McCann, Colum. Let the Great World Spin. Random House, 2009. ISBN 978-1400063734 368 pp. $25
Let the Great World Spin is the convergence of multiple stories pivoting around the day that Philippe Petit’s performed his tightrope walk between New York’s Twin Towers in 1974. The tightrope scene at the beginning, which is lovely, lyrical, and draws the reader in very quickly, is overshadowed by the minutiae of the lives of a variety of characters, including a religious Irishman who lives in a slum and offers he streetwalkers use of his restroom to freshen up between customers.
I skimmed ahead after page 69, got enough of the “everything’s connected” sense, and found a really long, interesting, stream of consciousness section in the 200s written in the point of view of the classic whore with a heart of gold, all about what it’s like to “stroll.”
Roesch, Mattox. Sometimes We’re Always Real Same-Same. Unbridled, 2009. ISBN 978-1932961874 317 pp. $
Cesar, unwillingly relocated with his Native mother to Unalakleet AK while his older brother serves a lifetime sentence for murdering two teens in a gang hazing, can’t wait to turn 18 and return to LA to go into business with his abusive absentee father, and his brother in jail (as a minor, he isn’t allowed). Immediately upon arrival in Alaska, his well-connected cousin Go-Boy, who he has only met once before, takes him under wing, and makes a bet with him that if he stays a year in the remote village, he’ll make his penned tattoo a permanent one. Go gets Cesar a job, introduces him around, helps him find his place in the close-knit community, and treats him as a peer and sounding board for his own philosophical ideas–Go wants to change the world, starting with the village, believing that a path to Heaven lies in the real world. There is something a little off about Go, and his passionate zeals is slowly unravelled as Cesar comes to know him.
At its heart, Sometimes We’re Always Real Same-Same is about identity, community, guilt, and reciprocity. Roesch gives a strong sense of culture and setting; the cadence of life in an Alaskan fishing village comes through strong and clear, down to the title. Go-Boy’s idealism is highly appealing.
There were some flaws–the narrative gets long winded in places, there are some tangents that aren’t well connected or seem extraneous, and female characters aren’t as vividly or dynamically drawn as male characters. Imperfect, but still a wonderful debut novel that I devoured in one sitting.
Marcus, David L. Acceptance: A Legendary Guidance Counselor Helps Seven Kids Find the Right Colleges—And Find Themselves. Penguin, 2008 ISBN 978-1594202148 272 pp. $
Acceptance is nonfiction that read like fiction! Author Marcus chronicles the college rush process through the eyes of a guidance counselor and his advisees. Gweyth Smith, like the protagonist I loved in Admission, is really dedicated to finding a school that is the right fit for each student and provides the best opportunity and experience for him or her. Every year, Smitty takes on a half dozen or so special cases, working more closely with them to beef up SAT scores, bring grades up, confer with parents, and round out those resumes (or drop things from their overscheduled lives, if necessary). He and his girlfriend, the AP English instructor, also co-teach a popular course on essay-writing for college to help teens find a voice that will stand out and be true and honest, and maybe cope with an issue too.
I honestly totally missed the point that this was nonfiction and was pretty confused by the author’s note at the beginning, but then dove right in and figured it would be explained later–that it was just a device to impart a more “realistic” feeling. At times, the narrative got too bogged down with reading the same type of details, like SAT scores. And even though the book focused mostly on Smitty and seven students, other students and teachers were woven in, so the author used repetitive descriptions to keep reminding us who each student was, which was really unnecessary, because there is a cast of characters at the beginning. The tone had a very sanitized feeling to me, and really suffers from a lack of editing–it’s hard for me not to compare it to Boylan’s pitch perfect Getting In or Admission. Acceptance is thorough, but I nearly put it down a half a dozen times. I felt some sympathy, for some of the kids, but not empathy.
Acceptance will have more appeal for parents who want their kids to get into Ivy league schools than for college-bound students who will be too busy test taking and volunteering and working and playing sports and performing in drama to actually read this.
Dare, Tessa. Goddess of the Hunt. Ballantine, 2009. ISBN 978-0345506863 368 pp. $7.99
Tomboy Lucy has her sights set on a childhood friend and longtime crush Toby, who is courting Miss Sophia, a young woman with an impressive dowry. As practice for wooing Toby away from Sophia, she decides to test her feminine wiles on another longtime friend, Jeremy Trescott who just happens to be an earl. The first kiss is bumbling, the second less so, the third magic. Typical romance shenanigans follow– each likes the other, but won’t admit it right away, miscommunications ensue, etc etc etc.
Goddess of the Hunt is better written, with slightly more depth of character than some of the cheesy romances I’ve read, but overall was pretty formulaic and predictable. I thought the sex to plot ratio was unusually high (an observation, not a judgment). The writing was sometimes a bit over the top, but balanced with banter and nice period details.
Alison Burnett. Undiscovered Gyrl. Vintage, 2009. ISBN 978-0307473127 293 pp. $14
Billed as a “Lolita for the computer age,” Undiscovered Gyrl reminded me of a modern twist on a Go Ask Alice sort of book: an anonymous blogger tells all about her exploits (sexual and otherwise) during her gap year, with more sensational observation than introspection. Although we never see reader comments, we see her in-post responses. Predictably, her erratic, irresponsible behavior is tied to CENSORED (don’t want to spoil it!)
