Friday, November 25, 2011

Fortnightly Book Recommendations: Hush, Mara Dyer, Lola, & The Near Witch

I have four YA books to recommend for you this time, and they're all pretty different, so I'm not going to pretend there's a theme or something. The theme is: Books I have recently read and liked! (There may be some spoilers below, but I've tried to avoid major stuff, especially in regards to the more mystery-like plots.)

(Disclaimers: I know Steph Perkins and sometimes chat with Victoria Schwab and Michelle Hodkin on Twitter. But I would not recommend their books if I didn't really like them!)

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins
I liked Anna and the French Kiss a lot, but I love love LOVED Lola. It's quite possibly the best YA romance I've read . . . ever? I can't think of a better one offhand, anyway. I loved that Lola had her own interests and strong personality completely apart from any relationship. I loved that her family situation was complicated but the fact that she had two dads was the simplest, most normal thing about it. I loved that it wasn't about falling for her first boyfriend, that she spent a good chunk of the novel with the wrong guy. I loved that the fact that she was with the wrong guy made perfect sense and was completely in character, but it made even more sense for her to be with the right guy. I loved that Cricket was a geek and a little awkward. I loved that he was so obviously a good guy, in the moral sense of the word. I loved that he had his own family and personal problems, aside from the romance. I loved that the girl was more sexually experienced than the boy and it wasn't A Big Deal at all. I loved that Cricket and Lola had history but that it also made sense that they liked each other in the present. I loved that Anna and Etienne were around so much. I loved it ALL.

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin
This book was way different from practically anything I've ever read, and I don't say that lightly. And while there are probably books I love better, I can't recall being so gosh darn fascinated by one in recent memory. My friend Hermione is very picky about books, but after many years of friendship I know her tastes, so she relies on me to tell her if she'll like things.* As I read this one, she kept asking if she should read it, and I kept saying "I don't know! I can't figure out if you'd like it! I can't even figure out what it IS!" I knew I liked it from the start, though, partially because I had no idea what was going on - but in a very controlled way. I wasn't confused because it was badly written, but rather the opposite: I was confused because Hodkin did such a masterful job of deliberately confusing me. And I've just realized I haven't told you anything about the plot, so: Mara (not her real name) survives an accident in which her friends die, but she can't remember what happened. And she suspects there's more going on than everyone thinks, so (with the help of a really hot guy) she sets out to recover her memories and figure out what's going on. And that made it sound a million times more boring and normal than it is. I just can't find the words to describe how awesome and insane this book actually is, clearly. (An aside about the romance: I have seen reviewers complain that there was too much time devoted to the love story, and that some things about the relationship Set A Bad Example For The Dumb Impressionable Girls or whatever, and I just want to say that I disagree wholeheartedly with both of those objections, but alas, I can't say why without ruining a big part of the plot.) Oh, and if you were wondering, yes, I wound up telling Hermione she should give this one a try. So should you. Really.

The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab
This is another one that's a little hard to describe - it's fantasy, I guess, but reads like a fairy tale, more specifically. It's about a girl named Lexi in a town where there aren't ever any strangers, and what happens when a stranger shows up around the same time children start going missing. The plot is intriguing, but what really stands out about this book is the beautiful writing and how atmospheric it is. I'm not one to always picture what I'm reading, but I did with this book, especially (for some reason) Lexi's bedroom with its candles and piles of blankets. I kept wanting to cuddle up under lots of blankets while reading. And the wind, oh, the wind - it's practically its own character here, and Schwab did a great job with that. There was also more romance than I expected, which was a delightful surprise! This is the perfect book to curl up with on a cold, windy winter night.

Hush by Eishes Chayil
This semi-autobiographical novel (written under a pseudonym) is about Gittel, an Orthodox Jewish girl who witnessed her friend's brother sexually abusing her friend - and then the friend kills herself and the families and community cover it all up. As Gittel grows up, she tries to forget the whole thing, but can't, and eventually has to decide whether to expose the whole thing to the outside world. It deals with very serious, important subjects, of course, but my main reasons for liking it weren't very different from reasons why I like other books. First of all, I love reading about daily life in other cultures, especially cultures based on or highly involved with religious practice. And second, I liked that Gittel seemed very much a part of her culture. Her childhood rebellions were small and believable - eating a non-kosher candy, say. It drives me crazy when heroines who live in conservative societies (or who are in historical fiction) suddenly become fully-formed feminists without any real reason or explanation of their influences or why they're the one girl around who hates their society's strictures, and that was avoided here. It also had perhaps the best treatment of an arranged marriage I've read - Gittel saw it as a matter of course, because that's how all relationships in her society formed, and it didn't end up being love at first sight or anything, but it was, you know, fine. Perfect middle ground, and probably more common in real life than the usual fictional portrayals of "I will insist on marrying for LOVE even though I've never heard of anyone else doing that!" or "I was iffy about this but oh, look, he is hot! I love him!" or "Because this is an arranged marriage it is obviously ruining my life because how could it not?" The way it was handled in the novel just seemed more realistic.

* No offense intended to any authors or books here: this has nothing to do with the quality of the books. It's kind of . . . idiosyncratic. For example, she has Demon Issues. And issues with anyone who reminds her of Fanny Price. ANYWAY.

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