A Blue So Dark by Holly Schindler

Set-up: Aura’s an artist, and artistic talent runs in her family. When her mom’s schizophrenic episodes start to peak and Aura is alone in caring for her, Aura begins to worry that schizophrenia runs in her family too. Believing art and mental illness to be linked, she starts to alienate herself from the one escape she has: her art.

Main character’s goals: Aura’s goals are quite different from your average teen’s: keep mom alive, contain mom, prevent mom from burning the house down. Her approach to these goals changes throughout the story.

My reaction: Ah. Big sigh of happiness. I’m really digging my sabbatical from series books, because the finished endings in my latest reads are so satisfying. The ending in A Blue So Dark was absolutely perfect. I wouldn’t have changed a word.

Of interest to writers: Literary fiction does not have to be slow or boring! The beauty of this novel is that although the prose is poetic and there are no werewolves ripping people to shreds, the tension is high throughout the book. Also, the epigrams at the beginning of each chapter were often quietly hilarious.

Bottom line: I don’t know how much attention this book has gotten (it was another random library shelf pull), but it deserves to be read. Spread the word!

To Come and Go Like Magic by Katie Pickard Fawcett

So far so good on my contemporary-fantasy-fast. In the past two and a half weeks I’ve read To Come and Go Like Magic, Ida B, and I finally finished The Botany of Desire. [Like whoa on The Botany of Desire.]

Today I review, for your reading pleasure, To Come and Go Like Magic. If you’ve read The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, you’ll know what I mean when I say this: sparkling, poignant vignettes. [Um, I actually haven’t read Cisneros’s book in its entirety, just a couple of vignettes while doing classroom observations. But I plan to read it. Maybe soon.] To Come and Go Like Magic is an entire novel written in sweet, two-to-four page chapters. But they’re not really chapters because they do everything a novelist is not supposed to do when trying to create suspense and keep the reader turning the page. Each vignette has a beginning, middle, and (kiss of death for chapters) an end. There’s a sense of completion, which made each vignette feel like its own poem, its own work of art.

Beautiful writing and the main character’s voice add to the magic in this book. The setting is also unique: Chileda is twelve years old, growing up in the 1970s in a small town in the Appalachian mountains. Her thirst is to see the world, and this thirst conflicts with her micro-society’s expectation that you just don’t leave home.

A suspenseful novel this is not. Piercing, pretty, quiet – yes.

On a total sidenote, is there something about middle grade fiction that requires at least one scene of total and absolute unfair action towards the main character? I’m thinking of the scene here where Chili’s uncle does something so unfair I wanted to reach into the pages and strangle him. A similar thing happens in Ida B, and if you haven’t met the Dursleys in the Harry Potter books, you’re missing out on some prime injustice writing.

My guess is that one of the extremely irritating things about being a middle-grader (ages 9-12) is the discovery that the world isn’t fair, in so many startling ways. And perhaps these novels are working to address that universal, middle-grader issue.

But I need to conclude my actual book review, so: To Come and Go Like Magic is a quiet gem, and a huge turn from my vampire biting, werewolf howling, demon slaying contemporary fantasies. In one word: refreshing.

To read more about To Come and Go Like Magic, check out the Q & A session posted on Katie Pickard Fawcett’s blog.

Feed by M. T. Anderson

That’s the problem with literary fiction. It makes you feel.

And that’s what Feed did to me, and I actually sort of hate it for that. I don’t like sad stuff. I don’t like it when the dog dies, and I don’t like waves of hopelessness crashing into the beaches of my brain.

So, thanks a whole effing lot, M. T. Anderson. [Don’t worry, the dog doesn’t die. There is no dog, because Feed takes place on an earth where animals can’t even live anymore. All the dogs probably died way before the story begins.]

Okay, in all seriousness: Feed was amazingly written. I already heard literary agents praise its voice, so I was totally paying attention to that. I’m also really big on unique idioms and slang for unique worlds. Apparently Anderson is really big on this too, because in a couple of places the slang was nearly indecipherable. In fact, I’m still unsure of whether a “youch” girl is good-looking or just the opposite.

*vague spoiler alert*

But did it have to be so bleak? I mean, come on. There was like the barest note of positive at the end—the smallest straw of positive—so small I could barely grasp it—and the entire time I’m reading I’m quoting T. S. Eliot in my head (which you know is a bad sign):

“This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.”

Let me emphasize that my discomfort with this book is more about me than the book itself. As I said, the writing’s great, as is the story. It’s just my own preference is for something a little lighter that doesn’t have me reaching for the Prozac after the story ends.

The whole thing with the lesions: disgusting.

Funniest part: the beef farm. But I had to stop eating my breakfast while I read it.

Saddest bit: disposable table. Okay, that’s not really the saddest bit, but it was pretty sad. Just, the state of the world, that people not only dine on disposable dishes, but they throw their table away at the end of the meal.

Am I glad I read it? Yes. Will I buy the book to enjoy again? Not a chance. I prefer my happy endings, thank you.