Monthly Archives: November 2012
IT’S THE HOLIDAY SEASON! So what better book to read than one about snow, Christmas, and romance?
Let it Snow is a collab book, written in three parts by a few of YA’s biggest names: Maureen Johnson (oh, sorry, are you surprised?), John Green (you’re shocked again, right?), and Lauren Myracle. I don’t know what the process of writing this book was really like, but I kind of picture the three of them getting together and saying, “Let’s write a book that has weird, crazy adventures mixed in with cute, sweet romance!” If that’s not how the meeting went… well, that’s the book they turned out, anyway.
Just like chick-lit, I’m not much of a romance reader. I enjoy books with romance here and there, but I could never see myself enjoying a book that was completely about romantic relationships. Then this book came along. And maybe it’s because it’s YA romance (not slightly terrifying erotic romance), or because the relationships are just so darn cute, or the quality of the writing, but I LOVE this book. I bought it in 2008 and I’ve read it at least once a winter since then.
Each of the authors writes their own story, starring different characters, but like movies such as Valentine’s Day and Love, Actually, a major character in Story A is a minor character in Stories B and C. As opposed to a regular anthology or a book with two authors’ stories melded into one, Let it Snow keeps the awesome constant, but changes up the cast every hundred pages or so.
The first up is Maureen Johnson’s The Jubilee Express. Her main character Jubilee begins the story by swearing she is not a stripper (“You probably think I have heard the call of the pole. But no. If you saw me, you’d get the idea pretty quickly that I’m not a stripper [… I play field hockey, which lacks the undulating, baby-oiled grace that is the stripper’s stock and trade.”) When Jubilee (or Julie, as she introduces herself to people) finds out on Christmas Eve that her parents have been jailed due to a riot over a decorative Christmas piece, she hops on a train bound for Florida and her grandparents. Due to the gigantic snowstorm hovering over the south, the train is unable to make it and Julie meets a Target employee named Stuart at a Waffle House, where she’s gone for warmth and to get away from all the cheerleaders on her train. Upon finding out Julie has no place to go, Stuart asks her if she’d like to stay at his house with his mother and sister. Julie accepts, but the walk doesn’t go as planned; while crossing a frozen creek, the ice breaks. Since nothing bonds you to a stranger more than rescuing each other from hypothermia, Julie and Stuart become fast friends, both of them being fussed over post-hypothermia by Stuart’s mom, who has a slightly creepy determination to get Stuart and Julie together after Stuart’s recent heartbreak. Julie herself suffers heartbreak that Christmas Eve. Her perfect-in-pretty-much-every-way boyfriend Noah is being weirdly absent, even after Julie tells him she almost died in a frozen creek. After Stuart tells her for the millionth time that that is not how a good boyfriend behaves, Julie breaks up with Noah and, in order to keep herself from crying, kisses Stuart right afterward. The weirdness of their kiss prompts her to sneak out of the house, headed for her train or home or Florida- anywhere that is not Stuart’s house. But he follows her, if only to say good-bye, an encounter which turns into a much less awkward, adorable kiss. As they walk back to his house, Julie requests that Stuart not tell his mother about the kiss. ‘What?” he asks. “Don’t your parents cheer and stare when you make out with someone? Is that weird where you come from?”
Story #2 is John Green’s A Cheertastic Christmas Miracle. Stuck in the same snowstorm, Tobin and his friends JP and the Duke (the latter of whom is a girl) are perfectly content hanging out on Tobin’s sofa and having a James Bond marathon. But then their friend Keun, who works at the Waffle House, calls them to let them know that fourteen cheerleaders have just taken up residence in the restaurant. He invites them to come for some cheerleader action, and while Tobin and JP practically die of excitement, the Duke can only be persuaded to come with the promise of hash browns. Getting to the Waffle House proves more difficult than they planned, however; Tobin’s mom’s car may have 4-wheel drive, but it’s no match for the several feet of snow outside, and the car ends up stuck in a wall of snow. As they walk the rest of the way to the Waffle House, stopping every now and then to push each other over into the snowbanks, Tobin can’t help but notice how the Duke is walking. Or how pretty her curls look covered in snowflakes. Or how she’s so much more like a person than most girls are. When the trio finally reaches the Waffle House, only to be ignored by the cheerleaders, Tobin watches the Duke’s maybe-winter-formal-date Billy flirt with her and decides to retaliate by talking to a cheerleader. When the Duke leaves the restaurant upset, he follows her outside only to discover that it’s not Billy the Duke is interested in: it’s Tobin.
