Monthly Archives: December 2017

Wild Bird by Wendelin Van Draanen

9781101940440

by Wendelin Van Draanen
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Ok, I had my doubts, but holy crap this book. Wren’s story is told in flashbacks, going both forward from the moment she is abducted from her bed by a police officer and taken to a wilderness therapy camp in Utah, and from the beginning of her friendship with a girl named Meadow, going forward to how Wren’s life unraveled to the point of needing drastic measures.

It appears that Wren’s problems started when her family moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles for promotions for each of her parents. With the money came a larger home and more space to lose each other, as Wren realizes. Her close, cozy family started to unravel and she appeared to have taken it the hardest. Her older sister made new friends right away and went on her merry way, but Wren got teased for her name. The only person who would befriend her was Meadow, who suffered the same fate. But Meadow mistreats Wren, who, though she tries hard to break off the friendship and make other friends, is unsuccessful and eventually falls back into shoplifting and pot-smoking (Wren is in 6th grade when this starts).

I was very skeptical that Wren’s journey of 8 weeks in therapy camp would be able to be told realistically and touchingly, but it is. Van Draanen’s writing is so natural – angry, closed, sad, pensive, revengeful, and penitent – that each turn in her winding road is completely believable and you both love and pity her by the end. Sure, she made decisions, but she did them to adapt to circumstances beyond her control, and in reaction to parents and an older sister who didn’t pay attention until it was too late. Yet, it’s so easy to see how her family didn’t notice, and they are painted as complex beings with their own needs too, and so you can also see how they made the decisions they made.

At various points all the way through, I was sobbing along with Wren. I had the misfortune of finishing this up in a breakroom full of lunching coworkers (all reading silently, thankfully, except there was no chatting to cover up my sniffling) so I couldn’t fully revel in a good cry, but it was still cathartic to finish it, toss the book down in front of the teen librarian, and dramatically flop over and weep about having a book hangover. And then go back to work.

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

9781481438254

by Jason Reynolds
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Before he was killed, Will’s brother taught Will The Rules: No crying, no snitching, and get revenge. Those are the guidelines for survival in their neighborhood, and Will takes them literally, until the morning after his brother’s death. In the elevator down to take care of the third rule, ghosts from Will’s path enter on each floor to tell him something he didn’t know about their death and how it is from the other side. In the 60+ second elevator ride, Will finally learns there is another way to deal with his brother’s death.

It took me two tries (and a pep talk from our teen librarian) to get into this one. As with many books, by the time my hold came in I’d forgotten what had actually hooked me about it, but she helped me remember. (Also the device of the 60-second elevator ride composing most of the narrative doesn’t kick in until after dozens of pages of backstory.) Once I was into it, though, this novel in verse slowly and subtly and then all at once left me agog with the topic fitting snugly into a hugely important gun violence discussion happening on the national level. There were several times when Reynolds’ mastery of language and mirroring had me gaping at his brilliance. (Spoiler: I fully expected Will’s mind to have been changed in 60 seconds but the ending made me unsure and I had to double-check with the teen librarian.)

This one is thematically more like All-American Boys than As Brave As You, but less like either of them than like, say, Booked or The Crossover.

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

9780525555360

by John Green

Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

I feel like I have to tread carefully here because it seems like everyone else LOVED this book. It was solid, don’t get me wrong. But I kind of thought that it would be… I don’t know… more, somehow, than it is.

Aza Holmes, aka Holmesy (to her best friend, Daisy Ramirez), is drawn into solving the mysterious disappearance of a billionaire whose son, Davis, was a friend of hers years ago at a camp for kids who had lost a parent. (Davis lost his mom; Aza, her dad.) Daisy pursues the case for a while, until Aza has reconnected with Davis and fallen into a relationship with him. But Aza’s OCD and anxiety keep her from fully participating in the relationship and in her own life.

I don’t know OCD from the inside, but Green’s depiction of what goes on in Aza’s mind seems utterly believable and terrible. I had this book as an audiobook and listened to it on my drive to Thanksgiving dinner and it was really hard to stomach. Some of the scenes were quite intense, especially when Aza swallows hand sanitizer in an attempt to kill bacteria inside her. I especially enjoyed Aza and Daisy’s fight when things finally came to a head for them – Green somehow nailed female friendships and how you can be totally loyal to someone and love them, and also be totally annoyed by them and find them self-absorbed. (Side note: Daisy has been writing Star Wars fan fic for years and Aza finally reads it and learns of an annoying character named Ayala who is apparently based on her.)

There were several themes throughout the story. The one I liked the best was about Aza’s grappling with the death of her father 8 years before. She (by which I mean Green) has some interesting things to say about the nature of death and mourning. I also learned about the tuatara, the pet lizard that Davis’ dad owns and thinks is the secret to immortality and therefore has left his entire fortune to, instead of to his own kids. Davis is really into both astronomy and poetry. I’m not a huge fan of the grappling-with-death-of-parent and high-schooler-mysteriously-super-into-poetry because I wasn’t that kid and didn’t know any of those kids in high school so it always rings fake to me and like the adult writing the story is more into those as devices for sounding deep. Aza’s dead parent story does add to the overall story, though, so I’ll give that one a pass.

I really just didn’t know how to feel about Aza and Davis’ relationship, or Daisy and Mychal’s. They both broke up and got back together and broke up with such apathy. And I couldn’t tell from Aza’s description of Davis whether he was cute or not. It threw me off. And the kissing scenes made my partner giggle out of discomfort at the awkwardness. But I did like Davis’ younger brother, Noah, and his struggle to deal with their dad’s disappearance. At 13, Noah is just on the cusp of adulthood and really teeters a lot – one minute acting like a full-on teenager, getting busted for pot at school and drinking too much, and the next minute crying like a vulnerable child.