Making the Grade / Gemini

Hi friends!

Making the GradeWhat’s new? I myself have rehearsals galore this week, as I’m stage-managing a community production of I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change and opening night is mere hours away! Needless to say, I’m so excited to see the show come together before an audience. Performances and tech week are always a blast, but both call for many a late night leaving the theater. Even that, however, hasn’t stopped me from curling up with a good book upon returning home – I’m currently finishing up How to Read Literature Like a Professor and The Bell Jar for my AP Lit class.

As for books read earlier in the summer, I was lucky enough to receive an advanced copy of Sonya Mukherjee’s debut, Gemini, and I wanted to share a review upon its release! My full thoughts are below, if you’re curious – it’s a winner, in my humble opinion. What are you currently reading?

Making the Grade Gemini

In a powerful and daring debut novel, Sonya Mukherjee shares the story of sisters Clara and Hailey, conjoined twins who are learning what it means to be truly extraordinary.

Seventeen-year-old conjoined twins Clara and Hailey have lived in the same small town their entire lives—no one stares at them anymore. But there are cracks in their quiet existence, and they’re slowly becoming more apparent. Clara and Hailey are at a crossroads. Clara wants to stay close to home, avoid all attention, and study the night sky. Hailey wants to travel the world, learn from great artists, and dance with mysterious boys. As high school graduation approaches, each twin must untangle her dreams from her sister’s, and figure out what it means to be her own person.

Told in alternating perspectives, this unconventional coming-of-age tale shows how dreams can break your heart—but the love between sisters can mend it. {Goodreads}

Main Characters: A
Gemini centers around sisters Clara and Hailey, conjoined twins living with their mom and dad in tiny Bear Pass. The small town setting has provided a comfortable upbringing – everyone knows them, and they know everyone – but as they enter into their senior year, a new question forms: what comes next? It’s a query all students encounter, but it’s holds deeper significance for the twins, who are unsure if the boundaries they live by are a result of their condition or themselves. Clara and Hailey are crafted with honesty, their concerns and dreams, fears and desires never out-of-place with their characterization. Additionally, I feel as if twins are commonly written as polar opposites. Not here: while Clara and Hailey both hold different passions, astronomy and art respectively, Mukherjee avoids the trope, allowing what similarities the sisters have to shine through alongside their personal quirks.

Supporting Characters: B+
Mukherjee invites readers into the thoughts of both twins, alternating perspectives with each chapter; the dual narrative offers Mukherjee an opportunity to develop supporting characters from two points of view. Readers can witness Clara’s rising nerves around her crush, and just pages later, they can read Hailey’s astute observations of the same scene. While this format heightens the dynamics between some characters – Clara and Hailey’s parents especially, as both grapple with their daughters growing up – it leaves others flat: Hailey’s love interest, their close group of friends, and the new kid in town. This is the twins’ story, first and foremost, but that’s not to say several supporting characters left me wanting more.

Plot: A-
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: contemporary novels, such as Gemini, are my favorite because they capture the beauty of everyday life. Some of my favorite scenes were not action-packed, nor fast-paced – Clara and Hailey contemplating together before bed, the two observing the stars or sitting in art class, driving home with their dad – but they still kept me engaged. Similarly, I appreciate the care Mukherjee took in portraying Clara and Hailey’s connection; I, of course, can’t speak to the accuracy myself, but I like to think she nailed the mental and physical connection between the two sisters. My sole complaint? The final chapter, though heart-warming, felt abrupt. An epilogue, perhaps, would have provided the closure this otherwise well-written story deserves.

Writing: A
I was pleasantly surprised at what a simple writing style Mukherjee has; in other words, she doesn’t bother with unnecessary descriptions and flowery language because Clara and Hailey’s story is strong enough to stand on its own. Also worth noting is the realism in the dialogue. The conversations between Clara, Hailey, and their friends, as well as the discussions they have with their mom and dad, read effortlessly, indicating no strain on the author’s part.

Final Grade: A-
Books have been proven to increase empathy, and Gemini serves as an example of such a fact. The average reader likely can’t speak on being conjoined at the base of the spine, but I’m sure we can all find something to relate to in Clara and Hailey’s contrasting feelings of getting away and staying in their comfort zone. I enter contests on a whim, happy to win any book I have interest in, but I’m oh-so delighted to have Gemini on my shelves, as I have a feeling Clara and Hailey will last in my memory for months to come. I hope you’ll consider adding it to yours.

Have a wonderful Thursday! :)
B

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Making the Grade / The Haters

Hello!

Making the GradeTry as I may, a trip to my local library branch almost always means bringing home a stack of new reads. Some say I should express more restraint, particularly when they peek at my four piles of unread books, but I think there’s nothing to lose: the library provides me the opportunity to try out a variety of genres, authors, and series, without fear of emptying my wallet or clogging up my bookshelf. With my April break only a few days away, I’m looking forward to making a good dent in my library check-outs – junior year is not friendly to reading time – but in the meantime, discussing books is just as fun as reading them. What novels are on your nightstand at the moment?

The Haters

From Jesse Andrews, author of the New York Times bestselling Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and screenwriter of the Sundance award–winning motion picture of the same name, comes a groundbreaking young adult novel about music, love, friendship, and freedom as three young musicians follow a quest to escape the law long enough to play the amazing show they hope {but also doubt} they have in them.

For Wes and his best friend, Corey, jazz camp turns out to be lame. It’s pretty much all dudes talking in Jazz Voice. But then they jam with Ash, a charismatic girl with an unusual sound, and the three just click. It’s three and a half hours of pure musical magic, and Ash makes a decision: They need to hit the road. Because the road, not summer camp, is where bands get good. Before Wes and Corey know it, they’re in Ash’s SUV heading south, and The Haters Summer of Hate Tour has begun.

In his second novel, Andrews again brings his brilliant and distinctive voice to YA, in the perfect book for music lovers, fans of The Commitments and High Fidelity, or anyone who has ever loved—and hated—a song or a band. This witty, funny coming-of-age novel is contemporary fiction at its best. {Goodreads}

Main Characters: A-
Quirky characters might as well be Jesse Andrews’ speciality. Just as in his bestselling debut, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, his sophomore novel, The Haters, is narrated by a high schooler with a knack for humor: Wes, who, along with his best friend, Corey, and fellow “hater” Ash,  finds himself on the road after ditching jazz camp. As narrator, Wes’ voice is established in a mere matter of pages, and better yet, Andrews maintains it throughout the novel. Flaws exist – Wes’ dirty humor is heavy-handed, it can be difficult to distinguish Wes and Corey from their dialogue alone, and Ash is all too often in the Manic Pixie Dream Girl category – but what Andrews captures well in the protagonists, the uncertainty of adolescence and the excitement of living in the moment, is worth noting.

Supporting Characters: B
Unfortunately, humor can’t carry a story, a fact noticeably pointed out in the development of the supporting cast. One would expect that on such a zany trip, Wes, Corey, and Ash would encounter a number of memorable characters; some are, others, however, less so.  For example, the wife-husband duo that housed the band for a night made me chuckle, but the bartender with a two-faced personality left me confused as to his purpose in the plot. The parent figures also left me less than impressed: Wes’ make little mention until the very end; Corey’s fall victim to the protective mom and dad stereotype, and as the daughter of a billionaire, Ash has a family that’s better left for the book to explain.

Plot: B+
Road trip stories are some of my favorites, not in the least because they are such an iconic plot for authors to explore. While the Haters’ route across the country is certainly an adventure, it felt more like a novel thrown together at last minute than the  amusing romp I was expecting. Motives for moving on to a new location never seem to be more than they were kicked out of yet another restaurant, which could be realistic – we’re talking about inexperienced teenage musicians, after all – were it not used so frequently as a plot device. Furthermore, as funny of an author as Jesse Andrews is, by the middle of the plot, I was still bored; in other words, I was tempted to skim much of the novel.

Writing: A-
I love when an author’s passion seeps through the pages, as is the case here. Whether or not the swearing {it’s heavy} or format {which switches from your typical paragraphs to lines of dialogue without punctuation} is to your liking, you can’t deny that Andrews knows his stuff, nor can you deny the novel’s entertainment merit. One reviewer put it perfectly: “It’s the kind of book that really is just so ridiculous it can be awesome.” Sadly, its potential just isn’t reached to its entirety.

Final Grade: B+
Reviews are subjective, so while The Haters wasn’t my cup of tea, that’s not to say another reader won’t fall in love. It’s for a selective audience: perhaps music experts will appreciate the jazz references and industry jokes, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl enthusiasts will find comfort in Andrews’ writing, or readers in need of a lighthearted novel will enjoy Wes’ narration. Its selectivity, though, is also its downfall, as it’s tough to sell a novel that few will finish and adore. I think I’ll stick to recommending Andrews’ first novel as I await his next release – I still have the film version to watch!

Have a wonderful start to your week! :)

Making the Grade / Paper Wishes

Hello, hello!

