Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Review: Every You, Every Me

My coworker handed me a copy of Every You, Every Me by David Levithan last week, and just flipping through it pulled me in. I put aside the book I was reading and jumped right in. The book is unusual and captivating from the very first page.

Something has happened to Evan's best friend Ariel - we the readers aren't let in on what exactly has happened to her or where she might be now - and every day seems to be a struggle for Evan to put her behind him. Now that she's gone, he's left with a lot of acquaintances. The only real friend he has is Ariel's boyfriend, Jack, and the two are left clinging to their memories of the one girl they both loved. Out of the blue, Evan starts receiving photos of himself and Ariel and these other kids he has never seen. Is Ariel leaving them for him? Jack tells him it's impossible (Ariel is dead gone and not coming back), but the mystery of the photos drives the story forward.

The book contains full color prints of these photographs, but the most compelling part of the novel is the typesetting. The book reads like a long letter that Evan is writing to Ariel, with words or whole sentences struck out (but still legible) like he can't wrap his mind around the correct words to write. (You can get an idea of what I'm talking about in the preview here.) It reminded me of one of my favorite novels, House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski (or really anything by Danielewski), which plays with formatting as much as it plays with story. When this technique is done right (as it is here and in House of Leaves), the story is much stronger for it, and it provides the reader with a mechanism to compel the story forward. I'm not saying I want to see every author try this, because it takes a deft hand to do it right, but when I find someone who does it justice, I'm happy no matter where the story goes.

That being said, I did have some issues with this book. **HERE BE SPOILERS** For the entire length of the book, we're left wondering if Ariel is dead or alive. Did she commit suicide or just attempt it? Is she in a coma or in a locked hospital ward or did she just run away? Evan and Jack had a part in whatever happened - the book kind of becomes an I Know What You Did Last Summer thing - but it's hard to reconcile what their part might have been if we don't know what happened. And you know what? That was all fine to me. The mystery drove the story forward. And then. The big deus ex machina comes in the form of a girl who informs them that she was really Ariel's best friend all along, and that she blames them for her now being institutionalized. Really? Secret best friends? Especially a secret best friend who is angry that her friend is still alive because the girl's public best friends saved her? Sorry, not buying it. And I'm not quite so sure why Evan feels so guilty about saving Ariel's life or why he thinks her parents hate him so much. I mean, I know how teens can get all in-their-heads about stuff, but I had a hard time reconciling Evan's feelings with the conclusion. **THERE BE SPOILERS**

Comments about the ending aside, I really loved this book. From the title (taken from a Placebo song) to the  formatting to the photos to the mystery to the general teen angst, I was completely there and in it. This book is definitely worth a look, if for nothing else than to experience the journey of it.

Buy this on Amazon
Buy this at a local indie through Indie Bound

3/5 stars (the ending knocked it down a bit for me)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Review: The Night Circus

It's rare that a book's atmosphere overshadows its plot, but in Erin Morgenstern's debut novel, The Night Circus, I found myself caring less about what was happening and more about where it was happening. Specifically, the night circus of the title, Le Cirque des Rêves.

Le Cirque des Rêves rolls into town unannounced, sets up without fanfare, and opens its gates at dusk. It is exquisitely detailed, every inch of it black or white, and is filled with tents that boggle the mind or tear at our sense of possibility. Explore all you want - there's always more to see.

The plot itself is interesting, too, although it is overshadowed by what feels like the main character, the circus. The story begins with two master magicians and a bet. Each magician chooses a student - Celia and Marco, in this instance, although the bet has been played out by these two magicians before - and teaches them all they need to know in order to win the game they're playing. The game, though, is never explained to the students, and they are left filling in the details for themselves as they go.

Add to that a plot about a boy, Bailey, who first encounters the circus as a child, then comes across it again as a man deciding whether to take on the family business or strike out on his own. At first, the story jumps back and forth between these two plot lines, but of course, they begin to converge.

Like I said, though, the atmosphere of the book mattered so much more to me than the actual plot. Sure, I was interested in the story behind the circus and how the game between Celia and Marco was to be played out, but when I finally got to the ending, I didn't care much anymore. I was just upset to see my journey with the circus end.

Truth be told, I was not entirely happy with the climax of the book as I was reading it. It felt a bit rushed and out of place. When I read it, I thought it might have ruined an otherwise beautiful book. It's been a little while since I finished the book, though, and I'm coming to terms with the ending. In hindsight, it seems right and just - and the only way to keep the circus alive, which is just how I want it.

Besides my out-right love for the atmosphere of the book, I also have to commend Morgenstern on her use of tenses and perspectives. The main narrative is told in the present tense - something that many writers try and fail terribly at. Instead, its use makes the story feel urgent, a big feat for a story that spans over 30 years. Interspersed throughout the narrative are short chapters written in the second person (still present tense), offering glimpses of the circus as a visitor would see it (Example: "You cannot bear to watch. You cannot look away."). I loved how each of these, usually only a page long, pulled me deeper into the world of the circus. Perhaps this is why I felt the atmosphere was the strongest character.

There's been a lot of hype around this book, most of it just, but the comparisons as "the next Harry Potter" or to Twilight are all wrong. In fact, I got in an argument with a coworker over whether to shelve this in our bookstore's Young Adult section or not (the correct answer is no, but I let the coworker keep a couple in her display anyway). Also, apparently the Wall Street Journal thinks three stories written over 20-something years makes a trend? Just forget anything you've read about The Night Circus (other than that it is GOOD) and form your own opinions on it.

Buy The Night Circus on Amazon
Buy The Night Circus from an indie bookshop near you through Indie Bound

5/5 stars

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Welcome to The Reading Mouse

Welcome to The Reading Mouse!

I started blogging about books in 2008 at Consider the Daffodil, but between work and school and life in general, the blog fell by the wayside. I restarted the blog again this year after I started working at a Boston-area independent bookstore. I quickly became aware that I was the only bookseller who read Young Adult books, and I've become the go-to bookseller for YA recommendations. I'm also a librarian by training, and I really love finding the right book for the right kid.

So when I restarted Consider the Daffodil, I didn't feel at home. The title, taken from an old Deep Thought (Consider the daffodil. And while you're doing that, I'll be over here, going through your stuff.), was amusing to me when I started the blog, but it didn't say anything to me or about me anymore. After much brainstorming, The Reading Mouse was born for two reasons.

First, my father's pet name for me is the Armenian word for mouse. He still calls me by it sometimes, even though I am far from a little mouse anymore. And my parents have always encouraged me to read.

Second, I bought this cute lamp a few years ago with a tiny mouse reading a book. At the time, I just thought it was cute, but it quickly became a key piece of decoration in the little reading nook in my bedroom. I couldn't imagine not having him in my home now.

Anyway, this is my new home for writing about books. I've added the reviews I've already written this year just to keep them in one place. I also write about food at Cave Cibum and crafts at Making Islands. Please feel free to play along - I'd love to hear what you think about the books I review here.