youth fiction review

learning to braid: reading the hunger games

It has been brought to my attention that I must be one of the very last people in the known universe that has not seen or read the Hunger Games trilogy. Not that I have been actively avoiding them, they’ve just been a thing I hadn’t got round to doing.

With the release of the Mockingjay Part One trailer and my new job in a spoiler-filled cinema, I figured it might be about time to join the ranks and fight the Capitol.

With this in mind, I set myself a challenge fit for Katniss Everdeen. The Challenge: to read the Hunger Games trilogy in a week. The Competitor: this totally-not-prepared and already sleep-deprived Cat. The Prize: the respect of my fellow housemates and friends, as well as the strength to face my job free from the fear of spoilers.

So far, my achievement list includes the first book, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins,  which I managed to read in under 24 hours.

The opening was a little slow and heavy with description which made the start feel a little dry and drab and didn’t really attach me to Katniss in the way I was initially expecting.

However, once the story picked up and the tributes were announced, I found myself totally sucked in to the world. The description was dispersed through the immense amounts of action and excitement, and even when nothing was happening plot-wise, something was always happening, character-wise. There is a brilliant balance between being plot-driven and character-driven which makes this book a page turner.

I will throw out a little warning. It is pretty confronting. I think I was less shocked because I was told by so many people how gruesome, gory or intense it was, so I wasn’t overwhelmed by what happened mostly, but there were definitely still some moments that pulled at the heartstrings (as well as the gag reflex).

At points, I found I had distanced myself and had forgotten the age or circumstances of the characters, but whenever this happened, there seemed to be an action or event that pulled me right back in to the confronting and harsh circumstances and the childish age of the characters.

Despite my best efforts, I did have a few spoilers up my sleeve, which I thought would have taken some of the pressure or stress out of the plot, but surprisingly and luckily it didn’t.

Instead I found myself still fearing for the characters, trying to figure out their next moves and trying to figure out the plot twists before they occurred. On the final two fronts, I was unsuccessful, still being constantly surprised by the characters, plot and writing.

The timing is perfect and Collins has created the suspense and tension in the book that regardless of what knowledge you had before, you genuinely connect with and fear for the characters. I definitely developed a respect and connection with Katniss and found myself easily falling in love with Peeta (I assume in this I am not alone!).

I also found myself strangely attached to some of the fringe characters, like Foxface, who was developed through Katniss’ limited experiences. These characterisations are obviously from Katniss’ point of view and I found myself sharing a lot of her respect and intrigue for some of them.

The first book for me was a total success and I’m very glad there are two more books to follow. I’m aiming to have the second book done by Thursday and the final book done by Saturday, so stay tuned.

From the reader who has already read the first page of the next book,

The Cat

the labyrinth 101: reading looking for alaska

It has been a while since our last post and I am going to remedy this fact. As the unemployed and perpetually bored partner of this duo I am going to attempt to maintain the blog while Curiosity is busy for the next month or two so bear with me on the results. For now I am definitely here and going to aim to post every weekend.

I know it was not long ago that I read another John Green book but he is just too good to save for later and with the announcement that Looking for Alaska is about to made into a film adaptation I thought now was an appropriate time to get everyone who hasn’t already read it to look into this book.

I have now read two of John Green’s four novels and am trying desperately (and with a tiny bit of success) to save the other two for my summer holidays. I now have them safely locked up in my housemate’s closet where they will stay until I have no uni left (or my lock picking skills improve dramatically).

Again, this man has jumped right into my chest and plucked my heartstrings like a professional harpist. I swear, he may as well just walk around with my heart in a jar from the skilled way in which he plays with my emotions.

Just like The Fault in our Stars, I managed to knock over Looking for Alaska in about 24 hours, mostly due to the amazing writing skills of this brilliant man (and only slightly because I am incredibly boring with not much to fill my days with).  By the midway point I was hooked and forfeited my personal appearance, hygiene and food intake for the remaining hours. If you have something to do, or somewhere to be, do not read John Green until you have done it. To date, apart from J.K Rowling, he is the hardest author to put down once you’ve started.

Like his other books, the characters are fantastically formed and completely thought out. Immediately I felt drawn into the world of boarding school, pranks and procrastinating homework. John Green expertly enters the mind of his teenage narrator and poses some thought-provoking questions.

The book is much more than a simple story. In a beautiful way that only John Green seems to capture, the book is underlined by fantastic and heart-wrenching concepts that go well beyond the normal themes of YA fiction. As I said, not since J.K. Rowling and Markus Zusak, have I seen such engaging YA fiction done so well.

Again, John Green has been successful in taking my world, shaking it around and turning my perspective completely upside down.  He has now easily made it as one of my favourite writers of all time and I can’t emphasise how highly or adamantly I think everyone should read his books. Nothing has changed my life this drastically since I discovered the magical properties of coffee.

