Children of the Revolution

Posted in Favorite Books, Random at 10:55 pm by Janet

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly features some of my favorite things: France, Radiohead, the Smiths, and an accurate depiction of an archivist! (I’m looking at you, Mr. Archives Cowboy.) Ahem. “My job, here at the Abelard Library, is to get information. And Yves Bonnard’s job is to stop me. Yves G. Bonnard, head archivist, aka the Great and Powerful Oz, aka the Grand Inquisitor, aka the Antichrist.” Angsty American teen Andi is doing research in Paris, and she’s running up against every roadblock an archivist has in his acid-free bag of tricks: demanding an archives pass that’s available only with a very specific photo id, closing for lunch, an insistence on filling out call slips properly, shushing, scolding for not wearing the white cotton gloves, and ejection for cell phone use. Dead on. This, ladies and gentlemen, is why archives should not be mentioned in the same breath as libraries. They are not for people. Their holdings are not meant for actual use. They are run by crazy hoarders. What is the point of having a bunch of stuff if no one is allowed to look at it? If a tree falls alone in the forest, does anyone hear it? Set the historical documents freeeeee!!!!

Whoa, my intention was not to rail against archives, although I’m always happy to do that. I really meant to talk about Revolution. Andi is a rich hipster girl half-assedly attending a private school in Brooklyn. Since the death of her younger brother a few years before, Andi and her family have been falling apart. Her mother has disappeared in her painting, her father is immersed in his new marriage and his duties as a world-famous geneticist, and Andi is in a drug-addled funk. Then Andi’s father insists that Andi accompany him to Paris for winter break. There, Andi finds the diary of Alexandrine, a Parisian actress once entrusted with entertaining Louis-Charles, the dauphin. While she’s supposed to be doing research for her senior project about a French classical musician (hence the trips to the archives), Andi gets sucked into Alex’s world. Somehow Andi’s obsession with Alex’s quest to save the dauphin, Andi’s love of classical and rock music (Radiohead, the Smiths, etc.), and her new relationship with a French musician all intertwine to help Andi move forward with her life, leaving some of her grief behind.

Donnelly’s done a great deal of research about France and about music. Andi is a compelling, smart, and witty character whose pain is all too real. I’m still trying to figure out how all the pieces of the story fit together, but whatever the answer, all the story lines are vivid and made me want to keep reading. This is one Revolution that should not be put down.

Oh, hey, did you notice that Andi is an only child? It’s a huge part of the story. The author definitely intended for her to be an only child, what with the dead brother. No authorial laziness there. Andi is grappling with a tragedy that has left her as an only child. Of course that gets into images of families with only one child–is the only child a sign of a family’s tragedy, pain, or loneliness? I’d say no, not necessarily, but that’s a topic for another post and another time. You all have a Revolution to start.


Shiver!? I Hardly Knew Her!

Posted in Complaining, Random at 8:48 pm by Janet

Hey Tarts, it’s been awhile. Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten you. In fact I’m still stuck on my last topic, only children in teen books. See? Nothing has changed.

Grace, one of the main characters in Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater, is an only child. She lives on the edge of a Minnesota forest, and ever since she was attacked by a pack of peculiar wolves, she’s been strangely fascinated by them, especially a certain gray wolf with yellow eyes. One thing leads to another, and it turns out Grace’s wolf, Sam, is a werewolf, now in his human form. As the temperature drops, and Sam and Grace fall in love, Sam struggles to stay human–and alive.

So Sam and Grace have lots of adventures running around the woods, and Grace basically hides Sam in her room for a few weeks. How does she get away with all of this canoodling? Her parents are completely preoccupied with their own work and social lives, and she’s an only child. Once her parents are out of the house and out of the way, there’s no one else to interfere in her adventures. Grace’s situation falls into Category #1 of Reasons Why Characters Are Only Children (Characters Are Intended To Be Only Children) but comes close to Category #2 (Only Child By Default). The author clearly intended for Grace’s parents to not be too into parenting (it’s easier to leave one kid on her own than several, I would imagine) and for her house to be mostly empty, but it feels just a little too convenient. You just can’t hide a werewolf in your room if you have nosy siblings. Things were just too easy for Grace. The plot would have been so much thicker if Grace had had a nosy little sister, instead of some conveniently estranged best friends. But I figure the author decided that Sam being a werewolf was enough of a barrier for Sam and Grace’s love–they didn’t need interfering parents and siblings to mess things up for Grace and Sam.

Completely apart from the only child stuff, I didn’t love Shiver. I seem to remember it getting a lot of buzz when it came out, but it just didn’t do it for me. There’s no big reason except that I think I may be over the paranormal perfect-teen-love thing. Meh. I may be ready to move on to dystopias–you know, the new vampire.


The Twin’s Daughter Was an Only Child

Posted in Complaining, Random at 6:37 pm by Janet

twin's daughter
I recently read the historical mystery The Twin’s Daughter by Lauren Baratz-Logsted. It got a fantastic review in one of the journals, so I put it on hold right away. It was a good read, but not as good as the review made it out to be, possibly because the review offered what turned out to be plot spoilers. I won’t tell you too much about the plot, then, just this little bit: Lucy never knew her mother had a twin, until one day a waifish woman turns up on the well-to-do Victorian family’s London doorstep, saying she’s Lucy’s Aunt Helen.

But that’s not what I’m here to talk about today. What I really want to talk about is only children in books for teens. As both Bridget and I are only children, I think we are uniquely qualified to discuss this topic. (If we’re lucky Bridget will chime in here somewhere.) If I remember right, there are two only children in The Twin’s Daughter: Lucy and her friend/neighbor/love interest Kit. They are prime examples of the two main kinds of only children I have identified in books for teens.

1. Characters intended to be only children. Something has happened to their parents (health problems, divorce, death by Voldemort, running away, etc.). Their parents chose to have one child. Their parents hate children. They are supposed to have solitary adventures on a cold English moor. Etc. Lucy is an old child because her mother can’t have any more children. In fact, the plot hinges on her mother’s inability to have more children. One of the twins gets pregnant, raising questions about mistaken identity. Lucy is definitely an only child by the author’s design.

2. Characters who are only children by default. Perhaps the author got lazy–a sibling is an extra character to be developed. If a story focuses on one character and her friends or her adventures, siblings tend to be eliminated to streamline the story. Adding a sister and a storyline about her and the main character might weigh down the story line. Despite the fact that many Victorian families were large, Kit appears to be an only child. I can’t find a reason for Kit to be an only child, except for the sake of simplicity.

Now, I have met a few people in my lifetime. Of all the people I’ve met, I can think of six other only children, tops. As for the rest of these people, I know some of their siblings. I know some of those siblings well, some of them not so well. I don’t know some of their siblings, and that’s ok. Their siblings live somewhere else, there’s a big age difference, or maybe they’re just not close. What I’m saying is, it’s ok to have an adventure and not include siblings. Sometimes people’s brothers and sisters just aren’t involved. Instead of dropping in another character just for reality’s sake, authors leave the siblings out, for fear of reviewers complaining about undeveloped secondary characters.

But what some authors don’t realize is that a family’s size can influence family dynamics. Only children tend to get LOTS of parental attention, which, let’s face it, can cut down on adventures. I say, bring on the siblings, fleshed out or not.

So, think about this. There are a lot of teen lit only children. Lucy and Kit. Bella. Harry Potter. Thinking of books I’ve reviewed here–both Will Graysons, Rebecca in Ruined, Allie in Vinyl Princess. I could go on and on. But I’ve gone on long enough. Now I want to know what YOU think.


What Now?

Posted in Random at 2:49 pm by Janet

I finished Mockingjay last week. I am still having nightmares. In a good way. I won’t blog about it, because people are probably still reading it, and I would hate to spoil the end, but I do have a question for everyone. What next? What’s the next big book/series? The last few summers have brought us the end of Harry Potter, Twilight, Percy Jackson, and now the Hunger Games. It seems like there has to be at least one big blockbuster series out there. But I don’t know what it is right now. Any ideas?


Ever Feel Like You’ve Been Cheated?

Posted in Complaining, Random at 7:39 am by Janet

My dog is out of town this week, visiting his doting grandparents, so I have time for one more blog entry. This one is a desperate plea to writers, publishers, and editors: please, for God’s sake, stop publishing series books that don’t stand alone. A case in point: I just read The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood. This book, about a young governess caring for children who have been raised by wolves, has been getting great reviews, and I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent reading it. But when it was over, I felt cheated. Empty. Fooled. Why? Practically nothing gets resolved. We don’t know where the children came from. We don’t know who their parents are. We don’t know who released the squirrel in the party. We don’t know what Lord Frederick is up to. We don’t know what Old Timothy’s deal is. At this point, we have way more questions than answers. Where’s the payoff? This book is one long exposition. Exposition is appropriate for the first book in a series; however, you need some resolution mixed in with all that exposition. I feel like I’m being forced into reading the next books.

Take a great series like Harry Potter. Every book has its own plot and set of challenges, and most of those issues get resolved by the end of the book. But a few niggling questions remain, and the series plot arch continues. You’re left pining for the next book. A good series should make you want to read the next book, not make you feel duped.

I fear this is a growing phenomenon. I read The Prophecy of the Sisters by Michelle Zink, and was left with the same empty feeling–very little was resolved. I’m so annoyed that now I refuse to read the rest of the series. What’s going on here? Did the author mean this to be a single book, and then the publisher decided to extend that single book into a series? Couldn’t the author just write a second book? Series are great, but not every book needs to be part of one. Sometimes it’s better to tie up all the loose ends in one fell swoop.

Please, writers and editors, throw us readers a bone and publish more books that are self-contained.

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