The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

Why, oh why did the Internet eat my book review?

I shall have to start again, but I warn you, I’m not quite as excited to do this a second time.

The set-up: Lennie’s used to following her older sister, Bailey, around. Bailey has all the experiences with boys and doesn’t seem afraid to live. Then Bailey dies, and Lennie doesn’t know where she fits in the world anymore.

Main character’s goal: The goal changes, but without giving too much away I can say that at one point Lennie’s goal is to ignore one boy – the boy who lets her feel her grief for her sister’s death without getting swallowed up by it, and pursue the second boy – the one who is all light and happiness and helps her feel that she’s moving on from Bailey’s death.

My reaction: I thought the love triangle was done exceptionally well, and the characters were incredible, larger-than-life people. Even Bailey, who died before the story begins, is full and flawed and fabulous. The writing itself was lyrical, and I wondered how much of it was the author trying to be artistic and how much was truly Lennie’s voice. However, that was my writerly self wondering, and my readerly self kept saying, “Shut up and just enjoy the prose, you know you like it.”

Of interest to writers: The poems throughout – poems Lennie scribbles on whatever available writing surface there is, and are described as found in various places, like under a rock, or in the margins of Wuthering Heights, well, I enjoyed them and all, but then when I got to the end and ***mild spoiler alert here*** they actually had a purpose in the story line (even if it was a small purpose), I was impressed.

Bottom line: Read it for the beauty of the language, or the deliciousness of Lennie’s conflict, or the roundness of the characters…but just read it.

Reminds me of: Into the Wild Nerd Yonder by Julie Halpern.

The Vinyl Princess by Yvonne Prinz

There are a few excellent books I’ve read recently, but I have to write about this one immediately. It was just that good.

Set-Up: Allie, the “Vinyl Princess” as she dubs herself for her blog, works at Bob & Bob Records, a place that her mom says smells “like an octogenarian’s attic” (p. 10), but to Allie is heaven on earth. She is obsessed with LPs. LP: an abbreviation for those ancient things called (long-playing) records that collect dust in your mother’s attic…or, to Allie, the truly righteous and best way of listening to music.

Main character’s goals: to lead a revolution against “corporate rock and downloading and digitizing and Clear Channel” (p. 12). She also wants some romance in her life.  She sets about accomplishing the first goal by starting up a blog and a zine, and she sets about finding romance by fantasizing about a Bob & Bob shopper she calls M (for “mystery guy”).

My reaction: Throughout the book I had a weird feeling. I kept struggling to recognize a name, any name, of a band or musician that I recognized. I often couldn’t, which made me feel sixteen shades of uncool. Then I realized: I wanted to impress Allie. That’s how cool she is – she made me want to impress a fictional character. Name-dropping usually doesn’t put a person on my good side, but it worked for Allie. When she listened to Dark Side of the Moon I might have cheered out loud because for once I knew what she was talking about.

Of interest to writers: the climactic action happens almost 100 pages before the end of the book. This premature climax (I’m sorry, I couldn’t help it) works, and I’m impressed. I’m impressed whenever a book goes slightly against the grain. It works for The Vinyl Princess, as there are still some unresolved issues (namely, the revolution and the romance) after the Big Action. Nobody could put it down at that point.

The goals are sort of mixed in with character introduction, background, all that stuff that everyone says shouldn’t happen in the beginning of a novel…well, Prinz makes it work because Allie’s voice is full of awesome attitude (not sarcastic, just cool).

Bottom Line: As soon as I can find a sucker to take care of my kid, I’m heading to the local INDEPENDENT record store to buy one of the albums Allie loves. I’m not sure which one yet. I can be sure of this: I’m not buying it as a record, as I have no turntable. But I’m not downloading it.

Also, I’m so so sorry, but I can’t resist: This book rocks. He he.

For more information on the book and the author, visit Prinz’s website by clicking here.

We gon’ light it up like it’s dynamite

In which the Ever-Suffering Mother listens to pop music.

Some months ago a friend posted on Facebook that some days, country music is a necessity. I know I will offend more than a few people when I say that country music is only a necessity if your aim is to drive people away. And up until a month or two ago, I would probably have said the same thing about pop.

Let’s travel back in time to see Beth as an Enlightened College Student, rather than an Ever-Suffering Mother. She (ten or fifteen pounds lighter) walks around her flower-bedecked college campus with her diary book, some pens, and a well-read copy of T. S. Eliot’s collected poems. American Beauty, although dead depressing, is the most meaningful movie she’s ever seen. The Enlightened College Student has just discovered Pink Floyd. She never heard such beautiful caterwauling. Such dips and valleys of emotion in a single Shine-on-you-crazy-diamond kind of song.

Pop music blares from the open window of a shiny white Jetta blazing down the street. She wrinkles her nose, distracted from translating her own dreamy/angsty poetry into French, naturellement. Pop music? Quelle horreur. It’s such a cliché. Please. That Jetta-driver is killing brain cells with every beat of the synthetic bass drum.

[Fast-forward sound effects, please.]

The Ever-Suffering Mother needs some pep. She’s sleepy. Unhappy in the mornings. Grouchy. She filled a prescription for antidepressants but was too afraid to take them. She’s tried re-reading all her favorite books, and they are great escapes. But she cannot read them while she’s driving. The Spanish radio stations are fun in their way, but she keeps searching, searching…there. Rihanna’s rich voice sounds from the speaker. The Ever-Suffering Mother turns up the volume. What is this? This is…shallow. Light. Easy to digest.

She is transported into another world. What are these sounds? This is nothing like the alternative rock she listened to as a teenager. Where is the anger, the creepy “give it up to me” the Toadies intoned over and over? It is not here! This is one-second teenage-dream infatuation! Pop stars slinging out slang she will never ever understand: like a G-six? What? The announcer comes on, name-dropping faster than a stuffy literature professor. The Ever-Suffering Mother cannot even interpret where the names end and the song titles begin.

What a great escape! For a few minutes, she pretends she’s in a club, where they go hardcore and there’s glitter on the floor and she’s just dancing dancing dancing (and not looking like an idiot because after all this is a fantasy).

Then a voice sounds from the back seat of her sport-utility Mom-Mobile: “Snack please?”