Thursday, February 21, 2013

book review: the last little blue envelope by maureen johnson

Book: The Last Little Blue Envelope
Author: Maureen Johnson
Publisher: HarperTeen, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers (2011)

Ginny Blackstone thought that the biggest adventure of her life was behind her. She spent last summer traveling around Europe, following the tasks her aunt Peg laid out in a series of letters before she died. When someone stole Ginny's backpack--and the last little blue envelope inside--she resigned herself to never knowing how it was supposed to end.

Months later, a mysterious boy contacts Ginny from London, saying he's found her bag. Finally, Ginny can finish what she started. But instead of ending her journey, the last letter starts a new adventure--one filled with old friends, new loves, and once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Ginny finds she must hold on to her wits . . . and her heart. This time, there are no instructions

Guys, have you ever had that moment after finishing a book that you realize, "Crap, this is a sequel,"? Yeah, that was me... 2 weeks after reading this book... while browsing in Barnes and Noble. I felt like an idiot. But besides that, I have to say that my experience with this book was rather enjoyable.

I was introduced to Maureen Johnson when I read Let It Snow, a collection of three holiday short stories (kind of) by Johnson, John Green, and Lauren Myracle that culminates into some sort of holiday book - I'll review that one later. I loved her writing in her portion of that book, so that led me to try to find others that she had written.

My first impressions of The Last Little Blue Envelope were fantastic. I mean, I didn't really know what I was expecting because, let's face it, you never do when it comes to a book. Even the best writers can let you down. BUT as for this novel, all panned out in the end in a good way. No worries.

The plot by far was my favorite part. The last of the letters Ginny's Aunt Peg wrote her before she died (on how best to experience Europe and live life in general) has surfaced after it was stolen with her backpack and belongings while in Greece following the twelfth envelope. While Ginny thinks Oliver, a British gent who found the envelope in a used backpack he bought, will just fork it over when she jets over to England, he has a different plan. See, Ginny's aunt is a famous artist, and Ginny's adventure with the first 12 envelopes provided her with an inheritance of paintings that made her some great money. So Oliver, who is apparently this super dislikable (not a word) person, is blackmailing Ginny, and they, along with Ginny's Euro friend (love interest) Keith and his girlfriend, go on this world wind adventure to experience Europe one last time to collect the art piece Aunt Peg has left behind in various countries. Sounds fun and adventurey, right? It's over Christmas vacation, too, so can you imagine Ireland on New Year's? Yeah, read it.

This brings me to characterization. First of all, I really liked Ginny. Obviously, that's something that should always be for a protagonist, that they're understood and that you care about them. Her internal journey in this novel is especially moving because you can see her growing up through these challenges. For this reason, I find it hard to believe that the first book could be better than this sequel. Now, I've seen a lot of people not liking Oliver online in other reviews and what have you, but you know, I thought he was great. Sure, he's painted in a poor light because of some things going on in his life and the whole blackmailing debacle, but I think if you just stick it out with him, you'll come along. I could really sympathize with him and thought he was a great character. Well written, too! The one who really drove me to throw the book across the room was Keith. I didn't read the first book, but I would think that any allegiance to this horrid man would only be lingering from that story. As for this story, HE WAS A JERK. A big, giant jerk. He was rude and mean, and I hated him more than any other character. I hope Maureen meant it to be that way because "great job" to her to create that tension. I could go on, but I think I've hit all the main characters that evoke and conjure emotions in me. 

And finally, the writing of Johnson is just fantastic. I already mentioned that she's phenomenal, but her words make the imagery and characters in the story so vivid and bright that you really don't want to part from it after so long (even when Keith is in it). You could just tell that she had been to all those places (or else she sold it REALLY well). For her to transfer that kind of detail and imagery onto the page... kudos to Maureen ("Kudos... that's my word for the day." From which movie does it originate?!). As is key in any YA novel, the voice is necessary on which to comment. Personally, I thought she hit it spot on. I hate it when authors try to over extend the vocabulary of their characters' age range. I could name a few authors, but "Mmmm... betta not."

Also, I needed to share that I recently read the Mortal Instruments series because the movie's coming out in August, and Cassandra Clare is friends with Maureen, who has a character named after her in the series. It's an interesting tidbit if you've read it.