In the third and final story, by Lauren Myracle, Addie is not happy that it’s Christmas Eve. It’s her one-year anniversary with her boyfriend Jeb… or it would be if she hadn’t cheated on him. No matter who tries to cheer her up, Addie isn’t having any of it. Her guilt over what she did to Jeb is all-consuming, so it’s probably not the best time for her friends to tell her that she’s a little self-absorbed. They do, though, and to prove how selfless she is, Addie offers to pick up her friend Tegan’s final Christmas present: a (very expensive) teacup piglet. But the next day, while working the dawn shift at Starbucks, Addie allows trouble in Addieland to distract her, and by the time she gets to PetWorld, someone else has bought the pig. Though her break is long over, Addie is determined to track down the buyer of Tegan’s pig and get him back. Doing so requires battling snow, missing cars, the boy with whom she cheated, a classmate who hates her, and her own selfishness. In the end though, she manages to get the pig back to Starbucks and nestle him in a snow-themed coffee mug before Tegan comes to pick him up, while at the same time letting us know what happened to new couples Stuart and Jubilee, and Tobin and the Duke.
Johnson’s contribution to the book is an almost completely comic tale, so her wacky sense of humor really shines in The Jubilee Express. My roommates probably think I am crazy because I was lying on our couch cackling as I read the story for the millionth time. Stuart’s mother’s desperation to fix his broken heart and ridiculous. She constantly leaves the room to give Stuart and Julie “private time,” and at one point when she suggests the two cuddle up under a blanket, Julie comments, “Under any other circumstances, I would have assumed that meant, ‘Cuddle up under two separate blankets, spaced several feet apart, possibly with a lightly chained wolf between you,’ because that’s what parents always mean. I got the feeling from Debbie that she was fine with the situation, however we wanted to roll. If we felt the need to […] share a blanket to conserve body heat, she was not going to object. In fact, she was likely to turn down the heat and hide all the blankets but one.” Johnson does takes Julie’s relationship with Noah seriously, though- it takes Stuart pointing out what a crap boyfriend Noah is for Julie to recognize that Noah essentially keeps her around because she works in the picture of his life, not because he actually likes her. Julie doesn’t break up with Noah lightly- she makes constant excuses why he might be acting strangely- but when she does it, she’s sure and not at all sorry.
I also love Green’s story. Like Johnson’s contribution, it’s much more lighthearted than his usual style, but it’s a nice change. Green does funny and romantic very well, and I loved the slow reveal of deep-friendship-into-love between Tobin and the Duke, especially because neither of them was brave enough to admit how they felt about each other until they each made the other jealous. I think I’ve mentioned before that Green’s books can be a hit or miss for me, but besides loving this book, I also love his writing style, regardless of my feelings for the actual plot.
My opinion about Myracle’s piece is a bit different however. I’m not a fan of Myracle’s and haven’t been since I read one of her teen books many, many years ago. While most of the YA authors’ books that I read are composed by authors who flawlessly capture the teen voice, Myracle either tries too hard to incorporate “youthful” lingo, to the point where it sounds unnatural, or has her characters use their own “teen-y” words, which has the same effect. I also feel like she dumbs down her stories- at least three times, she takes several sentences to a paragraph explaining a term (such as “adopt out”) that the reader could easily figure out. Her teens, I suppose, are just too stereotypically teen-y for me. I prefer Johnson and Green’s characters, who are real people who just happen to be in their teens. While I don’t deny that young adults (and people in general) can be very selfish, Addie was so annoyingly self-absorbed (even after her magical “Christmas is for giving and being a better person!” realization) that I don’t want to spend any time with her. The only redeeming factor of Myracle’s contribution is that we get to find out what happened to the other couples.
But since you’re two-for-three with this book, you should definitely read it. I never get tired of it, especially this time of year.
“Do you still want to go out with me?” I asked. “Be honest with me, Noah.”
The other end of the line went silent for a long time. Too long for the answer to be “Yes. You are the love of my life.”
