Books Grey and Golden, Young and Fleeting It's Monday What Are You Reading Middle Grade Reading Themes Young Adult (YA) Literature

[Monday Reading] Valentine Ghosts and Running Off To Conquer Mt Rainier in David Levithan’s “Marly’s Ghost” and “The Honest Truth” by Dan Gemeinhart

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Myra here.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (brainchild of Sheila at BookJourney). Since two of our friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have been joining this meme for quite awhile now, we thought of joining this warm and inviting community.

Last Week’s Review and Miscellany Posts

We’re also inviting everyone to join our Award Winning Books Reading Challenge for 2015 (#AWBRead2015)! It’s that time of the year to set new reading goals for the coming year.

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Here is the sign up page and the March-April Linky if you already have reviews up. One randomly-selected participant would receive a copy of A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond, courtesy of Pansing books.

Click on the image to be taken to my review of the book.
Click on the image to be taken to my review of the book.

Click here to view my announcement post to learn more details.

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IMG_0482Marly’s Ghost

Written byDavid Levithan Illustrated by: Brian Selznick
Published byElectric Monkey, 2015
Book provided by Pansing Books for review. Book photos taken by me.

Marly’s Ghost is a modern-day retelling of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol as Ben gets to meet the ghosts of lovers past, present, and future. As Ben’s friends and practically the entire high school student body, get all wrapped up in the Valentine Day Buzz, to the extent of throwing Anti-Valentine’s Parties with shiny black hearts – Ben becomes even more keenly aware of just how alone he is with his girlfriend, Marly, recently dying because of cancer.

I was old at a young age – I knew things that nobody around me knew. I knew the truth of grief, the truth of watching a person slowly die, the angry emptiness of still being around. I made myself hard and sharp. I became secret and self-contained. Solitary.

This was not a choice. It was what I had to do. (p. 7)

The perfect Valentine Scrooge. As Ben feeds his anger and his sense of isolation, he drives everyone around him away, even his best friend, Fred, all bright-eyed and good intentions. Ben replies to this effusive warmth with a deliberate “Love is Humbug!” I particularly enjoyed Ben’s bitter and extremely-disparaging remarks about Valentine’s Day:

“What’s Valentine’s Day about except the desperate search to find someone to spend Valentine’s Day with? It just shows that love has become a marketing campaign, like everything else. You buy into it and lose everything. If I had my way, I would force everyone who sings out ‘Happy Valentine’s Day’ to eat a thousand candy hearts without water, and then lock them in a heart-shaped box until they came out sane.” (pp. 10-11)

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With Levithan’s trademark narrative, he managed to weave into the storyline the presence of gay lovers Tim and Tiny, as they sell carnations – proceeds from which would go to The Key Club (note the parallels to Dickens’ A Christmas Carol). While again interesting, I felt that this section seemed a bit predictable and the relationship made to appropriate a token space that could have had an even more magnified presence – if not for its imposed boundaries as brought about by Dickens’ template. There were moments of illumination such as this quote below:

I had forgotten this about love: how the simple things – the turn away, the turn towards – could be so complicated, and how the complicated things – the stolen night, the right words – could be so simple. (p. 103)

… but I also felt that there were certain sections that felt a tad too self-pitying and made me a bit impatient with Ben. Despite this, I find that the book is quite an ingenious collaboration between David Levithan and Brian Selznick. There is an illustrator’s note found at the end of the story which detailed how Selznick came up with his cross-hatching art. The image below is one of my favourites from the book:

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This is a quick read and could very well prove to be a staple read for young readers during Valentine’s Day.

The Honest TruthIMG_0735

Written by: Dan Gemeinhart
Published by: Scholastic Press, 2015
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. 

Mark is twelve years old and he is dying. He thought he had his cancer licked with all the treatments he needed to go through, but it’s back with a proverbial vengeance. And Mark is having none of it. He decided to do something for himself, damn the consequences and everyone else in his life, because he felt that his time was running out. He took off, packed his bags, brought his ever-loyal dog with him, and took the train from Spokane to Seattle to climb Mount Rainier.

I binge-read this novel, finishing it in one night. And this is despite the fact that I simply could not connect to the main character, as much as I wish to. The only thing that perhaps allows me to form a connection with this angry boy is the haiku that he writes. I took several pictures of my favourites and edited them using an iPhone app:

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As the haiku suggests, there is darkness in this story. I think part of the reason why I find it difficult to like Mark is because he was so angry most of the time. While he gets pangs of remorse about the decisions that he made, he was unapologetic throughout and also did not seem to be sufficiently grateful for the occasional angels, the cranky but well-meaning bus driver, and the kind-hearted truck driver who crossed his path – they were all dispensable – the good and the bad alike, as he is single-minded in his pursuit to climb the mountain – come snow or storm, inclement weather be darned. He was also unmindful of how his best friend Jessie would feel about knowing his secret, because this story is all about him, and no one else’s. While Jessie is provided a voice, it was a half-voice, as could be seen in the half-chapters that were added, similar to an afterthought.

