Friday, July 18, 2014

Confessions of a Fan Girl

The Haiku Librarian being Fan Girly
I have a confession to make: I am not always the most objective of book reviewers. If I didn't like a book, I can usually point out why. If I merely "liked" a book, again, I can usually pinpoint the reasons. But when it's one of those books that's so well done, it literally transports you into another world, I find it nearly impossible to come up with words to describe the experience. When I love a book, when I adore it, I am reduced to a blathering idiot, with a toddler's vocabulary. I end up gushing inarticulately and sounding like (shudder!) a total Fan Girl. Which is what you are not supposed to sound like when you are reviewing a book. You are supposed to look at it dispassionately, examining the voice, the characters, the plot. You are supposed to give reasons, not emotion.

When you think about it, though, maybe that is the sign of an excellent book; when it comes together so seamlessly and viscerally that there are no words to describe it. You can only experience it. Because that's what I do when I love a book. I recommend it to every friend I have, and even strangers in bookstores, yet I have little to say about it. I give a basic plot outline and then say "You just have to read it yourself, I can't even do it justice. Read it, you won't be sorry! Read it! READ IT!!!" I imagine that at these moments I might even appear a little unbalanced.

The books that really do that to me all seem to be YA series, which makes me think that YA authors have a particular gift for hooking readers into their worlds. They include, of course; The Hunger Games trilogy and Gregor the Overlander books by Suzanne Collins, The Mortal Instruments and Infernal Devices series' by Cassandra Clare, the Matched trilogy by Ally Condie, and The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey. But the particular author that inspired me to make this confession is Veronica Roth. Of course I've read all three of the Divergent books, and right now I am reading "Four," which is the newly released set of short stories written from the character Four/Tobias' point of view. I love this particular device, because when I read a book I often think that I would love to know another character's mind. After reading the closing pages of "Mocking Jay", I wished Collins would do the books again from Peeta's perspective. I loved how Condie expanded the world view in each of her Matched books by including a second narrator in the second book, and adding a third narrator in the final book. In the Divergent books, Roth set this up perfectly by telling the third book partially from Tobias' point of view, which paved the way for the short stories. Perhaps that wasn't her original intent, but it works.

I'm not quite done reading "Four," so I can't review it yet. But it's giving me that Fan Girly feeling. I promise when I do review it, I will endeavor mightily to come up with some actual words to describe it instead of just squealing and grinning. The book I am actually going to review today is the best-selling and popular "Wonder," a middle grade novel by R.J. Palacio. I am reviewing my summer reads in order, and it's interesting that it has fallen on a day when I'm talking so much about perspective, because "Wonder" is told from the point of view of not one or two, but six different characters.

August Pullman was born with serious facial deformities. Despite many surgeries, his face is still far from normal. At the point the story begins, he is ten years old and has been home-schooled his entire life. He has, understandably, been coddled and protected, and is well loved and accepted in his family and his immediate neighborhood. His parents think it's time he ease his way from the nest, and enroll him at a small private school. Naturally, he is initially met there with fear and suspicion, but as people get to know Augie, he slowly gathers a group of loyal friends.

The bulk of the book is told from Augie's perspective. He can be stubborn and immature, but he is also frank and funny, with a self-deprecating sense of humor that quickly puts his classmates at ease. He has developed a pretty thick skin, but he is not above being hurt. We also hear from his sister, Via, who feels overlooked and unimportant, but who also understands that things have to be the way they are. She is not bitter, but as she enters the big high school, she enjoys the relative anonymity, where few people know anything about Augie. She no longer has to be "the deformed boy's" sister, she can finally just be Olivia. Augie's two closest friends, Jack and Summer, also chime in, as does Olivia's friend, Miranda, and her boyfriend, Justin.

The main point of the story to me is that Augie is just a ten year old boy, like any other ten year old boy. He loves Star Wars, he has a beloved dog, he has to do his homework and keep his room clean. He has feelings just like any other boy; he hurts and grieves like anyone else. But people fear things they don't understand, and they don't understand Augie. It's a poignant message to not judge people based on outward appearances, which we all do, despite our best intentions. This is such a real and heart-warming story, and it had me in tears on more than one occasion.

The title of the book is pulled from the Natalie Merchant song, "Wonder," which is quoted in here, along with several other songs. I knew and loved this song before I read the book, and it is so perfect in setting up the story. I "wonder" (pun intended!) if the book was inspired by the song, or if Palacio started writing the story and then realized how well the song fit with the book. I'm including a link so you can hear the song, if you don't know it. This is not the version that was played on the radio, but I like it.

Wonder by Natalie Merchant, YouTube

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