[Monday Reading] Family Secrets and Mysteries in 2015-2016 Middle Grade and YA Novels: Patrick Ness’ “The Rest of Us Just Live Here” and Erin Entrada Kelly’s “The Land Of Forgotten Girls”

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading

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 (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date). 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)! You still have a few weeks left before the year ends to win book prizes.

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Here is the sign up page and the November-December linky if you already have reviews up. One randomly-selected participant would receive a copy of The World of Norm: May Contain Nuts by Jonathan Meres courtesy of Pansing Books.

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

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Ok, full disclosure. These two novels are hardly what one would call mystery-themed by any stretch of imagination. However, they do show surprising plot twists and the unraveling of family secrets in contemporary middle grade and young adult literature. So there you go, they are still mystereadventure!

IMG_6485The Rest Of Us Just Live Here

Written by: Patrick Ness
Published by: Walker Books, 2015
Review Copy provided by Pansing Books.

I am a huge Patrick Ness fan – I devoured his Chaos Walking Trilogy (see my review of The Knife of Never Letting GoThe Ask and the Answer, and Monsters of Men) and sobbed out loud while reading his immensely powerful A Monster Calls. Needless to say, I have superbly-high expectations from this book which may have contributed to my inability to connect with any of the characters in this novel. The premise of the book is refreshingly ingenious – the ‘synopsis’ found at the beginning of each chapter present a different storyline (seen from the perspective of the gifted individuals – or the ‘chosen ones’ or the ‘indie-kids’) from what really went on in the actual chapter (seen from the lenses of the rest of humanity – or teenagedom that is – deemed as ordinary with their supposedly humdrum and dispensable existence) – see sample below:

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The reader eventually catches on to this disparity – piecing together the clues as shown in the chapter synopsis and comparing it to some of the allusions that are referenced or mentioned peripherally in the actual chapter itself which presents a parallel storyline. There are intersections in the end which tie-in the parallel narratives, but I felt that there was something missing in its execution, in terms of character depth, a richer exposition perhaps of what was going on in their decidedly weird context where zombies, vampires, and in this case the Immortals – are deemed to be natural occurrences. Yet the curious thing is how these periods in history are relentlessly forgotten until a strange new wave of inexplicable strangenesses happen yet again. Somehow, there was also that skating through the surface of things, the restraint quite palpable, that the characters felt like multicultural cardboard cut-outs that remained flat and two-dimensional for me. I also felt on occasion how the writing seemed to alienate the reader:

… I don’t care what you think, not about these things anyway. If you don’t think they’re real or important or you think that we’ll all grow out of this nonsense, well, that’s not really my business. I can’t tell you what’s real for you.

But in return, you can’t say what’s real for me either. get to choose. Not you. (p. 88)

I felt that this was particularly self-indulgent, because this is already a given – that the author takes you for a ride. But to have it explicitly articulated in the narrative served no purpose for me and further alienated me from the main character whom I did not find likeable in the least.

Our Saturday Night Out for Book-Geeks discussed this novel last Saturday (Happy Birthday, Kenneth!) and we talked about some sections that worked for us and those which didn’t.

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Thank you, Pansing Books for providing us with copies of the book.

Interestingly, one of the chapters deemed to be particularly effective by one member of the book club is the one section that I disliked (the talk with the therapist), as I kept on reading it as a clinician – and seeing the many gaps in the conversation. I felt that it was highly prescriptive for a therapy session – leaving the client with virtually little sense of agency, and me cringing throughout that part. Rather than have the client arrive at his own understandings or realizations, these were fed by what I feel to be an ineffective counselor impatient in providing quick fixes and intent on showing his own superiority in figuring out exactly what’s wrong with the client. No client empowerment, whatsoever – all the answers can be found in the counselor’s magic-bowl of easy-salves – which ultimately does more harm than good.

