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My library ordered some books for me, so now I am in possession of six October Daye books. Here is the proof. Odds on how long it's gonna take me to plow through all of these? (One is done, but finished too late to end up in this column; it's possible you heard me screeching in agony.)

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cover for Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

'Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.' (source)


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This co-review was completed in 2010 and is being archived here for great justice!

Internet! You know what is better than a nutella cheesecake? Not much! EXCEPT CO-REVIEWING WITH ANA. Ana blogs at things mean a lot and if you don't know her you are missing out. TODAY we are sharing the conversation we've had over a book, by some dudes you may have heard of. We sat and took apart Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan, and it was so freaking awesome, Ana blew my mind into 2012. TRUE STORY: it is not the Mayan calendar ending that kick starts the apocalypse, but my brain arriving in 2012 and EXPLODING FROM GLEE that Ana gave up her precious free time to tl;dr with me. I know, everyone wants to touch me now, but instead all I can offer you is our co-review. While this is in no way as awesome as you getting to co-review with her oh yes you're jealous aren't you, it is still pretty awesome. But I have to warn you, you may not want to enter this co-review without a breadcrumb trail and a spoiler net, because it is long and full of plot details and twists.

Also, I'm sorry about the apocalypse.

Renay: Will Grayson, Will Grayson! Two of them, two authors, two of us. This is clearly a recipe for success! I am totally STOKED to be discussing this book with you because it means I get to pick your brain. I promise I will not make this Renay Asks Ana Nosy Questions About A Book And Doesn't Share Any Opinions At All, because that would be unfair to make you do all the heavy lifting (it will be hard, but I will endure). I feel it is safe to start at the beginning, which for both of us I think was "JOHN GREEN HAS ANOTHER BOOK COMING OUT!!!111 CUE FANGIRLING." Time for the necessary evaluation of all that excitement, those nights, waiting for the book to arrive, the thrill when we held it in our hands, when we read the first page! The question is, did it deliver?

Ana: You had to start with a difficult question, didn't you? ;) I didn't quite know how I felt about the book for days after I finished it. I mean, I know it was awesome in many ways, but I didn't know how I felt about it as a new John Green book. And I did wonder if all those months of fangirling and taking screenshots of John Green holding the book during his live show to e-mail you didn't contribute to my developing slightly unreasonable expectations (for which I solely blame myself, of course). Expectations are killers! I wish I knew how to get rid of them. To actually answer your question, this book didn't hit me like a punch in the gut like John Green's other books did, but I do think it's a book capable of having that same powerful effect on other people. And one of the reasons why I've been looking forward to discussing it with you is because I know that as we move from how much we enjoyed it to how it works, what it does, and how it does the things it does, I'll develop an appreciation of it that simply reading it and putting it back on the shelf wouldn't allow me to have. Can you tell I miss lit classes?

Renay: Of course! I ask the tough questions. You can come to the lit class IN MY HEART. :D

I did manage to keep my expectations in a low gear, because I knew David Levithan was the co-author. I am very hit-or-miss with Levithan's work. Sometimes it's wonderful (for instance, I loved his work in Naomi and Ely's No Kiss List) and sometimes I go, "....what...? (Wide Awake). Expectations fully tempered, despite efforts to the contrary. ;) I was actually prepared to go into this book loving John Green's half and being emotionally disconnected from Levithan's. Neither of these things happened. I liked the book, of course! I gobbled it up in one day and wanted more more more, but no, it wasn't a John Green Book for me (that phrase comes with sparkles, but no unicorns). There's not the same helpless love I felt for Looking for Alaska or An Abundance of Katherines, but I don't think that's a bad thing. Not every work an author puts out is going to be fireworks and cotton candy and a ride on the Scrambler. I liked their characters and the complicated nature of friendship and love being analyzed, but I did wonder at the end: who this story is truly about? Did you run into that issue, as well?

