This past month my book club (minus me because I was bad) read and chatted about Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins. I read this book last year and I’ve read the sequel, Demonglass and found both to be a jolly good time. My friend Melissa @ The Book Nut was the Keeper of the Book for this round and you’ll find her review along with a few tidbits from the YAckers over HERE.
I’ll warn you ahead of time, if you are of delicate sensibilities you might just want to skip this post altogether.
When She Woke
Author: Hillary Jordan
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Date: October 4th 2011
Genre: Adult/YA (vaguely)- Dystopian
So let’s just say it put it out there in the open and get it over with- this book is about abortion. It’s basically a retelling of Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter but set in a not too distant future that isn’t quite dystopian because the end of the world as we know it is far less scary than the society portrayed in this book (My world would have ended when they tied this unbaptized non-believer of the Judeo-Christian faith to a stake and set it ablaze. At least I wouldn’t be alive to see society de-evolve to something like this. Pun intended).
Hannah Payne had an illicit affair with a married man that resulted in an unplanned pregnancy. In Hannah’s staunchly religious society, pregnancy out of wedlock is a huge no-no. In order to protect the man she loves from political and social downfall, she elects to have an abortion. Roe vs. Wade has long since been overturned and abortion isn’t just illegal it carries with it a sentence that is nearly lifelong (While this is a horrifying nightmare, it’s one I’d like to doubt would ever happen in the next thousand years at least for a myriad of reasons, mainly because even a lot of the right wing Nutty Buddies recognize the importance of a woman’s right to choose. Plus they’d want to keep their options open for the women in their own family, if nothing else. Not to mention the US as a whole isn’t a fan of polarizing anything. And our democratic process as been reduced to a pissing match of cockblocks that ends up with people biting their own necks. So even if something did end up crawling its way out of the political mire, it’s pork by-products would be the issue, not the patsy bill that was passed. So nice/horrible idea but it was one of the reasons why I couldn’t get myself riled up about the terribleness of the society. Plus I’m kind of burnt out on religious crack pots. Being told you’re going to hell from the age of 11 kind of builds up one’s tolerance to such douchebaggery.). Hannah is Chromed, a form of punishment that turns her entire body a color that is meant to signify the nature of her crime. They turned her red, the color for murder. For the next sixteen years Hannah will be an outcast of society, with limited means and options, virtually no social ties and she forfeits her right to bear children. (It makes me wonder what color they’d use for hypocrites. Rainbow?)
I mentioned earlier how scary this book is and it is but for more than just the idea of such a horrible future. I was scared for the author when I started reading it because this book could easily offend over half, if not more, of its readers- me being one of them. It began with vaguely preachy undertones, and though it might make me a bit of a hypocrite, if they had reflected an opinion or an agenda that I didn’t want to entertain, I would not have continued. Thankfully, Jordan is a lot more skilled than I was ready to give her credit for and she managed, for the most part to keep a tone of forced impartiality that balanced well with Hannah’s unwavering resolve. In short, I felt that all viewpoints were Hannah’s and not the author’s and I wasn’t forced to throw bricks at the book. (Agreed. My preached-to bullshit meter is extra sensitive and I didn’t pick up any of that there. In fact I was really surprised how much the author stayed out of the whole thing and left the lessons to the MC. Seriously, that’s talent.)
Hannah was a difficult character to like. I wanted to support her full out because she was just SO dead set on doing whatever the hell she wanted to do but her main reason, THE MAIN REASON, was to protect that idiot douche bag man and it made it hard for me to support her. I did, gosh darn it, but I just wanted to shake her. With that in mind, standing by her another woman’s man was her only really stupid decision. The rest of her actions were rather admirable and daring and in the end I felt represented a very level approach (in regards to her actions as well as the tone of the story) to her situation. (I didn’t mind her so much. I didn’t feel her punishment fit the crime but I think that was the point. I did want to slap her throughout the story for constantly going back to her baby daddy, either mentally or physically and I’m wondering just how we’re supposed to view that guy. Is he the good guy because he doesn’t cut and run or the bad guy because he cuts and runs? Read the book. You’ll understand that incomprehensible sentence better. I’m trying not to spoil here. I was unsure of what to feel for him and I was unsure of my actual feelings for him. And I still am and it kinds of bothers me. But I’m sure I’ll sleep okay. I think ultimately he’s a dick of varying degrees.)
There wasn’t much I didn’t like, since the author intentionally wrote in the things she wanted to appall you. There was a romantic encounter towards the end of the story that I felt was intentionally placed for pure shock value which was unnecessary since the story itself was allll about the shock but other than that I couldn’t find much to fault. (Agreed. I didn’t know why that encounter was there because Hannah’s beliefs go all FUBAR by that point. It’s really just insult to injury and it doesn’t go anywhere. Maybe it’s a means to help her start a new life but even that’s a stretch. I didn’t see it coming before it happened and when it did it seemed out of the blue so I wasn’t a fan. That was pretty much the only part of the story that I didn’t like simply because it felt contrived and really the story wouldn’t have been any different without it. It just didn’t fit right in context for me.)
