Tag Archives: Brain Floss

L: Emmy Laybourne’s “SWEET” + Toon Teaser

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Chubby bffs go on weight loss cruise; one crushes on sweetner drug, the other crushes on human boy; sweetner makes chubsters into addicted murderous zombies

Readers, I just finished the most FAB book and I cannot wait to sing its praises! I got Emmy Laybuourne’s SWEET in a recent book haul from my generous Grad professor and my expectations could not have been lower. I mean, it sounded positively ridiculous.

sweetSolu’s luxurious celebrity-filled “Cruise to Lose” is billed as “the biggest cruise since the Titanic,” and if the new diet sweetener works as promised—dropping five percent of a person’s body weight in just days—it really could be the answer to the world’s obesity problem. But Laurel is starting to regret accepting her friend Viv’s invitation. She’s already completely embarrassed herself in front of celebrity host, Tom Fiorelli (otherwise known as the hottest guy ever!) and she’s too seasick to even try the sweetener. And that’s before Viv and all the other passengers start acting really strange.

But will they die for it, too?

Tom Fiorelli knows that he should be grateful for this job and the opportunity to shed his childhood “Baby Tom-Tom” image. His publicists have even set up a ‘romance’ with a sexy reality star. But as things on the ship start to get a bit wild, he finds himself drawn to a different girl. And when his celebrity hosting gig turns into an expose on the shocking side effects of Solu, it’s Laurel that he’s determined to save.

The novel is a satire, making fun of… well, everything. The absurdity of our society’s obsession with weight and weight-loss; the danger of trusting that the things you’re ingesting are safe without doing your own research; the severity of addiction and how easily it happens; the ability to find love in unlikely places. It would be easy to read SWEET and think it’s just a ridiculous depiction of an impossible occurrence; undoubtedly, the premise of this novel is whackadoodle, but then again, is it?! Yes, Laybourne’s depiction is severe and unlikely, but far from unimaginable! The wonder drug, Solu, promises dramatic and almost instantaneous weight loss, something that I’m 100% certain real people would sign up for STAT, not just the fanatics in the novel.

Laybourne’s humor is present throughout the novel and it’s impossible (well, it was for me, at least) to read any of it without fully grasping the message, “people are CRAZY!” The story is told from the swapping perspectives of the main characters, Laurel and Tom. Laurel is a beautifully optimistic depiction of a seventeen-year-old, slightly overweight girl. She’s happy with her body, she loves her curves, she has a healthy relationship with her best friend, and aside from not being rich, she has no overwhelming resentments towards her parents! Can you believe that?! An emotionally un-scarred teen. It’s about gal-darned time!!

The first half of the book is comical, focusing on the budding love story and making fun of, again, everyone. About halfway through, though, things get so stinking REAL! S**t hits the fan in the most improbable way, and Laybourne doesn’t spare her readers any of the gory details. For me, this was an utter delight! Gross me out, girl! Give me the creeps! But for others who are not fans of horror or thriller stories, this may get a bit too heavy for you. I sincerely hope not, because this book deserves to be read by any and all. As vivid as the details were, it only emphasizes Laybourne’s point. How far will people go to be thin? Addiction is not glamorous; in the face of disaster, dignity and social status cease to mean anything. And at what point do you stop considering a person to be a person?

I adored this book. So much fun! It was a quick read, being just 250 pages, and I was utterly enthralled the whole time. This book will live in my classroom library and I’ll be sure to place it in the right hands. This could be a really poignant read for teen girls dealing with self-image and needing some perspective, but I’m in no need of body image reassurances and I got the biggest kick out of this book, so I’d also suggest it to my young readers who just love a good thrill.

I immediately texted Hannah upon finishing it and begged her to read it. We’ll see if she takes the bait. And sidebar, the book ended on a note that could totally mean there will be another book so let us all hope for the best.

Has anyone else read SWEET? I’ve not seen anyone talking about this book and I’d love to know if I’m alone in my adoration. Next up for me is Feed by M. T. Anderson. Join me, won’t you?

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L: Review of Noelle Stevenson’s “Nimona”

If I many be so bold, I’d like to commend myself for taking great strides towards being a more versatile, well-rounded reader within the last 6 months. If you take a quick trip down memory lane, back to some of my earliest posts, you’ll see that I found a number of ways to clearly indicate that my preferences leaned exclusively towards hard-copy versions of the classics. Nowadays, however, at least half (if not more) of my recreational literary conquests are YA, as well as the relatively unfamiliar (to me) genre of graphic novels, including my latest completion, Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona.

