Book Review: Chopsticks

Book Review: ChopsticksChopsticks by Jessica Anthony
Release Date: February 2012
Publisher: Razorbill
Pages: 304
Source: Own

After her mother died, Glory retreated into herself and her music. Her single father raised her as a piano prodigy, with a rigid schedule and the goal of playing sold-out shows across the globe. Now, as a teenager, Glory has disappeared. As we flash back to the events leading up to her disappearance, we see a girl on the precipice of disaster. Brilliant and lonely, Glory is drawn to an artistic new boy, Frank, who moves in next door. The farther she falls, the deeper she spirals into madness. Before long, Glory is unable to play anything but the song

I have literally written and erased this review more times than I care to count. Never before have I struggled so much with putting my thoughts into words. Several times I’ve almost given up, but Chopsticks is a book that deserves to be talked about it. The unique format and ambiguous story had me hook, line, and sinker.

In one word, Chopsticks is haunting. While it has been weeks since I’ve read it, it is one I still think about. I find myself wandering back to the book (or app in my case) to reread it in search of new clues. On the surface, there is a sweet love story between Glory and Frank.  It’s a fast paced, sweep you off your feet romance full of CD mixes, late night IM chats, and cute photographs. Of course, with Glory being a famous pianist, her European tour and slow mental breakdown make the relationship complicated and near impossible. But surely love can conquer all, right?

The answer to that question is one that readers must decide for themselves. The unclear ending is both the best part of Chopsticks and what makes it so hard to review. There are so many things I want to ramble about, but instead I will simply say pay attention to everything. There are so many clues sprinkled within the 300 pages that even after rereading it five times I’m not sure I’ve caught them all. It kills me that I cannot say more than that. Seriously, I could write pages about my different theories and parallels to another great piece of literature (one I did my senior capstone paper on), but I refuse to spoil the experience. Honestly, even though I’m being vague, I feel as if I may have said too much.

Before I end this review, I do want to talk about the iPad app experience. I have yet to see the print version (hopefully soon!), so I am unable to compare the two. However, I really enjoyed reading it via the app. Interactive content was noted by floating music notes that when tapped revealed information. Some interactions felt pointless, like making simple text appear, but some of it was pitch perfect. I loved being able to play the YouTube videos and music songs instantly. In fact, being able to hear the songs that were chosen for the mix CDs brought the mood and meaning to a whole new light and made me feel as if I was a part of the story. The only thing that really annoyed me was how slow the IM chats moved/I couldn’t skip ahead. There were a few times I accidentally turned the paged before the chats were finished and had to re-watch the entire thing all over again. However, this is a very minor annoyance and would still highly recommend anyone experience Chopsticks via the app. I love where publishers are taking these interactive experiences and can only hope they will open it up to more platforms/readers.

If you are still on the fence about Chopsticks, I recommend taking the leap. It will be unlike any book you’ve ever “read”. I can easily say this will be one of my favorites to book talk to my teens this spring and summer.

Book Review: Please Ignore Vera Dietz

Book Review: Please Ignore Vera DietzPlease Ignore Vera Dietz by A. S. King
Release Date: October 2010
Publisher: Ember
Pages: 326
Source: Library, Own

Vera's spent her whole life secretly in love with her best friend, Charlie Kahn. And over the years she's kept a lot of his secrets. Even after he betrayed her. Even after he ruined everything. So when Charlie dies in dark circumstances, Vera knows a lot more than anyone—the kids at school, his family, even the police. But will she emerge to clear his name? Does she even want to? Edgy and gripping, Please Ignore Vera Dietz is an unforgettable novel: smart, funny, dramatic, and always surprising.From the Hardcover edition.

The Short of It: This is one of those books that immediately after hearing about, I pre-ordered on my nook. But when my libray’s copy came in first, I snagged it there. I’m rarely wrong when I know a book that is perfectly up my alley — and I wasn’t wrong about this one.

Plot: Can we talk about just how many stories are within the pages of this book? I feel like every character had a distinctly real and integrated story into the overall plot. I loved the over-arcing theme of grief, of decision-making, of overcoming obstacles…basically I loved this book and struggle to really describe the plot articulately.

Characters: Vera Dietz, I will never be able to ignore you. Also, I want to be friends, so give me a call? Seriously, Vera is such a supremely real character that I would not be the least bit surprised to order a pizza and have her turn up as my delivery driver. Her conflicts are familiar, even though I have never had a drinking problem or a romance with an older guy or a best friend haunting me. Don’t get me wrong, even though I really want to hang out with Vera, she is a very flawed character. But what makes Vera endearing and unforgettable is the journey that she takes throughout the book and the amount of growth that she accomplishes before the end of the book. Vera, I will keep rooting for you!