Regardless, my verdict is as stands:

The Last Little Blue Envelope proves Maureen Johnson a star in the YA world. For international fun, blackmailing, and looking past the preconceived notions that you have of yourself and others, this is the way to go.

'Til next time!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

coming soon: the book of broken hearts by sarah ockler

Book: The Book of Broken Hearts
Author: Sarah Ockler
Release Date: May 21, 2013
Publisher: Simon Pulse

When all signs point to heartbreak, can love still be a rule of the road? A poignant and romantic novel from the author of Bittersweet and Twenty Boy Summer.
Jude has learned a lot from her older sisters, but the most important thing is this: The Vargas brothers are notorious heartbreakers. She’s seen the tears and disasters that dating a Vargas boy can cause, and she swore an oath—with candles and a contract and everything—to never have anything to do with one.
Now Jude is the only sister still living at home, and she’s spending the summer helping her ailing father restore his vintage motorcycle—which means hiring a mechanic to help out. Is it Jude’s fault he happens to be cute? And surprisingly sweet? And a Vargas?
Jude tells herself it’s strictly bike business with Emilio. Her sisters will never find out, and Jude can spot those flirty little Vargas tricks a mile away—no way would she fall for them. But Jude’s defenses are crumbling, and if history is destined to repeat itself, she’s speeding toward some serious heartbreak…unless her sisters were wrong?
Jude may have taken an oath, but she’s beginning to think that when it comes to love, some promises might be worth breaking.
Doesn't it sound phenomenal? And it's so appropriate for Valentine's Day! I've been looking forward to this book ever since I found out about it last year! You may know Sarah Ockler from titles such as Twenty Boy Summer, Fixing Delilah, and Bittersweet. After reading those wonderful things (But seriously, I loved them, and you need to read them if you haven't. Stat.), I have to say that Ockler is one of my favorite contemporary YA authors , much less one of the best in the YA world when it comes to the whole package as a writer. And look at the cover. It is resplendant. To think that the story behind it will probably be twenty times as great, sign me up. Like the day it comes out. Or sooner. May 21 can't come soon enough!
Furthermore, I highly encourage you to check out Sarah's website (where you can find her blog) and connect with her via social media (Twitter, Goodreads).
May 21st!
'Til next time!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

