A book review of The Marvels by Brain Selznick.
Video From: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KwDThu5n9pY
The Marvels was published in 2015 by Scholastic Press and is a middle grade novel told with both beautifully crafted illustrations and proses (the ordinary language people use in speaking or writing- Merriam Webster's definition). This is not Selznick's first novel, as he has written and illustrated several others including The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Wonderstruck, and The Houdini Box. He has also illustrated for others fellow authors including Andrew Clements (Frindle, The School Story, and The Landry News), who is one of my all time favorite children's authors and Barbara Kerley (The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins), who I have yet to read anything from. The Marvels did not disappoint when it came to evoking the true Brain Selznick flare seen within all his novels, one that seamlessly connects its illustrations with its written format, however, the overall storyline was not as enchanting as those told within the pages of Hugo and Wonderstruck. While reading this novel, I found myself comparing The Marvels to Selznick's previous works, a booming voice within my own head, one I wished could have silenced, but sadly I could not, making this review more judgmental than pure and honest.
The Marvels by Brain Selznick follows (1990) our main character, Joseph Jervis, who is a boy seeking a place of refuge, a home due to the fact that he is dissatisfied with his current life. This parents love to travel making Joseph's life uncomfortable and unpleasable because he never stays in one place for too long. This leads to Joseph's ultimate decision of running away from the life he is familiar with including life at the St. Anthony's boarding school and his parent's constant uprooting. Joseph ends up running away to his astranged Uncle Albert's estate on 18 Folgate Street in London, where he not only learns about his family's past history, but also makes a friend with Albert's neighbors daughter, Frankie. However, things aren't always as they seem, when a story of Billy Marvel, a 1766 survivor of a horrendous ship wreck and the stories related to Billy's families legacy, expanding five-generations of theather actors come out, many questions begin to arise.
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This novel was a fairly quick read despite its length (667 pages), mainly due to the 400 plus pages of detailed illustrations, leaving a merely 200 page tale in proses. A story that interweaves a tale from 1766 to a tale from the 1990's was a very interesting concept from the start despite its flaws, as I found the pay off of this novel to be quite dull. However, I won't spoil you for tantalizing details, especially for those who have yet to read this novel. What was also suprising about this novel was the way Selznick was able to include an under the radar LGBTQ character, Selznick is gay himself, so it was interesting to see his take on gender identities. I typically don't like reading books with LGBTQ character due to my beliefs and christian background (not at all stating intolerance or unright dishate), based on my own personal perferances, nonethless, I found Selznick take to be quite enjoyable. This was because the LGBTQ narrative was not overally emphasized and could be easily missed by younger reader, but for those who are interested I recommend focusing in on Uncle Albert's dialogue. However, I do appalude Selznick for incoperating diverse characters into most if not all his novels. In conclusion, I would give this novel a four out of five stars, it was an enjoyable read, but I wouldn't consider this novel to be as fabulous as my favorite Brain Selznick book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, a book I highly recommend, alongside its movie.
A review of A Sun is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon (no spoilers included)
The Sun is Also A Star follows our two main characters, Natasha Kingsley, a Jamaican-American and Daniel Jae Ho Bae, a Korean-American, each unique and completely opposite of one another. Natasha, doesn't believe in much unless it is scientifically proven, while Daniel is a dreamer with a deep belief in fate. Natasha's family is on the brink of deportation, while Daniel is struggling to live up to his family's high expectations. This novel tells their two narratives, across a small 24-hour window, a day in which both of them try to conquer their family circumstances, while battling the consequences that unwind after storylines collide.
The Sun is Also A Star, is one part love story and one part family complications and broken pasts, which help to build the foundations of this spectacular 2016 release. The diversity of the characters was something that helped make this novel a stand out, especially with the added chapters relating the history behind their cultures, families, and personalities such as 'Hair: An African American History' and 'Multiverses: A Quantum History.' These chapters also helped in displaying Yoon's poetic writing style, which is my favorite element to all her stories, thus far.
What I also appreciated about this novel, was how unafraid Yoon was when writing it, she was able to introduce many prevalent issues that are on-going in today's society issues including legal and illegal immigration in America, Asian stereotypes related to intelligence, and the pursuit of the American dream. These issues are typically unseen within young adult fiction and something that needs to be voiced more readily.
Secondly, I found myself constantly rooting for Daniel and Natasha's relationship, despite the obvious use of 'instalove' within this novel, I found that it didn't bother me as much as it has in other novels because I could understand the characters motives behind it. The characters needed to believe in love, especially when their current realities seemed to be falling apart in front of them. Yoon also makes her readers think about the following questions, Can fate be real and is there such a thing as love at first sight? Only the reader can decide, which character to side with, Daniel, the believe or Natasha, the unbeliever.
