Friday, July 1, 2016

Shorter Musings: Recent YA Reads

Here are some shorter musings on some recent YA reads.

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge
I wish someone would have warned me that 2016 was the year the majority of my favorite authors would disappoint me. This book has won a lot of awards (including the Boston Globe Horn Book Award for fiction announced today an hour or so after I finished reading it), yet I feel it is the weakest of all Hardinge's books to date. The concept of the tree itself is intriguing but the way it manifests itself in the narrative is unimpressive. It is a tool of supernatural forces in an otherwise realistic setting that allows the heroine to investigate her father's death, but then conveniently doesn't need to be dealt with further at the end. When you add to that the feeling I could not shake that I was meant to be taking a lesson in how dumb religion is and pure and perfect science is form its thematic presence, well....I lost all tolerance with the book. I would LOVE a book that explores the tension between science and religion with nuance. Hardinge could have done that. She has dealt so well with tricky themes (censorship, imperialistic racism, political and economic oppression) brilliantly before. The difference is here every character and plot point feels manipulated to make her point whereas in her other books they flow naturally out of the intricate worlds and characters she created. Yes, this has won a lot of attention, but I recommend reading pretty much anything else Hardinge has written if you are trying to find a good starting place for her books. (My favorite is A Face Like Glass, which tragically still hasn't been published in the US. But this was. Grrrrr.)

Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee
Mercy is a progressive and modern female character yet she never feels out of place in this historical setting. Lee did an excellent job of balancing Mercy's independence and drive within the historical constraints of the time. Mercy never felt like a girl out of her time, just one ahead of it. Having a novel about the San Fransisco earthquake told through the eyes of a Chinese heroine is also a great plus. All around this is really good: great story, wonderful characters, just the right amount of romance.

Rook by Sharon Cameron
This book is a lot of fun. It is a futuristic adventurous retelling of The Scarlet Pimpernel. As such, there is a lot of double-speak, spying, melodramatic shenanigans, and a hefty dash of romance. It is just fun. I do wonder how a person who had never read the source material would approach it or respond to the characters. I think a lot of my connection to them came from what I knew the characters in the original. There are some things that don't make a ton of sense to me. Like how centuries into the future France and England are repeating almost exactly the history they lived during the French Revolution. There is also a lot of double and triple crossing in the book that requires a lot of exposition and people explaining themselves. In all honesty it could be shorter. But still. It was fun. And it is a stand alone-a definite plus if you're looking for a read that won't have you anticipating a sequel.

Up to this Pointe by Jennifer Longo
This is a book that is equal parts ballet and science station in Antarctica. I bet no one ever predicted that combination and yet it works incredibly well, because at the heart of both stories is Harper. Harper is a girl who is figuring herself, her future, and what she wants from life out. She has friendship troubles, romantic troubles, and has experienced having her dreams crushed. That is a story any teen can relate to. I thoroughly enjoyed the relationships here and the dialogue. The author is a talented writer. I do think there is a lot that could have been cut out to make it shorter. The author clearly did a lot of research and knew her stuff, but we as readers don't necessarily need all the information she gave us for the story to have impact.


Maureen E said...

I had such a different reaction to The Lie Tree that now I both do and don't want to go back and reread it to see if my perception changes.

Brandy said...

Looking through the GR reviews, I saw others that came away with the same reading, but we are definitely in the minority. Maybe give it some time? That's often what I have to do if I want to reread something I love after seeing it critiqued.

Kim Aippersbach said...

I will say that The Lie Tree wasn't my favourite Hardinge, and I totally get what you're saying about the treatment of religion. But I was still blown away by her fantastic writing, so I still thoroughly enjoyed it.

I started Rook and really wanted to like it because I love The Scarlet Pimpernel. Now I can't remember why I gave up on it; I think it was the writing that bothered me.

Brandy said...

The sentence level writing was still extraordinary. (as Hardinge always is) I could not shake my annoyance though.

Rook was too long. There were a lot of pages I skimmed. Like I said, could have used more editing. But it's fun for what it is.