Book Review: Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

Where do I start?

This book was amazing and perfect. I read the synopsis briefly as I cleaned over the summer and found it among a stack of books. I added it to my “Want to Read” list on GoodReads.com. The story was about a girl who was different and unique, and her struggle to fit in. As an outcast myself, I was drawn to this book from the get go, and reading about Stargirl’s unusual character and quirks sometimes made me feel like I was looking back in a mirror.

Stargirl-She changes her name when she feels it no longer suits her. She drops pennies and change just so someone can find it and smile. She photographs life as it’s happening as an observer on the sidelines. She cheers for the other team, sends cards and gifts to people with no name. She carries a pet rat, a ukulele and wears crazy clothes.  She doesn’t seem to care what people think. She’s funny. She’s kind. She is the kind of person you would be lucky to know.

I was never “normal”. I am still not “normal”. What hit me in the mega feels was that Stargirl didn’t seem to care what others thought about her, she just wanted to be herself and so she was. But deep down, she DID care, and when her boyfriend tells her she should be a little less her and a little more like THEM, she changes herself to try to fit in. This really resonated with me, reminding me of my own struggles to accept my differences. I was the “weird” girl that no one wanted to be friends with (except for a very small few who found a kindred weirdness with me), and that boys were scared to death to be liked by. Granted part of that weirdness was due to my ADHD and constantly being on meds-the other part was purely my quirky personality.  I’d always defined myself as a bright pink crayon in a box of black and grey crayons.  Why fit in when you were born to stand out? That’s something I embraced in my later years, but not so much in middle school or high school. It wasn’t until middle school where the bullying I’d been dealing with for years hit something of a high point, and school became literally miserable.  When a new kid arrived instead of befriending them, I caved into the societal norm of middle school and made fun of them (and felt terrible about it). I rectified this quickly by trying to be a friend instead because I felt so awful. One of the best lessons of my life-trying to be like someone else will NOT make you happy. Be the change you want to see. I lived in a world of them, much like Leo and Stargirl, and tried to be one of them too even though I despised THEM.  My heart clenched as Leo who supposedly loved Stargirl for all her uniqueness- told her to be normal and regretted it THE REST OF HIS LIFE.  She cared deeply for others, wanted to spread joy and make others feel special in an otherwise dull world of black and grey crayons.

Spinelli’s novel addresses the issue of being popular, conforming to societal norms, and needing the validation of others. To this day, I still seek that validation much like Leo, because as my life has changed and I have embraced that I will never be like everyone else-in a strange way I still need validation that that’s ok.  Stargirl changed Leo’s life not in the way that they grew up and lived happily ever after, but because even though they fell apart-he was a better person for knowing her and experiencing kindness and compassion through watching her and helping her bring those things to others.  The school body adores Stargirl in the beginning and then turns on her in a way so fickle as high schoolers can be. They shun her for the very things they liked about her. Negativity wins out, as it usually does and in the future at their reunions they bring her up in passing and humor.

This book shows you why it is important to own who you are, and why it is important to stand out above the rest, that life isn’t about who your friends are in high school (some of us are lucky to keep the friends we had when we were teenagers, me being one of them)- it shows that you don’t have to live in between the painted lines that society has laid for you. You can cheer for the other team. You can show empathy even to total strangers. You can brighten someone’s day without even trying. You can notice the details in life and not just the vast picture.

I cried at the end, because unlike so many happy ending stories, this one ended realistically. I also heard that there is a sequel, “Love, Stargirl”- in which I must read. If it’s anything like this book, I know I’m going to love it.

I would recommend this book to probably any teenager, but most definitely to the pink crayons who don’t know how beautiful they are yet. To the outcasts who feel isolated and alone because they are different- this is your validation. In a world of Hillari Kimble’s, be a Stargirl. Always, be a Stargirl.

 

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Review: The Prophet of Yonwood

It’s been a little while since I posted a review, although I have been done with the Prophet of Yonwood for a while now, I have been writing this review in pieces ad my attention span has been spastic to say the least. (Thanks ADHD…)

I have been taking a break from binging, I mean reading.  While I enjoyed reading The Prophet of Yonwood, I enjoyed it for different reasons.  This story didn’t feel like it fit so much for me with the other 2 books. It feels like a separate story, and only really ties everything together in the last few pages.  I liked the approach of the power of faith, which is a big theme in all the Ember books, and the juxtaposition of how damaging people’s beliefs can sometimes be.  I much would have rather had a prequel about the destruction, and the main character Nicki on her journey to the City of Ember, and the story finish with the discarded lockbox.

