What I’m Reading: August Edition

Before I get into this month’s reviews, I wanted to let you all know that I’ve been working on a secret side project with some of my wonderful writing friends (Caroline Richmond, Tracey Neithercott, and Sarah Enni, if you must ask) and I am incredibly excited to share it with you.* Stay tuned for details next week!

And without further adieu, my August reads:

I have been a fan of Laurie Halse Anderson since I read SPEAK years ago, but I somehow only just managed to pick up WINTERGIRLS this month. I listened to this as an audio book during my atrocious commute. When I finished, I looked at a few reviews online and saw people talking about strikeouts and page structure and it was only then that I realized I missed out on a certain element and style of this book. Just more proof that it is sometimes hard to recreate a physical book in the digital realm.

This book tackles some very heavy subject matter – anorexia and cutting, mainly. Anderson made it so easy to get inside Lia’s head. I understood how Lia viewed herself as strong, not sick. There were times I found myself thinking, “yeah, don’t eat that, you worked so hard,” and other time were I wanted to shake her and yell, “you’re killing yourself, please just eat this damn piece of toast!” Being able to sympathize with Lia, while also battling the urge to (literally) knock some sense into her was some brilliant writing work on Anderson’s part.

The most powerful part of this story though, was that I was able to see a piece of myself in Lia; the part that is never quite happy with how she looks, that is always aware of calories and how much she is eating. I am not Lia. I have never struggled with an eating disorder, but I have always struggled with body image. And I think a lot of girls have. That’s what makes this book so fantastic, that underlying personal connection. I suspect many readers can see a piece of themselves in this broken girl, and understand, perhaps far too easily, how a few steps in the wrong direction can turn someone into a wintergirl.

 

Amy Garvey’s COLD KISS is not my typical read. I have mentioned before that I am a) not big on romance and b) not big on paranormal. Well this book is both and I loved it. Wren has lost her boyfriend, Danny, in a tragic accident, and thanks to some powers that run through the women in her family, is able to bring him back from the dead. Kind of. Danny is not fully present and he’s not really the boy she loved when he was alive. And the longer “zombie” Danny stays alive, the more he begins to question things, and the more Wren loses control over him.

Paranormal stuff aside, this book felt incredible rooted in reality. Wren’s process of grieving, the emptiness that she feels in the wake of death, is incredibly well done. She goes to school. She battles an odd rift in her friendships, caused by avoiding her best friends in the weeks following Danny’s funeral. She has a challenging relationship with her mother, who has left Wren and her sisters to learn about, tame, and control their powers all on their own. And then there’s Danny. Oh, this boy will break your heart. Garvey gives you glimpses of the Wren and Danny that existed before the accident, and this makes Wren’s journey with the raised-Danny that much more gut-wrenching.  While a bit paranormal and a bit romance, this book is ultimately a beautiful tale about grief and mourning and learning to let go. It comes out very, very soon (I read an arc), and you should definitely pick it up!

 

I picked up David Levithan’s THE LOVER’S DICTIONARY because a) the cover is awesome and b) the structure (a love story transcribed by a nameless narrator over the course of “dictionary” entries) blew my mind. This is probably the only book I have ever read in a single day. It is a fast and quick read, but in no way light. This book is both funny and maddening, sweet and cruel. It is amazing how much complexity and honesty and emotion Levithan packed into these short dictionary entries. They read like poetry. Examples:

arrears, n.
My faithfulness was as unthinking as your lapse. Of all the things I thought would go wrong, I never thought it would be that.
“It was a mistake, ” you said. But the cruel thing was, it felt like the mistake was mine, for trusting you.

ineffable, adj.
These words will ultimately end up being the barest of reflections, devoid of the sensations words cannot convey. Trying to write about love is ultimately like trying to have a dictionary represent life. No matter how many words there are, there will never be enough.

See? If you need more reasons to pick up this book than the two above, maybe it’s just not your kind of book.

 

I saw a copy of Brian Selznick’s THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET in the audio book section of my library (after reading a physical copy), and thought to myself, “How on earth could that possibly have translated?” This is one of those books you must hold in your hands. The illustrations are beautiful and sometimes you flip through dozens of them before you return to text. I loved how these visuals told the story. In my opinion, they often told it more convincingly than the actual words. I enjoyed the experience of this novel – the mystery, the drawings, the unique page layout – but I felt the writing itself was a little flat. I never felt fully attached to the characters, and I was turning pages not always to find out the rest of their story, but to see it.

So I’ll say this: Hugo is an experience. Selznick is an incredibly talented illustrator and visual storyteller. This novel is formatted in a unique and completely satisfying visual manner. Writing aside, that experience alone is reason to pick up the book in my opinion. Don’t be intimidated by the 500+ pages, either. I don’t think I’ve ever read such a thick book, so quickly.

 

I already raved about Catherynne M. Valente’s THE GIRL WHO CIRCUMNAVIGATED FAIRYLAND IN A SHIP OF HER OWN MAKING. You can read my earlier, robust review here, but in short, this book is magical. The language, world building, characters. To me, it had an obvious Alice in Wonderland meets the Wizard of Oz feel, but it was completely original at the same time. This was the only MG book I read this month, and it was such a gem. Not only is the story fantastic and the writing drop-dead gorgeous, but the illustrations are incredible too! I highly recommed this once. (I gave a copy away, after all!)

 

I already gave a book away on my blog this month, but I might have to host another. Moira Young’s BLOOD RED ROAD was simply amazing and I’m naming it my favorite August read. The story follows Saba, as she ventures through a post-apocalyptic desert-land in search of kidnapped twin brother, Lugh. Saba is tough (she has the feel of Katniss) and her world is harsh (think Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome).

I fell in love with the writing style in this book. Prose is lose, with no dialog tags, and Young writes Saba’s story with a distinct dialect that makes her world come to life. I saw in some other reviews that people struggled with this writing style, but it only took me about two pages to get used to. If you pick this up and the style turns you off, I encourage you to power through, because what awaits is one heck of an adventure. Dusty dunes and cage fighting, boats that sail on sand and parched lake-beds that need crossing, not to mention a brilliant cast of characters and a heart-pounding, action-filled finish. Saba is an incredible character with some terrible flaws, and while this book is heavily plot focused, her growth does not go unnoticed. She starts out with a singular goal of finding her brother, and while this goal never falters as she travels, she learns to open up to others for the first time in her life – the younger sister she has always blamed for the death of her mother, the Free Hawks, a group of revolutionaries that get her out of a pickle, and Jack, a boy that is perhaps a bit too handsome for how long he holds her gaze. Read this so we can gush about it together. Please?

That’s all for me. How about you? What was your favorite read in August?

* No, we didn’t write a book together, although that would be awesome. This project is awesome in its own way.

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