In the living room, Rachel was noodling around with the Mouse Trap, which still sat on the table. She gave me a big, toothy smile.
“Were you playing with Stuart?” she asked.
The question was loaded. I was a filthy, filthy woman, and even the five year-old knew it.
“I followed your footsteps,: he said, in answer to the unspoken question. “Snow makes it easy.”
I had been tracked, like a bear.
“I didn’t have to go that far, really. You’re about three streets over. You just kept going in loops.”
A really inept bear.
[JP] had found something terrible in the dark corner of my father’s closet: he wore a puffy, periwinkle onesie with tapered legs, an ear-flapped hat atop his head. “You look like a lumberjack with an adult baby fetish,” I said.
“Shut up, asshat,” answered JP simply. “This is ski-slope sexy. It says, ‘I’m just coming off the slopes after a long day saving lives with the Ski Patrol.”
The Duke laughed. “It actually says, ‘Just because I wasn’t the first female astronaut doesn’t mean I can’t wear her flight suit.'”
Oh, well. Stuart was with a lovely girl named Jubilee, and she wasn’t a stripper. That’s all that mattered.
Maureen Johnson is at it again! In this sequel to 13 Little Blue Envelopes, Ginny Blackstone, a few months older and more sophisticated, is preparing to apply to colleges. Her essay asks her to describe a defining experience in her life, and all she can think of is when her deceased aunt sent her on a journey through Europe, guided by the letters in thirteen little blue envelopes. But the problem is the ending to that story- the last envelope, the one with the final answer, was stolen. What kind of a conclusion is that to a college essay? But it seems that her journey is not quite over. Ginny receives an e-mail from a stranger, a boy named Oliver who bought her stolen bag while backpacking and discovered the letters inside. He wants to meet with her.
And so Ginny finds herself back in London, staying with her uncle and elated for another chance to see her “definitely something” possibly-boyfriend, the actor-playwright Keith. But things are not as they seem. Keith hasn’t waited around for Ginny- he has a beautiful new girlfriend- and Oliver doesn’t just want to return the letters, he wants half of the valuable art deal that the letter leads to. Within three days, Ginny, Oliver, Keith, and Keith’s girlfriend Ellis are squeezed into Keith’s car, heading for France and another adventure- or several.
Johnson, being a well-traveled person herself (she lives in England for about half the year), is the perfect person to write a European travel novel. She’s able to capture the wide-eyed tourist as well as cover ground that the more culturally well-rounded characters bring with them. As it happens, every major character is both of these at one time or another in the story, creating an interesting switch in dynamic as the group travels from France to Belgium back to London to Dublin. Johnson is also able to make her characters dynamic enough that, though many of the scenes take place inside a tiny car, said scenes are never boring.
As usual, this author uses her skills of comedy mixed with drama to take the reader on an emotional journey. Keith may be taken now, but Ginny still has strong feelings for him, and the reader wants him to kiss her as much as she does. Even without the romantic tension, the two of them have a great comedic dynamic. And then there’s the scene where Ginny takes the final letter to her aunt’s final resting place, does a rubbing of a gravestone (not her aunt’s), and calls her uncle while still atop the hill. It’s not overly sentimental, just sentimental enough to make you see that while Ginny loves her aunt, she’s still hurt that she didn’t know about her aunt’s illness until after it had taken her aunt’s life.
Possibly my favorite part of the novel are Ginny’s musings about the definition of the word “home.” ‘Home,’ she thinks while on her final tube ride in London. ‘It was a nice thought. She had missed her parents, her friends… but the word didn’t have quite the same meaning anymore. England was home, too. So much of her was here.’ And as her train nears the station: ‘[Ginny] wasn’t going to tell them the truth, that she wanted someone to block her path. SHe wanted this train to break down, for her flight to be cancelled, for immigration to tell her that she wasn’t allowed to go. She wanted London itself to rise up and refuse to let her pass out of its boundaries.’ I read this book when I myself was nearing my own lengthy stay in London, and I wept when I read that passage. Johnson’s passion for her adopted country comes through in Ginny’s voice, and it’s a beautiful thing.