Thirdly, I believe the dual perspective narrative within this novel were well executed. This method of story telling really worked, but allowed the reader the chance to see each characters' individual voices and wasn't not at all choppy, but flowed from one chapter to the next.
Despite, the positives aspects of this book, there were still a few issues I had with this novel, many related to the language usage and innuendoes that were sprinkled throughout the story. I really disliked Charlie, Daniel's older brother, finding him to be rude and crass, but I believe Yoon wrote him to be unlikeable. However, he was not my least favorite character, my least favorite character was Attorney Fitzgereld based upon his selfishness and arrogance seen throughout his storyline. I also disapprove of all the vulgar language used through-out this novel, even though, used sparingly, I believe it ultimately, took away from the story's overall tonality, one overflowing with hopefulness and longing.
Overall, this story was addicting and infectious, despite it few flaws, I would easily give this book a 4.5 out of 5 stars. The positive elements definitely outweighed the negative, but I would only recommend this story for a older audience (+ 15 and up) as there are trigger warnings for sexual and vulgar language. This story will stick with me for a long time because of its overarching themes related to never giving up and the importance of believing in something despite its consequences and hardships.
Since You've Benn Gone begins when our main character, Emily, when she discovers that her best friend, Sloane had vanished unannounced after they had planned what seemed to be the most incredible summer of both of their lives. However, Sloane doesn't leave Emily empty handed because she ends up leaving Emily with a to-do list that could ultimately help Emily break out of her shell without her. This list contains 13 tasks that Emily was reluctant or scare to do in the past, nonetheless, these tasks will force Emily to break out of her comfort zone.
These tasks include: Kissing a stranger, going skinny-dipping, stealing something, breaking something, sleeping under the stars, and dancing util dawn, to name a few of the 13 tasks written on this list. Emily believes that if she completes these 13 tasks it will help her discover the whereabouts of Sloane, but what she ends up finding relates more to self-discovery than friendship rekindling.
What shocks Emily the most is when she ends up getting help from a few unexpected characters such as Frank Porter, the school academic nerd and soon to be class president, Matthew 'Collins,' a humungous player, and Dawn, a Captain Pizza employee with a broken heart, these rag-tag Stanwich-ians will help Emily check off the items on her list and help face some of her biggest fears, such as riding a 'Dern horse, ya cowpoke.'
Overall, I was a bit underwhelmed by the plot of this novel, despite loving a few of the characters. If it weren't for Frank and Dawn or Morgan Matson's writing style, I might have DNFed this book (Do Not Finish). What surprised me the most was how quickly Emily was able to forget about her search for Sloane after receiving the to-do list on page 27 of chapter one, as if this to-do list was her answers to all her problems. Readers, such as myself would then have to commit a total of 371 pages, just so that Emily from page one would reappear on page 398 to realize that she was neglecting the very question that was suppose to drive the entire story, "So where the hell was Sloane?" (Matson, 2014, p. 398). This answer does come to fruition by the end of the book, but bear in mind this book is only 450 pages long.
I'd been avoiding questions like why my best friend had just left me without a word. I'd been thinking , hoping that this would lead to something. But maybe it was like her other lists, full of things she mush have known, deep down, I would be too scared to attempt" (Matson, 2014, p. 398).
Another issue I had with this book, related to some of the tasks placed on the to-do list itself. Tasks including the using of a fake-ids (Penelope) in order to sneak into a bar undetected, stealing someone else's belongings, and skinny-dipping are just a few of the rebellious actions Emily takes that summer, despite her disapprove from the start. These actions would be consider delinquent behaviors, characterizing peer pressure and the negative influence Sloane had on Emily due to being Emily's only friend thus far (beginning of the novel). In my opinion, I believe Emily was a way better friend to Sloane then Sloane ever was to Emily because Emily was able to protect her innocence and had a moral compass.
Thirdly, I found a few of the plot lines to be predictable, especially the plots including Frank and Emily's relationship, however, obvious, I found myself rooting for these characters and their potential teenage romance.
There were also many elements to this story I did enjoy, such as seeing Emily create new and healthier friendships than the one she had with Sloane. I also enjoyed Emily and Beckett's relationship as brother and sister demonstrated in one of my favorite scenes in the entire novel. The scene was when Emily goes camping in the backyard with her brother after Beckett's camping trip with his father gets cancelled, which depicts Emily's love for family.
After reading this novel and thinking back on my reading experience, I would give this novel a 3.25 out of 5 stars, making this my least favorite of Morgan Matson's novels, but this in no way shapes my opinion of Morgan Matson as an author, as she will continue to be an 'auto-buy' or 'instant-must-read' author for me and I can't wait to see what her next work will bring, however, I might have to wait another two years, as she just released The Unexpected Everything this past year.
