Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

About the Book

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Published by Balzer + Bray on February 28, 2017

GoodReads Description

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

My Thoughts

Please allow me to be honest.  I had a very hard time reviewing this novel.  I am a white lady living in a very white part of Minnesota.  I teach a total of three African American students in all six of my classes.  Reading this novel was like opening a whole different part of the world.  I am really not sure about how much of this was exaggerated for the purpose of entertainment and how much is based on the way that things really are.  As a result of my lack of knowledge, I don't think I'm the right person to speak about this book from a political/racial point of view.  I do, however, know quite a bit about readability and literature in general.  Please allow me to write my review about the things I do know about.

Angie Thomas is a master of characterization.  If you have been reading my blog for any amount of time, you know that I find it impossible to get into a book when I don't care about the characters. Thomas' characters destroyed me.  I know that Khalil really didn't spend much time in this novel, but I cried when he died.  After all, he was just a kid! He was trying to take care of his friend. I can't imagine being Starr in this particular instance, watching my good friend get murdered right before my eyes.  I don't think that I would have the personal strength to come back from that.  This, however, is where Starr really shines. Not only does she choose to grow from a timid follower to a brave leader.  She stands up against her friends, her society, and even her own comfort.  I hope that every one of my students chooses to read this book so that they can learn from Starr's wonderful example of pure bravery and courage.

Throughout the entire novel, I fell deeper and deeper in love with Thomas' writing style.  She may be an adult herself, but she knows how to get into the mindset of a teenager with impressive accuracy.  Too often, adult writers strive to make teenagers seem whinier than they truly are.  Many (not all) adult writers forget that, like adults, kids have worries and fears and concerns about things that matter.  It isn't all just about their hair products or dating.  Thank you, Thomas, for bringing a fresh sense of reality to the Young Adult genre.  

I absolutely adore this book.  It is one that I put off reading because of my limited knowledge with the politics surrounding it.  After reading it, I will admit that it is truly eye-opening.  I am excited to read more from Angie Thomas.

My Rating

Friday, April 5, 2019

Review: The Death Cure by James Dashner

About the Book

The Death Cure by James Dashner
Published on October 11, 2011 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers

GoodReads Description

It’s the end of the line.

WICKED has taken everything from Thomas: his life, his memories, and now his only friends—the Gladers. But it’s finally over. The trials are complete, after one final test.

Will anyone survive?

What WICKED doesn’t know is that Thomas remembers far more than they think. And it’s enough to prove that he can’t believe a word of what they say.

The truth will be terrifying.

Thomas beat the Maze. He survived the Scorch. He’ll risk anything to save his friends. But the truth might be what ends it all.

The time for lies is over.

My Thoughts

Well, my student is rather proud of me!  I told him that I would finish these books and I have.  I guess he still expects me to read the prequels too, so you can look forward to those reviews as well.

I liked the way that this installment started.  It was fast-paced and I cared about what happened to Thomas. I was excited to figure out what the cure would be and to finally understand why WICKED was good.  

As I read further, my opinion changed drastically.

What I Liked

  • I thought that the relationship between Minho and Thomas stayed strong.  I loved that this was the one thing I could count on throughout all of the books.  They definitely had each other's backs when the going got rough, which was most of the time.
  • I loved that Brenda went from being a relatively small character to an important one.  I am a sucker for character development and there was a little bit more with Brenda than with the others.  

What I Didn't Like

  • What in the world was Newt's note supposed to be?  I really don't understand the secrecy? Why didn't he just pull Thomas aside and tell him what his wishes were? That way, Thomas would have been able to fulfill his request sooner and Newt wouldn't have needed to suffer.  I felt like this was simply added drama that detracted from the rest of the novel.
  • This book did not answer any real questions.  This open ending left me still wondering why in the heck WICKED is good.  Why did the head of WICKED simply give up after so long? There was so much work put into this project and they simply gave up? This does not seem very believable.  
  • I hated that there was very little character development in this novel.  Growth is necessary in a world where you have to fight for your life.  You have to learn so much and endure too many things to remain the same person that you always were.  And yet these characters remain flat.

I'm truly hoping that many of my unanswered questions are answered in the prequels.  There is simply too much left wide open and too much that is underdeveloped in this series.

My Rating

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

An Interview with Sebastiano Lanza

Hi there!  Today, I'm excited to share my interview with Sebastiano Lanza after the publication of his novel That Which Must Happen.

