Book Review: The Giver

“The worst part of holding the memories is not the pain. It’s the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared.”
― Lois Lowry, The Giver

 

givercoverI’d hope there are many teenagers out there who grew up with this novel, which won a Newbery Medal in 1994 and is taught in many middle school classrooms today. I’ve re-read it several times in the past few years, and with the movie adaption hitting theaters today, I thought I’d spill my thoughts on the source material.

The Giver is basically a 1990’s Hunger Games for middle schoolers. In a futuristic world of “Sameness,” every person lives in a peaceful, organized community where jobs and spouses are assigned, emotions are repressed with pills, and no one can see color. The only person with memories of the past is an elder called “The Giver,” who gives guidance to the community leaders. The story features a boy named Jonas who is assigned to be trained by the Giver, and be given his memories, to someday take his place.

Cue realizations, revolution, blah blah blah.

I hate how trite this sounds today; since the release of this story in 1993 we’ve seen Divergent, The Hunger Games and the like. The Giver might have many of the same elements, but it still does them quite well. I was especially interested in the concept of Jonas being “given” memories a little at a time and watching those change him. I also enjoyed how the story distinguishes that as the new Giver he has “honor, but not power.” He is given full permission to lie or be rude to anyone, but he has no say in changing the Sameness of the community.

I thought the Giver himself was an interesting character. He’s wise on the surface, but deep down he’s full of bitterness towards the community and regret of his past mistakes. I think Jeff Bridges (who also helped develop the movie) will be perfect to play this role.

All that being said, there are a few things I couldn’t stand about the novel.

For one thing, I thought the pacing was putrid. The book is 180 pages long. The first 100 of these are spent introducing us to the community, to Jonas’s selection, and to his first meeting with the Giver. Within the next eighty pages, the real meat of the story is glossed over in quick successions, and then we’re left with an unresolved ending open to interpretation.

I hate open endings.

I get it; sometimes they’re symbolic, and sometimes they’re cliffhangers to set up the next installment. Problem: there is no next installment here, at least not one that reveals the fates of any of the characters. We’re left feeling as though the author got bored with her own story and stopped 2/3 of the way through.

Maybe it’s because I’m nitpicky, but if I’d told this story, I would have paced it much differently and concluded on a satisfying note, not a confusing one. Also, I realize this was the 90’s and the story takes place in a utopian society, but I do wish the secondary characters had been fleshed out a little more beyond being strictly obedient citizens.

Between these flaws and the now-tired concept, I can see why this book isn’t a bestseller anymore. That being said, it used to be.

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m excited for the movie. Jeff Bridges is playing the Giver and Meryl Streep is the community leader, which is exciting. Lois Lowry, the author, has been very involved with the production and has been Tweeting about how delighted she is with the finished product. Am I expecting to enjoy it more than the Hunger Games? Certainly not. But, I do hope for a faithful adaption. I’m all set to see it with a friend next week, so I’ll be sure to review it after the fact.

In the meantime, a conclusion on the book: Though it may no longer be the best of its genre, this story is still a classic and well worth your time.

Rate: 7 out of 10.

I Tackle “Fifty Shades of Grey”

“He steps out of his Converse shoes and reaches down and takes his socks off individually. Christian Grey’s feet…wow…what is it about naked feet?”

–  Yep, that’s a direct quote

Oh yes. I read it. Cover to cover.

Before I start my review, I think it’s important to establish why I decided to read this book. It was for the same three reasons I read the first Twilight book a few years ago. The reasons, in no particular order:

  1. My favorite teacher from high school always told me, “You aren’t allowed to criticize a book you haven’t read all the way through.”
  2. I needed a good laugh.
  3. This book outsold Harry Potter. My book hasn’t even been published. This lady has to be doing something right.

Google helped me get through it by providing a variety of parody memes:

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2b3

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(Photo credits to fiftyshadesmeme.com)

I was initially hoping to just get through the book and move on with life, but the reading experience was such a unique form of torture (and not the kind Mrs. James was going for) that I couldn’t help but dissect this work. Now, before you yell at me for not being from the target audience, relax. I’ll leave the characters and their actions alone. Instead, I’ll focus on the writing style, plot and content.