editorial: bringing down the new adults

             The latest emergence in the graticule of the literary world is upon us, and it comes in an attempt of marketers to introduce a new genre to publishing: new adult. Over the past few months in the media, sparks have flown ever so freely on the topic, and for good reason. The very motive to create the genre, according to those who have mercilessly weighed in on the topic, is irrational and insulting to readers in the target audience. We will return to their arguments later; first, let’s take a look at the support for this movement.
             Proponents of this controversial genre define new adult as a category aiming to sell to and depict 18-25 year-old protagonists heroically taking on the world alone for the first time. These characters deal with issues of identity, sexuality, substance abuse, and more. They usually prove victorious in the end, having been hired for their first job or moved away from their childhood home into a college dorm at the beginning of the story. Oh, and we must not forget the defining attribute of adult fiction (which sets it apart from the likes of YA): the sex! Oh, the sex…
             The strongest advocates of the genre are novice novelists who write about characters in their college years. Seeing a readership gap in this lifetime transition period, these (mostly female) writers claim that publishers won’t risk publishing the too-old-for-YA-and-too-young-for-adult stories for lack of demand. But these writers continue to fight for the genre. Apparently, fish have to swim, writers have to write sell their work.
This being written, I tend to agree with the opposition: while the adoption of a contemporary YA voice by an older protagonist seems all well and good, new adult is not needed. Why?
First, I start with the thing that sets the genre apart from the likes of YA: sex. Sex does sell, doesn't it? Enter 50 Shades ofGrey. What a masterpiece… of crap. Goodness, I’m sad to say I deigned low enough even to consider reading it; one of my friends who did read it stopped halfway through the series, saying that although she has always finished her book series, continuing on through this one was pointless. It is not pointless, however, to say she’s in the new adult demographic, and was not too impressed by the the gasping-and-grabbing sexual themes (full exhalations included) that contribute to the book. Another of my friends (also in new adult’s target audience, and a reader and writer of YA) said she finished the first book and said it was essentially a rip off of Twilight, only with oodles of sex thrown into the plot. She did not even bother with the second. And this is not to say that sex is an unimportant plot device that holds no value in storytelling. Sexual encounters can define lives, and that should reflect in literature. But to think that the revealing of “the mystery” defines a genre and that genre is considered a stepping stone in the categorical and often diagrammatic world of aging readers, that’s pathetic. Besides, what about those readers that are early bloomers? They moved on from Percy Jackson early and are moving on from Sarah Dessen at 15. What is there to do when you are not able to purchase the shrink-wrapped, locked down copy of the next age-defining genre marked “EXPLICIT” on your lonesome? I suppose you should stop reading?
(For reference, YA has dealt with sex in the past. If you want to see how to deal with sex in a tasteful way with a contemporary YA voice (which is what new adult adopts, essentially), read Sarah Ockler’s Twenty Boy Summer. It may have been banned from a few libraries, but she knows how to craft a novel and deal with those sensitive topics, let me tell you.)
Second, maybe the reason why the writers of this genre are not being published is because their writing is not worthy to face the world just yet. Seriously, writing fiction is hard. It’s the most challenging thing I have personally ever done, and while I would love more than anything to be a published author one day, I realize that writing does not only take a set of balls (much less a steel set), but also the right training and a natural knack for language and storytelling. To blame not being published because of your incomplete metamorphosis as a writer on the age of your character is wrong. Young people are incredibly capable of doing wonderful things in the world, of having adventure, of experiencing something unique and intriguing. It shows in books that have been published in the past, and they were published with smashing success because the authors wrote stories that were well thought out and researched. Examples of these novels (with the character name and age) include Water for Elephants (Jacob Jankowsky, 23), The Help (Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan, 23), The Devil Wears Prada (Andrea Sachs, recent graduate), This Side of Paradise (Armory Blaine, early 20s), and many others. Think about it. In many books, age is not mentioned or maybe forgotten because circumstance and the undying human spirit is more important to the journey and, more importantly, the journey of the reader. This raises the question: does age really matter? Are authors condemning themselves because they stereotype characters even in their own minds by their characters’ ages? It is a question to ponder. The lesson we learn? Writers, do NOT blame your characters for what you made them do, or rather what you did not make them do.
Third, books not only have the ability to record the world, but to influence it; if we settle for and support a genre that celebrates prolonged adolescence and unnecessary records of sex, we should not only worry about what future generations will think about us, but we should be worried that tomorrow will not be changed for the better because of us being here. Although sex impacts our lives immensely,the need to procreate is a common trait among species much, much lower than human beings. If what makes us human is the ability to create and connect on an emotional level, not just a physical level, shouldn't we celebrate that instead? On that same line, if we involve sex, why are we filling the pages of our books with the physicality of it? What really matters should be the emotional impact and connection it garners. Think about it. What legacy do we want to leave to our children through the written word: one of the physicality of sex or one that values the depth of the human spirit?
Finally, Sherry K. Plummer once said,“You can travel the world and never leave your chair when you read a book.” I fear with defining new adult as one of the categories of the literary world, our passports will never be stamped. After everything that has happened in this world, books should be able to take us outside of ourselves and experience what we couldo therwise not. Be swept away to a meeting with Maya Angelou and her close friends in All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes; learn about how Africa is viewed as her Mother and how she views life. Don’t sit in your dorm and readabout a girl who lives in a dorm on a campus oh so similar to yours. That’sludicrous. Broaden your horizons instead of inspecting your pores in a makeup mirror. Plus, with that logic, we should probably set up the following sections in Barnes and Noble:
             -5-12: Children
             -12-18: Young Adult.
             -18-25: New Adult.
             -25-30: Career Adult.
             -30-40: Just Adult.
             -40-50: Mid-life Adult.
             -50-60: Old Adult.
             -60-70: Retiring Adult.
             -70-80: New Senior.
             -80-90: Old Senior.
             -90-100: Ancient Senior.
             In the end, I agree that the transition between high school and college is a bumpy ridefor many mediums, including literature. I do not, however, agree that creating a new genre, especially the new adult as is, is the right answer. Furthermore, your thoughts are just as important as mine. Do you think that the new adult genre is a marketing ploy? Do publishing houses have a point: is there no audience for it? Where do males play a part in this? The questions are not infinite, but they are extensive. Ask away. Answer. Respond.

Until next time.
If you would like to read more on the new adult genre and the opinions expressed on its various fronts, please take a look at these resources, which helped me understand its current developments:

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