From the reader who approves of the well-deserved attention and kudos John Green is getting,

The Cat

 

 

surfies, molls and vaseline: reading puberty blues

Hello lovely readers,

Again I have missed my deadline for my post and again I have a poor excuse for being late. Punctuality is apparently not my thing.

This week my excuse is I just didn’t have any free time, between searching for a new house in Melbourne (how exciting!), having all my family travel down and stay for the week (even more exciting!) and my twenty-first, followed by my cousin’s eighteenth (the most exciting!).

I think it’s safe to say, time for blogging was a little bit scarce. but please forgive me and let me make up for it by reviewing an iconic, and recently re-popularised, Australian youth classic, Puberty Blues.

Now I am one of the few who have not been sucked into the new tv series. I’ve heard such resounding reviews that I’ve actually avoided it for fear of detriment to my study.

But I did read the book, and all I can say is, I loved it. From page one I was sucked into the lives of Debbie and Sue, two thirteen year old girls, growing up in 1970’s Australia.

The book beautifully captures the difficulties surrounding boys and sex, alcohol and drugs and overall growing up as a teenage girl.

Around this coming-of-age story are the fantastic images of the 1970’s with straight-legged Levi’s, the drive-in, panel vans and the surfie culture of southern Sydney.

The plot bares all about the girls and their struggles, with parents, boyfriends, bullies and the desperate need to be accepted into the ‘cool’ group.

Surprisingly and impressively, the book and characters don’t become whingy and whining, nor are they common and stereotypical.

Unlike many other youth fiction books, especially those based on the experiences of teenage girls, the book remains enjoyable and the characters are elegantly simple.

The short novel is inspired by the experiences of the two authors, Kathy Lette and Gabrielle Carey, giving an authenticity to the plot and characters that brings them to life from the page.

The authors make you connect with Sue and Deb, as you, regardless of age, think back to your high school days of cliques, flirting and homework.

The books is a fantastic embodiment of a classic Australian coming-of-age story and beloved by many more than yours truly, with positive reviews from Germaine Greer to Kylie Minogue.

I finished the 150 page book in two days and would definitely recommend all those who haven’t read it do so (especially if you watch the tv show).

 

From the friend who encourages you to make good life choices, 

The Cat

15 clowns get out of a car and i run away: reading the night circus

Five out of seven days a week I give serious thought to running away and joining the circus—the other two I spend packing, regardless of the fact that I am not nearly coordinated enough to juggle, my jokes are awful and my one wild beast is neither wild nor a beast—he’s a dog with a lot of back fat and a severe case of textbook narcissism.

Nonetheless, I love the idea of the circus—endless junk food, big lights, clowns, monkeys with cymbals … it’s like the inside of my head in a big tent, what more could you want!

Combining the beauty of circus escapism into a world of uncannily colourful monochromes, Erin Morgenstern’s semi-youth fiction novel The Night Circus achieves all these wacky, beautiful things in spectacular style.

Any dedicated bookworm will tell you how rare it is to find a book that you don’t want to end—not a book that you look forward to reading again, but one where you truly dread turning the final page knowing that once it is turned, there won’t be as much magic the next time round.

The Night Circus is one of those books.

As much as I dislike the idea of unattainably beautiful teens biting each other and being frustrated, The Night Circus reinvents the youth genre with new characters, beautiful fairytale-esque storytelling, stunning craft and best of all—no vampires.

Truthfully, though, I struggled a little at first, mostly because of the strange choice of using a combination of present tense and second person narration.

This was a bit of a challenge—mostly because I think we have become happy to just accept past tense narration, so when something new comes along, we fight it … that and second person narration seems to have that undeniable connection to those awful choose-your-own-adventures that no-one ever finds, but seem to haunt us at every turn.

What I came to realise quite quickly is the narration works for the story in a way that a lot of novels struggle to pull off, offering this delicious immediacy and wackiness to the whole work.

It threw the whole story ever so slightly out of balance—real, but not quite—in a way that only a circus seems to be able to do and made even the most clichéd plot turns lovely for their familiarity.

If you have a tendency to put down youth fiction at the first mention of magic for fear of confronting some god-awful Twilight knock-off where the moral seems to always boil down to high school getting easier so long as you have a complexion vaguely resembling a shiny granite bench top in the morning sunlight, there is only one answer:

Read The Night Circus.

Resist the urge to throw this one out the window with the obligatory and resolute “Bad, bad beans!”

It is brilliant, stunning, and cheeky and precisely the book I wanted to find when we started the Red Chair Review.

While I maintain youth fiction is still a bit of a cesspit of profoundly overdone ideas, I cannot recommend The Night Circus highly enough for making the youth market more accessible.

It is stunning, escapist, extravagant and sexy—one I will be returning to very soon.

 

Sending you Vaseline and fishing wire from the friend who makes you wonder how they fit 15 clowns in that tiny little car …

Curiosity