Monday, November 18, 2013

Gadget Girl: The Art of Being Invisible - Suzanne Kamata

Title: Gadget Girl: The Art of Being Invisible
Author: Suzanne Kamata
Publisher: GemmaMedia, 2013 (Paperback)
Length: 224 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Realistic Fiction
Started: November 17, 2013
Finished: November 18, 2013

From the back cover:

Aiko Cassidy is fifteen and lives with her sculptor mother in a small Midwestern town. For most of her young life, Aiko, who has cerebral palsy, has been her mother's muse. But now, she no longer wants to pose for the figures that have made her mother famous. Aiko works hard on her own dream, becoming a sought-after manga artist with a secret identity. When Aiko's mother invites her to Paris for a major exhibition of her work, Aiko resists. She'd much rather go to Japan, Manga Capital of the World, where she might be able to finally meet her father, the indigo farmer. When she gets to France, however, a hot waiter with a passion for manga and an interest in Aiko makes her wonder if being invisible is such a great thing after all.

I picked this up purely for the Japanese-inspired influences, but I'm so glad I did. Gadget Girl is a well-written coming of age story that's incredibly heart-felt and sweet.

Aiko is about to turn fifteen and wants nothing more than to be known for something else other than being the disabled daughter that inspired a series of famous statues. Looking nothing like her mother, Aiko longs for her absent Japanese father and embraces his culture: trying to grow indigo, learning Japanese,  and becoming an amateur manga artist (even though she intentionally publishes anonymously). When Aiko and her mother travel to France, they'll be forced to face their fears and insecurities and grow as people.

First off, Aiko is a wonderfully real character. In addition to the unique aspect of her cerebral palsy and the challenges that brings, Aiko is a regular teenager dealing with school, boys, popularity, an absent father figure, and trying to come into her own as a person. Her mother, though the typical flakey-artist type, is a loving parent who truly wants the best for her daughter and to celebrate who she is. Raoul, her mother's boyfriend, is a shining example of a step-father figure and is just a great person overall. Herve, the son of her mother's French friend, is the first stranger to really accept Aiko for who she is and sees beyond the limp and clawed left hand and arm. Every character was really enjoyable and I can't say there was anyone I didn't fall in love with.

I loved the addition of Aiko going on an almost pilgrimage to Lourdes in an attempt to cure her disabilities. At her lowest point, Aiko resents her mother's statues of her, hates herself for the condition that caused her father and his family to reject her existence as a baby, and believes no one could truly love her as she is. Though she isn't physically healed at Lourdes like she wants, Aiko comes away from the experience spiritually healed, accepting herself for who she is and letting go of the fear of those who think she is less because of her CP. This is symbolically represented by Aiko finally outing herself as the creator of her manga.

A wonderful, sweet coming of age story that everyone should read (especially those who like stories with a Japanese flavour).

Thoughts on the cover:
Loved the manga-style cover, very appropriate considering the content.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Allegiant - Veronica Roth

Title: Allegiant (sequel to Divergent and Insurgent)
Author: Veronica Roth
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins), 2013 (Hardcover)
Length: 526 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Dystopian Fiction
Started: November 5, 2013
Finished: November 14, 2013

From the inside cover:

The faction-based society that Tris Prior once believed in is shattered-fractured by violence and power struggles and scarred by loss and betrayal. So when offered a chance to explore the world past the limits of what she's known, Tris is ready. Perhaps beyond the fence, she and Tobias will find a simple new life together, free from complicated lies, tangled loyalties, and painful memories.

But Tris' new reality is even more alarming than the one she left behind. Old discoveries are quickly rendered meaningless. Explosive new truths change the hearts of those she loves. And once again, Tris must battle to comprehend the complexities of human nature-and of herself-while facing impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice, and love.

Told from a riveting dual perspective, Allegiant, by #1 New York Times best-selling author Veronica Roth, bring the Divergent series to a powerful conclusion while revealing the secrets of the dystopian world that has captivated millions of readers in Divergent and Insurgent.

Like millions of other readers, after I read Divergent and Insurgent in 2011 and 2012 respectively, I was instantly hooked and this quickly became my new favourite series....and now it's over *cries*.

This really was a wonderful trilogy, the entire series is well-written, with admirable characters, great themes and discussion points, and a great plot that doesn't lag.

The one thing I wish I'd done was re-read Insurgent prior to delving into Allegiant, because you jump right in in the beginning and there's isn't any recap, so that's one thing I recommend to readers. You can get by without re-reading, but you'll be confused for a few pages till you remember what's going on.

Both Tris and Tobias/Four narrate this book, each take turns narrating alternating chapters. The addition of Tobias' voice did take some getting used to, especially since I couldn't always tell the difference between him and Tris right away.