I enjoyed the book on a spiritual/philosophical level rather than as a part of the series.  There were very strong messages and opinions in this book, much more than the other 2 in some cases, and made me stop and re-read a few lines with awe.  I felt as strongly as it was written, it should have been its own book, separate from the series.  Up until the very end of the book, I kept waiting for it to tie in and the tie in felt very rushed.  The story is about a small North Carolina town, who has become very religious based on the discovery of an older resident having a vision of the future, and being deemed a prophet.  Mrs. Beeson, a righteous woman, and a few select community members are the ones who decipher the prophet’s musings and mumblings, often mistaking what the old woman is saying, and spreading what they THINK she is saying as the word of God, that they must all obey to avoid being destroyed with the rest of the world.  During this time, the nation is on the verge of war with another nation, and people fear the end is near.  It turns out *SPOILER ALERT*, that the vision the old woman has is true, but it’s 50 years off.  Our main character Nicki, who is 11- her father is away on top secret business, and we find out he is one of the Builders who helped construct Ember, and 50 years into the future, Nicki volunteers to go to Ember, out of her love for the world, and desire to preserve it.
There’s other characters in the book, an 11 year old boy named Grover who loves snakes, Mrs. Beeson the righteous and faithful, power driven community pillar, Nicki’s aunt who seems to have trouble staying married and is preoccupied with the notion, Amanda the homeless 17 year old with a very  low self-esteem and easy to manipulate, but the core of the story follows Nicki and her trip to Greenhaven; her family’s historical mansion which is being sold after the death of her Grandfather, and her journey through this strange  God Fearing town.  The residents believe if they follow the word of God spoken by the prophet, they will be spared in the destruction.  When the old woman says “No sinnies” Mrs. Beeson translates it as ” No sinners” while we find out much later that the old ill woman was trying to say “No cities” as in there are no cities left.  People who go against the prophet’s words and tagged with a strange buzzing bracelet to let everyone know they were defiant.  It’s an interesting story that shows the power of suggestion, and how sheep like humans can be, blindly believing things because of our need TO BELIEVE and self-preserve.

I also enjoyed some of the other plot points in the story, but those didn’t seem to resolve.  The mansion of Greenhaven seems to have a life all of its own, being in Nicki’s family for decades; something that intrigues our main character. She discovers many photos from guests in the past, and journals written by her grandfather with musings about multiple dimensions existing at once.  These things could have been resolved for me, I wanted to know more about them. Instead, their vaguely brought up and don’t really go anywhere. It makes the details in them feel misplaced; if you weren’t going to go anywhere with it, why mention it to begin with? The story would have moved along just fine considering they weren’t detrimental to the plot or character development.

All in all, I appreciated the book, but I wished it tied in more with the other 2 books in the series.  I have ordered the final book, The Diamond of Darkhold and expect it to be delivered Sunday (yes UPS delivers on Sundays here) which means as soon as it gets here I will crack it open. I always get antsy when I know I am going to be finishing a series.  There’s an instant gratification factor for me, when I get hooked into a series I just want to live the story until it’s finished and I can come up to breath reality again.   But after I have finished, I suffer from that hole that exists when you have nowhere to go, so knowing that it will be the end is both cathartic and anti-climactic for me. I felt the same way when I finished Twilight and The Hunger Games, and after I finished the first and ONLY season of Firefly. (Including the movie).

Until next time, folks!

Review: The People of Sparks

I really am enjoying The Books of Ember series. The first book was great, you can read my full review on it here on my blog, so I won’t talk about that here.

