Rebecca’s Book Club

51SDIODYA7LPicture Me Gone by Meg Rosoff

So I have been on a biography kick of late, and haven’t devoted as much time to fiction as I would like. It’s all very well and good reading about actors and leaders and geniuses, but they don’t get to do things like transcend the limits of human biology and human experience to plunge the reader into a world a little different, a little off-kilter.

This makes me very pleased to talk to you today about Picture Me Gone by Meg Rosoff. I read The Catcher in the Rye at exactly the right age to feel that Holden Caulfield’s troubled musing on ‘phonies’ and the slippery adult world spoke of exactly what I was feeling as I grew out of the idealism of my teenaged years. It’s interesting to see those feelings explored in what may be a more readily accessible way in Picture Me Gone.

Our protagonist is Mila. She has a gift which doesn’t seem so bombastic but which any adult would give their eyeteeth for: the ability to discern the truth from those people (and animals) she encounters: ‘I register every emotion, every relationship, every subtext. If someone is angry or sad or disappointed, I see it like a neon sign. There’s no way to explain it, I just do. For a long time I thought everyone did.’

Mila and her father travel from England to the US to visit one of her father’s best friends whom they haven’t seen in years.  However, that is scuppered quickly, for her father’s friend goes missing before they arrive. They set out on a road trip to find him, encountering a host of characters along the way. Everything is filtered through Mila’s astute point of view; hers is a world underscored by melancholy, but a world which doesn’t frighten or alienate her in the way it does Holden Caulfield. This is a character who is able to understand (without ever crossing into Ubermensch territory) the world around her and empathise with it.

In short, it’s a world we may glimpse infrequently in our own lives, or only after life has made us hard.

Mila is not hard and cynical, yet. But nor is she naive: ‘I will not always be happy, but perhaps, if I’m lucky, I will be spared the agony of adding pain to the world.’

As Salinger might have said: it’s a wise child.

Tori’s No Rules Friday

Reaper Girl

The problem isn’t that there’s a ghost standing in front of me or that I have to help him move on. I’ve gotten used to that since Jin spared my life and turned me into his ghost-ferrying, soul-reaping apprentice.

The problem is that I know him.

Roger Lowry goes to my school. Or, he did, I guess.

He was in my chemistry class last year. We were lab partners. He’s only seventeen and now he’s dead, his body crumpled over his steering wheel. His ghost is looking at me with the lost expression common of the recently deceased. It’s one they all wear, even before they realize they’re dead.

“My car,” he says, eyes flicking to the tangled mess of metal that used to be his black BMW. “My parents are going to kill me.”

If Jin were here, he’d probably laugh at that. For the first time since I got the text message telling me to go this one alone, I’m almost glad he’s not here. Almost. Except that inside the car I can see far too much mangled flesh for my liking, and I wish I could hang back and let Jin do the dirty work. I’m not squeamish but it’s not pretty. Roger is only seeing the car for the moment, blind to the thing he doesn’t want to see.

“I think they’ll understand,” I say. I’m pretty sure they’re going to have bigger things to worry about.

Roger looks at my car, parked on the shoulder across the street and creases his brow. “Wait,” he says, tilting his head. “What are you doing out here, Drea? You weren’t at Matt’s party.”

It’s a reasonable question. It’s six in the morning on a Saturday in the middle of June. We’re standing on a curved underpass beneath the mostly-empty freeway. I’m wearing clean clothes, jeans and a t-shirt, not the sort of thing that would suggest I just came from an all-night party like Roger did.

Roger’s car slammed headfirst into the cement wall of the underpass, crushing the front so the hood is almost non-existent, meaning he truly lost control. I’m guessing he wasn’t sober. His accident is hidden from the freeway but it’s only a matter of time before someone notices. It’s taking all of my willpower not to dial 9-1-1. It feels wrong not to call the authorities.

Although in a way, I am the authority here. Besides, it’s not like it’ll do Roger any good at this point.

“Just passing by,” I lie.

Roger ignores me, and steps closer to examine the damage. And then it happens: he spots his body. His face contorts, twists into the most pained, awful expression I’ve ever seen. “Is that… Who is that?”

He knows. I watch the realization dawn on him. Having been out of my body for a panicked two minutes once, I know the feeling all too well. But I got a reprieve and he’s not going to.

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Tori’s Book Club 1

maradyercover

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin is the first in a trilogy (the third book, The Retribution of Mara Dyer, will be out in November). It’s a haunting story about a girl who’s dealing with something impossible while the normal world carries on around her. The magical realism grounds the book firmly in our world, which makes the paranormal elements even scarier because they no longer seem so impossible.

I don’t want to spoil things so I’m afraid to say too much. In the beginning, we learn that Mara suffers from PTSD after being in a building that collapses and kills her friend, and everyone–her parents, her brothers, her teachers–think all of her weird experiences are just symptoms. At least, the weird experiences they know about, which is only a fraction of them, because she’s afraid to tell them lest they lock her away in a padded room. At times, even Mara isn’t sure if the stuff she’s seeing or feeling is real or just hallucinations, and she worries maybe she’s lost her mind.