Making the GradeHappy Sunday! My school vacation is finally here, and, I’ll be honest, I couldn’t be more grateful for the time at home. That’s not to say I have nothing planned {prom dress shopping, one-act play rehearsals, and day trips into the city, here I come}, but, rather, after a taxing tech week and a bout of quizzes and tests, the break from the day-to-day routine is much appreciated. If there’s anything, however, that I can count on to help me decompress after a long day, it’s a good book. I’ve picked up excellent novel after excellent novel as of late – no better way to start the year, if you ask me – making the review process all the more easier. One of my recent favorites is Lois Sepahban’s debut, Paper Wishes. I had my eye on it in December, and I’m delighted to report that it’s just as good as I had hoped. What’s your current read? Any vacation plans?

Paper Wishes

 

A moving debut novel about a girl whose family is relocated to a Japanese internment camp during World War II – and the dog she has to leave behind.

Ten-year-old Manami did not realize how peaceful her family’s life on Bainbridge Island was until the day it all changed. It’s 1942, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and Manami and her family are Japanese American, which means that the government says they must leave their home by the sea and join other Japanese Americans at a prison camp in the desert. Manami is sad to go, but even worse is that they are going to have to give her dog, Yujiin, to a neighbor to take care of. Manami decides to sneak Yujiin under her coat, but she is caught and forced to abandon him. She is devastated but clings to the hope that somehow Yujiin will find his way to the camp and make her family whole again. It isn’t until she finds a way to let go of her guilt that Manami can accept all that has happened to her family. {Goodreads}

Main Characters: A+
Lois Sepahban packs plenty of historical events and details in her novel, but what carries the story are the characters, notably the young protagonist, Manami. When her family is forced into a prison camp following the attack on Pearl Harbor, she loses her home, her dog, even her words, but what’s not lost is her compassion and concern for others. Sepahban does a masterful job writing of a girl stricken by the effects of war, taking care to make her as complex of a narrator as her story deserves; one may think Manami to be weak, fragile even, but she proves to be more, growing in courage as the plot carries on and winning the audience’s admiration with each flip of the page. In addition, through Manami’s love of drawing, Sepahban illustrates that having a voice does not necessarily require one to speak aloud, a lesson worth learning no matter how old the reader.

Supporting Characters: A+
There are a number of characters that share in Manami’s journey: her mother and father, doing whatever they can to survive in their upheaval; her grandfather, who mourns the loss of his wife and dog; and her older brother, who comes and takes a position at the camp simply to be with his family. These individuals each show a beauty in their unique traits and habits, and while they don’t define Manami’s growth, they play a substantial part in her acceptance and understanding of the situation. Furthermore, family is redefined throughout the plot by the relationship Manami has with her dear pup, Yujiin, and the connection she forms with her beloved schoolteacher, Miss Rosalie; it’s not limited to the convention of parents and siblings, but rather by all who express love, concern, and support for those they hold dear.

Plot: A-
There are moments in American history that we feel better forgetting, pretending as if these horrific actions and events did not happen on our nation’s soil, but the best historical literature forces us to remember what was done out of fear or prejudice – or, as seen here, introduces these periods of time to young readers. As a middle grade novel, Paper Wishes is aimed towards children of Manami’s age, and Sepahban strikes the fine balance of presenting the material in an accessible manner without diluting the topic at hand. The plot is of the quiet sort – that is to say, it may lose the interest of readers in want of high action – but it remains an engrossing story all the same, thanks in much part to Sepahban’s extensive research on the daily routines in the Japanese prison camps and the Manzanar Riot.

Writing: A
Sepahban’s simplistic prose was a conscious choice, and an effective one at that. Writing without embellishment leaves no room for mistakes, but Sepahban makes it seem effortless, threading words in short, succinct sentences that lend a powerful note to Manami’s narration. Words are chosen carefully and chapters are kept brief as if to echo the loneliness Manami feels, and passages have an alluring quality that draws you into her hopes and fear with a subtle ease.

Final Grade: A
There are certainly times when I push off reviews out of scheduling conflicts or a want of sleep, but there are others points when it takes me weeks to gather my words on a novel because, to put it simply, it’s outstanding. Paper Wishes is one such a book, having me I writing, erasing, and revising my thoughts until I felt they best captured the excellent debut I had read. Sepahban writes with such incredible insight and a profound sense of childhood that I’m not surprised her first novel has been so well-received. In an age where politicians feed on our natural fear of what’s different – people, ideas, places – a book such as Paper Wishes teaches us what we need more of: compassion, empathy, and the courage to speak up against what is wrong.

Have a wonderful Valentine’s Day! :)
Bella