The second book in the series, The People of Sparks takes place right where the first book leaves off. At the end of the first book, Lina and Doon make it out of Ember and discover the land above the caverns that had been living under.  Upon throwing a note down to their people who discover it, the rest of the Emberites leave their underground city and follow Lina and Doon. All the Emberites come across a post-apocalyptic village of survivors, whose settlement they call Sparks.  In Ember, we are told that the City of Ember was built for the Emberites by The Builders.  The Builders not only constructed Ember to be a functional society, but told those who founded the city underground that they were to forget all about the world they left behind. Therefore, the Emberites knew nothing about blue skies, or the world above. As far as they were told, they were the only survivors left in a dark, dead world.  The Emberites lived with electricity, and running water, and their city was stocked with supplies to keep them going for a multitude of years. Canned food, light bulbs, clothing, etc. The first book tells us that the people of Ember are far beyond their city’s capacity, repairing failing items, scrounging for bits and pieces of things to re-use. Their biggest fear is that the lights will go out forever and they would be living in total darkness and starve.  400 and some Emberites arrive in the City of Sparks, hoping to receive food, water, shelter and assistance.  They are refugees of their former city, looking to create new roots and a life elsewhere in the world they know very little about. The City of Sparks is in direct contrast to Ember.  They live more primitively with their lack of technology. They use wood burning stoves to cook instead of electric stoves, and they have no electricity at all. They use water pumps to get water out of the ground. They are aware of the world they came from, the Disaster, and the Plagues that destroyed the world. They know the things that have been lost, and the err of mankind. These people have suffered great hardships in creating their settlements, and are finally on the verge of prosperity when the Emberites- all 400 of them arrive at their doorstep.
This book in my opinion is a lot better than the first.  Where the first book had themes of faith and belief, hope, and what it means to live and be human; this book expanded those themes and introduced us to a few more facets of what it means to be human; and not the good parts. War is something the Emberites know nothing of. Sun, heat, changing seasons, extensive manual labor and starvation are things that are foreign to them.  Their city had been built for them. Stocked with supplies for them.  What starts out as kindness, and not wanting to repeat the errors of the past; the People of Sparks take in the Emberite refugees and devise a solution. How will they feed an extra 400 people without going hungry themselves? Where will they put them? So many questions arise, and in a vote, the 3 leaders of Sparks opt to keep the Emberites and teach them about building a settlement of their own, for 6 months. At the start of winter, the Emberites must leave and make their own way.
Naturally, people from different worlds, with different lifestyles collide, and turmoil ensues. The People of Sparks who were kind at first, slowly start to resent the Emberites and their ignorance.  Their food portions become smaller, yet the Emberites are expected to work beyond exhaustion, in a slave like manor.  Despite all the expectations and resentment, when the Emberites ask for more food, the People of Sparks are outraged.  One bad apple on both sides turns the tables, and the sparks of hate ignite.
Lina and Doon learn about the Disaster, which is described as 4 wars and 3 plagues. The wars over oil and land, the weapons of war such as bombs, and nukes destroyed them.  There was sickness after, eradicating most of the human race. Unbeknownst to the People of Sparks, the Emberites were shuttled underground, to preserve the human race.  We hear about how these evils destroyed the world, and contrasted with the arrival of the Emberite refugees- oblivious to these things; grow just as hateful as the People of Sparks.  Seeds of anger, and fear grow into hate and destruction.  The mistreated Emberites want to push back after their mistreatment, concerned about the unfairness of how they are treated, and expected after just a few short months to go it alone in the throes of winter. Even Lina and Doon are swept up into the conflict, both bothered by all of the negativity.
This book simply stated the dangers of humanity, and contrasted it with the simplicity of it as well.  Torren, who lied about throwing the tomatoes and was the catalyst for the seeds of hate being sewn; does it out of anger (Doon’s father tells him in the first book about controlling his anger, because it can have unforeseen consequences. Nice continuation on that message.), and the way Lina and Doon look at the bright world above with wonderment and appreciation is a beautiful juxtaposition.
The message in this book is clear: Fear and Anger breed hate, and kindness, generosity and selfless acts breed love.  The People of Sparks were afraid being burdened by the Emberites, and wanted to be selfish, even though they didn’t see their actions as being selfish because they were concerned for their own people rather than realizing that they were ALL people. They looked down on the Emberites because of their lack of knowledge of their world, and saw them as less than they and treated them as such; maybe not at first, but definitely toward the end.  When they realize that unfortunate consequences of their actions, only then do they relent.
I can’t help but compare this to our present society, and I think that is the point.  This story felt more like a cautionary tale of warning, showing the path of destruction that could lie ahead if we don’t get our action together.  I also couldn’t help but think about the recent issue that affected my state as well as many others, with the influx of Syrian refugees.  States publicly announced whether they would be accepting these refugees, and my state publicly stated they would accept them. Still I saw on Facebook, and overheard people in my town arguing about whether it would be safe, and why we should or shouldn’t.  I remember having a discussion with my friends over dinner about it, and one of my friends stated it was like history repeating itself, with the people’s reactions and opinions on accepting German refugees after WWII.
I should mention that I knew this was a YA book, but I didn’t realize how young.  I assumed that when I went to Barnes & Noble last night to look for The Diamond of Darkhold, that I would find it in the YA Teen section, but after combing all the shelves I didn’t see it. I decided to look in the Children’s section, thinking maybe it might be there next to Harry Potter (since our main characters are 12/13 year olds) and I was surprised to see it under the “Young Readers ages 7-12/Grades 3-6”.  I think that makes me appreciate it a little more. I’ve always said that a good story is good no matter who reads it.  A true, good story transcends beyond the audience it is written for, and I feel that this series is just that good. Especially when I read these books and pick up on the themes and messages that run deeper, but are simple in nature. What does it mean to be human?  Why are we so afraid of what we don’t know or understand? Why can we not meet difference with kindness instead of fear? What does it mean to live? To believe, to hope for a better, brighter future.
The next book in the series is actually a prequel, The Prophet of Yonwood, which is set 50 years before the creation of Ember.  Amazon said it could come anywhere between the 7th (tomorrow) and the 22nd, so it could come literally any day. I got The People of Sparks 3 days after ordering, so hopefully it comes tomorrow and I can get started on it ASAP, otherwise I am going to have to start another book while I wait, and the remaining books on my list (other than the classic, The Phantom of the Opera) are very long books.  The Ember books are not that long, as far as pages go, and they go by pretty fast.
I am sorry this review was so long! I was so taken with this book, I think I could have gone on a lot more, I promise I did try to condense as best I could.