First of all, the writing of this novel has to be some of the most unintentionally hilarious I’ve encountered. I’ve compiled a list of my personal favorite bits.

“If this guy is over thirty, then I’m a monkey’s uncle.” Ah, yes, a monkey’s uncle! The obvious go-to comparison for any twenty year old girl narrator.

“I flick through the TV channels.” You FLICK through the TV channels? Don’t you mean, “flip”?

“I feel the color in my cheeks rising again. I must be the color of The Communist Manifesto.” Oh yeah, of course, the Communist Manifesto! The obvious comparison when describing the color red.

“Ana, anyone can see that. He’s mad about you. Won’t take his eyes off you.” “Mad about you?” I think this British author forgot that her story features college girls who live in Washington state.

“Kate wanders back into the living room, grinning from ear to ear. “Ana, I’m off to bed. I’m pretty tired.” “Me, too, Kate.” She hugs me. “Shall we finish packing first?”” Well it’s a good thing this totally necessary passage was included in the narrative. Otherwise this 514 pages might not have felt long enough. Also, “shall we finish packing?” This is a twenty year old girl!

“He’s wearing a white shirt, open at the collar, and tray flannel pants that hang from his hips.” This is common throughout the book. Christian Grey doesn’t truly wear clothes. Clothes hang from his body.

“Oh my.” This phrase is used fifty-three times throughout the book, which is really distracting when I hear it in George Takei’s voice.

gtface

“It slips down my throat, all seawater, salt, the sharp tang of citrus, and fleshiness…ooh. I lick my lips, and he’s watching me intently, his eyes hooded.” And this, ladies and gentlemen, is how she describes eating oysters.

“I flush at the waywardness of my subconscious—she’s doing her happy dance in a bright red hula skirt at the thought of being his.” Look out, Dickens.

“The room is spacious, tastefully furnished in creams, browns, and pale blues—comfortable, understated, and very stylish.” You literally just described an entire room by mashing together adjectives.

“Oh crap.” This phrase is used 94 times throughout the book. That’s once every five pages.

“I won’t forget. I’ll put an alarm on my calendar.” Did anyone even read this out loud before they turned it into a book?

“‘Breakfast,’ he whispers, making it sound deliciously erotic.” Oh, for God’s sake.

 

Now, to storyline.

Does Fifty Shades have a plot? Not really. My litmus test for a plot is if someone refuses to talk to you about the book in fear of you spoiling something. In this case, the spoiler alert freaks can relax. There’s nothing to ruin here, unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last few years. Here’s a detailed breakdown of the story (and I’m using the word detailed sincerely):

  • Meet Ana, a reporter who interviews a business dude named Christian Grey
  • Christian asks her to coffee, flies her via helicopter to his mansion, and shows her around
  • They have lots of happy time
  • Ana meets his brother, graduates college, and emails Christian almost nonstop
  • They have lots of happy time
  • Ana meets Christian’s parents and argues with him some
  • They have lots of really weird happy time
  • On the third to last page, she decides he’s too intense, and says bye to him forever.

This book is 514 pages, mind you.

Analyzing the content: I won’t linger on the obvious part of it, apart from saying I found the bedroom scenes to be a little, ah, too much. And keep in mind, I’m a teenage guy.

Seriously. No one needs this much steamy material.

In any case, a few miscellaneous things I noticed:

Excessive product placement is excessive. Christian stays at the Heathman Hotel, drinks Cristal champagne, listens to his iPod, and puts on his Converse shoes so he can drive his R8 to Ana’s house to give her a Macbook Pro and iPad so she can Google how to use her new Blackberry and find someone to buy her Beetle so he can replace it with an Audi. 

Also, they do it in an IHOP at one point.

You think I’m kidding.

Finally, my biggest problem was probably how stalker-ish Christian is. You thought Edward Cullen was bad? At one point in the novel, Ana is on work travel and emails Christian saying she wishes he was here, so he finds out what flight she’s on, books one too, and emails her an hour later while sitting thirty feet away from her in a bar.

Uhh…wait, readers, come back! I know that sounds creepy, but it’s really cute in the book!

*Sarcasm off*

Overall, this novel was awful on a number of levels. I could stay to comment on how degrading this is to women, or all the immorality surrounding its messages, but I’m not here to preach. I’m just here to give advice: stay away from the book and just look up Gilbert Gottfried reading it instead.

Rate: 2 out of 10.

A Book Everyone Should Read Before Starting High School (Book Review: Twisted)

“I spent the last Friday of summer vacation spreading hot, sticky tar across the roof of George Washington High. My companions were Dopey, Toothless, and Joe, the brain surgeons in charge of building maintenance. At least they were getting paid. I was working forty feet above the ground, breathing in sulfur fumes from Satan’s vomitorium, for free. I tried to coat the seams evenly. We didn’t want to hurt the school. No, sir, we sure didn’t.”

–  Tyler Johnson, from Laurie Halse Anderson’s Twisted

 

Twisted coverWell, I warned you it could happen, and it has: I’ve tweaked my blogging schedule for this week. My movie review for The Island, scheduled for tonight, will be posted sometime later this week. I’m not sure when. On a similar note, I won’t be able to post anything this Saturday due to lack of internet access, so I’ll just post two articles on Friday. I’ve got this, right?

Anyway. Today, I’m posting a review I’ve meant to write for a while…a few years, to be specific. I’m glad that this is about a book that’s relatively obscure; hopefully I can convince a few people to at least look into reading it.

I’ll start this by describing how I came to read the book in question. It was the end of 9th grade, and I had to choose one novel from a list for my summer reading. I randomly picked Laurie Halse Anderson’s story Twisted because at least it was about a high school kid, and maybe it would cover some high school issues.

Boy, was I in for a read.

Remember, this was the end of Freshman year of high school. It was the last week of school, and the only reason I even started on summer reading was because I wanted less work to do during the actual summer days. I sat down on the couch around 4 PM and decided I would read a few pages, just to get started.

I got up from the couch at 8 PM. That was when I finished reading this book, and only after I closed it did I go eat dinner.

The story just grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go. It felt like the kind of novel I would write, with the same sarcastic and hilarious narration. But, I’ll stop being vague and outline the premise.

Tyler Johnson is a typical teenage kid about to enter his Senior year in high school, and he’s feeling the effects of the prank he pulled at the end of Junior year (spraying graffiti on the school). His parents and authority figures mistrust him, but for the first time, a lot of the students think he’s cool. High school can be a dangerous place, though, and one misstep can lead to everything falling apart.

Doesn’t that sound enticing? If not, please don’t neglect this book just because my summaries suck. I promise it’s good. This is one of those books that falls under the genre ‘literary fiction’…it’s not so much about the plot as the characters and their development. In my case, the reason I was hooked on this was the voice. Picture Perks of Being a Wallflower, except with a much more sarcastic narrator, a much lighter tone, and a plot that is in my opinion—and this is strictly an opinion—more relatable. I know, Perks is like the mother of all relatable high school novels, and some people will strongly disagree with me. But I liked Twisted infinitely more.

I don’t know what sorcerer came down on Laurie Halse Anderson, a woman in her forties, and turned her into a teenage guy. But someone did. Because this book could not be more accurate when it comes to describing the sarcasm, the nerves, and of course the raging hormones present in the majority of high school males. If it were a movie complete with narration, it would be rated strong PG-13 or low-end R. Because yes, world, that’s what the minds of teenage guys are like.

Now. One thing I want to get out of the way before I continue: this book takes some dark turns. The underlying message, in the end, is about dealing with the pressures of high school and how those can push you to bad places. I want to make clear that I haven’t gone anywhere near those bad places, nor do I condone those bad places in any way. Please don’t misunderstand me. I love this book because it explores a very realistic part of high school, but more importantly, talks about coming back from the worst parts.

And yes, I think everyone should read this before going into high school, but only for the same reason that you read about car crash statistics before you learn to drive. If you explore the totality of an experience, both the fun, awesome parts and the serious, dark parts, you can go into it totally comfortable. I think this book does that, and I think everyone should read it so they know what the worst parts of high school are like. This doesn’t cover all of the bad elements of high school, but it does cover the pressure involved with teenage angst. It’s one of the most realistic novels I’ve ever read, and in my opinion, those are the best stories.