That Which Must Happen is a literary novel about Benjamin, a child able to foresee and forestall events unfolding in his life and that of others. Yet he dreads to reshape them, for these events intertwine each and every existence in a delicate balance. However, when he senses his sole caretaker’s imminent death, he feels he must intervene.

In a fevered state, Benjamin was abandoned in the midst of a winter night, and is now sheltered by Ms Penter, a woman grieving over the loss of her own child. As he’s nurtured back to health, and his presence helps the woman to partially let go of her grief, Benjamin is devastated each and every time he glimpses her imminent demise.

Despite his attempts to alter the events leading to her death, Benjamin knows he won’t be able to save Ms Penter without damaging the delicate balance which entwines each and every life. The same balance he was born to preserve.

That Which Must Happen tackles the theme of fate.
Not to be understood as a series of immutable events leading to a predetermined destination, rather, as a series of interconnected events which can be influenced by our choices.

What is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?

The saying goes, "Never judge a book by its cover." The publishing industry is based on, "Judge a book by its back cover." While, yes, there must be a criteria to decide which books get an in-depth look and which don't, I feel it's oversimplified. Still, I wouldn't say it's unethical. There's also a tendency to avoid risk altogether, hence stagnation in the long run.

Does writing energize or exhaust you?

Definitely energizes me. The writing in itself is the better part. To imagine all those tiny details, and to see what was on your mind on paper is one the best feelings ever. Especially when that one thing you thought would be great to write turns out to be even better than you could have ever imagined. There's something to it that makes you think, "I'm the greatest!"

What are common traps for aspiring writers?

Wanting to overdo it. Possibly, I'm guilty of it as well. Assess your level at first, and be realistic about it. Then work to improve it, and strive to be the best in what you do. Never be afraid to go down unbeaten paths.

                                                                      Does a big ego help or hurt writers?

Definitely! This is no walk in the park. As a writer, you'll hear just about anything about your novel. That same novel on which you spent countless hours obsessing over the best placement of an innocuous comma. A big ego helps, as long as it doesn't become overly so. You'll still need to be able to pick up the useful criticism to mould yourself into a better writer.

What is your writing Kryptonite?

My big ego says I don't have one thus far.

Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?

The day I'll stop trying to write original stories about concepts and ideas that have rarely been looked at in depth, I'll probably stop to write altogether. So far, writing has felt so good to me because it gave me the tools to put to paper ideas I've always been fascinated with. In short, it kept me entertained and interested. For me, that's crucial to try and produce the best writing I can.

Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?

As long as this hypothetical individual is a good observer, I don't see why not. He doesn't need to feel a situation strongly, he just needs to observe it in his imagination and describe it. He'd also be subtle about it. A slight facial expression is worth more than hundred and hundred of words. A situation described so accurately can make the reader feel an emotion, whilst the writer doesn't necessarily need to. Hypothetically.

Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

I'm definitely not the type to write a series. On the long run the chances are high for it to become watered down and to make little sense. I much prefer for every novel I write to stand on its own. It makes it more enjoyable for me and, I hope, for the reader. Still, I guess one could say that my works (future ones, I hope) are loosely connected by concepts and ideas.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

"You're doing good, kid. Maybe...don't try so hard. And that comma is fine right there, don't move it any longer!" - "Also, buckle up. It's going to be a long ride."

How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

Not that I lacked structure before, but now, having seen all the work that goes on before publishing, I'm even more organized. It keeps me from proof reading my work over and over again while producing even higher quality content. This was a problem for That Which Must Happen. As a side effect, the writing in itself goes a little slower, but that's ok.

How do you balance making demands on the reader with taking care of the reader?

I tend to demand a lot from the reader, I'm not going to lie. If someone would read That Which Must Happen quickly, chances are that someone wouldn't understand a great deal. He'd probably think, "Rubbish! This is a bunch of random events!" And that's not the case. It's not a light read. On the other hand, I reward readers by trying to write compelling, interesting stories. That's what I was aiming for all along.

As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?

My puppy, of course. Musetto. Well, he's not a puppy anymore, he's grown a bit. He had the patience to listen to my proof reading, and my reasoning for everything that happens in the novel. To be honest, he did look perplexed at times. It mustn't be easy for him.