While this is a very good book and could potentially expand a mind or two, the subject matter falls under the category of things you don’t talk about in polite society (religion, politics, abortion, the Kardashians) which makes it very hard to recommend. But I can tell you that this book is a very unique read that will make you either intensely angry or serve to further cement your beliefs and for that reason alone, it’s worth exploring. (Shit, I’ll recommend it. I don’t think the blowhards will find the value in it but like that’s surprising. It makes you think. And I mean really think. Even if you’re pro-life would you want to live in a society like this? And anything that makes a person think and ask question and gain knowledge is a good thing. It’ll definitely ignite some serious emotions in readers and maybe you’ll become more aware because of it or maybe it’ll just anger you and you’ll want to throw it across the room. Either way it did it’s job. It planted the seed. I like seeds.)
I’d just like to add, I read this book shortly after my states’ November election in which we voted on and ultimately squelched the Personhood amendment. I won’t go into detail on this. Look it up if that’s your thing but this little book came along at the perfect time for me. Major props to Miz Jordan as writing this book took like, I don’t know, eight pairs of balls.
Sandy @ Pirate Penguin Reads was “The Keeper of the Book” this go round but is a bit bogged down with school at the moment but she started off the discussion so I want to give credit where it is due.
Liesl and Po
Author: Lauren Oliver
Date: September 1st 2011
Genre: Children’s (MG)- Fantasy
From Goodreads: Liesl lives in a tiny attic bedroom, locked away by her cruel stepmother. Her only friends are the shadows and the mice—until one night a ghost appears from the darkness. It is Po, who comes from the Other Side. Both Liesl and Po are lonely, but together they are less alone.
That same night, an alchemist’s apprentice, Will, bungles an important delivery. He accidentally switches a box containing the most powerful magic in the world with one containing something decidedly less remarkable.
Will’s mistake has tremendous consequences for Liesl and Po, and it draws the three of them together on an extraordinary journey.
Sandy started it off with the question: “So for starters…how was the overall impression? Were there parts in the book were you felt Oliver rocked it or where things got a little dull? Oh, and if this was your first time reading Lauren Oliver’s books…it was for me (despite the fact that I own Delirium & Before I Fall…which I never read. Oops.)” And the discussion went pretty much like this:
Laura (that’s meh): It really was a very cute, sweet little story. But as in my previous experience with Oliver, the over all effect was just, er, clunky (and that will require more sleep to explain). She was doing so well with drawing all her characters save for the main ones. I ended the story feeling that I didn’t know anything about Liesel or Po but was quite enamored of some of the supporting characters- who were much more fleshed out. I felt this kept me from sympathizing as much with Liesel as the story wanted me to. I had similar problems with her writing when I read Delirium. Oliver has more than a few bouts of really beautiful language and descriptions that it’s impossible to not like her! I get to an “oh my!” moment with her writing and then she slacks off again. I really think she’s going to have more in her (and better) but she’s just not done cooking yet.
Melissa: I think Laura is spot on. (Dang, am I just going to spend this discussion agreeing with everyone?) I liked the book, thought it was sweet, but ended up feeling really detached from the whole thing. Like I was listening to someone tell a very nice story, but one that I wasn’t that interested in. I was actually more interested in the world — she could have done more with the magic and the Other Side than she did — than the characters.
Donna: I’m gonna third that. I thought it was a lovely story. Like I’ve said before, kind of like Neil Gaiman and Kate DiCamillo had a nominally talented baby. I liked Oliver’s DELIRIUM and was able to get into it and LIESL & PO wasn’t any different but if was a very surface-y story. It just skimmed along, traveling from point A to point B until it reached the end. It was nice, but that was about it. It’s also a particular style she was trying for that doesn’t render depth. Which is fine. This isn’t a YA story; it’s middle grade, closer to a children’s book so it’s not going to get crazy deep. So keeping that in mind I think it allowed me to get a little more into the story because I could set the surface-y thing aside. I enjoyed it.
Sandy: Melissa, you’re not the only one who’s going to agree with everyone; I’m nodding my head with all of your comments. And you know, I didn’t even consider this until Donna brought it up: L&P IS middle grade so it’s not meant to have so much depth as a YA or adult novel would. I didn’t even think about that. I did feel like I was skating on ice when I read the book; the experience was nice, but overall I didn’t feel inspired.. but I did like the pictures xD
Melissa: I’ve been thinking about the assertion that this isn’t deep because it’s middle grade reading. On one level, I agree: most middle grade writing is “simplified” for the age level. But I also think that Oliver just wasn’t talented enough to pull of simple, but not simplified. There are authors — Kathy Appelt, Jane Birdsall, Gary Schmidt are a few that I can throw off the top of my head — that can handle complex issues simply and yet give them depth and complexity. I just don’t think Oliver could.
“Who’d you feel was the most well-developed villain of the story? And what did you feel like Oliver’s message was?” -Sandy
Donna: Looking back at it, all of the villains felt really like stock characters. You had the alchemist which was your standard crank that hated kids. The Lady Premiere who wanted eternal youth. Liesl’s step-mother who locked her away and, to an extent, the lady from the train for comic relief. I think the best, most complicated villain was the woman at the tavern that sent the children to the Lady Premiere’s house. There was more than one side to that situation and while she was a blink in a chapter, I think it rendered her the best villain for me. As for the message, I try not to think about those when reading. This book was basically a play to kids about how horrible adults can be while the kids’ intentions were pure. You’ll find allies in the most absurd places and persistence will get you to your goal.
All in all I think the general consensus was that we all liked it, we just didn’t love it. And for me, I stand by my statement that Oliver has more in her than she’s shown so far and I challenge her to BRING IT.
The YAckers is an invitation only YA book club that utilizes Facebook as its base of operation. Members that participated in this discussion: