up to the novel.

Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz

Portia Nathan is in an unenviable position - as an Admissions Officer at Princeton University, she has the job of deciding to either fulfill or destroy people's dreams on a daily basis. The problem is is that Portia doesn't really have much of a life outside of the admissions process; she's so immersed in studying the lives of the people applying to Princeton that she has virtually cut herself off from a life outside of that institution. Obviously, there are some major reasons for why Portia is the way she is. The rest of the novel delves into that.

I enjoyed this book, though the prose was a bit wordy, though I guess when you're married to a well known and award winning poet (Paul Muldoon), you learn a thing or two about semantics. My one complaint is that I totally called the one "twist" near the end. I'm usually really bad at anticipating plot, so I'm not sure what that says about Korelitz's narrative. But overall, a solid read.