Like I said, I read it (and have re-read it countless times) just for the humor tied to descriptions of everyday teenage life. There’s plenty of that. The fact that there’s a deeper message in the text is just a bundle of bonus points, in my opinion.

I still re-read this book at the end of every school year. I just re-read it tonight, even though I’m starting to memorize it. I plan on reading it at the end of every year of college. I wonder if I’ll still love the book this much then.

In conclusion: Please oh please read this, especially if you’re looking for a coming-of-age high school novel that deals with relatable problems in a hilarious and realistic way. And if you’re about to go into high school, I’d recommend reading this so that at the very least, you can know what the worst parts of it are like and how to avoid them. Because high school really is a fun ride, if you make the right choices.

Trust me, I know.

Rate: 9 out of 10.

The Best Assigned Novel I’ve Ever Read (Book Review: Flowers For Algernon)

“I don’t know what’s worse: to not know what you are and be happy, or to become what you’ve always wanted to be, and feel alone.”

–  Charlie Gordon, Flowers For Algernon

 

Flowers For Algernon coverIn 8th grade, my last day of school before Spring Break was a Thursday.

Stick with me! This does have a point. I remember that it was a Thursday because I went to a private school, and our last day was on Holy Thursday. And I remember that last day very clearly, because we did quite a few fantastically fun things. But the best was when our class watched the movie adaption of Flowers For Algernon, the book we’d been reading for the past two months. I was reminded of that when hearing from all my eighth grade friends, who got out of school today. This book still sticks out at me as being one of the first ones I’d been assigned to read and actually enjoyed.

For anyone who’s been living under a rock and isn’t familiar with Flowers For Algernon, here’s the concept: a mentally challenged man, Charlie Gordon, writes journal entries about how he was selected by his teacher, Mrs. Kinnian, to undergo an operation that could raise his IQ and give him the intelligence of a normal person. So far, it’s only worked on a lab mouse called Algernon. The procedure is successful, and soon Charlie is even smarter than the professors who orchestrated the surgery. In the course of his development, he learns what it feels like to fall in love, have his emotions catch up with his mind, find the parents who gave him up, and possibly uncover a flaw in his surgery that could have a fatal consequence.

Okay, I dramatized that a teensy bit, but that’s the premise of the book. I hope that’s enough to hook the majority of readers, but if it isn’t, here’s more positive rambling about it.

First of all, the plot is engrossing. Seriously. The actual surgery happens within the first forty pages, and the book focuses on Charlie’s development after that. When I started reading, I immediately noticed Daniel Keyes’s masterful styling, how the page was littered with misspelled words and grammatical errors and had the complete feel of a journal entry from a mentally challenged man. I was eager to see how Charlie’s increasing intelligence would be reflected in his writing style, and Keyes pulls it off perfectly. I know that’s a strong word, and I rarely use it. The writing style of this book is perfect.

Who here liked The Avengers? I did, and one of my favorite things about it (other than seeing Iron Man blow up everything) was the clever interactions in specific scenes. Pick the wittiest conversation from that movie, and you have the dialogue from this entire book. Smart-Charlie, albeit being arrogant, is hilarious and thrilling to read about in his interactions with people.

My favorite part of the book, by far, is…well, it’s…

Okay, I can’t do this. I literally love the whole thing. This is one of the best books I’ve ever read, including all of the Harry Potter’s, Percy Jackson’s, Artemis Fowl’s, and all of the classic literature novels I’ve read in my literature classes.

I don’t know why. I’ll admit a small part of that stems from the fact that I read it in 8th grade, the most light and fun year of school I’ve ever had (so far, anyway, though senior year is pretty darn close) and I had a fantastic teacher who made it enjoyable to talk about.

But most of it is the book itself, which I still re-read to this day. The plot is enticing, the characters are incredibly human—not to mention well-developed—but more than anything, the text is dripping with emotion. It didn’t make me cry, but very few books have, and this one came pretty darn close.

As a side note, the beloved but little-known movie adaption (the one with Matthew Modine) is one of the best adaptions I’ve seen, and if you’ve read the book but haven’t seen this movie, please go do it. And if you haven’t read the book, do that first! I promise you won’t regret it.

