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.
I rarely review novels (as they take a great deal from me), but it does look like that would change a fair bit this year as I read more full-length novels connected to our reading themes. Ordinarily, I would not have selected these two novels on my own, but that’s the whole idea behind having a bimonthly reading theme, it stretches our reading boundaries further, allowing us to discover books/authors we would otherwise not have known.
When We Collided
Written by: Emery Lord
Published by: Bloomsbury, 2016 ISBN: 1619638452 (ISBN13: 9781619638457). Literary Awards: Schneider Family Book Award (2017), Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Young Adult Fiction (2016)
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library.
This book is written in two voices: there is seventeen year old Jonah Daniels who lives in what I imagine to be a small Gilmore Girls town – perfect vacation spot where people know everyone. He belongs to a huge family, and is currently reeling from the death of his father, coping with his mother’s debilitating depression, and taking care of his younger siblings, as he himself struggles to establish a sense of normalcy on a daily basis. And yes, this good-looking, responsible, thoughtful young man can cook (his father owned a restaurant where he moonlights as a chef). This book definitely made me hungry:
Enter Vivi Alexander, a vacationer who sports a Marilyn Monroe hairstyle because why not? A luminous being who carves her initials into trees, bedposts – for her to fully embrace being in the here and now. She is vibrant with a thousand things going on all at once in her mind, as she takes on life in a Vespa and incandescent colours, throwing her pills ever-so-casually into the sea – because she does not want her capacity to absorb everything around her diminished. Naturally, it is a summer romance waiting to happen.
While I do enjoy alternating viewpoints, it took me awhile to get into the novel as I felt that Jonah’s voice was not distinct enough from Vivi – although as the story progressed, one can discern this more clearly. I like how the potential love triangle did not really play out as much as is customary in most YA novels – but just a hint, a smidgen of what could be. I also find that I could not resonate with Vivi while I sympathized more with Jonah – but perhaps that could be part of the author’s intention. It may be the psychologist-mode in me kicking in, as I see Vivi veering into inevitable disaster when she discontinued taking her pills that would regulate her emotions. But it does show that vision of life-in-hyperdrive as Vivi became increasingly manic – especially when she tried to discover her father’s identity, kept hidden from her by her single mother (whom I adored by the way, although I did feel that she was way too indulgent and clearly overcompensating for something). How she came into her own, realizing the significance of her own person, despite or in spite of her father’s absence – was also done fairly realistically, no neat endings, no easily-resolved conflicts. While she is her father’s daughter, she is also not her father’s daughter. This would definitely be a hit for readers who enjoyed Nicola Yoon’s Everything Everything or Jennifer Niven’s All The Bright Places.
The Serpent King
Written by: Jeff Zentner
Published by: Crown Books for Young Readers, 2016 ISBN: 1783443812 (ISBN13: 9781783443819). Literary Awards: William C. Morris YA Debut Award (2017), Milwaukee County Teen Book Award Nominee (2017), Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Debut Goodreads Author & for Young Adult Fiction (2016)
Book received as a gift.
I have been seeing this book shared by quite a number of trusted teachers, librarians, book bloggers – and I was glad that this was included in the stack of books that my bookseller friend was happily giving away to fellow bibliophiles. I finished reading this in two days. Unlike in When We Collided, I experienced no issue with the alternating voices of the three main characters whom I felt were very distinct individuals with their own separate voices from the beginning. There is Dill, son of a Preacher Man who was imprisoned for having in his possession photos of juveniles engaged in sexual activity (talk about a major town scandal); then there is Travis, avid sci-fi geek whose thug of a father was physically abusive, refusing to accept that he has a reader for a son rather than a football jock who can very easily beat up people with his ginormous size; my favourite of course would have to be Lydia, aspiring fashion blogger who can not wait to move to New York for college, as she feels claustrophobic in their tiny town with equally tiny minds and limited valuing of raw talent that is perceived to be odd, hence justifying young people’s casual mockery over things that can not be understood or do not conform to small-town life. These three characters gravitated towards one another – the oddballs, the rejects, the misfits – as they shine brighter than all the rest: one with his raw talent for music, the other for her brilliant eye for design and fashion, and the other for his gentle nature, kind heart, and passion for the written word.
Both Dill and Travis had to contend with fathers who refuse to see them for who they are. Dill had to make meaning of a palpable darkness in his family lineage that can be traced to his Grandfather who, mad with grief, went on a snake-killing rampage; while his own Father who dabbled with child pornography, saw snakes as his own personal salvation, handling them as proof of his being the chosen one. Travis not only had to deal with his physically abusive, obviously-alcoholic father, he was also dealing with his own bereavement from his older brother’s death as a soldier in the Middle East, all the while protecting his wisp-of-a-mother from his father’s predictable rages and gleefully-violent nature.
This book has spoken to me in multiple levels: there is the valuing of life and all that it has to offer, the impact of parental expectations, and the courage to dream beyond and not be tied to those inhibiting expectations, and to simply be one’s own self. All the young people in this novel realized that they are more than their parents, that their self-definition has to go beyond family realities, and societal labels of who they are supposed to be in their own lives. While I did predict some kind of tragedy in the end, it still caught me sideways, and made jaded-old-me shed a few tears – because Zentner isn’t afraid to go to those dark places, as he writes in a bleeding, pulsating space that gives life to his words spoken with so much truth. This would most likely make one of my favourite reads this year.