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Experimental Fiction

Recently I wrote on a post with some adult book mini-reviews, and it occurred to me that though I had rather opposite reactions for the two books I reviewed, they both had at least some experimental fiction elements (although in the case of House of Leaves, "some" implies a rather... large quantity). This got me thinking on what works in experimental fiction and what doesn't - for me, of course, because I'm sure everyone's opinion will differ on this subject!

In general, I think there are two classes of experimental techniques: one relating to what's written and the other to how it's written. I am a voracious reader of the first and adore short stories of the ilk published in, for instance, elimae, and so I devour books written like this as well. As for the second, I like it to an extent but sometimes it comes across as... gimmicky to me.

For example, Jennifer Egan had an experimental chapter that was written entirely in PowerPoint, and though that sounds weird, it worked and carried across intense emotion to the reader. In contrast, Mark Danielewski's experimental devices were just... confusing to me and made it harder to read (such as having to use a mirror to read passages and frequently turning the book upside down).

What do you think of experimental fiction?

Waiting on Wednesday (64)

This week, I'm waiting on...

Boy Nobody by Allen Zadoff. Here's what Goodreads has to say: Boy Nobody is the perennial new kid in school, the one few notice and nobody thinks much about. He shows up in a new high school, in a new town, under a new name, makes few friends and doesn't stay long. Just long enough for someone in his new friend's family to die -- of "natural causes." Mission accomplished, Boy Nobody disappears, and moves on to the next target.

When his own parents died of not-so-natural causes at the age of eleven, Boy Nobody found himself under the control of The Program, a shadowy government organization that uses brainwashed kids as counter-espionage operatives. But somewhere, deep inside Boy Nobody, is somebody: the boy he once was, the boy who wants normal things (like a real home, his parents back), a boy who wants out. And he just might want those things badly enough to sabotage The Program's next mission.

Conspiracy book? Sounds good to me!

What are you waiting on?

Adult Book Mini-Reviews

This is, of course, a blog dedicated to young adult fiction, but recently I've been reading more and more adult books. Since I don't want to encroach on the deluge of YA fiction, here are three mini-reviews of adult books.

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. This is not so much a single story driven by one plot as a collection of characters. Most chapters could very well stand on their own, but such a reading experience would be lacking the coherency provided by the intersection of the characters' lives. The plot lines weave intricately and beautifully together, accompanied by deceptively simple but evocative prose, and the story and somber tone alike elicit an array of emotions. Jennifer Egan has the remarkable talent of taking something unexpected and twisting it into the most beautiful thing you have ever seen, and that's why she had an entire chapter written in PowerPoint that just worked.

Recommended? Immensely so.

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. This is the kind of polarizing book that you either get or don't, and as much as I wish I could be in the former camp, I am not. House of Leaves is written in experimental form, and while I did understand (hopefully) the purposes of most of the strange literary devices he was using and the kind of effect meant to be get across, it just didn't work for me. Every review I've read about this has raved about how fascinating, how deep, how incredible this book is, so I feel like I'm breaking some literary law by saying that even though I think Danielewski is a remarkable writer, I just didn't really enjoy the experience of having to alternately rotate my book and use a mirror to read half the pages.

Recommended? Yes, if you like very experimental fiction. No, if you think you do but apparently actually don't. No, if you already know you don't.

Breaking Beautiful: Review

Title: Breaking Beautiful
Author: Jennifer E. Shaw
Release Date: April 2012
Published By: Walker Children's
Pages: 354
Goodreads Rating: 3.94 stars

Review: Allie lost everything the night her boyfriend, Trip, died in a horrible car accident—including her memory of the event. As their small town mourns his death, Allie is afraid to remember what she’s kept hidden for so long: the horrible reality of their abusive relationship. When the police begin to investigate, it casts suspicion on Allie and her best friend, Blake, especially as their budding romance raises eyebrows around town. Allie knows she must tell the truth. Can she reach deep enough to remember that night so she can finally break free?

BREAKING BEAUTIFUL presents an emotional story overlaid with subplots of romance, and while I thought one of them worked well, I wasn't so sure about the other. By the one that worked well, I'm referring to Allie's relationship with Trip. Even though that wasn't truly a romance by any means, the way she felt during it was painfully real, from the dizzying feelings of love to the hurt and fear as he revealed his true self. 

What didn't feel as real was Allie's relationship with Blake. There wasn't anything hugely wrong with their romance, but the whole concept of it just felt rather cliche. It's exactly what you would expect with this kind of book without bringing anything new to the table, so as a result, much of this subplot came across as rather predictable. There also wasn't anything particularly special about Blake, so his personality didn't improve their lackluster romance.

I also felt that the emotions in this novel weren't as good as they could have been. This book was, in some ways, a murder mystery, a romance, and a grief story combined, but I didn't find the mystery too suspenseful, or the romance too compelling, or the grief too provoking. I'm not saying that this book was bad, per se, because there was some suspense and romance and sadness in here, but it's not the kind that would stand out to you. 

All in all, BREAKING BEAUTIFUL is a book with a lot of potential that doesn't quite reach it. The back-story was masterfully done, particularly the relationship between Allie and Trip, but the new romance could have been better. There were plenty of emotions present although not as heightened as they might have been and thus they neither helped nor hurt the book. I would still recommend this to those who are intrigued by the summary, and I still look forward to reading future novels by the author. 

