Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Sunday, August 15, 2010
You know how if someone has a particularly lovely or compelling speaking voice the old adage is you'd happily listen to him or her read the phone book? Well that's how I feel about Sherman Alexie's authorial voice. It's awesome and I will read whatever he wants to write for as long as he wants to write it.
That being said, feels like the book I've been waiting for him to write since I first picked up in high school. A semi-autobiographical tale of Arnold “Junior” Spirit, a high school freshman growing up on the Spokane Reservation, TATDOAPTI is at once hilarious and heartbreaking.
Near the beginning of the book, Junior makes the unpopular decision to leave his reservation high school to attend the all-white Reardon High School. What prompts this decision is when he realizes that he will be using the exact same geometry book his mother did in high school. As a veteran of a high school where textbooks often looked like they'd survived the Great Flood, I could sympathize. However, leaving the reservation for school just isn't done and by challenging the status quo, Junior finds himself at odds with his best friend Rowdy and the unwilling focal point of a lot of attention both at home and at Reardon.
Alexie does a masterful job balancing the hopeful (Junior's progress in school and making friends, however unlikely) with the tragic (the body count in this novel is higher than many murder mysteries). He doesn't shy away from the bleakness of the future for many of Junior's family and friends, but he also shows the love present in almost every Spirit family scene.
Junior is the kind of hero you don’t even realize is one until the end of the story. By focusing on his broken brain, general nerdiness, and lack of appeal to the opposite sex, Alexie camouflages the fact that Junior is also willing to walk miles in the blistering sun or freezing cold, face down the majority of the reservation, and, perhaps most intimidating, enter an entirely new high school as a complete outsider in order to get a better education.
Writing a YA novel right now seems to be the thing to do amongst well-regarded novelists. Jane Smiley, Cory Doctorow, John Grisham, and Neil Gaiman are just some of the names flooding the market. With such an influx it's always hard not wonder if their agent suggested they write a YA book because 1) they're hot right now and 2) they're shorter. Thus I approach most of their offerings with a healthy degree of skepticism. However, I don't care if Sherman Alexie thinks YA is the scratch lotto ticket of the literary world. Whatever prompted it resulted in his best book to date - and one I would recommend to any reader I know.
YA is right for Alexie and Alexie is right for YA. His voice - funny and furious - is a much-needed addition to the high school lit oeuvre.
Friday, August 6, 2010
Heidi W. Durrow's The Girl Who Fell From the Sky
Durrow's debut novel begins with a mysterious family tragedy. The only survivor is--you guessed it--the girl who fell from the sky, Rachel. As the daughter of a white Danish mother and black G.I. father, Rachel's exploration of her racial identity is compounded by her broken family. Durrow's prose is excellent; deliberate and evocative. Durrow doesn't shy away from hard truths about what it means to be biracial in America or having to deal with difficult family dynamics. My only disappointment was that while The Girl Who Fell From the Sky starts off strongly, the narrative loses some of its drive towards the end. However, I would still recommend this title, and I'm looking forward to more of Ms. Durrow's writing.
Check out Heidi Durrow's excellent blog, Light-skinned-ed Girl.
The Best American Series: The Best American Comics 2009
When I realized that this installment of the Best American Series was edited by Charles Burns, I immediately ordered it. Charles Burns is one of my favorite graphic novelists (if you haven't read Black Hole do so immediately) and I was excited to see which established and up-and-coming graphic novelists were showcased in Comics 2009. So far there's an excellent story by Adrian Tomine and a sweetly sad brother-sister tale by Laura Park. The Best American Series rarely disappoints, so I'm eager to continue reading.
**To build off Kerry's previous post, David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is amazing. I'm more of a fan of his inventive rather than traditional narrative; Cloud Atlas is one of my favorite novels while it took me a while to get through Black Swan Green, so I was a bit worried that I wouldn't be as engrossed by the traditional narrative of Jacob de Zoet. I should never have doubted you, David Mitchell! Jacob de Zoet might be Mitchell's best novel yet. Add your name to the crazy-long library queues now.