Monday, November 29, 2010

Juli, Stargirl & Alaska - three girls who will move you

Flipped, Stargirl and Looking For Alaska - three books that each feature a remarkable, larger-than-life girl, who stands out from the crowd, and has a life-long impact on those around her.

Flipped by Wendelin van Draanen is about two teens, Bryce & Juli, who have lived next to each other since they were 7.  Juli fell in love with Bryce the moment she saw him.  Bryce on the other hand wishes Juli would just leave him alone.  The story is told in both Juli's and Bryce's voices, in alternating chapters.  This in itself is entertaining - the different take the two of them have on the same situation is quite enlightening.  Over the years, Bryce and Juli both come to realise that sometimes first impressions aren't so reliable.  This is a lovely story, filled with humour, well developed characters and a certain truth about it.

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli tells the story of Stargirl Caraway, an unconventional girl who finds a deep and rewarding joy in making those around her happy.  When she starts attending Mica High (having previously been home schooled) she quickly becomes popular, mostly as a result of her uniqueness.  However, it doesn't take long before she gets offside with the in-crowd, and she is shunned.  The story is narrated by Leo, who is fascinated by Stargirl, and wants to understand what makes her tick.  Leo finds it increasingly difficult to be associated with Stargirl, especially once he too feels the effects of being shunned by the crowd.  
Stargirl provides an interesting commentary on how humans (and no, not just those of the teenage variety) tend to feel happier if they are part of a groups.  And how unpleasant we can often be to those who we don't consider part of 'our group'.

Looking For Alaska by John Green has found a place in my all-time-fave-books list.  This was a debut novel but what a remarkable piece of writing.  The story is narrated by Miles as he transfers to a new boarding school, where he falls in with a group of teens  lead by the enigmatic Alaska.  The story is told in two parts - Before, and After.  Before focuses on the group and their various pranks and antics; After focuses on how the group deals with a tragedy that befalls them.

The characters are skilfully drawn, and achingly real.  It has humour, and pathos, and love, and lust, and tragedy.  It had me laughing as I read one page, then crying just a few short pages later. I loved it.  I felt quite lost when I finished reading it - I didn't want to leave these characters.

These three books are probably often considered to be "coming of age" books, and to be fair, they are aimed at different age groups (Flipped more for the tweens and younger teens; Looking For Alaska young adult and adult; with Stargirl falling somewhere in between) - and yet, as an adult, I found each of them left a little piece with me that I will keep and continue to reflect on.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Books that change your life

Not long ago I blogged that Marcus Zusak's The Book Thief was what I would consider a life-changing book for me.  That got me thinking - is it the book?  Is it the stage in our lives?  Or is it a combination of the two?

If I had read The Book Thief ten years ago (a difficult feat in itself since it hadn't actually been published, but that obvious flaw in my argument aside) - would it have had the same effect on me as it had when I read it last month?

I remember clearly the first time I read The Hobbit - my brother gave it to me for Christmas when I was about 11.  I spent the rest of Christmas Day curled up in Dad's chair, only coming out briefly for pavlova and Mum's Christmas pud.

We all have songs that we associate with different events in our life (I know that Phil Collins' Groovy Kind of Love, which once made me go all dewy eyed, now has the same effect as sticking my finger down my throat), but do we have books that we remember the same way?

I'd love some feedback on this.  What are some of your life-changing books?  And do you ever get nervous about re-reading a life changing book?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Read. This. Book.

I recently finished reading The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak.  It was one of those ones that had been on my list-of-books-I-must-read (which is so long it is practically a book itself) - but I always ended up choosing something else off the list instead.

But wow - what a book!  It is now officially one of the best books I have ever read.  It is beautifully written, second to none.  It is one of those very few books that could be considered life changing.

I never believed I would have sympathy for Death as a character - but I did.  And as for Liesel - I became so caught up in her life - I couldn't stop thinking about her even when I wasn't reading it (my apologies to my work colleagues for the numerous slip ups over the past week or so).

Beg, borrow, buy, dare I say steal, a copy of this book.  You will not regret it.