Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl  by Jesse Andrews

Senior Greg Gaines has planned out his last year at Benson High School:  he's going to keep an insanely low profile, make lousy films, and survive until June.

It's good to have a plan.  A plan makes excellent traction when you crumple it up and drive over it.

And that is, essentially, what happens Greg's plan.  His mom greets him at the end of Senior Year Day 1 and tells him that Rachel has cancer, and that he, Greg, will go and befriend her.

If this was a regular book about cancer, Greg and his friends and family would learn a touching lesson about the sweetness of life and the bitterness of death.  If this was a book by John Green you would need three boxes of tissues just to face the world after the final page.

But it isn't.  Here are a few lines from the final chapter, just to give you a taste of the narrative voice:

...doesn't mean I'll be making a film out of this book.  There is no way in hell that is going to happen.  When you convert a good book to a film, stupid things happen.  God only knows what would happen if you tried to convert this unstoppable barf-fest into a film.  The FBI would probably have to get involved.  There's a chance you could consider it an act of terrorism....

Greg's sarcastic, self-deprecating voice throughout the story rings true to anyone who has ever been a teen--or even spoken to a teen lately.  However, Earl nearly steals the show several times.  I won't quote any lines from Earl, partly because I don't want to spoil the fun of reading Earl in context, and partly because he cusses so much that every other word would be bleeped.  And that is absolutely all I will say about Earl, except maybe this:

Great story, great characters, buckets of cussing and talking about sexual situations, but no bare skin except sometimes the bald head of Rachel, which looks (according to Greg and Earl) like Darth Vader when he takes his helmet off:  "insanely white, like it had been boiled, and sort of veiny and lumpy."  Not exactly an erotic image, but hey:  cancer isn't very pretty.

Oh, and by the way:  there is a movie. 

 And according to folks at Sundance, the movie didn't totally suck.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Carry On

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
  • A boy magician, identified at age 11 as "the Chosen One" and taken away to a magical British school
  • A series of books about the boy and his friends as they battle the enemy of all Wizard-kind
  • Lots of magic, magical creatures, action, adventure, mystery, and good vs evil

You know the boy I'm talking about, right?  Yes!  It's Simon Snow!

Wait.  What?

Simon Snow's evil roommate Baz says that Simon is probably the worst Chosen One ever chosen, and he's probably right.  Most of the time Simon doesn't know what his magic is going to do...if it does anything.  His magic wand is a hand-me-down, his spell casting is capricious, and although the Sword of Mages comes to his hand sometimes when he needs it, it's never reliable.

And then there's Baz:  rich.  pale.  mysterious.  wicked.  and a vampire.

Wait.  What?

The reader joins Simon and Baz mid-story, after they have already survived adventures in six other books fighting chimeras, goblins, bone-teeth hunters...and each other.  Unlike that other series of books about a boy magician in a magical school, this series has never been written.  And Carry On isn't the series itself either, it's a fan-fiction novel.

Keep up, will you?

Only Rainbow Rowell could write a fanfic salute to a series that she invented as a "prop" for a different novel...and only Rainbow Rowell would start by writing the end of the story but not the beginning!

And just wait until you get to the romance between Simon and XXXXXXXX    ....oops.  Sorry, no spoilers here.

Fast-paced adventure and a flawed hero with flawed friends, awesome love story and terrific world-building.  

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Last Leaves Falling

The Last Leaves Falling  by Sarah Benwell

18-year-old Abe Sora lives in modern-day Kyoto with his mom...and with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease).  He is dying, and he's scared.

Sora derives some comfort from a book of haiku poems written by ancient samurai warriors, but is helped even more by the love of his mom, his grandparents, and new friends Mai and Kaito, whom he met online.  As Sora's body fails him, he must face the knowledge that, as much as he longs to face his future with dignity, soon he will have no control over his life or death.  He makes a plan, and he asks Mai and Kaito to help.

The sparse language of the story is perfectly suited to the character of Sora and his love of both haiku poetry and Hayao Miyazaki's animated movies.  Neither of these forms wastes time or syllables to explain a situation, but rather depends on the intuition of the reader/viewer.  So it is with Last Leaves, in which characters meet online and form a strong friendship (and possibly a romance between Mai and Kaito!) without a bunch of exposition from the author.  

Sora's end-of-life choices may be distressing to some readers and objectionable to others.  However, the grace of the telling is undeniable.  This is an excellent book for discussion.