My one problem with the novel is the chemistry between Ginny and Oliver in that there… wasn’t any. Actually, I take that back. There was chemistry, but not the romantic hate-into-love chemistry Johnson seemed to be aiming for and that everyone but me seemed to see. While other fans of the book swoon over the pairing, I only knew that Ginny liked Oliver because she willingly made out with him twice and claimed to feel passion. And while Johnson is a great writer of many things, including heart-fluttering kisses, every other Ginny-Oliver moment contained maybe-friendship, but never romantic feelings, at least from my point of view. Because I didn’t feel that they had romantic chemistry, the kisses felt out of place. In fact, in this second reading, I was actually looking for the reasons why Ginny was kissing Oliver. The first time: okay, she’d had a little too much champagne, and it was New Year’s Eve and they were both single and surrounded by couples sucking on each other’s faces, including the boy she loves and his beautiful, too-friendly-to-hate girlfriend. I, too, might feel the pressure to grab the only other single guy and join in the party. But the second time, when they’re both completely sober and Oliver continues to be stand-offish (and not in a cute oh-he’s-so-shy way) and they have yet another chemistry-less conversation… I was a little confused as to what encouraged Ginny to passionately kiss him in the middle of a train station. Oliver just doesn’t seem to like her very much, nor she him, and that made those otherwise well-written kisses a little unexciting.
This book is one I would recommend to anyone, but particularly anyone who loves to travel, who enjoys having their emotions toyed with a little bit, and of course, anyone who’s already a fan of MJ (and seriously, if you read this blog and you’re not yet, what is wrong with you?!)
Today’s note read: Sunday, December 12: FINISH ESSAY!!!!! NO, SERIOUSLY, THIS TIME FINISH THE ESSAY!!!!! […] She pulled it off the wall and tossed it into the trash. Shut up, note. She didn’t take orders from anything that had a glue strip.
“Those are the giant snowmen of Carnaby Street,” her uncle Richard explained. “Festive and disturbing, just the way we like it here. Don’t look them in the eye.”
Keith looked up partway, avoiding her face, instead tracing the outline of her new haircut. “Your hair. You changed it. You look like a news presenter.”
“Is that a good thing?”
“Clearly, you don’t know about my childhood obsession with the women who did the weather. My heart still flutters when I hear the word ‘precipitation.’ I don’t think I’ve ever seen you without braids. I thought your hair just grew that way.”
“I know [Romeo & Juliet] is one of your favorites,” she said.
“Well, who doesn’t like a romantic suicide pact?”
“Only bad people.”
Poor Richard. He didn’t deserve this. Every time Ginny walked in his door she was on her way somewhere else. Then again, he had let Aunt Peg live in his house and married her, so he clearly had a thing for flaky American types who liked to sneak off in the dead of night.
She didn’t want [Oliver] to have good qualities. Horrible people should be horrible all the time. That should be the law.
“Cheer up,” [Keith] said, putting an arm around her shoulders. “It’s me you’re with. Would I ever lead you to do something stupid? Best not to answer that. Just follow me down this dark path over here.”
“See those people?” Keith said, leaning into Ginny and pointing at the girl in the gold tights and her friends. “They know where to go. We will follow them, and all will be well. Look how shiny they are.”
“I have a plan,” Ellis said, as [Keith] half-carried her out. “We’ll get on the train, and I’ll ride in the toilet.”
“It’s like dating royalty,” Keith said.
She watched [Oliver] from the window as he left. He never turned back, just made his way down the street, tossing his lighter in his palm. Like nothing had happened at all. She felt a strangely familiar pang in her heart, but she couldn’t quite place it and didn’t feel like trying.
While the right mood can often find me shamelessly watching a chick flick, I’m not really one to read super girly books , and by “super girly,” I mean books that fail the Bechdel Test at every turn. But I liked the movie version of this book enough to check out the original source.
In Emily Giffin’s book, chronic good-girl Rachel White, a young attorney based in Manhattan, celebrates her thirtieth birthday in the first chapter. “I realize thirty is just a number,” she says. “That you’re only as old as you feel and all of that. I also realize that in the grand scheme of things, thirty is still young. But it’s not that young […] The feeling I have reminds me of New Year’s Eve, when the countdown is coming and I’m not quite sure whether to grab the camera or just live in the moment.” After accepting drink after shot from her hard-partying best friend from childhood, Darcy, things begin to get a little blurry. Rachel and Dex, her friend from law school and Darcy’s fiancé, stay behind the rest of the partiers for one more drink, and on the cab ride home, they’re suddenly kissing. And then they’re suddenly having sex in Rachel’s apartment. Oops.