Nimona is an impulsive young shapeshifter with a knack for villainy. Lord Ballister Blackheart is a villain with a vendetta. As sidekick and supervillain, Nimona and Lord Blackheart are about to wreak some serious havoc. Their mission: prove to the kingdom that Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and his buddies at the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics aren’t the heroes everyone thinks they are.

Nimona is considered to be a YA text, and I think it fits into that genre perfectly. The main character, Nimona’s, age is never specified, but her personality and behavior in situations of villainy make it easy to assume she is a young adult. Nimona’s character is complex, immature, consistently laugh-out-loud funny, and mysterious. Like many teens (and full-blown adults, like myself), Nimona uses humor and sarcasm to navigate serious situations and mask her feelings. Nimona is a product of her past and, although that past is a mystery to readers for most of the novel, her penchant for violence echos throughout her actions, calling into question her motivations for pairing up with Lord Ballister Blackheart, the kingdom villain.

Stevenson’s characters are complex, having hidden agendas, suppressed feelings, longstanding conflicts, and rich backstories. No character is defined by his/her title and, in fact, those titles (hero, villain, sidekick, etc.) are often called into question by his/her actions. Although readers get significantly fewer words with graphic novels, the pictures help to fill in the blanks and (literally) illustrate aspects of the characters and situations that take twice as much time to convey with standard novels. Also, the images were imaginative, descriptive, and utterly adorable. Just look at the emotion and attitude in her panels, as well as the humor (look at the little shark boobies! So unexpected and funny!). In those ways, I loved it!

However, I’m not sure that I got the chance to connect with these characters. Reading a graphic novel, for me, is like watching a TV show; I’m just a spectator. I get fewer asides, monologues, and inner thoughts. I see things at face value, exactly as the author intended, so there is little room for creative interpretation or personalization. Also, I finished Nimona in one afternoon, and a busy afternoon at that. It was an effortlessly quick read, meaning that I didn’t linger with these characters for days at a time. We met, we faced trials, we resolved those trials, and now they’re gone and I don’t miss them. Why would I? I hardly knew them. I wonder if I would think differently had it been a standard novel? I wonder if this concern has occurred to others, or if I’m alone in my distance?

Like I said before, with the exception of the Maus books, I’m extremely new to graphic novels. However, my experience with them has proven them to be delightful deviations from the standard novel format. I see many advantages to the graphic novels format, as well as disadvantages. Regardless, putting this book into the right students’ hands could give fresh insight into really current and relevant problems. It was a fun and meaningful read!

SIDEBAR: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is coming! I pre-ordered my copy and July cannot get here soon enough!

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L: Review of Kathy Kacer’s “Stones on a Grave”

Sometimes, I just need some “brain floss.” I adore a book or series in which I can completely lose myself to obsession (see my review of Golden Son for examples of my obsession capabilities), but sometimes all I want is to read something simple, something that doesn’t make me think too hard. I want something with easy characters and plot points, and is it too much to ask for a book to be under 250 pages? Quick & dirty, in and out; I pick it up & BAM, I’m already finished, without a tear in sight.

Stones on a Grave by Kathy Kacer was sort of that book for me. But first:

Sara has never been out of the tiny town of Hope, Ontario, where she has been in an orphanage all her life. After a fire destroys the orphanage, clues about her parentage—a medical certificate and a Star of David—lead her to Germany. Despite her fears—she doesn’t speak the language, she knows no one in Germany, and she’s never been on an airplane—Sara arrives in Germany determined to explore her newly discovered Jewish heritage and solve the mystery of her parentage. What she encounters is a country still dealing with the aftermath of the Holocaust. With the help of a handsome, English-speaking German boy, she discovers the sad facts of her mother’s brief existence and faces the horrible truth about her father. Ultimately, the knowledge she gains opens up her world and leads her to a deeper understanding of herself.

Kathy Kacer’s novel (novella?) is one of seven books in what is called the “Secrets Bundle,” a grouping of short, interconnected YA novels that can be read as a group or individually. I read Stones on a Grave without having read any of the other “Secrets,” and I feel completely whole in spite of that. The novel works beautifully as a stand alone, as I’m sure it would within the group, as well.

Now, as I was saying before, Stones on a Grave was about 90% the brain floss that I needed. The writing was fluid and easy, although a bit shallow and underdeveloped. I sympathized with the main character, Sara, as she endured the tragic loss of her orphanage home and the realization that her life was about to take a huge turn. At times, things felt a bit forced, like the relationship with the good-for-nothing boyfriend; it was infrequent, insincere moments like these that wrenched me out of the easy, breezy mindset. I think, with a bit more effort and backstory, these issues could have been resolved easily to be as effortless as the rest of the book.

