21 March 2011

Defying Definition - YoRY Part 7

Okay, so that heading's not entirely true. The last two books from my Year of Reading Youthfully aren't hard to categorize on their own, they simply don't belong in any of the previous categories, nor do they fit together in one.

First, there's Spanking Shakespeare by Jake Wizner, which is essentially your basic contemporary YA fiction. I picked this book up at Powell's in Portland, OR, because of the title and because the staff recommendation card said it was "the raunchiest book I've read...on this floor." "This floor" being the one that houses the Children's, Middle Readers, and Young Adult books. I thought at the time that with a title like that and a recommendation like that, it must be worth checking out. So I read the back and promptly put it in my basket.  Here's what the back of the book says:
"Shakespeare has always hated his name. His parents bestowed it on him as some kind of sick joke when he was born, and since then his life has been one embarrassing incident after another. But Shakespeare will have the last laugh. He is chronicling every mortifying detail in his memoir, the writing project each senior at Shakespeare's high school must complete. And he is doing it brilliantly. For as much as he hates his name, Shakespeare is a good writer. And, just maybe, a prizewinning memoir will bring him respect, admiration, and a girlfriend . . . or at least a prom date."

So, you see why I couldn't resist. And it's written in two styles, although both are the voice of the title character, Shakespeare Shapiro. (His more popular younger brother is name Gandhi, by the way.) The narrative goes back and forth between his daily life, written in first person, present tense which seems to be a popular format these days with YA books, and the assignments he is given for his senior writing project, i.e. his memoir. In both, however, he tends to cast himself as the hapless victim. Now, lest that sound too irritating for you, it is done with such good humour and honesty that I never once got fed up with his "poor me" point of view. Fact: His little brother is cooler and more popular. Fact: His parents are nut-jobs, well-meaning as they might be. But also fact: His life is put in perspective when he gets to know another student in his memoir class and discovers just how normal and lucky his life really is in comparison to some. Yes, the boy can learn!

A friend gave me Jake Wizner's second book, Castration Celebration!, for Solstice, and I'm looking forward to reading it!

Second, there is The Boneshaker by Kate Milford, which is magical realism. I picked up this book by accident. See, I went to the library to put a hold on Boneshaker by Cherie Priest (which is flipping awesome, by the way. Go read it!). I wasn't paying very close attention and I put a hold on The Boneshaker first. I was going to cancel that hold until I read the book blurb and I thought, "Well, that sounds cool!"

I was right.

 Here's what Goodreads says:
"Thirteen-year-old Natalie Minks loves machines, particularly automata—self-operating mechanical devices, usually powered by clockwork. When Jake Limberleg and his traveling medicine show arrive in her small Missouri town with a mysterious vehicle under a tarp and an uncanny ability to make Natalie’s half-built automaton move, she feels in her gut that something about this caravan of healers is a bit off. Her uneasiness leads her to investigate the intricate maze of the medicine show, where she discovers a horrible truth and realizes that only she has the power to set things right."

It's set in a little town in the flat middle of the U.S. in 1914. Near a crossroads where once thriving, now ghost-, town stands. In short: mysterious illness; traveling medicine show; clockwork automata with no source of power; and a bicycle no one can ride. Oh, and you know who you're likely to meet at a crossroads, don't you? Better be sure you know what you're doing before you make a deal with him.

I love magical realism! I wouldn't be completely hooked on Jack Flanders if I didn't. The Boneshaker is about a regular 13-year-old girl dealing with extraordinary events that turn her ordinary world on its ear. Of course, it's not that simple, but I don't want to spoil things for you. Natalie is bold and brave and foolhardy and vulnerable and absolutely real. The author totally nailed the voice of the character and immediately drew me into her world and her story. (Unlike The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, which is garbage. Don't waste your time. It jumped the shark in the first paragraph.)

So there you have it. My Year of Reading Youthfully. Of course, I'm still grooving on my YA novels. I have three new ones from NZ to read, you know! Plus the new Wizner I mentioned above, and the others I've mentioned in previous posts. So it's not like I'm stopping just because a year is up (and has been for a while now), it's just that I can only keep so much information in my memory for so long. And now it's here for you to read. I hope you check out some, or indeed all, of the books I've talked about. You'll find them worth your while and you might rediscover something in yourself while you're at it.

Thanks for reading and I'll see you around again soon. After all, I have a book coming out in less than a fortnight! ;-)

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