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Three Books That Made Me Cry Lately

These book reviews gave me a lot of trouble, because I kept trying to talk about these books in a way that was funny! For I enjoy being funny. But these books made me think of Serious Things, even though all of them have funny moments - I’ve never liked a book that was serious all the time, I don’t find them believable at all, and I like these books very much – so I thought I would give up on funny for a minute or two, and talk about that.



Split by Swati Avasthi

Jace has just punched his father and driven nineteen hours to his brother Christian’s doorstep. Christian left home and their physically abusive father when Jace was eleven. Christian was always their mother’s son – dark, introverted, sensitive – and Jace was always daddy’s boy – blond, big and strong, charming with a stormy temper. Their father never hit Jace, not until Christian left. And Jace and Christian, together again, make for an explosive combination.

I thought the author got the feel of a family, badly in trouble, very right, and asked some very tough questions. Is it all right not to look back, when you’re getting out of hell? When do you have to look back, no matter how scared you are? Some family situations are so toxic, you have to get out, but that involves terrible sacrifices. It isn’t a question of what you sacrifice, with family – it’s a question of who you sacrifice, and the answer is someone you love.

I loved Jace. We’re so in his head I felt a little distant from the other characters, but that was okay, because I wouldn’t have missed being so into Jace’s head. (On a silly level, I’ve always liked the name Jace. As a foolish European, I thought Cassandra Clare made it up as a demonhunter’s name for her hero, and only realised it was a real name due to country music singer Jace Everett. More proof country music is the answer to everything!) Christian planned his way out: Jace took a swing at his father and was thrown out with extreme force. Jace cannot close off the way Christian can. Jace is a bruiser - and in the context, I do not use this term lightly. He is very, very aware that he has the temperament and the upbringing to potentially become an abuser. But we can see, though Jace can’t, the other side to that temperament: one part of the book I particularly liked was the description of Jace as a child, trying to beat back Halloween monsters from his brother.

This was a story about emotions rather than actions, and the details made it real: like Jace and Christian’s attractions to strong women. Christian and his girlfriend Mirriam’s fights are among the most illuminating scenes in the book. And I was very impressed by the sympathetic and (to me) psychologically convincing description of Jace and Christian’s mother, who cannot leave their father, at one point. (You’ll know the part I mean when you hit it.)


Fire by Kristin Cashore

I read this one the longest ago, actually, but since I just met the lovely author in Italy and told her how much I liked it – ‘Feminism!’ I said, with a dramatic sweep of my glass. ‘I love feminism!’ I am very eloquent – I thought it was time to tell you guys.

In another world, there are subsets of other creatures known generally as ‘monsters’ – brighter coloured, magical and deadly versions of natural things. Purple leopards you can’t look away from, until they rip your throat out. Poisonous birds. They’re like poisonous plants, the kind that are all glistening and beautiful and not-quite-real-looking, designed to draw you in.

Fire is a monster in the shape of a girl: the kind of girl that people who hate women make up, a woman so beautiful she literally has to cover her hair to prevent people hurling themselves at her intent on loving her, hurting her or both. What if that woman really did exist? the author asks, and then: wouldn’t she still be a person? And what if she didn’t want to be a monster? Fire’s story starts out with her in an isolated stronghold and shows her journeying into the heart of her country, trying to save it, and making difficult choices and family and friends on the way.

I wasn’t totally convinced by the villains of the story, but I adored Fire and several of the people around her, and I loved all the thoughtful stuff about beauty, about family, about love. Two people in the book are sort-of-adopted (not their fathers’ children, in very different but very difficult circumstances) and both are loved and necessary in their adopted families. Fire herself was raised by two very different fathers – her glamorous biological father, who threw himself gleefully into the role of a monster and who nevertheless loved Fire very much, and the exiled lord of a keep near her stronghold, who is only human, and disabled.

A relatively minor detail I particularly enjoyed was the portrayal of a minor character who initially threw himself at Fire and begged her to marry him, who overcame that feeling because of familial love, and came to love Fire as a sister. I thought it was a great little example of the difference between fascination and love, and the importance of family born and created.


Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey

Ellie has a crush on a guy in her class. Mark is beautiful, inscrutable and full of Secret Pain. Mark is also related to monsters and madmen, full of dark impulses, and so stressed out about it all he doesn’t wash his hair enough. Ellie is big (both tall and overweight) and strong (a black belt), and could basically break Mark in half like the emo twig he is.

Which is said with great affection: I love Mark, a romantic soul who sabotages himself at every turn and seriously considers smothering his father. (Who is a blameless victim of monsters. But being a victim isn’t romanticised in any of these books – it’s difficult, and terrible, and being both victim and monster is so easy.) Though I do not love Mark quite as much as I love Ellie, who is (and you can read it on the book jacket, so it must be true) one of my favourite heroines: difficult, acutely self-conscious, loyal and prickly and yet able to rely on her own strength, both physical and moral.

And this isn’t the story of how Ellie the nice normal girl saves Mark the troubled mysterious bad boy. Ellie has her own power and temptations: at one point she acquires a mask that will make anyone obey her, out of sheer blind love for its wearer. (And thus a mask that turns its owner into a monster.) Saving’s tricky in this book in any case, because it never quite works. Hence the part near the end that made me cry like a baby and the outcome of which I am still a little ambivalent about…

There’s a lot of saving involved – Mark and Ellie have to save each other, and both are intent on saving Ellie’s friend Kevin, who is an awesome character in many ways, one of which is that his sexuality is one I don’t often seen in fiction, and that it was nice to see portrayed positively. (Kevin’s asexual.) It was also nice to see New Zealand, since ‘urban fantasy’ too often means Small Town In America, and Maori mythology felt fresh and new, and necessarily involved race in a way I thought was interesting and well-handled: whose land is this, and whose magic? Who is Mark, on a whole extra level? New Zealand is where possibly my favourite urban fantasy romance of them all is set, The Changeover, so I admit I may be prejudiced in its favour, but I am pretty comfy with that.


One realistic fiction, one high fantasy and one urban fantasy set in New Zealand, but I loved them because they were all about two things of Great Interest to me – family, and monsters. (Of the Greatest Interest to me - monsters in the family.)

I don’t really see why anyone would write young adult fiction without writing about family, since as a teen you are usually still living with them, inextricably tangled up with them, and also discovering yourself as someone separate and potentially very different from your family. Sometimes more scarily, potentially very like them.

What alchemy takes place in the ingredients for a monster, to make you something else instead?

Other people can help you, so much you think you could never have done it without them. But you’re the alchemist. You have to want to change.

Comments

( 48 comments — Leave a comment )
imagines
Mar. 27th, 2010 05:24 pm (UTC)
*immediately goes in search of these books*

You don't want me to ever do my homework, do you?
sarahtales
Mar. 27th, 2010 05:26 pm (UTC)
Reading books is like homework FOR LIFE!
seaheidi
Mar. 28th, 2010 04:10 am (UTC)
This is a very true fact. Thanks for the enlightening post. Especially appreciate your last line about YA and family.
shveta_thakrar
Mar. 28th, 2010 08:38 pm (UTC)
*grin*
(Anonymous)
Mar. 27th, 2010 05:42 pm (UTC)
Books
I totally share your feelings about Fire! I just loved it and was heartbroken about some of Fire's dilemmas, but I entirely agree about the minor character sisterly love thing! It could have gone an entirely different way, but I think that decision was part of what made the book good, and special. I loved so many of the minor characters in Fire too.
maekala
Mar. 27th, 2010 05:51 pm (UTC)
Urban fantasy in New Zealand? This, I must read. You always have the best recommendations.
greenfaeriedust
Mar. 27th, 2010 05:57 pm (UTC)
Must read. Must read. Must read. :) Most of my favourite books were recommended by you at some point. I shall trust your great taste. I think I'm getting quite hooked on monsters myself. *beams*
rockinlibrarian
Mar. 27th, 2010 05:58 pm (UTC)
Interestingly-timed post for me-- I just had a Child Abuse Mandatory Reporter training two days ago, and it's still fresh in my mind, how one thing I learned was that the goal of the caseworkers who deal with these reports is to, if at all possible, PRESERVE the family while stopping the abuse-- not just pulling families apart for Their Own Good. They made the point that children usually do love their abusers much as they want the abuse to stop, and to ignore that is wrong. It's a scary thing to think about, but it is still true that your family is a part of you no matter what. Aw, man, now my body is having a stress-reaction just thinking about this....