Before I close, I just want to end on the note that some books are so unique, pulled off in exactly the right, unique way, that you have to read them. It doesn’t matter if you’re interested in literature, chemistry or basket weaving…this is just one of those texts that it’s a crime not to have experienced.

In Conclusion: There are very few books I’ve read that I consider pure perfection. This is one of them.

Happy Thursday, everyone.

Rate: 10 out of 10.

Book Review: The Mark of Athena

“We’re staying together. You’re not getting away from me. Never again.”

–  Percy Jackson, to Annabeth

 

markofathenacoverI know going into it that this will probably be a fairly useless review…after all, the latest Percy Jackson book was released almost six months ago, and quite a few people have read it since. I even finished it back in November; I just haven’t had time to write a full, thoughtful review of it until now. Sorry about that. However, it would be a crime not to review this novel at all, since it’s not only one of my new favorites, but also easily the best Percy Jackson book to date.

Note: this review does contain spoilers, but I’ll give plenty of warning beforehand.

The third book in the spin-off Percy Jackson series picks up right where book two left off: Jason, Piper, Leo and Annabeth are sailing towards the Roman camp, while Percy, Frank and Hazel are waiting there for their friends.

Let’s talk about the first two books in this series for a second.

I strongly disliked them. Very strongly. I thought Riordan’s humor was reaching the end of its life, I thought the stories were just recycled plots from all the other books, and I initially disliked the new characters. Not that I hated them, but I really missed Percy. And no, his role as main character in book two doesn’t count, because he couldn’t remember anything from his past life.

For those who agree with me so far, fear not. Because while book two cuts off exactly where it starts getting good, this means that book three starts off great. Mark of Athena shines from page one to the ending (which, don’t worry, I’ll discuss).

A rough overview of book three: now, with all the friends reunited, they all sail away on the Argo II towards the land of Rome itself, with plenty to throw them off-track along the way. Meanwhile, Annabeth is dealing with her own secret, which warns that she’ll have to face a powerful enemy when they get there.

This book’s prophecy—easily the coolest to date—reads as follows:

“Wisdom’s daughter walks alone; the Mark of Athena burns through Rome. Twins snuff out the angel’s breath, who holds the key to endless death. Giants’ bane stands gold and pale, won with pain from a woven jail.”

 

What I LOVED about this book:

Whenever people ask me about this novel, the first thing I tell them is that it should be judged on a completely different level than any of the other Percy Jackson books. For one thing, it doesn’t have the same old formula (Prophecy + quest + episodes of snarky monsters + ending skirmish= mucho dinero) that we’ve grown tired of. Riordan shakes it up with twists along the way, fresh scenery, and—most importantly—heavy character development, through use of flashbacks and one-on-one romance scenes.

We also see some of the Olympians again! There’s a pretty sick flashback scene between Annabeth and her mother, which we’ve never really witnessed before. We also meet Aphrodite, who’s every bit as entertaining as back in The Titan’s Curse. One of my favorite quotes from her is, “Love and war always go together. They are the peaks of human emotion! Evil and good, beauty and ugliness.”

I think that’s a good illustration of what really made this book so much better than the others: Riordan demonstrates his mastery as an author. He doesn’t just tell a fun story, he injects serious messages in subtle ways, at all the right moments. His style is clearly elevated, fuller and more developed, so he tells a story that reads solidly for all ages, not just little kids. I’m seventeen, and I was still blown away.

My only complaint? The kids are sixteen, constantly avoiding getting killed, and still none of them have uttered a single cuss word. I understand the marketing behind that, since this is a children’s series, but I’m somewhat of a stickler for realism. I suppose I shouldn’t expect that from a fantasy franchise, though.

And now—here come the spoilers, everyone—the end of the book.

I liked it. Believe it or not, I thought it was a bit less cliffhanger-esque than book two, in which it literally just starts getting good as the story ends. This one leaves me feeling optimistic towards the direction the series is headed, even though Percy and Annabeth died.

Alright, so they aren’t dead dead. They’re just dead by the technical term, as in, they fell into the pits of Tartarus together to avoid being separated again (hence the epigraph at the start of this post). If book four, The House of Hades, is half as good as this installment, I’ll probably squeal like a little girl.

