Saturday, September 27, 2008

It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

Like many ambitious New York City teenagers, Craig Gilner sees entry into Manhattan’s Executive Pre-Professional High School as the ticket to his future. So with single-minded determination, Craig works night and day to ace the entrance exam. Once he does that, he gains admission to this elite school. That’s when everything starts to unravel.

Once Craig starts at the new school he realizes a shocking truth. He is just one of the many brilliant kids who attend the school. In fact, he isn’t even brilliant, he's just average. Craig soon starts to see his once-perfect future crumbling away. He begins to have trouble eating, sleeping doing the routine things that used to be simple everyday activities. He eventually realizes he is clinically depressed.

So begins Craig’s battle with depression- which involves seeing a myriad of specialists, taking medication, and, at his most desperate, checking himself into a psychiatric hospital. There, Criag meets a motley crew of patients- his roommate, who is afraid to leave their room, a girl who has scarred her own face with a pair of scissors, and a transsexual sex addict. But somehow this odd cast of characters start to seem more like real friends to Craig than anyone he has ever known. At the hospital, Craig is finally able to come to terms with the overwhelming pressures that come from the school, his friends and most of all, himself.

The dynamic characters interwoven into every part of this witty novel were themselves witty, interesting, and personal. Craig is the main character, depressed and unstable, and learning hist story was a great way to spend my time, but he wasn't the only one with an intersting history. When he goes to the psychiatic hospital, Craig makes many friends, and they all have heartbreaking pasts and hopeful futures. You want each of them to succeed and this connection to the story sucks you in until you get lost in the map of It's Kind of a Funny Story.

Ned Vizzini's writing is clever and has a unique voice which transcends the gap between writer and character. There's no other novel about a messed up teenager that is this good. He makes something that is as sad as depression, into something heavy with dry wit. No matter how much you think you should be upset, or tearing up, or feeling bad for these people, he can make you crack up at a single action, until you realize you shouldn't feel bad for the people in the psychiatric hospital, you should be laughing along with them.

Ned Vizzini himself spent five days in the same hospital Craig spends his time in. He gives you a look inside the mind of a depressed teen, and all his friends that are likewise screwed up.

5/5 cups of coffee.


Sunday, September 21, 2008

Is it just me...

or does it seem like you go through phases with books? The whole summer, I picked up very few novels that I thought were worth my time (and money), and then even less that I thought deserved much praise.

But then, just a couple weeks ago, I recieved Paper Towns by John Green (review directly below) and my whole reading life turned around. I've read so many spectacular--or at the very least well-written and executed--novels. These include The Wednesday Letters by Jason F. Wright (review in progress), It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini (also a review in the near future), and The Warrior Heir by Cinda Williams Chima. So now that I'm on a roll, I'm almost fearful of continuing, in case I break the streak. But that still won't stop me. =)

So I've got a questions for all the readers out there:

1) Do you hit periods of highs or lows when reading a continuous supply of books? Times when all you read is bad, or everything you pick up is good?
2) When you do hit those, do you ever think of stopping because you give up trying to find something good? Or because you're afraid the next one will be bad?
3) What have you read recently that's worth mentioning?


Saturday, September 6, 2008

the much-anticipated Paper Towns by John Green

Quentin Jacobsen has spent a lifetime loving the magnificently adventurous Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. So when she cracks open a window and climbs back into his life--dressed like a ninja and summoning him for an ingenious campaign of revenge--he follows.

After their all-nighter ends and a new day breaks, Q arrives at school to discover that Margo, always an enigma, has now become a mystery. But Q soon learns that there are clues--and they're for him. Urged down a disconnected path, the closer he gets, the less Q sees the girl he thought he knew.

When entering this novel, my expectations were high for a favorite author and vlogger John Green. After reading Steph's review I was even more expectant of a major wow-ing.

And I wasn't completely disappointed. This novel comes in three parts (I was actually just imagining John saying that in my head as he does for his videos) and the first of which is astoundingly resonating. Margo Roth Spiegelman is the most dynamic character ever presented by John or any other author and as she leads Quentin through a whirlwind of adventures throughout this part and the rest of the novel, pieces of her start to form together, creating a whole new person no one ever knew.

I can't deny that Paper Towns shows resemblance to Looking for Alaska, John's first novel, but I can't deny, either that it is a book of it's own and should be judged so. Not only Margo, but every other character in this world has his or her own role (just as is pointed out near the end of the story). Quentin's two best friends are Ben, a tragically confident band geek that can't live up to his own hype, and Radar, a computer whiz who spends all his time editing Omnictionary articles on his handheld. And then you have Quentin himself, a regular high school guy on the bottom of the food chain, whose only friends are in band when he has no apparent talent at all and enjoys boredom.

John Green has yet to put together a cast so familiar of a high school and yet so spectacular as he has now done with Paper Towns.

And while the middle drags a bit, as Quentin follows Margo's trail, John's writing transcends this pause in action as he ponders poetry, metaphors, the human nature, and how we're all connected. He uses his brilliance (because John Green has a brilliant mind) to ask questions that reach far beyond the simple mind-set of a typical YA novel.

I can't tell you if Paper Towns is any better than John's other novels because it sits on a different plane. It doesn't have the same hilarity of An Abundance of Katherines, nor the pain and sadness of Looking for Alaska, but it does have it's own unique in between story of a girl and a boy whose lives run parallel for the longest time and finally intersect one night, leaving them both changed forever.

5 large cups of bookstore coffee.

To pre-order your own copy of Paper Towns online, you can go to Amazon, Books-A-Million, or Barnes and Noble.