Saturday, June 06, 2009

Wings - Aprilynne Pike

Yes, this is the first book I’ve read all of since About a Boy last year. I started reading something else but got bogged down … whereas I finished Wings in less than two days. It’s that kind of book!

I’m going to cheat a bit here and not do a proper review. But then this is "tomdg creates", not "other people create and I just pass comment" – and I did say a while ago that this was really about my take on what I read, and isn’t intended to be a proper review anyway.

I don’t read a lot of Young Adult fiction, I’m a bit old for that. (But then, I love chic lit and I’m a bit … well, male for that ...) but I really enjoyed this. I came across it because a long, long time ago (sorry, American Pie on the stereo ...) I bumped into the author online when we both posted blurbs to the terminal "Miss Snark’s Crapometer". I started following her blog, and watched with interest as she got an agent, wrote Wings, sold it, edited it, and then saw it leap to the top of the New York Times Bestsellers List. So after all that of course I had to read it. And then to cap it all, I won a copy through a contest on her blog! What a lovely person she is! Although I have to admit here that even in this day and age it would be stretching a point for me to say "I knew her before she was famous"!

One thing I liked about this was the way Laurel, the main character, struggles with being caught between the world she comes from and the one she lives in. Probably a common theme in this kind of fantasy, but it really spoke to me about the experience of being an immigrant – something I know a little about, having been brought up in the UK in an American family. I doubt whether that was intended (although you never know …) but certainly I felt a lot of that experience came out in the book.

Another highlight of the book for me was Laurel going to the ball in chapter 12. This really spoke to me about learning to be comfortable with who I am, and it’s a really charming chapter.

But what really makes this book great is the author’s habit of taking something that is a common theme and approaching it from a completely different angle. The obvious example of this is of course her take on faeries, which is not just original but also pretty well thought through. But a couple of other examples.

I read somewhere that the #1 cliché of YA fiction is "Kill the parents". Think Harry Potter … I can see that it’s a great plot device: otherwise, a lot of your protagonist’s problems will just be solved for them by their parents. But (and I know this from reading it in an interview!) Aprilynne Pike deliberately chose not to go down that route, because she wanted to show that a teenager can have a healthy relationship with their parents (I paraphrase … and as an aside, I read in a survey recently that the vast majority of todays teenagers think their parents CAN understand them – what are kids coming to these days?!?) And yet Laurel’s parents are not able to simply solve all her problems for her, for reasons that are not just believable but unavoidable.

And second, it’s a classic plotline to have a girl having to choose between two boys, one "good" and the other "bad". And superficially, that’s what we have here: David as the "good" one, and Tam as the "bad". Classic plotline, and one I am rather uncomfortable with. Except – Tam isn’t bad. Yes, he oozes sexuality in a way that made me a little uncomfortable given the "11+" on the cover, but the more we get to know him … well, I won’t say any more.

Everything you though you knew … whether it’s about faeries or about the clichés of YA fiction … get ready to think again.

When is book two out?


Friday, June 05, 2009

P.S. I Love You - Cecilia Ahern

I really enjoyed this book. I like chic lit anyway because it tends to be cheerful, to have characters I can relate to (i.e., normal people), and because it’s set in the world I live in (or something like it). It focuses on real people with real problems – in this case, most notably, how you cope when the love of your life has just died and you’re not yet 30. Sounds heavy, but it’s not – I never felt that the main character’s situation was trivialized in any way, and yet this is a really fun read.

I also like that this book has rather less (obvious) sex compared to most chic lit I’ve read. Maybe that’s an Irish thing? Either way, it works for me as it means I don’t have to try so hard to suspend my own moral values in order to enjoy the story. Certainly the book doesn’t feel very Irish – this doesn’t feel like someone writing about Ireland, just about home, and people are the same all over the world.

I sometimes complain about unrealistic coincidences in novels, and there was one little one in this book – but then, I think it gets away with it, because it’s not important to the plot and it’s really funny. And of course, coincidences happen all the time in real life.

Another thing I liked in the book was its attitude to work. Work in this book is not merely something you put up with so you can go out and party. Well, it is to start with – but part of the character’s journey is that she learns for the first time the joy of having the right job and doing it well.

I also really liked the ending. This book is not predictable, and as with the rest of the book, it didn’t go with the obvious twee answer. But it’s a happy ending and very positive.

One more thing about this book that amazed me – I can’t believe she was only 21 when she wrote this! I found it really thoughtful and perceptive, and definitely not the writing of someone who only got published because her dad was the prime minister! Ah, what have I been doing with my life ...