As the September wedding date approaches, Rachel has to figure out what to do. Continue to see Dex, hoping he’ll break up with her best friend and be with her (and probably cause her to lose Darcy), or do the right thing and play her part as the faithful best friend and maid of honor and lose the love of her life.
Subconsciously, I had an idea of what these sorts of girly books would be like, and Something Borrowed falls into that category. Discussions about men are on almost every page. There’s a lot of kissing and sex (though, thankfully, nothing romance novel-worthy graphic.) The writing’s not as good as most of the books I read, but it’s an enjoyable light read.
One of the book’s shortcomings is Giffin’s early attempts to link Rachel’s panicked deiberations with her law school training, as she mentally defends her case to a jury. I thought that this was a great way of showing how logical Rachel is in the rest of her life and that Giffin would carry it through the entire novel, but the comparison disappeared until the end of the novel, and then it seemed weak and forced.
Giffin’s characters are relatable and likable. While Rachel is doing something questionable, we can see how much she truly loves Dex and how hard she still tries to be a good friend to Darcy. Her co-worker and friend Hillary is delightfully blunt and realistic in her urging that Rachel do something about the situation, and I fully believe that Rachel and her London-dwelling friend Ethan have been friends since elementary school . Marcus, the guy Darcy sets Rachel up with, is intelligent, witty, and an all-around good guy (not the slightly gross ladies’ man as he is in the movie.) I did question some of Giffin’s characterization though, mostly the inclusion of Ethan. Again, because of the movie, I have a soft spot for Ethan, who takes the place of Hillary in his advice giving and being present in NYC, as well as still being Rachel’s childhood friend. But had I not seen the movie first, I think that I would have been much more lukewarm about him. As a character, he is friendly and believable, but despite the existence of international phone plans, he’s too far away to be significant to Rachel’s story, and if I didn’t care about him so much before I read the book, I would have wondered why he was a character at all.
I also questioned the nature of Rachel and Dex’s relationship. Before the two of them start making out in the back of a cab, we hear nothing of any feelings for him, and until after they have sex, Rachel doesn’t say anything about even a little crush. But then, a few chapters in, Rachel gushes about how deep and serious her feelings for Dex have been since always, going all the way back to their first semester of law school and all the beautiful, hinting moments they had together their entire time in school. Dex also shows no attraction- and barely any connection at all- to Rachel until a few chapters in when he suddenly declares that he loves her.
Something Borrowed is not a perfect book, but it delivers what its intended audience wants: forbidden romance and questions of friendship and self. It is not a challenging read by any means, but it is enjoyable. However, and I have only said this twice before: the movie is better.
I tell myself there will be time to ponder tomorrow. Right now I will have fun. It’s the sort of thing that a disciplined person can simply decide.
I look up from my menu and glance at Darcy, worried that she will be able to see everything on my face. But she is oblivious. My mom always says that I wear my emotions on my sleeve, but unless Darcy wants to borrow the outfit, she doesn’t see a thing.
I smile and say hello, wondering if Jose recognized Dex from past visits with Darcy. I hope he doesn’t. It’s not just my parents from whom I want approval. I even want it from my doorman.
It is the way I have lived my entire life: avoiding regret at any cost. Being good no matter what. Good student. Good daughter. Good friend. And yet I am struck by the sudden realization that regret cuts two ways. I might also regret sacrificing myself, my own desires, for Darcy’s sake, in the name of friendship, in the name of being a good person […] I would be forced to live with “What if” forever.
“So what about you, Rachel?” Julian asks again, his dark eyes probing.
It is a common question during law-firm interviews, right up there with “Why did you decide to go to law school?” at which point you give the pat answer about the pursuit of justice, when what you are really thing is Because I’m a type-A high achiever with no idea what else to do; I would have gone to med school, but blood makes me squeamish.
This month is going to be a crazy one for me. In addition to the acting work I’ve finally gotten, I’m also doing National Novel Writing Month.