In Conclusion: filled with development of all the characters we love, packed with action and humor, and armed with a superb writing style, this book is more than just my favorite Percy Jackson book to date. It’s one of my favorite books to date. Well done, Rick Riordan.

Rate: 9 out of 10.

Book Review: The Book of Lies

“Life is filled with trapdoors.”

 –  Brad Meltzer, The Book of Lies

 

The Book of LiesI’m sorry that tonight’s book review is on a story that, most likely, quite a few people haven’t heard of. Brad Meltzer is a New York Times Bestselling Author known for his political thriller novels. This isn’t a genre that normally grabs my interest in particular, but The Book of Lies is one I (initially) found hard to put down.

Published in 2008, The Book of Lies is a National Treasure-esque adventure, outlined as follows in the publisher’s summary:

“In Chapter Four of the Bible, Cain kills Abel. It is the world’s most famous murder. But the Bible is silent about one key detail: the weapon Cain used to kill his brother. That weapon is still lost to history.

In 1932, Mitchell Siegel was killed by three gunshots to his chest. While mourning, his son dreamed of a bulletproof man and created the world’s greatest hero: Superman. And like Cain’s murder weapon, the gun used in this unsolved murder has never been found.

Until now. Today in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Cal Harper comes face-to-face with his family’s greatest secret: his long-lost father, who’s been shot with a gun that traces back to Mitchell Siegel’s 1932 murder. What does Cain, history’s greatest villain, have to do with Superman, the world’s greatest hero? And what do two murders, committed thousands of years apart, have in common?”

It’s an excellent concept for a story. I saw this on the library shelf back in 2008 and got the chance to read it over that winter break. Once I started reading, I finished it in only two or three sittings.

I saw this book on the same library shelf at the start of winter break this past year, 2012, and decided I’d give it another whirl. And though I read it through just as fast as before, my newly sharpened literary mind found a lot more to complain about, too. Now armed with personal pros and cons, I direct my energy to this review.

What I liked: there was obviously a good deal of thought worked into the text. The premise lends itself to a mind-twisting adventure, and Meltzer delivers on that front. Once the answers start to trickle in, the plot thickens, and from there it’s hard not to be curious about what happens next. There’s the occasional humorous moment, too, which I always appreciate.

What I didn’t like: well, the main complaint I’ve heard about this book (and agree with) is its unrealistic feel. Yes, there are some twists and revelations that are just a little too hard to accept. Granted, you’ll have that with any story of this genre, but in this particular case it was just a smidge too unbelievable.

The dialogue and characters are both hit-or-miss from start to finish. Some of the characters are cardboard and clichéd, with dialogue that sounds like it came right out of The Twilight Zone. And yet others are well developed, genuinely interesting, and have realistic-sounding dialogue that fits the story while simultaneously moving it forward.

I’m torn about the ending. Many people hated it for its abrupt conclusion, without any real explanation or tying up of loose ends. I’m a bit more forgiving than most, if only because I was ready to let the characters go by that point. The mystery was solved, at least for the most part. Let’s pack up the band and go home.

 

So, in conclusion: this isn’t a perfect book, but it does keep you reading. In the end, it offers a mix of good and bad entrées. Is there enough good to make it worth indulging yourself? I’d say so.

Rate: 6 out of 10.

We’re Not in Hogwarts Anymore (Book Review: The Casual Vacancy)

“I’ll put it out there, and if everyone says, ‘Well, that’s shockingly bad – back to wizards with you’, then obviously I won’t be throwing a party. But I will live. I will live.”

 –  J.K. Rowling, in an interview

 

The Casual Vacancy coverThere are several reasons I’m hesitant to review this book. First of all, the review is several months overdue. I don’t have an excuse for this, other than I haven’t had time to construct a breakdown of Mrs. Rowling’s newest novel.

And, secondly, I have very few positive things to say of this story. I know I should technically be able to speak freely, but I’m still not totally comfortable trashing on a book by one of my favorite authors, especially seeing as she’s one of the most successful writers to date, and I’m an unpublished teenager with a blog.

But, I have a fair amount to talk about with this story. And so I talk.