Review: The Night Circus

3 letters. Wow.

I had a really good weekend, and read like a machine.
Right after finishing The City of Ember, I went on Amazon and ordered both, the sequel The People of Sparks, and the prequel The Prophet of Yonwood. I intend to buy the 4th book as well, The Diamond of Darkhold, but I don’t want to pay upwards of $20 for the hardcover. (All City of Ember books I have are hardcovers). So while I waited for the next 2 books in the series, I thought I would start and hopefully finish another book by the time they arrived. That book, was The Night Circus.

This past Christmas I received 4 books from my friends; Twilight: Life and Death, The Night Circus, The Phantom of the Opera, and Four Friends. The woman who got me The Night Circus, had read it herself, and prior to Christmas had told me how much she enjoyed it. She told me, that she thought I would enjoy it, and that there was a romance (yay!) that would keep me interested. I wanted to read it first, but after completely getting wrapped up again with the new Twilight: Life and Death, I didn’t want to read 2 romances in a row. So, I read Life of Pi instead, then was delayed again by The City of Ember, which like Life of Pi had sat on my dresser the past 2 years without being opened. Finally, I had my moment.

The Night Circus has all my favorite things. Supernatural or magical elements, romance, interesting characters, sharp, descriptive imagery, and lots of contrast and interesting plots and movement.
So a recap if you are not familiar:
The story follows 2 characters, Celia Bowen and Marco Alisdair.  The story starts when they are children, both of unfortunate circumstances, who are chosen by 2 magicians to take part in a challenge of sorts. The characters are chosen separately with no knowledge of who the other is, and are both taught by their instructors in completely different ways.  The venue for the challenge is a circus, and the 2 “battle” it out in front of circus patrons. Real magic, under the disguise of illusion to the patrons. This is the basis of the story, which takes place during the late 1800’s and the early 1900’s. Everyone who is part of the circus is affected by the challenge in some way, extra pieces on the chessboard.

