Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth Laban

This is a young adult novel that focuses on Tim MacBeth, a 17 year old albino that has transferred to a prestigious private school in upstate New York in the middle of his senior year. The motto of the school is "enter here to be and find a friend;" however, Tim has no interest in this. He just wants to finish school and move on, hopefully without drawing too much more unwanted attention to himself. Right away, Tim's plans go out the window when he finds himself falling for the homecoming queen, the "it" girl Vanessa, who is conveniently dating the most popular guy at the school. Vanessa is surprisingly sweet to Tim and really likes him as well. They begin a relationship that not too many people know about; and both are living under the Senior English project - The Tragedy Paper.

Even though this is classified as a young adult novel, you should by no means underestimate it because the novel is beautifully written and wonderfully crafted. It exemplifies the saying "Less is more," in its accessible and simple style. All of my senses were utilized, enabling me to picture the school and experience what the characters did, without unnecessary exposition. The author did a really good job in building up tension and then delivering. I felt like Laban told an authentic story that was easy to relate to.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

AFter reading this 2012 winner of the Orange Award, I learned that Miller studied drama at Yale and that her specialty was adapting the classic Greek and Roman myths into stage productions for modern audiences and that's when I realized that this wonderful book came "naturally" to her as a first time novelist. We are immediately transported to the Ancient Greece of the heroes that we know so well and we meet a less well known (er, ok, unknown completely) young man named Patroclus. Patroclus is a prince, who as a young boy is one of the contenders of Helen's hand and who subsequent to his rejection, killed another boy. Patroclus is, as a result, disowned and sent to Phthia as an exile to live in the palace of the king. While there, he becomes friends with Achilles, the half human/half God prince and becomes his companion. Where Patroclus is geeky and awkward, Achilles is strong, handsome and has none of the growing pains that a normal teenage boy should have. They eventually become more then companions, if you get my meaning - which is something that Achilles' goddess of a mother does not like at all.

It becomes something more than a simple re-telling. It becomes about love and betrayal and honor and pride and what happens when a person has too much of each and the lessons are told to us against the backdrop of the Trojan War. It is a war beset with massive amounts of interference on the part of the Gods, who seem fickle and are never happy with anything that happens. Miller does a magnificently seductive job of telling the story and Patroclus is very complex. While he may be pathetic when faced with the Gods and their inane ability to pull the strings of their puppet humans, Patroclus is nonetheless likeable. He's practical and down to earth - the guy that you'd be friends with because he's funny and smart and observant but approachable and humble at the same time. I really enjoyed this novel and eagerly await her next.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Broken Harbor by Tana French

This novel is one of Tana French's Dublin murder squad books. I think that she has two (that I'm sure of) and possibly another additional one out there. I liked both of the ones that I read so when I saw that she had a new one, I started salivating over it and here we are. In this novel, Mick "Scorcher" Kenned - a supporting actor from her novel, Faithful Place, published in 2010, - takes center stage in this novel. His goal is to attempt to figure out what happened in the early morning hours and which resulted in the death of two children and their father and left their mother barely alive and clinging to life. The setting is a development that was obviously intended to be upscale - the homes were designed to be beautiful and are overlooking the sea of a former resort town (that ironically, Mick used to visit with his family). The development hasn't been completed : there are shells of homes and half built homes and empty homes all over the place because the recession has hit hard and people aren't buying homes anymore. It also cost the father of the family his job and the family was struggling to hold it together.

The investigation appears to encompass all of the contacts that the family has - at various points, a close friend and the mother's sister are suspected of the brutal attack - and yet many questions focus on the insular family as well. Had the father gone insane and become dangerously obsessive with providing for his family? Was it random or were they targeted by a person who was surveilling them?

What I loved about this book was that it wasn't just another murder mystery. I felt like French was delving into complex psychological issues. She took on the issue of good people that play by the rules being ruined by things that may be beyond their control. She deals with the tenuous position that family members deal with in having family members that suffer from a significant mental illness and who are not treated, whether by choice or circumstances. Mick's sister deals with what I think might by schizophrenia - at various points she talks about hallucinations - and it's painful to watch him have to go through deciding what to do when their other sibling can't help with her and yet, he has to go work. It also takes on the dire straits that Ireland's economy is in and what happens to the people that live there.

French has created a suspenseful plot while also developing believable and flawed characters. She deals with everything from the ugliness that can be police work to the everyday struggles that people have to deal with in difficult times. And she does it in a way that is lyrical, simple and yet so moving and beautiful. A must read.

The Power by Naomi Alderman

If you liked The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, you will want to read this dystopian novel, which has won a number of awards in th...