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

Currently I have a comic book that I would like to finish somewhere in the near future. Mostly it's an idea that never went on to be much else. But it has lots of potential. And the other novel I'm currently working on. It involves a priest in pilgrimage to Turkey and a village in Romania. Not so long ago I published a sample chapter on my Wattpad profile. 

What does literary success look like to you?

Like everything else in life, I tend to take one step at a time. Six years ago I was quite sure I wouldn't ever be able to write a full-length book. Two years ago I was quite certain I wouldn't get past page 1 of That Which Must Happen. Four months ago I wasn't quite sure I would ever publish That Which Must Happen. And today, here we are. The key is to keep your head down and put lots and lots of work in what you do. That way, chances are something above average is going to happen sooner or later. It's been an interesting journey so far, I reckon it'll keep being interesting for the foreseeable future.

What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

The kind of research is dictated by the core matter of the novel. For That Which Must Happen there was a lot of thinking involved, I had to come up with a way for this "active fate" I had imagined to work. It wasn't easy, and I'm sure it's not going to be easy for readers to grasp as well. You really, really need to pay attention to the details, they tell a lot. I became fixated with subtlety whilst writing it. And it shows. For my other novel, which has more historical and folklore elements, I had to dig up quite a lot of material. I'd like it to be as accurate as possible. I read a lot of information before I put pen to paper, but I left the details for last, so they'd be fresh in my mind while writing.

How long were you a part-time writer before you became a full-time one?

I still am a part-time writer! I like the struggle, it keeps me focused.

How many hours a day do you write?

I write as many hours as I can. Even when I don't write, I think about scenes for my next novel and I try to think about how I will put them down. I think about how the plot will evolve and I make diagrams to see how it'll flow. As for a precise amount of hours, I'd say I average 5 or 6 a day.

What did you edit out of this book?

I edited A LOT out of That Which Must Happen. Whilst writing it I recognized that some scenes and concepts would have made it just too long and difficult to grasp. I was definitely biting more than I could chew. Also, the original story did look quite different from the end product, but overall, I like the finished product better. It's neater.

How do you select the names of your characters?

It depends on how important the character in question is. I won't give much thought in naming a secondary character whose role is very limited. Obviously, that changes with main characters and supporting characters. You'll probably find out that the name Benjamin is quite important to understand Benjamin's role in That Which Must Happen. That and a few more hints I give out throughout the novel.

If you didn’t write, what would you do for work?

I'm a land surveyor, so yes, there's that. On the other hand, I could still give a thought about being a chef, or a football manager (I do plan to get a license in the future). Or a professional chess player. I tend to hold many interests, so it's rather difficult to say!

Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?

I like to imagine That Which Must Happen as a book-sized riddle. It has a defined story, defined characters, and everything else on the surface. But the deeper you dig, the more story and plots you'll find. Some will get it, others will not. I tried to create this interconnection between chapters which fits the underlying theme of the whole novel, fate. In the end, I think it's important to say that this is not my story, I merely wrote it, discovered it. The story came to me on its own, as if it had its own will.

Do you Google yourself?

Sometimes. For research purposes.

What one thing would you give up to become a better writer?

I'd give up absolutely nothing. To get to your destination without a journey is no fun at all. I enjoy seeing my writing getting better day after day; as they say, no pain no gain.

What is your favorite childhood book?

Fiabe Italiane - Raccolte e trascritte da Italo Calvino. I still have it. Definitely one of my favourites. It's a collection of Italian fables; the first one, the orc with feathers is the best probably. 

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

What comes after writing. Editing. It’s terribly slow and headache-inducing. It’s also terribly useful, without it I probably wouldn’t be publishing That Which Must Happen by now. I’m not saying my first draft was a total mess, but close to it. A lot was edited out and in.

How long on average does it take you to write a book?

Anywhere between 6 months and one year. It also depends on day to day life. As is natural, sometimes something of unexpected will happen and the writing has to wait. Right now I'm looking at finishing my next novel inside the next year, but without obsessing over it. It has to happen naturally.

Do you believe in writer’s block? 

I guess it can happen if you don't know yourself well enough as a creative individual. Like everything else in life, it'll come a point when you just can't create anymore if you force it and overdo it. It'll all come to a stop, at least for a time. There needs to be that balance between rest and the creative process. It's very much alike to a self-sustaining cycle. Balance is key to everything.