Yet despite this, I was still taken by a few passages that moved me. Here are a few of them:

“I don’t feel any clearer,” I’m surprised to hear myself saying, “I just feel like my body is in all these different pieces and even though it looks like I’m all put together, the pieces are really just floating there and if I fall down too hard, I’ll fly apart.” (p. 118)

and the dissonance between the way an adult and an adolescent think:

“Mike,” she says, warning, “The mistake of every young person is to think they’re the only ones who see darkness and hardship in the world.”

… “The mistake of every adult, though is to think darkness and hardship aren’t important to young people because we’ll grow out of it. Who cares if we will? Life is happening to us now, just like it’s happening to you.” (p. 173)

and the trademark lines on how it’s perfectly ok to not be the chosen one:

“Not everyone has to be the Chosen One. Not everyone has to be the guy who saves the world. Most people just have to live their lives the best they can, doing the things that are great for them, having great friends, trying to make their lives better, loving people properly. All the while knowing that the world makes no sense but trying to find a way to be happy anyway.” (p. 236)

Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

This is still worth a read, I thought. It also engenders quite a number of philosophical discussions among young adults struggling to define their own greatness versus mediocrity and those struggling to discover their place in the world.

The Land Of Forgotten Girls11259735_1050671408307006_3664663118174132347_n

Written by: Erin Entrada Kelly
Published by: Greenwillow Books, 2016
Review copy provided by publisher.

This book will be released in 2016 and I feel very privileged to receive a review copy of this via snail-mail. The book cover is masterfully done by a good friend of mine, Isabel ‘Pepper’ Roxas (whom we have also featured here at GatheringBooks at one point), and written by Filipino American author Erin Entrada Kelly. I didn’t even know about Erin Kelly until I received this novel, and I felt overjoyed to see Filipino Americans represented so beautifully in middle grade literature. The first mention of a Filipino-American character in middle grade novel that I remember reading was in Doll Bones by Holly Black – but even that was just mentioned in passing. This one had a little bit of Tall Story (by Candy Gourlay) resonances as the ethnicity is part of what makes the storyline unique with its own distinctive voice.

Sol and Ming are sisters who were abandoned by their Filipino father in a remote town in Louisiana, left in the none-too-gentle care of their Filipina stepmother who seemed straight out of a fairytale book with her modern-day cruelty. What I especially liked about this story is how Sol had such a strong sense of voice – a surprising sense of self-efficacy despite her losing a sibling (for which she blamed herself), dealing with the loss of her parents and adjusting to her stepmother, all the while taking care of her younger sister Ming. Similar to Jonathan Auxier’s The Night Gardener, the narrative explored the line between make-believe and lies, the real and the imaginary, and the power of stories to liberate people and serve as their salvation – or lock them into forgotten places accessible only to them. This dilemma is evident in Sol’s indecision whether to tell Ming the harsh reality that this is all there is or continue weaving laces of hope for her to cling to:

What could I say? That princesses don’t really get rescued? That our closet would always be a closet? That two kids with no money can’t really go anywhere on June third or any other day? That she would never have a tree house or anything else, really?

“You could say the truth.”

It was Amelia, in the corner.

I took a deep breath. “Which part?” I whispered. “The part where the closet is a closet, but it’s also a rocket or a tree house. The part where your mind is a palace, as long as you go in the right rooms.” (pp. 118-119)

Until now, I don’t really know how I feel about the ending of the novel. As family secrets gradually unravel, one is left wondering where this knowledge will take the two young girls. I also liked how rounded the character of the stepmother, Vea, is – as the two young girls began to truly see the woman behind the monster, providing them with a clear-eyed vision of who they are with respect to the adults around them. I am excited for this novel’s release. I also look forward to reading Erin Kelly’s debut novel, Blackbird Fly, which made it to quite a number of book lists this year.

Currently Reading…

Fats was kind enough to post her Monday reading last week. I was able to read several books over the past two weeks:

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman, The Marvels by Brian Selznick, Stitches by Anne Lamott. I will be sharing my thoughts about the first two novels in the next few weeks.

