Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The One and Only Ivan - Katherine Applegate

I'd wanted to read this for at least a year, but have been unproductive in my reading habits for a long time. After feeling bad that I wanted to buy this, didn't, buying Crenshaw instead, I got it from my library ASAP and devoured it in a couple of sessions. Unsurprisingly, it's short, if not a particularly easy read.

I always find flaw with books I read, and especially the great ones that are well-wrought, I seem to find some niggling detail that I can't let go of. Frankly, I need to get over it, because I think One and Only deserves the hype. The world where other animals and humans cohabitate, or, rather, interact closely, is a difficult one, and the nuance of it is often overshadowed. Applegate has brought out wonderful and genuine, if somewhat slippery, sympathy for the captor of these animals, Mack. The period of introspection that Ivan finally allows himself with the introduction of the young elephant Ruby also shows us Mack's journey, if not as completely. Maybe I wasn't the only one who imagined Mack's financial hardship and his narrow future after the shuttering of his circus mall... Applegate manages to balance our cheers for the free as well as the weight money lays on the humans of her story. A theme she continued in Crenshaw...

I like how Applegate formatted this, rendering Ivan's thoughts poetically, suiting his artist's soul. His sparse sentences and short use of words underlines a point he makes early on, humans use too many words, far more than gorillas ever need to. The illustrations as well are beautiful and tender, furthering illuminating the glimpses of emotion.

It ends, of course, with a full look at the bright future of the animals, presumably to reassure and explain to precocious readers just how a captive gorilla becomes a natural leader of a pack. I thought the end lacked the emotional climax I would have wanted, but was by no means flat or unsatisfactory. I guess I just like things to end with something more...

But I'm probably just being picky here, too.

Pages: 320
Year: 2012
Publisher: Harper Collins

Read: 21.6.16 - 23.6.16
Stars: 4.5

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Crenshaw - Katherine Applegate

Thursday night I was standing in the brightly colored children's section of the bookstore, I held three books in my hand and knew I could barely afford one. I put back the intriguing The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse and a new book by the beloved Karen Cushman, Greyling's Song. I did that thing that I'd always imagined doing but never dared. I took home Crenshaw and returned it the following Monday.

That which piqued my interest was that it was by the same author as The One and Only Ivan, a book I was sure I was going to love and wasn't sure I didn't already own digitally. It also had a boy and a cat on the cover, and was somehow about this cat being able to talk, so therefore slightly magical. I rarely watch movie trailers this day, so I didn't even read the book flap, trusting enough in these previous criteria that the book was worth full retail price.

I didn't return the book only because I read it, but also because I didn't really want to own it.

Crenshaw was a short and interesting novel about poverty and homelessness from the perspective of a child, Jackson, but also about the line between needing an 'adult' honesty from your parents, sharing in the family problems and being honest not just about problems but about your needs.

Crenshaw is the name of an imaginary cat who is at least five feet tall, likes bubble baths and walking on two feet. He was the star-by-proxy and was so enjoyable to read. I could easily see this book being turned into a charming movie, with Cary Elwes voicing him. But I'm biased because of his performance as The Baron in two Ghibli movies.

This book isn't very complicated, and yet it is. The main character is ten, and the novel sets out to accomplish a single, complex point: deal with the possibility of being homeless. I will spoil for you the fact that this is done with some fine-feeling and a happy ending, but I won't hash out the details. Whatever you do, do read this, to your child, at the beach, while taking the train to Grand Central,

Do it for Jackson or do it for Crenshaw.

Pages: 256
Year: 2015
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

Read: 17.6.16-17.6.16
Stars: 3.5

Before the Awakening - Greg Rucka

Fun, gripping and well written, I'd love to not only read more by Greg Rucka, I want to find the other great Star Wars novels out there. The battles between space ships, between stormtroopers, between desperate aliens out in the desert were interesting and clear to witness.

Finn & Rey's stories gave great insight into their characters, but unlike Poe's they could not delve much into their history.

Finn's story was shorter by a few pages, but gave a neat view of the mechanisms of the First Order, how they controlled their citizens, or rather, controlled their stormtroopers. More than anything, this established Finn's loyalty to the people he fought beside, and how he struggled determining right from wrong long before the movie.

Rey's story was surprising in that we were set up for betrayal, but I was surprised at how she was betrayed. Instead of feeling frustrated for her loss or at her for not seizing an opportunity, I felt the weight of her situation: being stuck, waiting. And I really sympathised. Something that was felt briefly in the movie was expanded upon here.

Poe's story is the highlight of this volume. If you wanted more of the dashing pilot who stole our hearts, you will not be disappointed. Coming in as the longest (again, by a few pages) of these three, we are told about Poe's family, his history and his introduction to the Rebellion. We get a glimpse of the Republic as it exists in The Force Awakens (something we don't see much of in the movie) and get the emotional context of Poe's brief introduction and capture in the movie. When Finn inadvertently rescues Poe, it appears to us as the start of a beautiful friendship in the movie. With Poe's story, we get the real sucker punch in retrospect: Poe wasn't expecting to ever be rescued.

That's what made me pick up the volume, and maybe you'll do the same now, too.

Pages: 224
Year: 2015
Publisher: Disney Lucasfilm Press

Read: 13.6.16-17.6.16
Stars: 5

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis

In my opinion, the premise should be enough to get you into this story: a disabled boy in Nevada becomes a mute servant girl in a magical kingdom every-time he closes his eyes.

Not yet? Read on. Since he was six or so, Nolan has been treated for epilepsy, but what looks like he’s having a seizure is actually him leaving his body to piggyback the life of a girl on the run, a servant protecting a princess from a coup. Nolan meanwhile doesn’t have much of a life, he doesn’t have any friends, barely knows his punk sister, all he has are notebooks filled with a world that makes no sense and swimming whenever he can keep his head on straight long enough.

This book really grabbed me from the get go, considering the premise isn’t something trifling, and it was great. Sign language and disability are important topics not to be treated lightly, and Corinne Duyvis doesn’t shy away from being real with the reader. She found readers to help with all the aspects, as you can see in the acknowledgments, and has produced a fascinating book. I will say this without spoiling anything, that while I was committed to finishing it with the first chapter or so, and read the first half of the book consistently over two weeks, when I hit the 75% mark a twist that I thought was just a way-point turned into such an epic conclusion that I couldn’t stand it. I had no way and no one to convey my alarm at what happened. I’m not hyperbolizing much when I say: it blew me away.

I can’t tell you. But I want you to read this, I want you to be taken aback as well by what happens.
This is a stand alone novel, but the world is by no means lacking. There is no skimping in this book. I thought at first that I didn’t have as good a sense of the world that the girl, Amara, is traveling through as I did of Nolan’s desert city. To be fair I’ve never been to either, yet Nevada came more easily to me than the cobbled streets in a magical city. I think this is the juxtaposition of things we can easily supplement with photos and more words than creating a whole new fantasy world in our heads. This has less to do with authorial ability and more with that just being the way things are, the way our culture exposes us to different things.

So let your imagination go wild when imagining the pubs and harbors and market stalls in Amara’s world. Unless you’ve been to Nevada, you’re doing the same thing there anyway. Enjoy!

Pages; 400
Year: 2014
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams

Read: 25.2.16-27.3-16
Stars: 4.5

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