But I have to say, speaking of families with monsters in them, the family relationships were one of the things I appreciated most about Demon's Lexicon!
sarahtales
Mar. 27th, 2010 06:09 pm (UTC)
The training sounds both distressing and enlightening. I have little real knowledge on these issues, but it is something everyone should be concerned about!

And I thank you. ;) They were the most important thing to me.
thegreatmissjj
Mar. 27th, 2010 06:20 pm (UTC)
Fie, Guardian of the Dead is not yet released here. (Soon, I believe. Soon.)

I cannot sing enough praises of Fire. I loved that book. Even more than Graceling.

sarahtales
Mar. 27th, 2010 06:27 pm (UTC)
Fire is my favourite of the two as well! Guardian of the Dead is officially out April 1st, but it has been seen floating around...
deirdrej
Mar. 30th, 2010 06:29 pm (UTC)
I compeletly agree. I thought Graceling was really good, but I ADORED Fire!!

& we'll definitely look up the other two to add to the Mt. Kisco Library Collection!

(and....WHY can't we read the Demon's Covenant in the U.S. yet? Or Sapphique? or.....or....Well, if all the books I want to read arrived at once, I'd be buried, and I'd never get out!)
sarahtales
Mar. 30th, 2010 06:55 pm (UTC)
Nobody can read Demon's Covenant anywhere, the US gets it first! They are spoiled and fancy. ;)
deirdrej
Mar. 30th, 2010 07:04 pm (UTC)
Oh, YAY! I am very happy to be spoiled and fancy, for a change ;-D
beckyh2112
Mar. 27th, 2010 06:32 pm (UTC)
Well, that's three more books added to my wishlist because of you. *shakes fist at Sarah* *has pretty much given up on ever actually staying on top of that to-be-read stack*
dee_seventh
Mar. 27th, 2010 08:21 pm (UTC)
Fire sounds brilliant. I am out of cash at the moment but I have just discovered where my local library is here, so I'll go and bother them about it...
(Anonymous)
Mar. 27th, 2010 08:34 pm (UTC)
You forgot to mention the bestest, bestest character in Guardian of the Dead...IRIS! I absolutely loved that girl to the tips of her perfectly manicured nails.

My copy of Guardian arrived on Thursday and I have read it about 5 times already.
sarahtales
Mar. 27th, 2010 10:53 pm (UTC)
I fear Karen herself loves Iris more than Ellie, so I must cling to Ellie fiercely!
karenhealey
Mar. 28th, 2010 10:50 am (UTC)
Sarah, don't make me come over there and ineptly throw a shoe at you.
wild_magic
Mar. 29th, 2010 01:05 am (UTC)
Do you love Iris more than Ellie?
I'm halfway through Guardian of the Dead, I got a reading copy from Deb our stores wonderful A&U rep. :)
karenhealey
Mar. 29th, 2010 01:11 am (UTC)
I do love Iris more than Ellie! Mostly because:

1) I have spent more time with Ellie than with several of my close friends. Iris has more mysteries for me.

2) If I existed in the Guardian world, I would be much more like Iris than Ellie. Can't throw a punch to save my life, don't have any magic powers, can certainly direct a play! So I feel a certain sympathy with her.
wild_magic
Mar. 29th, 2010 04:10 am (UTC)
Interesting. See I always assume that authors like their main characters more, as they are the ones they write stories about. I mean I love all the characters I write about but I always love my main people best. :)
karenhealey
Mar. 29th, 2010 04:14 am (UTC)
Well, when it comes to *reading*, I want to love the main character. But I don't have to do that when I'm writing them.
aimeesworld
Mar. 27th, 2010 09:27 pm (UTC)
I really really want Guardian of the Dead. Very excited about it.