And I can’t end the characters section without talking about Vera’s father Ken, whom I came to adore. He, like Vera, is still dealing with the grief of his wife leaving him and it causes him to make a lot of bad decisions. (And a lot of bad parenting decisions especially.) But what I really loved about Ken was that he cares about Vera deeply and tried to do right by her — a portrayal of parents that isn’t often found in YA literature. (I’m so sick of evil parents or perfect friendship awesome parents.)

Romance: I was not particularly rooting for Vera’s choice in romantic partnerships, her delivery co-worker. But I will say that there were a lot of moments where I was rooting for Vera/Charlie even though it’s completely futile with Charlie being all dead and such.

Writing: There is a reason that this book won the Printz Honor, folks! The writing is chock full of awesomeness. Passages that make your heart ache and long for pickles (readers will understand!) all the way to vocab words giving new meaning to plot. And the dry, black humor! Oh my gosh. I know that I said that this book was a tear jerker (and it was), but there were also parts where I guffawed out loud. Be prepared for both!

Librarian-Mode: This will be a big hit with your contemporary issue readers. Give it to teens who loved John Green, Ellen Hopkins, Laurie Halse Anderson. But I also think that this one will go over well with your mystery readers. There is a lot of adult situations though, so I definitely recommend it for more mature YA readers. This will not work for my 13-year-old cousin, for instance. At least not for a few more years. My favorite book to pair this one with? Probably “Looking for Alaska.”

Book Review: Willow

Book Review: WillowWillow by Julia Hoban
Release Date: April 2009
Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 336
Source: Own

It’s been seven months since Willow has allowed herself to feel. Seven months since she was the driver during a tragic car accident that took her parents' lives. Unable to bear the grief or guilt, Willow finds a new way to cope with the pain through cutting. At a new school and living with her older brother, no one knows the secrets her arms would tell. No one, that is, until Guy. The only one to know the ugly truth, Guy promises not to tell anyone her secret. But as strangers turn to friends to even more, Willow discovers that Guy’s love will push her beyond the safe, numb world she created. And amongst it all, she’ll have to decide which she loves me: Guy or the razors?

The Short of It: Liked it, but didn’t love it. Although, I would be hard pressed at anytime to say I loved a book about cutting. Hoban does a good job at handling the difficult situations. A few things did bother me, but nothing to make me dislike the book. An easy recommendation for those who like the nitty gritty issue books.

Plot: This is one of those low action, high emotions books. Where the day to day activities are not exciting, but the emotional struggle is what keeps you reading. While Willow deals with cutting, it is not the heart and soul of the book. It is more about grief and coming to terms with an overwhelming loss. About those months after and how a person learns to cope with the pain. An honest view into the world of grief, guilt, cutting, and the consequences it has on cutters and those that love them.

Characters: I had a bit of trouble loving Willow as a character. Most of the time I just wanted to shake her, hoping it would knock some sense into her. I found myself becoming annoyed at how she convinced herself that her own self-loathing/guilt was how others saw her. Even when others showed kindness repeatedly, she was still so hesitant to believe that they weren’t out to hurt her. However, I can’t say I hated Willow all the time. When she relaxed around Guy, I got a glimpse of what the old Willow must have been like. She was quite charming, intelligent, and caring. I only wish I could have seen much, much more of her.

Now Guy….well, Guy I basically loved. He’s that guy who will always have your back no matter what time you call. The type that girls go to mushy romance movies to sigh and dream over. My only problem with Guy is that he kept Willow’s secret. Here’s this girl he hardly knows and he promises not to tell anyone about her self-mutilation? Ok, so maybe as a stranger you wouldn’t care, but I tend to believe that Guy did from the first moment. And you see the signs how deeply he cares the more they get to know each other. Maybe he really thought he could heal her? Or maybe I’m just expecting too much out of a teenager? I’ve never been in that situation myself, but I would hope I would have enough courage to help that friend seek professional help. I just feel so torn on this point. Anyone else feel this way about Guy?

