As promised, this is the first of my weekly book reports, where I’ll share what I finished during the week.
This week, I’ve got three reviews for you, two of which were carry-overs from the end of 2009. The third is my first book for National Just Read More Novels Month. (Yes, there is a month for everything.)
Let It Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle
From the jacket: “Sparkling white snowdrifts … Beautiful presents wrapped in ribbons, and multicolored lights glittering in the night through the falling snow. A Christmas Eve snowstorm transforms one small town into a romantic haven, the kind you only see in movies. Well, kinda. After all, a cold and wet hike from a stranded train through the middle of nowhere would not normally end with a delicious kiss with a charming stranger. And no one would think that a trip to the Waffle House through four feet of snow would lead to love with an old friend. Or that the way back to true love begins with a painfully early morning shift at Starbucks. Thanks to three of today’s best-selling teen authors … the magic of the holidays shines on these hilarious and charming interconnected tales of love, romance, and breathtaking kisses.”
My take: The overarching premise: A blizzard strikes the mid-Atlantic on Christmas Eve, stranding a train heading to Florida just outside Gracetown, Virginia. Included on the train are a horde of high school cheerleaders headed to a competition and two other solitary teenagers, Jeb and Jubilee. Independently, they all head to the Waffle House they can see from the train window through the night’s snow. The stories are what happens next:
In Maureen Johnson’s “The Jubilee Express,” Jubilee is put on a train by her parents’ lawyer. Originally slated to spend Christmas Eve at her “perfect” boyfriend’s family party for their one-year anniversary, she is instead whisked off to board a train heading toward her grandparents’ Florida home after her parents are arrested as part of a riot surrounding collectible Department 56-like Christmas village pieces.
When the train gets stuck, she leaves the train first for the Waffle House and then, when followed by the cheerleaders, home with a local boy. Frustrated by her parents’ poor judgement and her boyfriend’s seeming indifference to her plight, Jubilee must try to keep from unravelling in front of Stuart and his family while piecing together some form of a Christmas when surrounded by strangers.
“A Cheertastic Christmas Miracle,” by John Green, opens with a near-midnight phone call from the Waffle House’s manager to his friends, who are sitting around an empty house (Tobin’s parents’ flight home was grounded because of the storm) watching movies. We have cheerleaders stuck here, he cries, and you must bring Twister to help us alleviate their boredom.
Tobin and JP spring into action, immediately seeing the sense of driving out into a snowstorm to rescue the unknown girls from their dull night. Duke, however, requires some convincing, but after Tobin reminds her of how much she loves the Waffle House hash browns, she decides that she’s in. They set off through the storm, weathering (pun intended) all sorts of driving and travel misadventures to reach their destination. Is that the Waffle House or a higher plane of understanding?
Lauren Myracle’s “The Patron Saint of Pigs” focuses on self-focused Addie, who spends her Christmas despairing of having broken up with her boyfriend. Her two best friends try to help her overcome her pathos, but she cannot be comforted. They leave her to her misery, reminding her of her promise to pick up a teacup pig (a gift from Addie and Dorrie to Tegan) from the local pet store the next morning. But her Boxing Day shift at Starbucks gets busy and one thing leads to another. Can Tegan eventually show her friends that she’s able to rise above herself in order to be there for them?
A final scene at Starbucks ties up the loose ends of the three stories into a cheery bow and presents it to us wrapped in festive paper. As you can probably guess from my summaries, “The Jubilee Express” is my favorite story of the bunch and, I think, the strongest. The stories are light, but enjoyable, and I recommend the book to anyone looking for an easy-going Christmas read. Personally, I enjoyed all three stories’ writing, so I’ll be seeking out solo works from the individual authors.
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
From the jacket: “By sixth grade, Miranda and her best friend, Sal, know how to navigate their New York City neighborhood. They know where it’s safe to go, like the local grocery store, and they know who to avoid. Like the crazy guy on the corner. But things start to unravel. Sal gets punched by a kid on the street for what seems like no reason, and he shuts Miranda out of his life. The apartment key that Miranda’s mom keeps hidden for emergencies is stolen. And then a mysterious note arrives, scrawled on a tiny slip of paper:
I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own.
I ask two favors. First, you must write me a letter.“
My take: During each of the past three Januarys, I have read a book that ultimately ends up on my list of favorite reads for that year. I suspect this year will be no exception, having devoured When You Reach Me earlier this week.
Set in New York City’s Upper West Side in 1978-79, the novel focuses on Miranda, who has lived with her single mother in a state of normalcy since she was an infant. Her best friend, Sal; the neighborhood bodega; her school; the older boys on the corner; even the book she reads over and over again (A Wrinkle in Time): all of it has achieved an air of similarity until one day everything changes. A boy neither of them knows punches Sal. And from then on, nothing will be the same for Miranda.
Sal turns away from Miranda, who is forced for the first time to make friends with some of her other classmates. With two of them, she takes on a lunchtime job. Madeleine L’Engle’s novel sparks conversations with two others. Her mother is accepted as a contestant on The $20,000 Pyramid. Their home is broken into. A laughing, kicking homeless man appears in the neighborhood. And Miranda begins to find notes written to her in odd places.
I don’t want to say too much more about this book for fear of giving anything away. Just read it, particularly if, like me, you were a fan of Madeleine L’Engle’s fiction growing up. And even if you weren’t, I still think you should read it. It was that good.
The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
From the jacket: “Persepolis is the story of Satrapi’s unforgettable childhood and coming of age within a large and loving family in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution; of the contradictions between private and public life in a country plagued by political upheaval; of her high school years in Vienna facing the trials of adolescence far from her family; of her homecoming — both sweet and terrible; and, finally, of her self-imposed exile from her beloved homeland. It is the chronicle of a girlhood and adolescence at once outrageous and familiar, a young life entwined with the history of her country yet filled with the universal trials and joys of growing up.”
My take: Rudi asked me last night what I thought of Persepolis, and I had a hard time formulating an answer. Don’t get me wrong. These two graphic novels (Persepolis and Persepolis 2 are combined into one longer book) are good. But I think my problem with them lies less with the story and more with the graphic novel format itself. I am an immersion reader, surfacing for air only periodically from novels I love. But graphic novels don’t put me squarely into a character’s brain, at least not in the same way. So I’m just not sure I can experience them in the same way as with traditional novels.
That said, I found Marjane’s story of growing up in a liberal family in Tehran as the Islamic Revolution erupts around them to be a fascinating one. She is outspoken as a girl in a society that doesn’t value educated women or individualistic behavior. Her family doesn’t encourage her to temper her rebellious nature, but instead eventually opts to send her abroad to protect her from what could have been a disastrous situation. She goes on to spend five years in Austria, eventually returning home to figure out how to reconcile her expatriate experience (not dissimilar, I would imagine to that of many of today’s immigrants in this country) with a homeland whose government does not particularly welcome her.
It was a valuable story to read, and I’m not sure that I would have been able to get through a more explicit telling of that place and time. If you haven’t read these graphic novels, but enjoy history, politics, or stories featuring strong female characters, I’d suggest giving them a shot.