Ana: I did a bit, yes. I hesitate to call the book unfocused, and I have absolutely nothing against stories in which several different characters deal with their own separate issues, but by the end I kind of wanted it to have gone....further? I've seen reviews that said that the ending felt rushed, and while I don't think it left the characters in a bad place necessarily, I kind of felt that way about the whole book. Things happened fast, and I had several moments of, "Wait, can we go over that again, only more slowly?" Then again, I read this book insanely fast — all because, as I said above, I was ridiculously excited to be reading it — so it could have been that too.

Renay: I actually discussed the end of the book with KJ because I was curious if I was the only one going "WTF?". We had an interesting discussion about resolution, which might tie in to how the work felt unfocused. I don't think the ending was rushed, I think the ending was kidnapped! Obviously, what happened at the end was pretty neat, but KJ said that the book ended about one chapter too soon — and I agree with her. That abruptness, the lack of direction plagued me the entire story, too, even though I enjoyed it. I can't decide if the speed at which I read it contributed to this feeling, or if I read it so fast because I was waiting for something and kept rushing through to find what it might be. Ensemble casts are awesome, but when the book starts and seems to be about these two boys but ends on another character who has come to define the text, I get a little confused. Was the story about how each Will navigated their own life, or navigated their own life around Tiny? I think it matters! I have seen other reviews claim this is a "love it or hate it" ending, but I think that oversimplifies the issue. I didn't love it, of course, or I wouldn't be whining! But I didn't hate it, either. I was...bemused!

Ana: Yeah, I'm not sure if it's about it being a "love it or hate it" kind of ending. And that question does matter! Tiny Cooper stole the show, and not in an entirely positive way. I mean, on the one hand, I liked him. He was interesting to read about! The things he went through were relevant! And while I can see other writers making a mess of not presenting him as a stereotype, I did think Green and Levithan did a fine job of making him fully human.

But — the book is called Will Grayson, Will Grayson. Obviously that doesn't mean there isn't room for other characters, especially characters that are so important for the two Wills. But the way the story played out, and especially the ending, did make them seem a bit like they were satellites revolving around a person who was just louder and more noteworthy than they were. I'm not sure if that was intended, but at any rate, it wasn't quite what I wanted from the story. I don't think Tiny's presence in the story is a bad thing — he helps Green's Will break through his façade of not really caring, and Levithan's Will feel more comfortable with his sexuality than he ever did before. But the emphasis on the person who brought these changes about rather than on the changes themselves kind of cheats both Wills out of their agency. I'm not saying the story presents Tiny as a Big Fairy Godfather of Feel Good, but because his presence is so inescapable, especially towards the end, it comes a bit close.

Renay: I agree that Tiny was extremely important to both protagonists, for the reasons you outlined but also for the way he brought them together with someone else who was what they needed at the time, even if they didn't quite know it. Will and Jane and Will and Gideon — Tiny helped both of them form these relationships both directly and indirectly, even if they were hesitant to reach out before. So even though at the end they feel resolved, in a way, I think you're right on about the agency. Tiny basically steals the show, which is always a problem when writing a character like this. So many reviews gush over Tiny but Will and Will are barely a blip — and I think many parts of their story, divorced from Tiny, like their connection, is lost because of this, which makes me a little sad.

Ana: It really is too bad. I find the processes they both go through so interesting, and I find stories in which people tentatively reach out even though they're terrified endlessly fascinating. (Um, not that I have unresolved issues in that area or anything.) The book would have satisfied me more if it had dealt with that in more detail, and if it hadn't been for Tiny's Magic Wand effect.

You mentioned earlier that you were worried you'd feel emotionally disconnected from Levinthan's Will Grayson, but in the end that didn't happen. Was your level of investment in both stories the same, then? How do you think that they compare?

Renay: If only they had given us ONE MORE CHAPTER. Just one, guys!

I expected to like John's Will Grayson more — for him to be more accessible to me. I have whined about my problems with Levithan's characters and plots before, so I don't have a super great track record. What happened surprised me, because after finishing the book, my feelings are all tangled up with Levithan's Will Grayson. I know I rushed through every other chapter to find out how he handled things, how he survived. spoilers ) That did it for me. It even surpassed the all-lowercase typing, which I could have lived without. Green's Will — his problems were definitely Straight Cisgender White Dude problems and I have to admit I am way less interested in that, which is not fault of John Green's at all. I knew how that story was going to end! If John Green's books have a weakness (besides how he uses female characters), it's that I expect certain things because the character type spits out the plot at my feet. Honestly, even if Levithan is hit-or-miss for me, there are surprises on the journey. This, in all likelihood, is just me? Maybe? Perhaps? Read more tl;dr and also lots of spoilers! )

Other Opinions: Book Gazing, BookLust, books i done read, The Book Smugglers, Good Books and Good Wine, Stuff As Dreams Are Made On, The Written World, yours?
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[personal profile] bookgazing

My own definition of the separation between YA and adult lit has until now been that adult literature may tell the stories of young characters, but adult novels are always written as if characters are looking back on their youth.‘What I Was’ by Meg Rosoff, is clearly labelled YA by the Spinebreakers logo on the back and the Carnegie nomination medal on the front. Yet the opening lines of the novel explain that the reader will be hearing a remembered tale, from the narrator who has now reached the ‘impossible age’ of a hundred, rather than from the lips in motion of a sixteen year old narrator:

‘…my brain has no anchor in the present. Instead it drifts, nearly always to the same shore.

Today, as most days, it is 1962. The year I discovered love.

I am sixteen years old.’
Once again young adult fiction beats back any attempt to define what makes a book YA.

This short piece of text that precedes the first full chapter of the novel also reminds the reader that they are being told a tale. I think this is important to keep in mind as the story progresses, because many modern books that feature a first person narrator don’t use framing to explain how their narrative comes to be written down on a page (most notably novels written in the first person present). ‘What I Was’ alerts the reader to the fact that they are hearing a story, and as the novel unfolds the reader hears more about the partiality of history and stories. I wondered if the inclusion of this first block of text was a pointed director. Is it meant to highlight the reader of the human unreliability of the narrator? Is it meant to remind readers to keep questioning Rosoff’s narrative? Is it meant to emphasise that when the reasonably sympathetic narrator says some questionable things, readers needn’t agree with everything in order to continue to sympathise with him? Questions, I has them.

The narrator tells the story of the one year he spent at the oppressive boarding school St Oswald’s when he met a boy called Finn who lived by himself on the beach. The story is told in the past tense and is heavily laced with the analysis of the older narrator. He comments on the behaviour of his younger self with the objectivity of distance and I agree with Angie, who wrote some close analysis of the narrators removed perspective, that it aids the book by adding wisdom and insight to the narrative. At the same time Rosoff manages to make the boy, who is described on the page, but goes unnamed until the end, so present, plausibly knowing and extremely self-aware that it’s easy to forget that this story is being narrated from a narrator with the benefit of hindsight. The narrator (unnamed until the end) is created as an especially clear sighted teenager and I wonder how much of what he self-consciously tells us about hi characters is the remembered analysis of a teenager too much in his own head and how much of it is newer, adult analysis.

The specifics of the story will be familiar to anyone who has read a lot of stories about male boarding schools in Britain (the plot twist will also feel familiar to these readers). An average narrator shames his father and disappoints his teachers. The school is bleak; he hates the food and the other boys. It feels like a traditional story of imprisonment, escape and adoration, with an old-fashioned boarding school backdrop; a most agreeable, familiar formula because it confirms ideas that are embedded into British cultural background (female boarding schools delightfully full of cake and bonding, male boarding schools pits of hell, according to my own reading).