Romance: The romance between Guy and Willow is full of contradictions. If you look at it one way it’s a completely healthy, normal teenage love. Yet, at the same time, it’s built around something that is very unhealthy and causes both physical and emotional stress. And I still haven’t decided if I think Guy is insane or admirable. To willing walk into a relationship that involves someone who is such a wreck is mind boggling. I don’t know that I would ever have the strength to do it myself. Relationships are so difficult as it is without adding in all the elements Willow was battling. Although, Guy really was a perfect boyfriend. While the cutting obviously bothered him, he never allowed it to hinder his ability to be there when she needed him. And he almost always seemed to know the right things to say or do to help Willow inch closer to her old self.

The only issue I really have with their romance is the message is sends. That Willow can throw away the razors because she loves Guy that much. What happens when the romance ends? What if Guy breaks her heart? Will she go back to the razors who have been so faithful before? I’m just so worried that Willow is not truly free of this habit. That if things get to be too much, she’ll pick them right back up. I guess that’s also the reason why I wish Guy would have told her brother. I keep thinking that Willow really could benefit from professional help (even without the cutting issue!) and that without it she’ll never fully heal. I can only hope that down the line Guy will urge her to get that extra help she needs.

Writing: I really have no complaints in this category. The third person present tense did throw me off a bit, but after a while I was able to ignore with only the occasional distraction. I will warn that it does give off a distant and detached vibe. However, it works well as a reflection of how Willow herself is. It allows a reader to understand Willow a little better without actually being in her mind. The other thing I really noticed was how mature Hoban’s writing was. This is by no means a bad thing, but I often felt like I was reading a literature book and not an YA novel. It was quite nice to see, even if it meant I had to read a little slower!

Librarian-Mode: No problems here. I think this will be an easy sell to those teens who like the issue books. Those who adore Ellen Hopkins, Wintergirls, or any of the other down and dirty books will snatch this one up in a heart beat. I already had a copy in at my main library, but after finishing it I made sure to order a second copy for my branch. While Willow deals with some serious issues, I’ll have no hesitation recommending it to my teens. It’s one that I’m sure to push more in the future.

Ok, now it’s your turn! Have you read Willow? If so, what did you think?

Book Review: City of Glass

Book Review: City of GlassCity of Glass by Cassandra Clare
Release Date: March 2009
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Pages: 560
Source: Own

A few months ago, Clary was a normal girl leading a normal life. But the moment she met Jace her world turned upside down. She was plunged into a life that had been hidden from her, a world of demons, Shadowhunters, and other Downwordly things. While she knows that nothing will ever be the same again, the only thing she can think about is saving her mom from a magical coma. To do this she must go to Idris…the City of Glass.

The plan was simple. She was to go to Idris with Jace and the Lightwoods, but when they leave without her everything changes. Clary doesn’t care that she doesn’t know the magic to open a portal or that she doesn’t have permission to enter. The only thing that matters is saving her mom. Of course, once she gets there things go from bad to worse when she discovers that Jace doesn’t want her in Idris and that Simon (her best friend) has been locked away in the Shadowhunter prison. Her only bright spot is her new ally, a mysterious Shadowhunter named Sebastian. She finds herself instantly drawn to her dark prince lookalike; he’s no Jace, but perhaps he could be the next best thing?

As Clary’s quest continues, she finds herself in a tangled web of family secrets about experiments, magic, and cruelty. The truths about her father, mother, and the world she never knew was not what she had ever expected. But as the lies begin to unravel, Clary may just have all she needs to save her mom, to make old enemies into allies, and to have her heart’s true desire.

My Thoughts

All over, I really enjoyed this book. It was not my favorite in the series by far, but it was an enjoyable wrap-up to the series. Before I go into complaints, I have to get my YAYs out of the way. So…YAY Alec and Magnus and YAY Luke and Jocelyn. Ok, now the complaints, which really I have very few of. I suppose my main one is the end felt so rushed. We had been building to this moment over the past three books and if you blinked…well then you missed it. It felt too easy in a way. I’m not saying that I expected a 200 page fight were everyone dies, I just wanted more. It was like BAM, we’re done kthanxbai. And to be honest, I’m not exactly sure HOW she defeated Valentine. I know that she somehow changed the rune of the ritual, but I’m not sure if I understand how that bound her to the ritual. Can anyone help a poor girl out? It’s been a while since I’ve read the other two and I’m not sure if I’m just forgetting something from them.

The only other thing that bothered me is that the Jace-Clary relationship and the lack of tension. Okay, so I guess I shouldn’t say lack of tension because it was still there but it was very off. I was still locked into the frantic page turning for another scene with them but felt less satisfied with it. I fully understand that Jace was trying to push her away as far as possible, but shouldn’t that have just increased the tension? Their final scenes were very sweet though and made me happy overall. (Okay, but I still wanted more!)