Monday, July 7, 2014

Review: 101 Ways to Dance by Kathy Stinson

Description: In this quirky collection, award-winning author for young people Kathy Stinson offers characters and plotlines that reflect the many ways teens learn about lust and love. From the first stirrings of same-sex desire on a lakeside beach to troubling paternity questions around a teen pregnancy, 101 Ways to Dance reflects the spectrum of teen sexuality from the very sweet to the very scary.

Stats: Young Adult Short Story Collection, Paperback, 150 pages, Published by Second Story Press, March 2007.

My Rating: 2 STARS

Spoiler Alert: Involves no actual dancing. wink.

101 Ways to Dance is a collection of short stories, sometimes as short as two pages long, that follow various teenagers as they first experience love and lust. With a topic as interesting and varied as that I expected a lot more from 101 Ways to Dance than I got.

While trying to come up with exactly what I should say about this book, I came up with only one comparison. It was a lot like taking a museum tour.

We got to walk through a situation, one of incredibly meaning in a young person's life, but you don't care about the characters. You've known this person for two pages and all you've got to work with is that they're horny. I just couldn't connect and one after another I felt like I was being shown something, something of emotional value, but really it's just a lifeless display behind a thick pane of glass with a sign that says: Warning: Teenagers like sex. To make matters worse, each story felt parred down, like the author was trying to teach me something more so than tell an interesting and in-depth story.

I don't want to be presumptuous and say that teen sexuality has changed all that much in six years, but this book felt like it was written for a different time. For a book written in 2007 it felt surprisingly dated. From the practice of "Call this number if you want a good time", to hitchhiking, to passing around a erotic book with all your friends in school. Although I'm sure these things still happen, for a book about relatability, it just wasn't that relatable when sexuality is so intertwined with the internet and practices like sexting.

It was just a very meh experience overall. The only thing that really clicked for me was the final story All You Need is a Song, which followed two teens who have down syndrome and their own experience with first love. I would have loved to see a novel surrounding just them, but as it was it left me wanting more.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Review: Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella

Description: Lara Lington has always had an overactive imagination, but suddenly that imagination seems to be in overdrive. Normal professional twenty-something young women don’t get visited by ghosts. Or do they?

When the spirit of Lara’s great-aunt Sadie—a feisty, demanding girl with firm ideas about fashion, love, and the right way to dance—mysteriously appears, she has one request: Lara must find a missing necklace that had been in Sadie’s possession for more than seventy-five years, because Sadie cannot rest without it.

Stats: Contemporary Fiction, 435 pages, First Published by The Dial Press, July 2009.

My Rating: 3 STARS

Twenties Girl is a ghost story about Lara, a young struggling business women who just got dumped by both her boyfriend and her flaky business partner. Enter Sadie, a 1920's loving former 105 year old who just can't rest in peace without her beloved necklace.

Allow me to start by asking: Is there such thing as a reasonable ghost? I know that them being overly demanding is what make plots like this one work, but for once when the all seeing heroine is freaking out I would love to see a super-reasonable ghostie be all, "Don't worry about it and I'll just come back later when I wouldn't be inconveniencing your life. I'm dead so I have a little bit more perspective then I did when I was living, but If you could at some point save my immortal soul then that would be great too. kthxbye"

But I do love this kind of ghost story, so much so that I've been a little over saturated, but what sold this book for me was Kinsella's writing. Her dialogue and creating individual character voices was what kept me interested despite my former experience in this genre.

Unfortunately, this book wasn't all that it could have been for me. For 435 pages, it didn't feel like it's length matched it's content. The story has this comfortable familiarity to it, but sometimes it got to a point where I was just stuck waiting for the next plot point to come, already knowing what it is. I was just waiting for things to get to the punchline and waiting and waiting.