 

Yes, I was (am) crazily obsessed with the Harry Potter franchise, but that doesn’t mean I started this book expecting to be blown away like I was by Rowling’s famous wizard. I decided to go into it with an open mind, expecting nothing. Unfortunately, I didn’t get much more than that.

Here’s the setup: there’s a small town called Pagford, which we know is filled with at least thirty-four people, as that’s how many main characters there are. Unfortunately, the most appealing of them—who’s still a bitter, reclusive journalist who doesn’t think much of his family, mind you—dies on page two. This character, named Barry Fairbrother, was on the town council, and his death leaves an empty seat which acts as a catalyst in the characters’ scrambles for power.

(Please note that this review, from here, contains spoilers. There isn’t a whole lot to spoil, honestly, but I still think I should warn you.)

If I summarized all of the sub-plots spattered across these five hundred pages, I could write a small book myself. So instead of wasting words, I’ll try to just hit the high points:

  • We have Miles Mollison, who is predicted on page 10-ish to win the town election. On page 500-ish, he wins the town election.
  • Sam Mollison, Miles’ wife, is constantly thinking snarky comments on everyone’s words and actions, all while fantasizing about running off with the lead singer of her daughter’s favorite boy band.
  • Howard Mollison, Miles’ father, is a power-hungry member of the council. Notable for being the source of more obesity descriptions than I’ve ever read in a single book.
  • Terri Weedon is a heroin addict with a three year old son, Robbie, and sixteen year old daughter named…
  • Krystal Weedon, a student who juggles going to school, caring for her younger brother, and crushing Samuel L. Jackson in the imaginary game show, “So you think you can use the F-word more than me?”
  • Stuart “Fats” Wall is a scrawny student at the same school as Krystal, and eventually starts a relationship with her (though this relationship is notable for its lack of emotional investment and honesty).
  • Andrew Price is a school kid who’s best friends with Stuart and spends his free time stalking a girl in their class (at one point it describes in detail his combing through her Facebook photos).
  • Simon Price is the father of Andrew Price, and chooses to show his affection for his wife and children by relentlessly abusing them both verbally and physically. He was my personal least favorite.

There are several others whom I could list out with their related sub-plots, but there are many other things I could do that would take far less time. Watching all of the Lord of the Rings movies, for example.

So those are the sub-plots of the novel. These unfold side by side as the pages slip from one hundred, to two to three to four hundred…and finally, around page 450…there’s an election! Holy Grail!

And it turns out exactly as expected. The least horrible character wins.

Then, just to finish off the narrative—this is supposed to be the grand finale, mind you—Krystal Weedon goes down to the river with her boyfriend, Stuart Wall. They don’t pay attention to her younger brother, Robbie, who takes several steps forward and drowns in the river.

Then, Krystal runs home and commits suicide with her mom’s heroin.

And on the last page of the book, as the two kids’ coffins are carried down the aisle with Terri crying, “the congregation avert[s] its eyes.”

This illustrates my biggest problem with the book, right down to the last sentence: there’s absolutely no redeeming qualities in this story. All of the characters start out as horrible people and end the same, if not worse. Instead of coming to terms with their own problems or trying to fix things, they all screw themselves over by being selfish. It’s as if Rowling and her publisher said to themselves, “You know how with that last series, we made a bunch of characters who start out bad and redeem themselves through love and forgiveness? Yes, this time, let’s do the opposite of that.”

See, I hate doing this. I hate trashing on my favorite author, but this book lends itself to criticism so easily. It tries to send out so many scrambled messages, but they all fall short on top of each other, leaving a mixed mess of unpleasantness we can’t wait to wash our hands of.

I will say, though, that this still is a compliment to Rowling’s skill as a writer. She decided to write a horribly depressing story, and I can honestly say she succeeded brilliantly in doing exactly that. So, in all sincerity, Rowling is still a great writer. She just needs to find a bit more uplifting—or at the very least, meaningful—material. As she said in an interview, “If everyone says, ‘Well, that’s shockingly bad – back to wizards, please,’ then obviously I won’t be throwing a party, but I’ll live.” The woman can still write, and she at least deserves credit for that. Unfortunately, it still can’t save this particular novel.

 

In conclusion: this is shockingly bad. Back to wizards, please.

Rate: 2 out of 10.