1. The Lover’s Dictionary – David Levithan
I loved the unique conceit of this book. An unnamed narrator tells the story of a relationship through dictionary entries. The format allows for readers to get a picture of both the mundane details and the complex emotions that shape the lovers and their relationship with each other over time. In the past I’ve found David Levithan’s writing to be on the melodramatic side, but I didn’t feel that way with The Lover’s Dictionary. Because of the format, the more angsty, poetic entries were short and sweet, and were interspersed with more lighthearted entries, giving the book a more balanced feel. I really enjoyed this book. It was beautifully written, and I loved that I could read in one sitting.
2. The Watch That Ends The Night: Voices From The Titanic – Allan Wolf
This novel in verse tells the story of the Titanic through 24 unique voices–from John Snow, the undertaker sent to pick up bodies in the icy Atlantic waters, to Molly Brown, a Lebanese immigrant girl, Thomas Andrews, and even the iceberg itself. I’ve already shared my secret love of all things Titanic, so it’s safe to say that I had high hopes for this book. I thought it was excellently crafted. Despite the fact that there are so many narrators, Wolf manages to fully flesh out each one, and the interweaving of stories from such a wide range of characters allows for a full picture of the Titanic’s ill-fated journey. All types of people are represented (and even the ship’s rats have their say!). Some of the poems were definitely better than others, but overall I found the book to be successful. It was incredibly well-researched–all of the character’s were real live passengers. I loved reading the extensive backmatter at the end which provided information about each character, some Titanic facts and figures, morse code translations, and information about Wolf’s research.
Plus, isn’t the cover totally awesome?!
3. Why We Broke Up– Daniel Handler
I gave this book a five star rating on Goodreads, and I don’t just hand out the five star ratings willy-nilly. I give a lot of four star ratings–books that are well written and that I really enjoy–but to earn that last star, the book has to have that little extra something. It has to tug at my heartstrings, maybe leave a tear in my eye, or just resonate with me somehow so that I find myself thinking about it long after I’m done reading. That’s what happened with this book.
Why We Broke Up is a letter from Min Green to Ed Slaterton about why they broke up. She’s on her way to his house to return significant objects that she collected and saved during their relationship. She writes about each one and explains how each memento helps reveal why they broke up. The writing in this book was just hands-down awesome. Sometimes it was a bit over-the-top, yes, I’ll admit that, but over-the-top in that teenagery way, in a way that captures both how enormous the world feels, and the strength of every passing emotion. Handler manages to convey certain feelings so perfectly with such unexpected prose sometimes that I was completely blown away. When Min is describing her sadness at the end, her words are so SPOT ON that for a few moments I was transported back into my 17 year old self as I nodded along in recognition.
And the artwork. The artwork! Gorgeous! Maira Kalman’s work is always beautiful, and it really adds something special to the novel. The whimsicality of the illustrations is fitting for Min’s personality. A budding film director and classic movie buff, she often imagines life through a director’s gaze, envisioning the world as a literal stage. The images lend a cinematic quality to the book, and speak to that nostalgia one often feels for things in the not-so-distant past.
Basically, Why We Broke Up was awesome, and totally deserving of the Printz honor award it won this year. Read it!
4. Pink Smog – Francesca Lia Block
Not sure if I’ve mentioned this yet, but basically, Francesca Lia Block is my favorite lady on the planet. I love love love the Weetzie Bat books so much, and I was so excited about this book. Pink Smog is a prequel to Weetzie Bat, telling the story of Weetzie as a 13 year old. It explores the complex relationships she has with her parents, with Los Angeles, and with herself. FLB’s wondrous use of magical realism and her signature lyrical prose is once again skillfully used to tell Weetzie’s story, and as with her other novels, Los Angeles, in all it’s wonderful and terrible glory, is practically another character in the text.
I have a hard time talking about Francesca Lia Block novels because I have such a personal connection with them…which is why this is such a vague review. I haven’t been in love with some of her more recent books, but Pink Smog is much more reminiscent of her older style. I definitely recommend it to fans of her early work.
5. The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt – Caroline Preston
The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt is just that–a scrapbook. Though the cover proclaims it to be “a novel in pictures” that vague assessment is not entirely apt. The book follows Frankie Pratt, a small-town New England girl who earns a scholarship to Vassar, through her college and post-grad years during the 1920s as she struggles to live her dream of becoming a writer. The book is a pastiche of 1920s ephemera–photographs, ticket stubs, menus, ads, etc. with snippets of typewritten text thrown in to tell Frankie’s story. It almost reads more like an epistolary novel, just with a lot of meaningful images. This book is absolutely gorgeous and was a fun and engaging read. Because the text is sparse, it lacks the sort of emotional kick I so enjoy, and I often found myself wondering about how Frankie truly felt about some of her experiences. Also, although I personally enjoyed the nice, neat, tie-it-all-up-in-a-bow sort of ending, I can see some readers having a problem with its conventionality. That said, The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt tells a decent story, and is an amazing aesthetic experience.
6. The Disenchantments – Nina LaCour
I really loved Nina LaCour’s first book, Hold Still, and I was super happy to be one of the first people to snatch up this new release at the library. The Disenchantments tells the story of Colby as he goes on a road trip with his best friend Bev and her girl band, The Disenchantments. (Side note: How cool is that band name?!). Colby’s been nursing a crush on Bev for years and the two of them have been planning one of those obligatory finding-yourself-on-a-year-long-European-adventure trips. Colby’s dreams are dashed however when Bev informs him that she’s decided not to go and wants to go to college instead. The book chronicles Colby’s struggle to understand Bev’s decision, and to decide what he wants to do with his post-high school life.
I really didn’t know what to expect from this book. Hold Still was an emotionally intense read, but this road trip book with a sunny California gal on the cover looked to be like much lighter fare. As I read, I found the book to be much more serious in tone than I expected. It made me nostalgic for that summer between senior year of high school and freshman year of college. You feel like an adult, and the world is gigantic and full of possibility, but you’ve got to start narrowing down those possibilities and there’s a lot of weight on your shoulders because of it. The Disenchantments does an excellent job of capturing that feeling, but it felt a little bit message-y at the end with everyone having these life epiphanies. Though the book didn’t grab me the way Hold Still did, it was still an enjoyable read.