The characters suffered from this as well, even though they were all energetic and fun, it took till well into the third half of the book for me to start really wanting to root for them. I felt very sympathetic for Lara and Sadie, but I never had that moment where I connected with them. I would feel bad for the situation and then one of them would do something and I would just think, "Someone needs to smack this person. Why hasn't that happened yet?"

Twenties GirlThis frustration happened especially when it came to Lara's relationship with Josh. I know it was suppose to be frustrating, that's part of why I can applaud Kinsella's writing, but it was still there after some 200+ pages. Why? I have no idea.

There were a lot of moments like that one that pushed my buttons but still much to my surprise I found myself enjoying the story. I am a sucker for good dialogue and I absolutely loved the way things ended. This may not have been the most smooth introduction to Sophie Kinsella's writing, but I'm intrigued. This book reminded me just how much I love these sort of romance novels with their bold female leads and swoon worthy boys and shitty best friends. I definitely need to get back in the swing of reading these.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Review: Shut Out by Kody Keplinger

Shut OutDescription: Most high school sports teams have rivalries with other schools. At Hamilton High, it's a civil war: the football team versus the soccer team. And for her part, Lissa is sick of it. Her quarterback boyfriend, Randy, is always ditching her to go pick a fight with the soccer team or to prank their locker room. And on three separate occasions Randy's car has been egged while he and Lissa were inside, making out. She is done competing with a bunch of sweaty boys for her own boyfriend's attention.

Lissa decides to end the rivalry once and for all: She and the other players' girlfriends go on a hookup strike. The boys won't get any action from them until the football and soccer teams make peace.

Stats: Young Adult Novel, 273 Pages, First Published by Poppy, 2011.

My Rating: 3 STAR

Shut Out is about sex. And from page one it makes it very clear, this is not about subtlety or masking a message with a pretty package. This is about sex.

More specifically, Shut Out is about the views society has about girls having sex, compared to boys having sex. We've all noticed it at some point in our lives, when it comes to talking about the down and dirty girls are meant to be chaste. Talking about it, thinking about it, and even doing it is not something that most girls are open about. Somehow after centuries of closing the door on the sex-speak we've created our own little set of rules, which can be seen in everything from slut shaming to virgin bashing.

Shut Out takes the story of Lissa trying to end an inner school rivalry by banding together with her fellow girlfriends on a sex-strike (inspired by the Greek play Lysistrata) to question as many sex-based issues as possible. As I stated above, this was not veiled with any sort of subtlety, which for the most part I didn't mind. I could appreciate the message being said, even if it wasn't in the most crafty or clever of ways. However, this is something that I could easily see annoying some people. If you're not interested in the message you're probably not going to be all that thrilled with the story. This book very much has a target audience of younger girls going through the same experiences that the girls in the book are encountering.

Shut OutBut this book isn't just about a message, there's also a plot in there somewhere, and at its core it's very basic. There's a love triangle, there's a family plot line, there's female bonding, and there's the sex strike. That's about it. What sold this for me was the way the characters take this basic plot and try their darndest to add dimensions to it. Our main character Lissa was by far the best part of the book. Her personality and interactions were very entertaining. I could relate to her and actually invest in her plight. The other characters were alright, although they were not very original, each character had some excellent lines! The humor injected dialog was really top-notch. I could have only wished that the characters had more of a something to them because they felt very one-note. I would have liked to have seen more new ideas, instead of the basics tropes I expect from a contemporary YA romance.

What probably ended up making me enjoy this the most was that Shut Out was an easy read. I sat down and was surprised to see that a couple of hours had passed and that I was already finished. The writing was effortless to consume and that's where this really paid off. I could easily see myself reading another of Keplinger's books based off that experience alone.

Shut Out is a book that needs to be shoved in the faces of confused teen girls everywhere. It has ideas that needs to be shared and discussed, if only to balance out the amount of male dominant, slut shaming, virgin bashing, and abusive sexual relationships that are becoming increasingly common in the YA genre. I love this for its message, but can only like it because it lacked a complex story to host all those complex ideas.