Since I am now technically on leave til end of December, I look forward to reading the following I just finished reading this book last night:

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Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard for my book club at the Jurong West Public Library. Will post my thoughts about this novel alongside my book club’s discussion by end of the month.

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Book Number 2 of the Lockwood & Co. series, The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud.

  1. Loved the pictures of your book club. I will be giving The Rest of Us Live Here a try as I loved his previous books. Have a great week.

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  2. Wow – so many books! I like the look of The Rest of Us Live Here but haven’t heard of Patrick Ness!

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  3. Nice to finish The Red Queen, enjoy that technically on leave!

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  4. Not a Ness fan, and this sounds kind of John Green/introspective navel gazing that doesn’t go over well with my students. Did love Kelly’s Blackbird Fly, so have Forgotten Girls on my to read list.

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  5. I recently picked up The Marvels and I’ve put it in my ‘to read soon’ pile because I just loved the other book I read by the same author. Also, I look forward to reading your thoughts on The Red Queen.

    Happy Reading!

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  6. My son and I will be reading The Marvels. We love Selznick. Another of our favorite authors is Kenneth Oppel and we have one of his books standing by. Enjoy your reading week. You have a great variety of books.

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  7. Thanks for your honest review of the Ness book, Myra. I may not get to it soon, but probably will. It does sound interesting. And The Land of Forgotten Girls sounds very good. I’ll look forward to hearing about The Red Queen, still on my shelf to read. Lots of great books to enjoy!

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  8. Both of those books are on my list to read!
    I just asked for The Red Queen for Christmas 🙂

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  9. What a fine group of books. Happy Reading!

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  10. Ooh, I am so intrigued about the Land of Forgotten Girls! Thanks for sharing that.

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  11. I like how you’re so hardcore in reviewing your books. Very analytical. I like also how you have an enthusiastic book club.

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  12. I enjoyed The Red Queen and found it hard to put down. The Patrick Ness book does sound intriguing.

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  13. Your book club sounds like my ideal Saturday night, out on the town with fellow book geeks talking about books!!

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  14. I would love to be part of your book club!!!!!
    I am looking forward to Ness’s new book–I am a huge fan of his also. I hope to like the new one.
    I haven’t heard of Land of the Forgotten Girls–I’ll have to check it out.

    Happy reading this week 🙂

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  15. Patrick Ness is almost too intense for me, but I adored this quote here, Not Everyone had to be the chosen one… Your review of The Land Of Forgotten Girls almost breaks my heart. I have added it to my must read list. Thank you so much for your thoughtful responses to the books you read.

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  16. A bit disappointing when an author you love doesn’t quite deliver … I’m keen to read Patrick Ness, I actually have his Chaos Walking series on audio, not sure when I’ll get to them though. Your book club looks like fun, love the photos.

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  17. Gorgeous covers and books…I am curious about the Patrick Ness books…haven’t yet read one. Thanks for sharing, and for visiting my blog.

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  18. Very nice week.

    Lots to look at…thanks for sharing.

    Elizabeth
    Silver’s Reviews
    My It’s Monday, What Are You Reading

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  19. Wow, so many great books here!! Anne Lamott is always a favorite.

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  20. Your book club looks like a lot of fun. I might read the rest of the Chaos Walking series. Just so many books to get to. I have to read another Neil Gaiman. I’m going to check your thoughts on several of these. Happy Reading!

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  21. […] YA novel is not really what one would call a ‘mystery’ themed book. However, my Monday reading did look at family secrets, twists and mysteries in YA and middle grade novels, so do indulge me as I share my thoughts about […]

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  22. I devoured The Marvels and am considering reading Red Queen because of all the buzz it’s been getting even though fantasy books are hit or miss for me.

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  23. The Ness book looks fantastic! And so does the Award Winning challenge. 🙂

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