The writing is not stellar, but there is some dark and irreverent humor that teens might enjoy. “Katie’s” frank edgy voice has initial appeal, but gets old and gimmicky fast, and the conclusion throws the reliability of the narrator into question, making for an unsatisfying read.
Jennifer Weiner. Best Friends Forever.
Best Friends Forever has a good hook, or maybe several good hooks, right at the beginning; any one of the first four chapters could have come first.
In spite of being estranged for 10 years after Addie “tattles” to her parents about the goings on at a party senior year, she doesn’t hesitate much in acquiescing to whatever Val wants when she shows up at Addie’s door the night of their high school reunion, fearful she may have accidentally killed a former classmate. Addie reflects on her childhood and difficult high school years as she and Val flee to Key West, pursued by a local police officer who has taken on the case of the belt found at the scene of the crime.
Except for the mystery part, this reminded me SO much of Blume’s Summer Sisters: the unbalanced friendship, casual parenting, disabled brother, missing person, summer/beach/swimming theme… even the portrayal of the best friend through multiple narrative voices, never her own. And, since I was a class of ’92 grad, this story had special appeal to me–lots of allusions and references that hit home.
Weiner is a decent writer who mixes intrigue, romance, and comedy with a healthy dose of wry sarcasm. A solid read.
Percival Everett. I Am Not Sidney Poitier. Graywolf, 2009. ISBN 978-1555975272 234 pp. $15.49
The premise is that the narrator’s mother, a sound investor who happens to be friends with Turner after making millions investing in his company, gives her charismatic and Sidney P. lookalike son the name Not Sidney (which of course, causes ALL sorts of problems with his peers (“What’s your name?” “Not Sidney” “Ok, what’s your name, then, if it’s not Sidney?” “Not Sidney!” punch).
Mom passes away, Not Sidney is with vast wealth and becomes a ward of Ted, who sets him up in a house of his own on Ted’s compound and leaves him to his own devices. Not Sidney homeschools until it’s time to head to high school, and is immediately preyed upon by his history teacher, Miss Hancock (ha!) who introduces him to fellatio. The incident result in him leaving school and buying his way into college, determined to make his well-read mother proud of him.
The further adventures of Not Sidney include a road trip where he learns it’s apparently illegal to be black in Atlanta, a boating trip with Ted and wife Jane Fonda, a college class with a certifiable instructor, a budding relationship with a white girl who takes Sidney home for Thanksgiving to meet the family (and make the ex-boyfriend jealous) and embarks on a journey to get a church built, and gets mixed up in a murder.
I am not Sidney Poitier is well written, highly entertaining, extremely cinematic, fairly accessible, with quirky characters, a unique premise and a satisfying if unconventional ending. That said, I’m not feeling like it has a zing to it for me. It lagged in a few spots, the lack of reciprocity for the teacher’s disturbing sexual assault was creepy, and sometimes I felt like the author was trying to hard to be clever. The best thing about this book was the portrayal of media mogul Ted Turner.
Nylund, Eric S. Mortal Coils. Tor, 2008. ISBN 978-0765317971 609 pp. $
Twins Eliot & Fiona discover on their fifteenth birthday that they are the progeny of two warring factions of immortals, and are set upon a series of three quests that will determine which side of the family they take after and hence their future. This is a lot of excitement compared to their strict homeschooled life.
The narrative has the flavor of a thorough researcher writing the tale–the footnotes are intriguing, and allusions abound. I really enjoyed the premise, the descriptive writing, and the characters of Mortal Coils (I haven’t read Percy Jackson, which someone compared it to I think?). It was slow. I was traveling while reading this, and had to keep putting it down, but I couldn’t WAIT to get back to it; even though the pacing was slow, it was a riveting read.
Dean, Zoey. Hollywood is Like High School With Money. Grand Central, 2009 (reprint). ISBN 978-0446697194 288 pp. $
Zoey Dean writes primarily for a teen audience, so it’s no surprise that this is an adult book with a lot of teen appeal. Although the protagonist Taylor (a second assistant at a successful movie production company) is 24, she is a young 24, and is more the yearbook editor type than cheerleader. An agent pegs her for a Midwestern newbie on her first day on the job, and explains to her one night in a bar, it’s the popular, confident folks who get ahead in Tinsel Town, not the ones with actual talent. Taylor thus enlists the boss’s teenage daughter Quinn in help being cool, making this as Cinderella story that is Devil Wears Prada meets Gossip Girls.
There were some laugh out loud funny lines and clever snarky moments, and Taylor is a likeable girl next door sort of heroine, but when the author referred to an iPhone as a cell phone you can open and close before I hit the 50 page mark, she lost all credibility for me. I pushed through to page 100 or so, skimmed to see if the ending I predicted would unfold (it did).
Supporting characters are walking caricatures (the gay bff, the mean girl first assistant, the cute boy next door) and the first assistant’s French turns of phrases are translated for us even though they can be clearly understood in context, and yet allusions to clothing designers and popular movies are assumed to translate. Hollywood is like High School with Money is a cotton candy read–a bit saccharine and insubstantial, but deliciously satisfying if you are in the right mood for it.