That was the other issue I had with the book; it was so short! Remember just a few paragraphs ago when I pleaded for a book under 250 pages? Now I know why I so rarely read books that fit this qualification. They’re unsatisfying. Maybe it truly takes 400-ish pages to include the backstory needed in order for me to feel complete. Stones on a Grave was so short that it felt rushed. I was literally about 40 pages away from the end when all the pieces started falling into place and I was truly worried that I was going to be left with one heck of a cliffhanger. Kacer managed to tie up the loose ends, but it felt forced, as though she hadn’t dedicated the same amount of time to that last 40 pages as she had dedicated to the first 180.

On a positive note, wanting more from this book is a good problem to have, I think. The characters were realistic and relatable, the issues were compelling and interesting, the plot twist was entirely unexpected, and the ending, while rushed, was satisfying. I almost hesitate to call this book “brain floss,” since it deals with the Holocaust, and that subject is rarely considered “light reading.” Kacer managed to deal with a very real and serious matter, however, in a way that would be thought-provoking and enlightening to YA readers, while keeping it light enough not to induce tears. Despite the difficult subject matter, it felt flossy to me!

This book makes me wish there were sub-star rating levels. Technically, I’d like to give it 4 stars, since it was light, easy, and likable, but 4 stars makes it on par with Red Rising, which is was NOT. But then 3 stars seems harsh. How about 4 stars by “books for my classroom” standards and 3 by “Lindsay-rating” standards?

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L: Review of Maggie Stiefvater’s “Shiver”

Maggie Stiefvater LOVES a female protagonist, and that’s just swell; Maggie is herself a female, so it makes sense that she sees things from a female’s perspective, and I must say that the female protagonists in the other two novels I recently read were strong, intelligent, self-controlled women. They were great. Grace Brisbane, however, is the main character of Stiefvater’s novel, Shiver, and Grace is the worst.

Let me be clear that I read these novels in the opposite order in which they were written, so I started with Puck Connoly (a lovely display of teen wit, wisdom, and feminist determination) and ended with Grace Brisbane (a smart girl who turns into a bumbling fool when interacting with her wolf-boy lover). Grace was written first, so maybe Stiefvater learned from her mistake and upped her game in terms of female characters and their ability to not devolve into to imbeciles when talking to their crushes. Anyway, read this and then we’ll discuss more…

Click here for Goodreads

Click here for Goodreads

For years, Grace has watched the wolves in the woods behind her house. One yellow-eyed wolf—her wolf—is a chilling presence she can’t seem to live without.

Meanwhile, Sam has lived two lives: In winter, the frozen woods, the protection of the pack, and the silent company of a fearless girl. In summer, a few precious months of being human… until the cold makes him shift back again.

Now, Grace meets a yellow-eyed boy whose familiarity takes her breath away. It’s her wolf. It has to be. But as winter nears, Sam must fight to stay human—or risk losing himself, and Grace, forever.

First things first: another dumb cover. Heart leaves? Please. Enough.

Secondly, as a reader who read the blurb before reading the novel, I knew this was a werewolf scenario (like I said in my last post, I’m doing an author study; I’m branching out to new genres and it clearly isn’t working), so I knew that the wolf obsessively mentioned in the beginning was going to end up being her boy-lover. But let’s pretend I didn’t know that, just for a second. The first 60-ish pages were wasted on Grace Brisbane admitting that she was in love with “her” yellow-eyed wolf. Now I’m giving her a lot of credit by saying, “ok, maybe she exaggerated. She’s not in love with a wolf,” but the writing sure did make it difficult for me to give that credit. I mean, seriously? Are we just supposed to let this go, as though humans are all too frequently in love with savage animal beasts? No, she was a pure freak. Bestiality much? Also, can I just say that Grace needs to play the lottery or something, because what are the chances that her wolf friend would just turn out to be an age- and species-appropriate, attractive young man? I’m guessing slim.

Otherwise, it was dumb. Once Sam morphs into a semi-appropriate love interest (let’s not forget that Grace’s new bf still spends half the year pooping in the woods and howling at the moon), they both develop an obsession with one another that is unhealthy on all accounts. I’m not just throwing the word “obsession” around all willy nilly; Grace and Sam readily admit that they are obsessed with one another. Their relationship is inadvisable, at best, and although I noticed that pretty much right away, I’m not confident that young, impressionable students would be able to separate the healthy themes from the unhealthy ones. I’m not entirely sure I’d even have this in my classroom library; it does address issues like peer pressure, friendships, and parental issues, but not to an extent that I think readers would learn anything or benefit from this story. In a nutshell, don’t waste your time or it’ll waste it for you.

GUYS, I have no more assigned readings until January!! I’ve forgotten what it feels like to pick my own book! Suggestions are welcome and stay tuned for NON-YA reviews!

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