The plot gets very political in this book, like it started to in Insurgent. Tris and Tobias get a chance to venture beyond the fence in the hopes of fulfilling what they believe the Divergent were meant to do, and in turn end up discovering that what they were lead to believe was completely false and new truths need to form. I did enjoy that all the characters are shown to be good and well-intentioned, as well as being a little bit of the villain and causing chaos and destruction, there is no black and white, everyone is shades of grey, just like humanity always has been.

There are lots of wonderful, quotable lines in this book that relate back to the great themes and discussion points readers can delve into. Towards the end of the book, Tris needs to make some really difficult decisions (can't say much more for fear of spoilers), and needless to say she stays true to her beliefs and moral code and is at peace with her decisions.

Just read it, you will have a lot of mixed emotions while reading, but I think it's worth the ride.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like the continuity between Divergent and Insurgent, everything fits together nicely.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Brother, Brother - Clay Carmichael

Title: Brother, Brother
Author: Clay Carmichael
Publisher: Roaring Book Press, 2013 (Hardcover)
Length: 314 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Realistic Fiction
Started: November 1, 2013
Finished: November 1, 2013

From the inside cover:

Seventeen-year-old orphan Brother Grace has always dreamed of the sea-though he's never been there. His chance to see the ocean comes when his charismatic grandmother, Mem, dies and he discovers he has a twin brother-the son of a powerful conservative senator named Gideon Grayson (also known as "God"). Determined to get some answers, Brother takes a trip with his faithful dog, Trooper, to the secluded island off the coast of North Carolina where the senator and his family live. Brother's arrival on the troubled island reveals old resentments and unresolved secrets, and he soon realizes that the pure and simple truth is rarely pure and simple.

This one just sounded interesting (you don't often actually see the long lost twin cliche), so I picked it up.

This one will be hard to review without giving much away, but basically Billy Grace (nicknamed Brother) finds an image of a twin brother he never knew he had in a newspaper soon after his grandmother's death. With no one to look after him, he sets off to find his twin brother and some answers about his unknown past. After a slow buildup, Brother does find his brother and his family, but they aren't exactly what he thought they'd be. After finding out how his brother Gabe came to live with the senator's family and all the scandal related to it, he finds things even more complicated.

It's interesting how Brother remains the most human through the whole endeavour. He's not exactly innocent per se, but very set in his moral code regardless of what he encounters, which makes him quite the admirable character.

A slow but intriguing read about families with power and the heartbreak that can come as a result of it.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like the twin images with the matching hoodies.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

After Iris - Natasha Farrant

Title: After Iris
Author: Natasha Farrant
Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers (Penguin), 2013 (Hardcover)
Length: 260 pages
Genre: Children's Realistic Fiction
Started: October 31, 2013
Finished: October 31, 2013

From the inside cover:

Blue Gadsby's twin sister, Iris, died three years ago, and since then her family hasn't been the same. Her melodramatic older sister, Flora, changes her hair colour daily; her younger siblings, Jasmine and Twig, are completely obsessed with their pet rats; and both of her parents spend weeks away from home-and each other.

Enter Zoran the au pair and Joss the troublemaking boy next door, and life for the Gadsby family takes a turn for the even more chaotic. Blue poignantly captures her family's trials and tribulations in a sequence of film transcripts and diary entries that will make you cry, laugh, and give thanks (sort of) for the gift of families.

I love a good book that shows what happens to families in the aftermath of grief, mostly because not enough people believe in or seek out therapy after trauma, and in a way books can be a type of therapy for some where professional therapy is unavailable or not affordable.

Twelve-year-old Blue and her family live in the shadow of her dead twin sister, Iris, who died on Christmas Eve three years prior after being hit by a car. Her parents have purposely taken intensive jobs that require travel away from the children, leaving them in the care of various babysitters and nannies. All the children are obviously still angry (Flora) and grief-stricken (Blue) with no coping skills (Jasmine and Twig), and all pine for their absent parents. A new school year starts and their parents hire Zoran, their father's Bosnian graduate student to care for them, and between himself and Joss, the new boy in the neighbourhood, they help the family tackle their grief head-on. They call the parents out on their near-abandonment, help Blue stick up for herself against bullies at school, help Flora through her teenage angst, and make them realize its okay to talk about Iris, that they need to talk about Iris.

I like how the book was done with film scripts and diary entries, it's a unique format I haven't personally seen before. It fits well with Blue's personality and also compels her family to address things they otherwise wouldn't have if they hadn't been filmed. I also like how the children have a male caregiver, and Zoran is not only shown as capable (aside from shoddy cooking skills in the beginning), but that he really does love the children and wants everyone to heal.

A well-written book about a family's sad yet humorous journey in the aftermath of grief.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like how everyone has a portrait here, and how Iris is faintly penciled in beside Blue.