Still, it’s hard to feel entirely sorry for the narrator. He’s very sympathetic and clearly his time at St Oswald’s signals that everyone has already given him up to the kind of averagely, unhappy lives they’ve taken on themselves. He’s almost automatically set him up as the underdog that the reader should care about (or sets himself up as the underdog as he is telling his own story). However, having a distanced, analytical adult narrator tell this story, means that the ordinary weaknesses of a sixteen year old boy are unsparingly examined and exposed. These failings are remembered and placed again in the context of sixteen year old importance, which makes them seem monumental. As the narrator’s imperfections are pretty common human errors (jealousy, minor cruelty, desperation) readers will recognise themselves in this character and empathise with him, but being flawed in these specific ways may make readers unlikely to describe the character as likeable (probably because he cuts a little too close to the weaknesses of many people’s adolescent self).

Reading a character that shifts between being sympathetic and unlikeable is an interesting experience. The narrator despises Reese the one boy who wants to get close to him, because Reese’s adoration makes him appear weak. He shuns Reese. Then when he is presented with his own personal Jesus in the shape of Finn he struggles to keep from being pitifully over attentive. He is lucky that Finn is much more accepting than he is and when I was reading I found myself relieved for him when Finn returned his friendship. At the same time I disliked his attitude towards Reese. For me, ‘What I Was’ provided a useful reminder about compartmentalisation when reading and meeting characters. I don’t have to like everything about them to feel for them and they don’t have to be saints to be good people.

Hearing the story of a less than perfect main character did, however, leave me wondering if I should be questioning his version of events at times. This is probably partly down to my own reading baggage (I’ve read ‘Engleby’ and ‘Gentlemen and Players’ which both boarding school stories that feature main characters who aren’t always the nicest and turn out to be unreliable narrators). Finn’s lack of input into the story again made me wonder if I was meant to question the way the tale is being told. Famously books with a voiceless/inactive character have been taken up for revisionist interpretations that offer to tell a more truthful tale. Again, is this a product of my reading baggage, or is the novel offering deliberate clues? A sentence towards the end of the novel, where Finn has disappeared and the narrator tells a girl his name is Finn suggests that the narrator is involved in some nebulous dealings with his own identity, but I’m not sure how far this goes. Is the narrator’s story entirely fabricated, is he ‘Finn’, or is it just that at the end of the book he superficially ‘becomes’ Finn as a metaphor for his growing confidence? Early on in the book he says ‘It wasn’t even that I longed to see him so much as to be him’, which I took at face value, as an understandable wish of a self-conscious boy who wants to be more at ease with himself, but does it go deeper, or am I reading too much into that do you think?

I feel like I’ve been quite hard on the narrator. I don’t mean to be. I understanding him and I think he deserves compassion, because I was flawed in very similar ways to him when I was growing up and growing up is hard. So, let me end by showing you just how special his relationship with Finn was, despite anything that ever came between them:

‘As it was, nothing happened except the two of us watching the sea come in and go out again, listening to the birds, sheltering from the rain when it came in and lying silent as the sky changed from blue to white to gold. For hours we lay side by side, breathing softly together, watching thin rivulets of water run down the cliffs and into the sea, feeling the world slowly revolve around us as we leant into each other for warmth – and for something else, something I couldn’t quite name, something glorious, frightening and unforgettable.’

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I kind of want to riff off some things Ana mentioned in her first post (I am going to frame this as having a conversation with another post, not stealing Ana’s idea, even though I’m now going to quote Ana’s words…):

‘There’s a lot of potential hurt involved when someone who’s already in a relationship falls in love with another person, but guess what? It happens, and it doesn’t make them a traitor.’

Love triangles, which always end with one disappointed party, can be unsatisfying, to say the least, but they crop up again and again in romance and young adult fiction. I have to say I often feel kind of over the love triangle and I know romantic trigonometry is not welcome around these parts, so this seems like the oddest way to begin our joint blog venture. I feel like we should all watch that highly entertaining, educational video of James Blunt singing ‘My Triangle’ on Sesame Street at this point to diffuse any tension…

Love triangles commonly move fast. The three main characters appear early on and a spark is established between the characters who aren’t yet together. In ‘When the Stars Go Blue’ Caridad Ferrer sets her love triangle up slightly differently, giving her first romantic pairing more time together to give her readers a real feel for their attachment and their flaws.

