Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Book Review: Being Friends With Boys

Author: Terra Elan McVoy
Genres: "Young Adult" Fiction, Coming of Age, Romance (ish)
Page Count: 361
You'll Like This if You Like: Sarah Dessen
Twenty Words or Less: Much better than it has any right to be.

Oh dear, I have kind of mixed feelings about this book -- on the one hand, I'm already forgetting some of the more minor plot points; on the other, I really really liked it. I'm not even sure where to start, so let's just read the jacket together, shall we?

"Charlotte and Oliver have been friends forever. She knows that he, Abe, and Trip consider her to be one of the guys, and she likes it that way. She likes being the friend who keeps them all together. Likes offering a girl's perspective on their love lives. Likes being the behind-the-scenes wordsmith who writes all the lyrics for the boys' band. Char has a house full of stepsisters and a past full of backstabbing (female) ex-best friends, so for her, being friends with boys is refreshingly drama-free . . . until it isn't anymore.

"When a new boy enters the scene and makes Char feel like, well, a total girl . . . and two of her other friends have a falling out that may or may not be related to one of them deciding he possibly wants to be more than friends with Char . . . being friends with all these boys suddenly becomes a lot more complicated."

Let's see . . .

  • This makes it sound like Abe is going to be much more of a major character. I mean, he IS a major character in that he's always there and he's a member of the band, but . . . we never even find out what instrument he plays. There's all sorts of stuff that goes on during the story, and we never find out how he's reacted to it. Charlotte never even wonders what he might be thinking about anything.
  • "Likes offering a girl's perspective on their love lives." Really? Did you remember to put on your Basic Reading Comprehension Skills glasses?
  • Charlotte and her stepsisters actually get along really well. It's strongly implied that there was a fair amount of tension when their parents got married and they all moved in together, but they're way beyond that by the time the story starts.
  • That second paragraph makes it sound like romantic complications drive most of the plot, and this is simply not the case. Yes, there are quite a few romantic complications, but they're not, you know, Why This Story is Being Told.
What else, what else? I thought about dividing this review into Things I Liked and Things I Didn't Like, but there were only one or two things I didn't like enough to actually mention them, so that seems silly. Hmm.

1. First off, I want to mention how utterly believable this story was. There were quite a few moments when I was reading it that made me say to myself, in the back of my head, "You know, this goes beyond believable storytelling. I wouldn't be surprised if Charlotte and her friends actually existed. No, that's silly. But I wouldn't be surprised if the author wrote the story after rereading some of her own journals from high school, you know?"

2. The word "fuck" is used once in the whole entire book. Not that I have any problem with swearing, of course -- I fucking love it -- but, I don't know, I guess I've been watching so much Weeds lately that it was refreshing to not have every other scene be like a contest to see who can drop the most f-bombs. Heh.

3. Oh my goodness, JILLY. She's Charlotte's older sister, who's just gone away to college, and how much did I love her? So much. Oh my God. Her "on-page" appearance is exceptionally brief (she visits for Thanksgiving), but she gives Charlotte two brilliant pieces of advice: "You need to do what makes you happiest. Don't worry about where it's going right now." And, "You're doing so great. Just listen to yourself, and you'll be fine."

4. There are a few supporting characters who are eventually revealed to be gay, and I really liked the way that was handled. None of them got a Coming Out Scene (TM), the story never felt the need to stop and say "You're gay and that's different, but it's okay," it was just . . . normal. Not an issue. Everyone was completely indifferent (well, maybe there was some disappointment in the "all the good ones are gay" sense).

5. Charlotte's friends frequently use the nickname "Spider" for her. This was never explained, and it took me an embarrassingly long time to get it.

6. So, basically the point of this story is that it's often difficult for straight girls and straight guys who aren't attracted to each other to be friends -- it shouldn't be, but it is. And again, I found the whole thing to be completely believable.

7. The one thing that really bugged me was the lack of backstory. I mean, it's there, but it's all very light. Which isn't a bad thing in and of itself -- some authors spend so much time on backstory that you just stop caring -- but I really felt like we could've used a bit more reflection on exactly how Sad Jackal first got together. Mostly because I spent the first sixty or so pages constantly getting Oliver and Trip mixed up in my head.

Alright, I guess that's about it.

Seriously, this was so much better than I expected.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

111 Girls Who Kick Ass, Number 12: Korra


Let's see . . .

As the Avatar, she is (not to put too fine a point on it) the most powerful person in the entire world.

She had already taught herself the basics of Waterbending, Firebending, and Earthbending when she was five years old.

She learned healing from Katara.

She is the opposite of Aang in just about every way you can think of; pretty much all they have in common is being the Avatar.

She doesn't let a little thing like being terrified stop her from going into battle.

She is the first person ever to tame a polar bear dog (which, so far, has not actually been mentioned on the show itself).

She's a Waterbender, but her first instinct in a fight is usually to Firebend.

. . . But, you know, as much as all of that makes me love her (and I do; in the short time since her show started, Korra has quickly shot up there with some of my favorite fictional characters ever, like Harriet the Spy and the Animorphs and Tiffany Aching), I almost love her even more for the message that she sends to us in the real world:

YES, you can have a kids' action show and make the hero a girl. YES, it can be wildly successful. YES, she will appeal to little girls and little boys -- all they care about is the fact that she's awesome. NO, being a "strong female character" doesn't mean she's not allowed to have feelings. And so on and so forth and so on. Why, in 2012, is any of this still a discussion that anyone's having like they're surprised?

Really, the question isn't, "Why is this show so good?" The question is, "Why do other shows act like this one should be impossible?"

Saturday, June 16, 2012

111 Girls Who Kick Ass, Number 11: Sunshine

(No pic for this one - not once, in almost four hundred pages, does she ever actually physically describe herself.)

For those of you who haven't met her yet, Sunshine is the main character of an absolutely brilliant book by Robin McKinley (although, um, most of her books tend to be absolutely brilliant, but this one takes it to a whole other level) called, well, Sunshine.

As much as I love love love her, I have mixed feelings about including her on this list.

On the one hand, yes, she definitely deserves to be on this list. On the other hand, um, I'm not going to tell you exactly why she definitely deserves to be on this list.

I'll explain . . .

I've been an avid read of Robin McKinley since sometime around the beginning of 2002. Sunshine came out in October of 2003, but the first twelve pages were released on her website a few months in advance. The first twelve pages were all I needed to let me know that I was going to LOVE this book.

The thing is, there are so many horrible wonderful surprises in this story that, even though it's been out for nearly nine years now, while I do heartily encourage just about everybody to read it, I am extremely reluctant to actually tell you anything about it other than this one sentence:

"It's about a baker who gets kidnapped by vampires."

Because really, what else do you need?

Other than that, there are a few things I suppose I can share without giving too much away:

1. Robin McKinley is one of my favorite authors in the history of ever because (along with Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman - and, recently, along with Diana Wynne Jones* as well) she knows how to tell a story and write about magic better than just about anyone. This book is no exception. I'm . . . well, when I say this, please understand that there's A LOT I'm not telling you.

2. Yes, this is a book about vampires. I'm obviously biased in her favor, but I honestly think Robin McKinley has one of the best "takes" on vampires. Ever. Keep in mind that I personally think vampires are usually pretty disgusting.

3. You know how I'm always saying "You are not consumed by the darkness because you are full of light"? That quote is from a (crucial) scene in this book.

Sorry, that's really all I feel comfortable telling you.

Just shut up and find it and read it.

Thank me later.

*Obviously, Diana Wynne Jones isn't "recent," but I personally have only recently started to read her. Thanks, Jeremy!