If you don’t know what National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo to us participants) is, check it out here. I’ve been doing NaNo since 2008, my freshman year of college. I failed miserably that first year, getting only about ten thousand words out of my paltry plot. Since then, however, I’ve won every year, cranking out novels of varying quality. This year, my novel has transformed from a fictional account of a girl striving to become her own person after fourteen years of national fame to a less fictional study of the intense emotions I’ve been feeling since graduating. While it’s probably healthy for me to make these explorations, it unfortunately means that when I don’t feel like delving into my feelings, I avoid writing like I never have before. We’ll see how this goes. I’m not prepared to deal with the consequences of losing for the first time in four years.
In other news, I got a very exciting e-mail this past weekend. In the midst of shooting a film and performing in a staged reading, I found out that I am going to be making my debut as a playwright in Philadelphia this month! One of my short plays has been chosen to appear in a festival about Generation Y, and I’m really, really excited. I’m also a bit stressed out. Just last night, I got another e-mail with suggested revisions. Some of them are pretty serious, and while I’m free to ignore them, I know I need to make some of them, and I also know that they’ll help. I only have a few days to make the changes, which adds a little more pressure. However, as stressed as I am about this, it’s also cool to have this problem. It makes me feel like a writer, and that’s a nice feeling.
I’m not much of a poetry person (ask Stuart), and because I don’t spend my time scouring poetry books, I’d never heard of Elizabeth Barrett Browning before I was introduced to a play about her (The Barretts of Wimpole Street) when I was in eleventh grade. Though I have read some of her poetry since, I am much more interested in Barrett Browning’s life than I am in her work. I bought the book Lady’s Maid so many years ago that I can’t remember purchasing it, and it sat on my bookshelf until I picked it up recently.
Margaret Forester’s book focuses not on Elizabeth Barrett Browning, but on the poet’s lady’s maid, Lily Wilson. Beginning when Wilson leaves her English country home for Barrett Browning’s father’s house in London, the book follows Wilson during her nearly twenty years of service to the poet, from before Barrett Browning meets her husband, Robert Browning, to the couple’s secret marriage, their travels all over Europe, the miscarriages and birth of their son, to name only a few years. While Wilson starts out as a timid servant, she soon becomes Barrett Browning’s biggest confidante and gains more confidence than she’s sure she is allowed as a maid. Eventually, that confidence turns into a sureness that she can support herself, especially after she falls in love with a fellow servant. Unfortunately, her mistress can’t find it in herself to support her maid as her maid supported her, instead seeing Wilson’s yearning for independence as a lack of love.
Forester’s novel is very, very, very long, nearly five hundred and fifty pages, but Forester’s style keeps the story from seeming overlong or the story from growing boring. Despite that the same thing happens again and again, I was never wishing for more action than was already present. It was interesting to see Wilsons’ growth from a sky, skittish twenty three year-old to a confident thirty year old, and beyond. At twenty three, despite the era in which she lives, Wilson is in no rush to get married. But the older she gets, and the more her sisters and friends take on stages that she has yet to conquer, she becomes less content with her single state. The book follows her through crushes, a broken engagement, falling in love for real, and the challenges of married life. More heartbreaking is that, after her first child is born, Wilson’s working-woman status does not allow her to keep her son with her, forcing her to leave the child with her sister for nearly three years, through the birth of Wilson’s second son. Forester’s writing made me feel Wilson’s sadness at the thought of her first son growing up without her.
Throughout her employment with the Brownings, Wilson becomes less a maid and more of a friend. While Wilson always remembers her place, the Brownings are always generous, much more generous than most employers were back then, insisting that Wilson rest when she is sick and that she has time for herself every day. And, just like any friends, the trio has arguments. The Brownings are shocked when Wilson requests more money toward the end of her employment with them, having been paid the same rate for more than ten years, and hurt when she says she will leave if they don’t give her a few more guineas.
The one thing I didn’t like about the book was Forester’s insistence on inserting Wilson’s letters to her mother, sisters, or friends in the middle of paragraphs; it gives the impression that she wanted to write the book in first person, but couldn’t quite do it, and so this is her way of making that happen in a more minor way. She does it constantly, and the shift is jarring.
Reading Forester’s book does not require an intense love of Elizabeth Barrett Browning to relate to the tale of her maid. Wilson is a relatable, likable character, even when she does unlikable things. If you like historical fiction, Forester’s Lady’s Maid is definitely one to check out.