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I also feel that while dying is a personal affair – it is the kind of grief that ripples across the people around you. Yet regardless of whether I felt that there was a self-indulgence here rooted from justified resentment and anger that strikes out blindly to anyone and everyone – this is a voice that needs to be heard too, despite its grating and painful edges. This book is indeed perfect for our current reading theme with all its musings about mortality and the crazy and irresponsible things people do when they know they are about to die.

Currently Reading…

I was able to finish reading Terry Pratchett’s The Colour of Magic although I was not able to attend my book club’s meeting as I had to attend to something:

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Saturday Night Out for Book Geeks (not) discussing The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett. Photo courtesy of David Seow.

I did not understand more than half of what I read, admittedly, but I finished the book nonetheless. There were way too many allusions that assumed the reader would know about – or at least be interested enough to know. Character development was painfully thin – and it was horribly plot-driven with too many things (and characters) happening all at once. I did not feel emotionally invested enough to even want to know who would die a painful death or who would be eaten by dragons – I just wanted the book to be over! Despite this, I would still try reading the other Discworld Novels. There must be something in this series, perhaps I am just not finding it yet.

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I have just started reading Under the mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall. I am hoping to finish it this week before our reading theme ends.

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I thought that I might as well start reading Tim Winton’s Eyrie for my other book club in my institution: our book for May.

17 comments on “[Monday Reading] Valentine Ghosts and Running Off To Conquer Mt Rainier in David Levithan’s “Marly’s Ghost” and “The Honest Truth” by Dan Gemeinhart

  1. I had trouble with The Honest Truth because he worried his friend AND put his dog in danger. It’s one thing to be dying, but to put your own dog in danger… we need happier books than this.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for the honest reviews, Myra. Everyone is unique in their personal travels I suppose, hence the authors’ own POV. Enjoy your week!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Linda. I agree. That’s why I thought that while it may not have resonated with me, it’s a voice that also needs to be shared – despite its painful edges.

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  3. Not sure when I’ll be up for Marly’s Ghost, good to read your thoughts on it though… Happy reading to you!

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  4. Thanks for sharing the photos of Marly’s Ghost. Unique design and I love the illustrated novel format for grown-ups! I think there should be more illustrated novels for ALL readers. I loved Under the Mesquite. Very strong verse novel. I so appreciate a verse novel where the poetry is well-crafted.

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  5. I met David Levithan recently and he was awesome. I’ll be discussing The Honest Truth this Wednesday for our Family Book Club. I can’t wait to talk about it since I know lots of people like it way more than I do.

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  6. Kay Mcgriff

    I love all things A Christmas Carol and have enjoyed books by Levithan and Selznik, so I definitely want to read Marley’s Ghost.

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  7. I love Levithan – so this is on my must read list for the summer, Myra – thanks for your honest review.

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  8. Marly’s Ghost is now on my to read list. Brian Selznick’s illustrations look fabulous. I’ve got The Honest Truth at home from the library and it needs to be back next week! It’s always interesting to see how people who are dying react. Some reach out and bring comfort to others, but Mark sounds like one of my cousins who was angry right to the end. (He was also young – in his early 20’s) Regarding Terry Pratchett – I feel in love with Nation and then moved onto his Tiffany Aching books. All his books about witches are delightful! You can read more about Tiffany here. http://dickenslibrary.blogspot.ca/2012/03/tiffany-aching-collection-by-terry.html

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  9. Sorry to hear you did not like Colour of Magic. Definitely try Wee Free Men, if you are looking for something humorous and a character that will grab you! I finished Nation this week too, which was interesting, but a few people raved about it and I’m still not sure I’m there yet …

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  10. I added The Honest Truth to my TBR list–thanks 🙂

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  11. I am so curious about The Honest Truth. I am sometimes terrified to read a book that might make me too sad but your review indicates there is much more going on here

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  12. Great books. I would love to be in a book club. Sounds ideal. 🙂

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  13. Marley’s Ghost sounds fun. Sorry to hear you missed your book club meeting – and that you were so disappointed in the book! Hopefully the next selection will be much better!

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  14. bluestockingthinking

    I love what you shared of Marly’s Ghost. I don’t know that I am feeling up for a book filled with grief and loss though. Lately things get to me more deeply. The beginning of The Witch’s Boy about did me in with sadness 😦

    Like

  15. Pingback: [Saturday Reads] Of Foxes, Wolves, and their Humans in “Pax,” “Maybe a Fox,” and “Wolf Wilder” – Gathering Books

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