Thursday, August 11, 2011

Book review: two very different young adult novels

I don't often review books on my blog, but I thought during the summer lull I might take on the task. The two books I plan to focus on are both young adult (YA) novels, the main characters are both 16 years old, and I read them both on my trip to Pittsburgh, but that's where the similarities end. I was also originally made aware of both of these books through two of my favourite blogs, but again these blogs are very different.

First, Spoiled by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan, the witty webmistresses of, which is of course where I heard about their book. Spoiled, is a fun and flirty read, which zips by without any trouble whatsoever. The tone of the book is reminiscent of the style of their blog, right down to their comments on fashions, celebrities and celebrity life. I fear the referencing to clothing, designers, actors and actresses might date the book quickly, but it could also serve as an amusing snap shot into popular culture of the 2010's. The plot is somewhat standard in it's course: two half-sisters brought together for the first time after the death of Molly's (the common-place mid-west born sister) mother. Brook (the LA glamour-girl sister) takes none-to-kind to having her territory invaded and a war of wits ensues.

Even if the storyline isn't original, it's no reason not to enjoy the book. The story is told primary from Molly's perspective (although some chapters are in Brook's PoV) and I immediately found her to be a smart, likable character. It was easy to sympathize with her over her difficulty of fitting in with the high-society of her new school and I couldn't help but root for the cute, understanding boy who popped up to make things a little more bearable for her. Also, the girls' father, Brick Berlin, is a riot. He's constantly on the phone with some agent or producer, struck with absurd movie ideas at random, and makes air-headed attempts at providing words of wisdom to his two daughters. The book doesn't, in fact, end all roses, which I kind of prefer, and it leaves things open for the sequel, Messy.

Since I completed three-quarter of Spoiled on the plane, then finished it the first night in Pittsburgh, I needed something different to read on the way home. When I wandered into the Hudsons in the Pittsburgh Airport I didn't have a particular title in mind, but when I saw Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children I decided to pick it up based on the recommendation of Jenn from (she also writes Cake Wrecks). Actually, I had a short debate between Miss Peregrine's and the first novel in the Hunger Games series, both sounded intriguing, but after reading the first page of each I went with Miss Peregrine's since it seemed to have some link to WWII.

Miss Peregrine's is a considerably different read from Spoiled. The protagonist is a boy, it's more in the speculative fiction/fantasy realm and has a considerably more dark and mysterious tone. The story is about Jacob, a present day boy, born to a wealthy family, who doesn't quite fit in. He has a grandfather who used to tell him fantastical stories about his 'gifted' friends until eventually Jacob (primarily due to growing up) stops believing in them. As the grandfather gets older, he grows paranoid and seemingly delusional--only the monsters he sees are real, and one of them kills him right in front of Jacob. As you might imagine, this event spirals Jacob into a desparate situation where he winds up in therapy and eventually manages to convince his parents he needs to go to the island where his grandfather took shelter during the war.

The island is an obscure little place off the coast of Wales, I think, (I don't remember for sure), it's tiny, there's only one phone on the whole island, and one rentable room too. I can't go into many more details without spoiling the story, but Jacob succeeds in finding the hiding place of his grandfather's 'gifted' friend, still the same age as in the snapshots he was shown as a boy. I liked the story, there were a couple of good twists, and a hanging ending, which definitely indicates another book to come. The 'gifted' friends were an interesting concept, although there were so many I had trouble keeping track of who was who outside the main three or four. Each new character was introduced with a vintage photo, an interesting idea, but after a while I found it redundant to read, 'and Miss Peregrine had a photo...' (or whatever the line was). I also found the swearing a little much for my preference in a YA novel, but maybe that's my own prudishness coming out.

At any rate, I would recommend both of these books, although not necessarily to the same reader--unless like me you like a wide range of genres in your reading material. Spoiled is just plain fun, whereas Miss Peregrine's has a more unique idea behind it.



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