Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Last Summer (of You & Me) by Ann Brashares

I was tickled when I saw that Ann Brashares had a new book coming out, and it was of special interest as her first adult novel. I love her Sisterhood series for teens. (The first book of which was given to me by our school librarian as a summer reading "assignment," and I was to come back and report to her at the end of the summer before the students came back.) But I was concerned that what I loved about her writing would disappear in an attempt to write for a grown-up audience.

I am delighted to say, therefore, that in The Last Summer (of You & Me), Brashares has not changed her style. It seems a tip of the hat to the sophistication of her teen readers with the Sisterhood books and an acknowledgment for this audience that even when we are grown up, we still have a lot in common with our seventeen-year-old selves. She holds onto her omniscient writing style and wields it well through the lives of childhood trio Alice, Riley and Paul. The story is surprisingly simple on the surface, and only when you've finished it (or are close to finishing it) will you notice just how complex it really is. And I find this book to be as highly-quotable as her other books, which I read with Post-It tabs to mark favorite sentences or paragraphs.

For all my excitement about this book release, though, I waited till it had been on the shelves for a few weeks to buy it, and then I waited another month and a half to read it. The first couple of chapters feel strange because the insightful, observant protagonist Alice seems so much older than the 22-year-old she is. And I wasn't in a place to feel sad. You know from the title that this book cannot end with a typical happy ending for all characters involved, and you'll know from the first few chapters where the sadness will come, if not how.

So I allowed myself two weeks to get through the first few chapters. Then last night and this afternoon, I read the last half of the book. I knew from previous experience that Brashares writes grief well, and you have to trust her to get through this book. She does not make readers cry just because she can (something that really can't be said for a lot of writers).

And I love this book. I am putting it in my mom's stack to TBR books, but I will want it back soon (within the year).

If you--and/or your daughter(s)--love Brashares's Sisterhood books, you have to read this one.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

I read this book in spite of my instinct to ignore all of the hullabaloo that followed its release, but a few too many people whose opinions I generally trust told me I should read it, so I picked it up at a garage sale. I may not be listening to the next recommendations of those people who told me to read this.

I can't say that I don't understand why so many people were fascinated by this book; its presentation of facts (false facts or true facts, I'm not differentiating) was captivating. I would have loved to have fallen into this book as completely as everyone else seemed to. I'm not sure whether I found doing so difficult because it's now more than three years since its publication and because I've seen too many news blurbs about people (especially tourists) who take everything in the book literally, or whether it was mainly the style of the writing.

I'm leaning towards: style. I was so fed up with the choppy chapters, the constant shifts in point of view, the refusal to let narrative flow naturally, and the unevenness of the characterization that I almost put the book down about halfway through. Brown uses chapters to indicate a point of view switch--but not consistently. Within chapters a few times, he also switches POV's on readers (which isn't difficult to follow because there's a section break). I found the shorter chapters made it harder to keep track of all the characters, and I certainly didn't feel that I needed to be shown the story from every character's point of view.

Brown, besides being heavy on his adverbs, couldn't let a story unfold without a few false starts. He'd hint that there was something coming, a story to be told, but then he'd refuse to tell it. It felt like a cheap suspense-building tactic, and I thought it could have been better.

Also, the characters are supposed to be smart, but it didn't feel like that thoughout the whole book. They'd have consistent memorization-smart and mini strokes of brilliance (because the plot couldn't continue if they didn't) and then they'd go and do something incredibly stupid like stealing an armored truck from a bank when they know the cops are after them--and really, really close--and not even consider that the truck (of course) is trackable. And even though Brown tries to explain away sudden shifts in behavior through plot after the fact, it doesn't really work. Sometimes, too, the characters' reactions to overly narrated dialogue seemed weird. (Sophie gives Langdon "surprised looks" at the stuff that comes out of his mouth, even when it's nothing extraordinary.)

Overall, I'd have to say that despite the fun Indiana Jones-iness of the whole thing, you can do better. I don't know what to recommend instead, but you can do better. If you have to know what happens at the end of this story, go rent the movie. (I say that without having seen the movie, but being of the opinion that in this case, the movie is probably better than the book.)