Also, Fire sounds neat.
timeripple
Mar. 27th, 2010 10:12 pm (UTC)
I found Graceling easier to love, but I keep returning to Fire and flailing gently as I re-read bits over and over again. I love that what it does with feminism is different from what Graceling does, and in some ways subtler.

You're one of the writers who's made me more appreciative of family in fiction, especially fantasy, so I'm always delighted when you talk about it. Sadly I've had an overdose of realistic fiction lately, but I shall put Guardian of the Dead on my to-read list at once!

sarahtales
Mar. 27th, 2010 10:44 pm (UTC)
I think the subtle bits of feminism in Fire made me love it more: Graceling was cool, but I agreed with and had thought about its points already, I think!
sorrelchestnut
Mar. 28th, 2010 01:37 am (UTC)
Fire was probably one of my top favorite books of the last year, if not THE top favorite. The scene in which the character you mentioned calls her "sister" caused me to break and cry like a baby when I was reading. I could basically talk about all the wonderful things it does with concept and character for hours, but you know all that because you've read it.

I did want to mention, because you keep talking about your desire for books with zombie boyfriends, that I just read a great YA fantasy called Generation Dead by Daniel Waters. It does indeed have zombie romance, as well as dealing with a lot of cultural concepts much the same way and on the same level as Fire does, so I think you would be interested. It also has one sequel out already, Kiss of Life, and another coming out this summer, to satisfy all of your zombie boyfriend needs.
sarahtales
Mar. 28th, 2010 08:44 am (UTC)
I've read them. Kiss of Life has a zombie makeout scene, which made me feel vaguely triumphant!
fadedbluejeans
Mar. 28th, 2010 02:28 am (UTC)
Fire! Oh, god, I love that book. The minor character you mentioned coming to love Fire as a sister pulled me all to pieces, too.

And now I have to add Guardian of the Dead to my to-be-read list. That pile beside my bed never seems to get any smaller.
(Anonymous)
Mar. 28th, 2010 10:47 am (UTC)
If you like NZ fiction so much you should come visit our lovely country! And have book signings. Especially in Dunedin. Also, I was dismayed to find that your book does not seem to be sold in NZ-I had to order it off the internet! It was shameful. We are deprived.
sarahtales
Mar. 28th, 2010 10:57 am (UTC)
It should be sold in New Zealand - any bookshop should be able to get it in for you? And some should have it already. But thank you for ordering it!

I do want to come visit New Zealand (and Australia) very very much: though I must be invited to come do book stuff, as bookshops look unkindly on people waltzing in saying 'I AM A WRITER! Bring people TO ME!' But maybe one day, should I become a Successful Lady.
wild_magic
Mar. 29th, 2010 01:09 am (UTC)
I promise, even if you didn't give warning, my bookshop would look kindly one you.

Or I would beat the bosses into a bloody pulp, and then the reast of us would look kindly on you.

:P
sarahtales
Mar. 29th, 2010 09:38 am (UTC)
Your bloodthirsty kindness is much appreciated! *hums thoughtfully*
shachi
Mar. 29th, 2010 01:28 am (UTC)
Ack! I have had an idea bouncing around my head for ages that is basically your description of the idea behind the character of Fire. I'd be more displeased about that if 1) I weren't fairly sure that the basic premise hasn't been done before anyway, and it's all about choice of execution, and 2) your description of the book made the book sound less interesting than it does. Book recs: They always win. D:

Also, it *is* pretty cool to see a positively-portrayed asexual character in, you're right, any fiction--but especially in YA.

Also also, those last few lines are very inspiring. There isn't much else for me to say about that.
sarahtales
Mar. 29th, 2010 10:13 am (UTC)
I am pleased they are inspiring. ;)

And I wouldn't worry about the basic premise. A premise that has not been done at all is a rare one. I get plenty of hatemail for ripping off Supernatural! What can you do.