Soledad, a gifted, classically trained dancer has a backstage conversation with Jonathan, a talented horn player. Jonathan asks her to tour the summer competition circuit with his drill corps, which needs a dancer to complete their portrayal of Carmen. Soledad has always wanted to be a ballet dancer, but has been advised by her mentor, Madame, that she should focus on a discipline less likely to destroy an athletically built dancer like Soledad. Upset by what she sees as her mentor’s lack of faith in her, she decides to take the role instead of taking up a place that Madame has arranged with a latin dance troupe.

Approaching Soledad about the role of Carmen is Jonathan’s way of finally getting up the courage to talk to the girl he’s liked for four years. When she wins the role he makes his feelings clear and they find themselves embarking on a romance just as they’re about to spend a whole summer living out of coaches together. Both of them are highly focused, creative people who have previously left little space in their lives for romance, which means they’re both in the dangerous position of having to test out how relationships work on each other. Their romance is physically and emotionally intense (read hawt), but their high level of intensity quickly shows up both characters serious emotional insecurities.

Soledad’s insecurities manifest as a need to be wanted. Her mother left her with her grandmother when she was very young and she never returned. Although Soledad has a loving relationship with her grandmother, she does have abandonment issues, which seem to have partly shaped her professional ambitions to be a great dancer. The feeling that she needs to be the best, in order to feel worthy impacts on her relationship with Jonathan, as she feels the relief of being wanted and recognises that she has the ability to give something perfect to another person:

‘what I felt as I kissed Jonathan back was the most tremendous sense of tenderness for this sensitive, beautiful boy and underneath that was, well…he wanted me.

He wanted me so much and I could give that to him.

Tell me, how was I supposed to resist?’

Jonathan buries his insecurities under an extremely rigid façade, but his issues are essentially the same as Soledad’s. His lack of self-confidence also stems from parental disapproval and abandonment and he needs to be wanted, but also to be the one and only perfect person for Soledad.

In a more equal situation Soledad and Jonathan would be well matched romantic partners who could help each other through similar issues, but Soledad is always a more self-assured character than Jonathan. She also doesn’t make a successful relationship with Jonathan the centre of her focus, while Jonathan almost sees Soledad as his redemption from the severe criticism his father constantly hurls at his personality. Early on in the book, once Soledad is involved with the corps and him Jonathan reveals he’d be happy to sack off the corps and they could just, like, travel and explore each other all summer. Soledad meets with the corps because Jonathan introduces her, but then she accepts the role because of her own personal drive. She is never so focused on him that she forgets her own dreams, while he would gladly give up a professional career as a musician for her.

Soledad’s strength and confidence in some areas makes her rather intoxicating to watch, but the fact that Jonathan can’t match her confidence and can’t make himself the sole focus of her life means that the relationship fills him with constant doubt (doubt which is all created by Jonathan’s worries and his father’s pressure, not by her awesomeness). Jonathan has been interested in Soledad for four years while her love for him is new minted, which is the first indication of romantic inequality that arises. His issues with his self-worth always result in more violent, or fearful outbursts than Soledad’s. His crazy home life makes him insecure and Soledad must constantly reassure him. He also resents her journal writing because he feels it keeps her from expressing her thoughts to him, but Soledad has to all but shake honesty out of him. As the pressure on Jonathan and on his relationship with Soledad increase his rigid control fractures and his insecurities do the young couple great harm.

While on tour with the corps Soledad meets Taz, a talented Spanish football player touring with his team. They strike up a teasing friendship with him, but they begin to connect on a deeper level as they talk about their homesickness and Carmen. Jonathan becomes jealous, but initially he and Soledad dismiss this as normal romantic jealousy that they can get past. As Soledad continues to meet Taz and their connection grows Jonathan must be continually reassured and it's clear that his jealousy is escalating. He’s territorial, appearing at her elbow whenever Taz is around.

All your sirens should be screaming 'Danger! Romantic core unstable!' right now. )


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