Sunday, January 17, 2016

Mini Reviews: Goodbye Stranger, In Real Life, The Rest of Us Just Live Here

I usually don't write full-on reviews on Goodreads, because I feel like with hundreds of people weighing in on any one book, my synopsis can only be redundant.  Even most analysis has been thoroughly hashed out by the time I get to a book.  (This is probably related to my history of being a library user, meaning I'm usually reading older books.)  Instead, I just post my own reactions and thoughts, mostly for my own future reference.

These are the last three books I've "reviewed" on Goodreads.  Take them for what they are.

Goodbye, Stranger by Rebecca Stead

Published 2015 by Wendy Lamb Books

This book is a rare example of a book that is just right for middle schoolers. They disdain anything childish--slap a "suitable for grades 5-8" label on a book and watch them run away from it--but aren't as ready for more adult fare as they might think. 

Bridge, Emily, and Tab are three smart seventh grade girls with a long and healthy friendship. They find themselves developing in different directions and at different speeds as they move into middle school. Emily, the jock, begins a flirtation that leads to peer pressure and sexting. Bridge makes a boy friend, but is pretty sure she doens't want him to be a boyfriend. Tab gets her consciousness raised by her feminist English teacher (Go Feminist English Teachers!). Some "good" kids make some bad decisions, some "bad" kids wind up doing the right thing after all, and adults are realistically supportive yet somewhat irrelevant to the kids.

Less successful is the parallel story told in 2nd person. I can handle second person and multiple storylines, but the big secret just wasn't that exciting, and the coffee shop mentor was a little too wise. I also wasn't sure what that plotline added to the story--"Sometimes it's okay to grow apart from someone"? The other thread of storyline, Sherm's letters to his absent grandpa, were more poignant, and helped move the story along. 

The epilogue was also unnecessary, but I forgive it because it was so dang cute.  4 stars

In Real Life by Cory Doctorow, illustrations by Jen Wang

Published 2014 by First Second

For me, this is one of those graphic novels I would have enjoyed more as a novel-novel. It felt too much like the abridged version of a longer, more interesting story. Still, interesting story and great illustrations.  3 stars

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

Published 2015 by HarperTeen

I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Ness at a conference last month and getting him to sign new copies of all three Chaos Walking books for me. I had somehow pegged him as a Brit, but no, he told me he grew up in Puyallup. That added to my understanding of the setting of this book--Mt. Hood is The Mountain where I live, but Ranier is The Mountain of the book. I'm still figuring out Twitter, and after meeting him, I started following Ness there. It seems from his tweets that he is gay, grew up in a religious family, and has anxiety issues. So that gave me some background on Jared, Henna, and Mikey himself. Does any of this matter in the least? I mean, he's written sci fi about worlds and situations nobody has ever been in, so clearly he's capable of using his imagination and empathy to create. Still, there is an emotional truth in this novel that I think must be informed by his own life experience. 

I was torn on four vs. five stars--I really enjoyed it, but while the whole Chosen One "subplot" was clever and fun, it's maybe a little too gimmicky for me, reducing rather than enhancing the emotional effect of the story. 

I don't think I will never not read a book this man writes though. Holy Cow, is he great. 4 stars


  1. I've been wanting to read Ness's book. I love that learning more about the author gave you insight into his characters.

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

    1. Some of the authors I saw speak at that conference were so amazing in person that I want to go back and re-read books of theirs that I didn't love. It brings up the age-old question of if and whether you can separate the artist as a person from their work.


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