Absolutely, as it was nice to see New Zealand. It was lovely to have a break from that Generic Place in America where everyone is white and straight.
alsha
Mar. 29th, 2010 02:51 am (UTC)
I live in New Zealand. This still surprises me most days. Must track down this book. I will call it local geography research and it shall stand in for work. (It's like a business expense, but a book!) Thanks for the lovely recs!
jordinothepizza
Mar. 29th, 2010 03:48 am (UTC)
Thank you for the book recommendations! They all seem like good ponderous books, with the first and last being ones you'd read on a good cry day. Wow.
(Anonymous)
Mar. 29th, 2010 08:26 am (UTC)
I so agree about Guardian of the Dead - it is made of awesome. I too cried in the end (OMG how awesome was it though?) and I very impressed with the way things turned out. Ellie is one of my favorite heroines as well and I wouldn't be surprised if the book made my top 10 this year. AWESOME. (Ana, Book Smugglers)
sarahtales
Mar. 29th, 2010 09:39 am (UTC)
Can't wait to read your review, Ana!
imagined_away
Mar. 29th, 2010 05:13 pm (UTC)
Sarah, this is why I love it when you make these posts!
I'm now anxiously waiting for my library to get Split, so that I in turn can get Split.
I feel like I don't see a lot of truly screwed up dysfunctional families in YA which makes me a bit sad as I know how much it would have helped me when I was 15. On one hand I an see why a publishing company would say "Hey there lets not portray families as awful and not that helpful or loving, okay?!" but on the other hand *shrug* that's some kids lives and it's always nice to find books to relate to.

Uh yeah. What I meant to say was "Yaaaaay Sarah recs books to us! :D"
(Anonymous)
Mar. 30th, 2010 05:55 am (UTC)
Why is no-one on your trip tweeting about their SO's who are also piere?
sarahtales
Mar. 30th, 2010 08:07 am (UTC)
...Um, huh?
(Anonymous)
Mar. 31st, 2010 12:58 am (UTC)
Clearly some Frenchman hacked my computer. Hey look, the Eiffel Tower! *tip toes off*
presentinglenore.blogspot.com
Apr. 1st, 2010 11:36 am (UTC)
Sorry I missed you at the Bologna book fair!
wingstodust
Apr. 6th, 2010 04:46 pm (UTC)
I honestly avoided this post for a while because I was planning to get Split, and being the spoiler-phobe I am, I decided to refrain from reading the LJ-cut until after I finished my library copy.

And omg, it was so good. Your whole review, I was like, yesyesYES, that's exactly it, and the Hallowe'en scene was one of my favourites and being inside Jace's head was amazing. This book needs more love. *_*

Also, your comments on Fire reminds me that I have to get around to finishing that book. I'm not sure why I left it off after reading the prologue, but clearly that was a bad decision on my part.
sarahtales
Apr. 6th, 2010 10:15 pm (UTC)
Prologue's weaker, because it is not about amazing Fire and her amazingness, but it does show you where it links into Graceling.

Split is super great! I'm glad you enjoyed.
akasha_lilian
Apr. 22nd, 2010 08:37 pm (UTC)
Just finishing up Cashore's book and I have to agree on all points, except for the villain part. But that might be, because I liked the further details on Leck, since there wasn't buch background info in her first book Graceling, which I loved just as much, if not a bit more!!!
hamiechi
Jun. 23rd, 2010 09:41 am (UTC)
Hi, I read Demon's Lexicon^^ and it is awesome I read it again and again. I promise my self to buy the Indonesian version next month. And I read this recommended books *sobs* I don't have much money, just college student *sniffs* And I don't even know even if they have been translated in to Indonesian....and I really want to read Split. I love brotherly love stories. I love ALAN, I love ALAN, I love ALAN! I want a big bro!!!!!!!!!!
( 48 comments — Leave a comment )

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