Waiting on Wednesday (63)

This week, I'm waiting on...

Undone by Cat Clarke. Here's what Goodreads has to say: Jem Halliday is in love with her gay best friend. Not exactly ideal, but she's learning to live with it.

Then the unspeakable happens. Kai is outed online ... and he kills himself.

Jem knows nothing she can say or do will bring him back. But she wants to know who was responsible. And she wants to take them down.

A searing story of love, revenge and betrayal from a bestselling author.

City of Bones Trailer Release

The movie! It's coming! It's finally coming!

Waiting on Wednesday (62)

This week, I'm waiting on...

The Gathering Dark by Christine Johnson. Here's what Goodreads has to say: Keira’s hallucinating. First it’s a door hovering above the road; then it’s a tree in her living room. But with her parents fighting and her best friend not speaking to her, Keira can’t tell anyone about her breakdown.

Until she meets Walker. They have an electric connection, and somehow he can see the same shadowy images plaguing Keira.

But trusting Walker may be more dangerous than Keira could have ever imagined. The more she confides in him, the more intense—and frightening—her visions become. Because Walker is not what he appears to be. And neither are her visions.

How awesome does that sound! What are you waiting on this Wednesday?

The Absolute Value of -1: Review

Title: The Absolute Value of -1
Author: Steve Brezenoff
Release Date: September 2010
Published By: Carolrhoda
Pages: 264
Goodreads Rating: 3.53 stars

Review: Noah, Lily, and Simon have been a trio forever. But as they enter high school, their relationships shift and their world starts to fall apart. Privately, each is dealing with a family crisis—divorce, abuse, and a parent's illness. Yet as they try to escape the pain and reach out for the connections they once counted on, they slip. Noah’s got it bad for Lily, but he knows too well Lily sees only Simon. Simon is indifferent, suddenly inscrutable to his friends. All stand alone in their heartache and grief.

THE ABSOLUTE VALUE OF -1 quite simply gutted me. Each character outwardly seems unlikable from their initial personality characteristics, but as the author delves deeper into each of their individual points of view, the "true" characters begin to emerge. Each has their own heartbreaking story to tell, and although they were very different from one another, the author managed to avoid a common pitfall of novels with changing perspectives: having one character favored over others. 

Of course, I would be remiss not to mention the writing. Every word written in these pages was phenomenal, to say the least. This book had the kind of quietly heartache-y writing that I love so much, so you can bet this is one huge factor for why I fell in love with this novel. The plot already had plenty of emotion infused in it, but this certainly brought it out even more to the point that I even cried while reading this.

There's not too much to say about THE ABSOLUTE VALUE OF -1 other than that you should absolutely  read it if you haven't already. This book pulls a massive emotional punch, but just the kind you want to receive. Everything is so heart-breaking and so authentic and so heart-breakingly authentic that you emerge from this book feeling almost changed. I can't recommend this enough. 

Size 12 and Ready to Rock: Review

Title: Size 12 and Ready To Rock
Author: Meg Cabot
Release Date: July 2012
Published By: William Morrow
Pages: 361
Goodreads Rating: 3.74 stars

Review: Just because it's summer at New York College doesn't mean assistant residence hall director Heather Wells can relax. Fischer Hall is busier than ever, filled with squealing teenage attendants of the first ever Tania Trace Teen Rock Camp. But the real headache begins when the producer of a reality TV show starring Tania - who just happens to be newly married to Heather's ex-boyfriend Jordan Cartwright - winds up dead . . . and it's clear that the star was the intended victim.

I didn't realize until a bit into SIZE 12 AND READY TO ROCK that there are other books preceding this one, but luckily I found that it didn't seem to detract from my reading experience at all. It seems that regardless of which Heather Wells book you plunge head-first into, there's always plenty to love, especially, in my opinion, Heather's wonderfully snarky voice. I love a strong female protagonist who's not afraid to tone down the wit, and that's exactly the kind of voice leaking off every page.

In addition to Heather's great voice, the other characters all had wonderfully written personalities as well. By this I don't mean they were all necessarily likeable - a mystery with all likeable characters wouldn't be very fun at all - but they all came across as three-dimensional and realistic. They seemed almost like real people who could step off the page at any moment, and their relationships were filled with fun, naivety, and emotion.

Of course, you can't write a review of a mystery without actually addressing the mystery. Much of the background of this book felt like how you would set up a chick lit, with spunky characters and complicated relationships, but then Meg Cabot brought in the murder element and everything took on a different tone. The mystery was well-written, suspenseful enough to keep me turning pages and questioning who the killer is, and the final reveal was done very well.

This was the first Meg Cabot book for adults I've ever read, and I was not disappointed in the least. From the excellent cast of characters to the suspenseful mystery, this novel will keep you on your tones. It wasn't anything world-shattering, but it's the kind of book with a feel-good touch to it. If you're looking for a fun book to relax with that isn't trite, SIZE 12 AND READY TO ROCK is perfect.

Hurricane Sandy Update

As I'm sure all you Northeasters are aware, Hurricane Sandy has hit, and she has hit hard. My power's been out since Monday and I might not get it back until as late as next Saturday so... until then, not much in the way of posting is going to happen.

For everyone else affected by Sandy, stay safe. <3