Matson, M. (2014). Since you've been gone. Simon and schuster.
A Book Review (#2): The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson -- #Dog Lovers, #RomCom, #Friendship Goals, #Growing Up
A Spoiler- Free Review
Morgan Matson is known in the YA world as being one of the masters of summery contemporary novels. Her novels include Amy and Roger's Epic Detour, Second Chance Summer, and Since You've Been Gone, along with her most recent novel, The Unexpected Everything published on May 3rd, 2016. The Unexpected Everything, was my third Morgan Matson read, leaving only Since You've Been Gone and her other novels written under the name Katie Finn, such as the Top 8 and the Broken Hearts and Revenge Trilogies, yet to be consumed.
The Unexpected Everything, follows our main character, Andie Walker, as she prepares for the summer, a summer, which has been has been planned out for months now, where she will spend the summer at John Hopkins taking the "pre-pre-med-med" program. This was until her recommendation letter was revoked due to news stating that her father, Alexander Walker, a congressman and politician was involved in a scandal that was now under investigation. In turn, leaving both her and her father home for the summer with little plans and more than awkward interactions. Mr. Walker has to re-learn his responsibilities as a parent and Andie has to search for something to fill her summer's now empty to-do list. It isn't until long before Andie finds herself roped into the dog walking business, a job she didn't exactly imagine for herself, as she had never owned a dog before. What makes this manageable though, is when she realizes that her best friends, Bri, Toby, and Palmer are also forced to stay in Stanwich, Connecticut, their hometown for the summer.
This is only the beginning of an unpredictable summer, especially when Andie receives a new dog walking client, Bertie, the oversized, fluffy, white dog she is tasked of walking every evening. As with every new client comes its caregiver, who happens to be Clark Bruce McCallister, a 19-year-old fantasy novelist, also known as, Morgan Matson's swoon worthy male lead, who is depicted as a teenage version of 'Clark Kent, Superman's true identity.' However, Bertie doesn't belong to Clark because Clark is only his step-in caregiver for the summer. Bertie belongs to Clark's publicist, along with the house he is staying in for the three month time-frame. The relationship between Andie and Clark quickly blooms despite it's uneasy beginnings and awkward first interactions. Nonetheless, each scene can be re-imagined with a romantic comedy undertone. Overall, Andie's summer does not go as expected, not even by a long shot. Andie's summer is now filled with friends, adorable dogs, a new relationship, and most importantly her family.
After looking back over my reading experience of The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson, I can comfortably give this novel a 4 out of 5 star rating. This novel was not a five star rating for me, as I found most of the novel's plot line to be predictable such as the moments where we found out who Andie's new client was going to be and who Wyatt (a boy Toby was obsesses with) was interested in.
Secondly, I didn't give this novel a five star rating due to the the amount of make-outs scenes and alcoholic references (not as many), which can be seen within many high school dramas or movies, but is not always presented in every high schoolers' story outside the mainstream media. I'm mainly referencing to my own experiences, coming from a low-key christian background, and being someone who didn't encounter this herself. Nonetheless, it could also been do to the fact that I tried to avoid these scenarios, as much as possible, living a pretty sheltered life due to my own moral standards.
However, what I did adore about this novel was the friendship that was represented between the main characters. This type of friendship is sometimes rarely seen within literature, one where friends are truly bonded together and care about each others actions and feelings, which was strongly woven in the relationship between Andie, Palmer, Bri, and Toby's storylines. It was also one that was realistic because the friendships weren't equal, some of the characters were closer to others, especially when you look at Toby and Bri's relationship.
I also enjoyed seeing the characters develop throughout this novel, from Andie realizing, she doesn't need to have everything planned, to Toby figuring out who she was outside her friend group, and to Clark conquering his writer's block. However, my favorite part was seeing Andie and her father's relationship re-build, especially when her father seemed to loosen up (during the scavenger hunt scenes). Along with, seeing his respect and care for his daughter was truly touching, a family dynamic that sometimes is missed from YA novels.
I even appreciated, the underlying theme Matson was trying to convey throughout this novel. A theme that can be encompassed by the saying by Bill Watterson, the cartoonist behind Calvin and Hobbs, "We're so busy watching out for what's just ahead of us that we don't take time to enjoy where we are," ("Goodreads," n.d.). A reminder that we should live in the moment and not resemble our main character, Andie's past self, the one who had everything planned because if we lived like that, we might miss the unexpected.
This 519-page novel flew by and for those who are looking for a light-hearted, contemporary read, I recommended this book to you.
Goodreads. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/live-in-the-moment