There is a lot of build up for the story. The first half of the book, moved slowly, and it wasn’t until a little after halfway, the students meet each other as opponents.  They know each other, but don’t realize the other is their opponent until (in my opinion) late in the book.  The romance doesn’t spark up immediately either, but once it is ignited, it’s pretty good. I’m a romanticist, and I love stories about star crossed lovers, obsession, desire. But I also don’t like having those things simply written or served on a silver platter. I like turmoil, conflict, opposing sides. Wanting to be loved by the other person to the point it consumes you and drives you crazy, wanting to be together because it feels so right when it reality it’s wrong.  I was pleasantly surprised at how the author delivered me these things in a way that did not seem traditional.

Away from the romance, I loved the world this painted for me. The way they describe the circus, is like something out of a dream. It’s magical, it’s mysterious, it’s beautiful and charming at the same time it intrigues you and engages all your senses. Spoiler, the circus is entirely magical, and tied to our characters. Before they know who their opponent is, they only know them through magical chess moves, and these magical chess moves are tents with other worldly atmospheres, in response to their opponents.  The way these things are described in great detail is brilliant. It can be a bit fairy tale and make believe, but aren’t most books and movies?  The author, Erin Morgernstern writes in a way that makes you truly present in the world she has created. There is so much more in the book that I appreciated, that the things I didn’t like are really very few in between.

I simply could not put this book down, which as I have said before is a sure sign I really like a book. Every moment I had to read, be it 2 hours or 10 minutes, I was reading it. I finished it Friday night, but have been collecting my thoughts for this review, as well as starting and finishing The People of Sparks.
I gave the book 5 stars on Goodreads.com, because I truly was amazed with this book.  I would recommend it to others to read, especially if you are into fantasy novels.

 

 

 

Review: The City of Ember

I read this book in a day, which is a sure sign that I loved the book. I could not put it down. I know some might frown upon me for my love of YA books, but I really  enjoy reading them.  A good story, is a good story no matter who the audience is that is written for. Adults and children alike both love Harry Potter, despite the fact the latter was the target audience.  The story is a tale of one of my favorite things, what it means to be human, and what it means to live.

Our story takes place in the underground City of Ember.  Ember was built for its inhabitants by the Builders, and according to these inhabitants, Ember is the only light left in a dark, dead world.  Instructions were placed in a timed lockbox, that when the time was right for them to move, would open and tell them what to do.  The box was to be passed down from Mayor to Mayor, and somewhere along the way was forgotten about, and left in a closet.  Our main characters, Lina Mayfleet and Doon Harrow are two 12-year old’s who are on their graduation day of school to speak, and are assigned jobs.  They eventually trade one another jobs, and in these jobs, learn more about their city then they suspect. The power in the city is generated by a generator which is run by the river.  In the beginning where the city was full of supplies, and stocked with everything they would need for a multitude of years, but now Ember is slowly dying. Their supplies are running out, and the lightbulbs are running out, and with periodic power outages, our characters are afraid of the day the power dies forever. The story takes us on an adventure of faith, intuition, hope and bravery.

I really can’t sing the praise enough. Upon finishing the book, I immediately went online to look up the rest of the books in the series. I will be purchasing the rest of them as soon as I can, so that I can finish my affair with this series and breath again. That’s the sign to me, that a book or series is good- when I can’t wait to turn the page, when I can’t wait to finish it and see how it ends, when I become invested in the characters and their journey.

Even though our characters are written as 12-year-old’s, the situations they are in seem a bit more mature, such as Lina playing the role of an adult in her household, with her ailing grandmother who obviously has Alzheimer’s, and her toddler sister. While some people may complain that Lina and Doon are flat in character, I think that is kind of the point. They are in the awakening of discovering who they are, and what better way than to discover what you are made of then to embark on this spiritual, faith driven journey. How does the bean seedling become a plant? how does it know to become a plant? these are questions asked in the story, that a child or student might pick up a metaphor, but as I read it with my adult eyes, I see the bigger metaphor.  The theme of life and faith are huge in this book, what it means to live, and what it means to believe in something better than what you are told exists.  In some ways, it reminded me of Stephenie Meyer’s The Host, with the story being about these underground dwelling humans, and the question of what it means to be human and live. Obviously, The Host was written for an older audience, as Stephenie Meyer herself said it was an adult novel and not a YA novel, but it still felt very much like her YA novels.  I don’t want to give too much away, spoilers and all, but I can say that I was pleasantly surprised at how much I adored the book, and am really looking forward to continuing the series.