The book is fast-paced although the paranormal elements don’t show immediately. The book starts with a Ouija board, and at first it feels a little hookey (not the book, just the fact that there’s a Ouija board at all because what year is it, 1985?) And of course, it gives Mara and her friends some cryptic message. But I kind of like how it’s presented as ‘lol Ouija boards, right?’ It’s just something people do. (Not really a spoiler, but the reasoning behind its existence makes a lot of sense when we learn things later and can surmise why it was there.) Then Mara and friends visit an old mental hospital that collapses on top of them and only Mara survives. This leaves her with post traumatic stress, a metric ton of survivor’s guilt, and even inspires her whole family to move to Florida to give her a fresh start.

Actually, though, the book opens with her explaining that her lawyer told her to pick a fake name:

My name is not Mara Dyer, but my lawyer told me I had to choose something. A pseudonym. A nom de plume, for all of us studying for the SATs. I know that having a fake name is strange, but trust me—it’s the most normal thing about my life right now. Even telling you this much probably isn’t smart. But without my big mouth, no one would know that a seventeen-year-old who likes Death Cab for Cutie was responsible for the murders. No one would know that somewhere out there is a B student with a body count.

And it’s important that you know, so you’re not next. Rachel’s birthday was the beginning.

This is what I remember.

I mean, how do you not want to keep reading right then and there?

The creepy and scary elements get amped up every chapter, so you never want to put it down. Hodkin writes an engaging teen voice, and Mara is pragmatic, sensible, and a little sarcastic. Also, Noah Shaw. I’m not even going to tell you about him, future reader, just trust me when I say he’s great.

I cannot recommend this series highly enough, even if you think you’re sick of paranormal books or magical realism, because this one is unexpected and captivating. Also, just FYI, the audiobook is excellent! It’s narrated by Christy Romano, who brings Mara to life in a way that completely compliments Hodkin’s clever writing.

Jen’s No Rules Friday

You see all my light.

She remembers a time before me.
She remembers a time before cell phones and HDTV and internet and me looking down at my phone instead of at her face.

She remembers pound cake recipes and what to do when my grandfather lost his fingers to the bite of a band saw and how to cut my father’s hair when his feet couldn’t even touch the kitchen floor and the shape of my tiny hand wrapped around hers, my lungs like the wing beats of a hummingbird on fire, long before I should have seen the light of day.

She remembers family. She remembers work. She remembers a time when her hands held things together better than the rusty ones she has now.

She remembers putting my father in the ground. His ashes are caught in her tear ducts. I see them every time she looks at me and sees his nose on my face, and the waste of his life in my eyes.

She remembers all of it. Stories fall from her lips like spun gold.

But today I said, “I’m your granddaughter.”

And you love my dark.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*
Stay tuned for our Special Guest, Tori’s, No Rules Friday next week.

Jen’s Book Club

Watership Down, by Richard Adams

Watership Down, by Richard Adams

I’m going back in time on this one, because nostalgia has me in its grubby hands today. Does anybody remember those newspapery order forms teachers gave out every couple of months for book ordering? My memory escapes me, but it had a name. It may have been Book Order, but I feel like it should have been more original than that. I used to dogear the flimsy pages and run home to my mother and beg for words.

The only one that made it from the blurb on the order form to my little 10 year old hands to high school and college and my first apartment and now my first home is Watership Down by Richard Adams. I thought I was ordering a book about a journey undertaken by disgruntled rabbits, but really I had themes and ideas much bigger than my fifth grade self. I was holding a novel full of determination, adventure, growth, and the impact of humanity on nature.

From Amazon.com:

Watership Down is a timeless classic and one of the most beloved novels of all time. Set in England’s Downs, a once idyllic rural landscape, this stirring tale of adventure, courage, and survival follows a band of very special creatures on their flight from the intrusion of man and the certain destruction of their home. Led by a stouthearted pair of brothers, they journey forth from their native Sandleford Warren through the harrowing trials posed by predators and adversaries, to a mysterious promised land and a more perfect society.

Adams creates such a lush and reaching culture in this world of rabbits that includes language, poetry, love, family, and a complex hierarchy that explores leadership and the impact of tyranny. This is a novel that expands every single time I pick it up. It adapts itself to the age of the reader, and in that realm of thinking, it is a book that never loses impact. These are not the average bunnies, and this is not the average adventure novel.

 

“Howl” by Florence + the Machine Inspires Tori

Reunion

It’s only when his fangs scrape against my tongue that the reality of Nathan’s transformation truly hits me. When coppery blood fills the kiss, we both pull back. Nathan extracts himself with a gasp and steps back a few feet, looking at me warily, like I’m the vampire.

I swallow. My mouth tastes like blood.

“Liam,” Nathan says my name, his voice shaky. He looks like he’s ready to bolt, and I can’t have that, not now that I have him back.

“You’re alive,” I say again. I’ve said it ten times, but I can’t quite get it through my head. I’d held out hope, of course–there was no body, and while vampires aren’t known for leaving bodies behind, I’d wanted to believe–but even Nathan’s parents had accepted he was dead. They buried an empty coffin and everything.

Nathan doesn’t move. His brown eyes are colder than they used to be.

“This is an interesting place.” I gesture to the clearing with the dilapidated church and its forgotten little cemetery. The full moon casts a soft blue light that reflects off the headstones. The dead tug at my awareness, trying to pull my attention. I ignore them. When he first appeared, I was afraid Nathan was a ghost, too, just another spirit reaching out to me. I don’t love that he’s a vampire, but as far as dead boyfriends go, a corporeal body is a plus.

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