Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

When Grace was a little girl, she was bitten by wolves. They pulled her off the tire swing in her backyard and dragged her into the woods. Grace remembers only one of the wolves. The one with mesmerizing yellow eyes. The wolf who stopped the attack.

For six years after the attack Grace sees the yellow-eyed wolf in the woods behind her house. She watches him, he watches her, and they fall in love.

Grace's wolf is only a wolf in the cold of winter. Under the summer sun, he is Sam and he is very human.

Shiver (Scholastic Press, 2009) is a paranormal romance for young adult readers by Maggie Stiefvater. It is very romantic in the more traditional sense of the word: It focuses on and moves readers to focus on nature, the imagination, and emotions. This is wonderful. The woods and the weather have prominent roles in the story. (In fact, each chapter begins with the temperature for that day or time of day.) Stiefvater succeeds in building an atmosphere of mystery and suspense around Grace, Sam, other wolves, their friends, and their small town of Mercy Falls, Minnesota. Readers will keep turning the pages of Shiver because there are always intriguing questions raised about the characters. Many questions are answered by the end of the novel. A couple unanswered questions are moving me to read Linger, the sequel to Shiver.

But a couple other unanswered questions annoyed me.

"Of course," she said, and her voice was frustrated. "Magic would be intangible. Science has cures. Haven't you ever wondered how it all started?"

I didn't open my eyes. "One day a wolf bit a man and the man caught it. Magic or science, it's all the same. The only thing magical about it is that we can't explain it."

The passage above is from a conversation between Sam and Grace (pg. 244-245 in the hardcover edition of Shiver). As seen in the passage above, no back story is provided to explain the origin of the wolves or to explain their condition. Throughout the novel, Sam is dismissive of his wolfish background. This is consistent with his ambivalent feelings toward being a wolf. However, the absence of a back story made suspending my disbelief about the wolves a little difficult.

Perhaps these questions will be answered in Linger? Regardless, Shiver should be able to stand on its own.

Stiefvater also succeeds in expressing and evoking a swirl of emotions for readers: love, desire, obsession, confusion, sadness, and so much more. Sam's struggle with his identity - Is he man or is he wolf? How can he possibly be both? - is convincing and moving. (This is greatly helped by the novel alternating between Sam and Grace's points of view.) And Stiefvater brings readers to really feel and explore this question: How can a girl and a wolf boy truly be together? The yearning, oh the yearning, Sam and Grace feel for each other is palpable.

As a reader, I was less than satisfied with the paranormal aspect of this novel, but thoroughly satisfied with its love story. As impossible as this love story seems, it will speak to the emotions of teen readers and to the teen inside all of us.

[I bought my own copy of Shiver.]

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Get Caught Reading an Author of Color's Book!

If you catch anyone reading a book by an author of color, take his/her picture! Email the jpeg file with a short blurb about the picture to Amy Bowllan, the blogger behind Writers Against Racism.

Amy's email address: abowllan@mediasourceinc.com

Let's help spread the word about authors of color and their books!!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Friday, August 13, 2010

Sweet 15 by Emily Adler and Alex Echevarria

Destiny Lozada is turning 15. It's time to plan for her quinceañera. Time to start preparing the special gown and heels and tiara, the live music, the fancy venue, and of course her escort (caballero) and court (seven girls called damas and seven boys called chambelanes) and the waltz they will perform.

Destiny's mom insists that Destiny have a proper quinceañera - a proper celebration of her "transition to womanhood" with her family and friends. Destiny's mom didn't have a proper quinceañera of her own because she grew up poor in Puerto Rico. Destiny's older sister America didn't have a quinceañera at all. America believes that a quinceañera "stands for virginity, chastity, and nonsense. It's a rehearsal for how to walk, talk, sit, eat, and obey. . . It's also used to show wealth." As for Destiny's dad, he's determined to stay out of the debate.

Destiny doesn't quite agree with her mom when she says that a quinceañera is a beautiful religious ceremony and a way for a New Yorker like Destiny to keep in touch with her Puerto Rican roots. She also doesn't quite agree with her sister when she says that a quinceañera is "just another tool used by The Man to imprison women in a lifelong sentence of loveless marriages filled with dirty dishes and ungrateful babies and dirty babies and ungrateful dishes!" Destiny doesn't know what to think. She doesn't know what she wants. But she's super close to her mom and sister and wants to please them both, so she ends up saying yes to all of their demands for her quinceañera, even though their demands contradict each other. For example: Destiny's mom thinks Destiny should have a caballero. America thinks Destiny should proudly stand alone at her birthday party.

Sweet 15 by Emily Adler and Alex Echevarria (Marshall Cavendish, 2010) is HILARIOUS. Destiny (the novel's narrator) and her family and friends all have a great sense of humor. And all of them - from Destiny's quirky and dorky best guy friend Omar to America's strong and beautiful best friends Hailey and Maritza - are colorful and likable characters. Destiny's mom and America are particularly wacky and have very funny exchanges about the quinceañera.

Sweet 15 is an entertaining story about a young woman discovering who she is and what she wants. It's sometimes packaged as a story about a young woman with a cultural identity crisis of sorts. Sometimes Destiny talks about feeling lost somewhere between the United States and Puerto Rico and "being pulled in different directions by my family with these two different cultures. . ." But these are all just explicit statements found in the book. Destiny doesn't spend time reflecting on this issue and there is no real evidence of this struggle in her life. Sweet 15 is really about Destiny finding her own voice instead of just pleasing her parents and living in her sister's shadow. It's about her figuring out what makes her happy and fighting for it instead of prioritizing what makes her parents, sister, or other people happy.

The novel does have a sour note: all the "aha moments." These are the moments where a quinceañera is explained through narration/exposition or dialogue. Below are examples from two different chapters in the book.

"Fact check: a quinceañera (which is Spanish for 'fifteen years') is like a Sweet Sixteen party or bat mitzvah, only the Spanish, or Mexican, or Puerto Rican, or Cuban, or Central or South American version for fifteen-year-old girls, with chunks of religious and cultural stuff mixed together."

"Omar wipes melted sugar off his chin and clears his throat: 'The quinceañera has two sections, a mass and a party. During the mass, fourteen candles are lit, and the mother places a tiara on her daughter's head. . .'"

These "aha moments" make for awkward reading and have a tendency to exoticize the quinceañera (which is definitely counterproductive to multicultural literature). It would have been better reading if that rich information had been shared through the characters' actions and through much more natural dialogue.

Still, I recommend Sweet 15 to readers looking for something light and fun and interesting, and, of course, to readers who may be curious about quinceañeras.

[My copy of Sweet 15 was provided by the publisher.]

Saturday, August 07, 2010


Where are all your book reviews and author and illustrator interviews, Tarie?

I apologize for the lack of really substantial updates lately. I've been a bad blogger. But I was busy with judging this! Then I had to study for a major Spanish exam! Then I got sick!

Anywayyy . . . The good news is that I am now reading Sweet 15 by Alex Echevarria and Emily Adler (Marshall Cavendish 2010). So my next blog post will be a review of Sweet 15. :o)

Stay tuned!