Friday, January 22, 2010

Best Friends Forever: Jennifer Weiner

There’s a saying that goes, “A friend helps you move, a best friend helps you move a body.” That is the kind of friendship that Jennifer Weiner writes about in Best Friends Forever. Despite the distance of years, best friends Addie and Valerie are reunited under suspicious circumstances and are willing to revisit their friendship and save each other.

Addie Downs is a fat little girl with a strong inclination to stay at home with her family. She’s not much interested in doing the things that other little girls like to do, and she thinks her family is the best. She’s an outcast at school, but she doesn’t mind, or even really seem to notice. When Valerie Addler moves in next door, Addie’s mother forces her to make friends with the new girl. Val is everything that Addie is not--namely, social. They become best friends, inseparable. Val’s mother is a little flaky, but she is adventurous and exciting in ways that Addie’s mother could never be. While Addie is  envious of Val’s eccentric, boozy mom, Val is hateful jealous of Addie’s four person family, with a dad  who comes home every day, a mom  who loves with her whole heart, and a brother who seems just about perfect in every way. However, things change over time, as they are apt to do, and Valerie grows out of her awkwardness and blossoms into a beautiful blond bombshell, joining the cheerleading team, and partying with the popular high school kids. Addie misses her friend more than anything, but isn’t willing to endure the social pressures of her peers. As Addie becomes ridiculed by the very people Valerie now hangs out with, their friendship becomes strained. Then one night at a party, Valerie is raped by one of the school’s most popular jocks, and confiding in Addie, begs her not to tell. When Addie does expose the truth, Valerie denies it and the entire school turns again Fat Addie. The rest of her high school years are spent in misery.

Fast forward fifteen years, and Valerie has become a weather girl, still a blond bombshell. Addie has become an artist, and has lost all of her extra weight. She’s not exactly successful by societal standards, but she’s happy in her life. The night of the fifteen year high school reunion comes around and Addie chooses to go on a date rather than face the kids who hated her in high school. After the terrible date finally ends, Addie heads home and soon finds Val on her doorstep, claiming she has run over and possibly killed the boy who raped her in high school. Addie, ever desperate to have her best friend back, goes along with Val’s plan to find the body and cover up the mess. When no body shows up, the only logical thing to do is run.

Weiner is a very likable author. She creates characters who are very relatable and puts them in situations that are like a more Technicolor real life—aka, more exaggerated. I enjoyed the characters of Addie and Val, maybe because they remind me so much of me and my best friend in high school. Except that I was never that shy; I was far more social than Addie Downs was. However, it’s not hard to believe that best friends could be ripped apart by the social pressures of high school. It’s also not hard to believe that once you’ve been best friends with a person and shared with them the deepest secrets of yourself, you’re linked forever.

Despite having some fairly heavy elements, this book was a really fun read. It was playful and funny, and a trademark chick lit volume from Jennifer Weiner.

Overall Rating: $$

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Thief Lord: Cornelia Funke

Prosper and Boniface (Bo) are brothers who have run away to Venice. After the death of their parents, greedy aunt Esther offered to adopt the adorably angelic Bo, but wanted nothing to do with the slightly older Prosper. Refusing to be separated, the boys run away to Venice—a city their mother frequently spoke of as wonderful and magical. They are soon adopted into a group of other street children who are living in an abandoned movie theatre. They live off their wits and the money they earn by selling loot that the Thief Lord steals from the grand houses of Venice. When the Thief Lord is asked to take on a special mission of thievery, his own secrets are brought to light, and the band of runaways may never be the same.

The Thief Lord is an extremely entertaining story, full of mystery and excitement, action and tenacity. Cornelia Funke earned my adoration with her Inkspell novels, and her creative imagination. The story of the Thief Lord is really about Prosper and Bo and their search for a safe and comfortable home. The adventures along the way—starring Scipio, Riccio, Mosca, and Hornet—are a thrill ride, exposing each character as a dimensional individual.

Ultimately, the plot revolves around a magical merry-go-round located on the Isola Segreta—the secret island. The legend says that the merry-go-round will make children into adults, and adults into children. Of course, as a group of young runaways constantly harassed by authorities, the group of children is very interested in finding the merry-go-round and changing themselves into adults as soon as possible. There is a rather heavy-handed moral here that explicitly illustrates that no one should take their age for granted. When a child is turned into an adult, he is at a loss as to what an adult does all day. When an adult is turned into a child, he is frustrated at his inability to be taken seriously. The lesson is laid on pretty thick, but I suppose that’s to be expected in a young adult novel.

Overall, this is a really fun novel. It’s kind of mystical and magical, but it’s also mysterious and intriguing. I think it’s a fun novel for the young and old alike.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Let The Right One In: John Ajvide Lindqvist

Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist is a Swedish vampire story. For some reason, that alone captured my interest. This quiet little book was made into a Swedish movie that swept the Tribeca Film Festival and started to pop up in conversations. When I finally picked up my own copy of the book, I was captured by the sentiments of others before me, such as “Absolutely Chilling” (L.A. Banks), and “Sweden’s Stephen King…a classic tale of horror” (Tucson Citizen). With acclaim like that, I knew I was in for a treat!

I have to admit that Let The Right One In is slow to start. There’s a lot of exposition and character development. Which I appreciate, but I kept anticipating the action. The first half of the book is spent developing the characters of Oskar and Eli and fostering their friendship. Oskar is an outcast who is constantly teased by the schoolyard bullies. Eli is the strange new girl who moved in next door, who only comes out at night. While they are becoming friends, there is a “ritual murderer” on the loose, capturing children around twelve years old, and draining their blood. Before too long, Oskar finally figures out what the reader already knew—that the ritual murderer is linked to Eli. There are also an array of other characters (some that never appear in the movie), who pepper the plot with intricate crossovers and relations.

As an English Literature major, I couldn’t help but read the many themes that arise in this novel. I don’t know if Lindqvist was writing an allegory, but it isn’t hard to find one. There are thematic elements of family crisis, effects of ostracism and bullying, the good and bad in everyone. All of this murder and mayhem takes place in a small Stockholm suburb, where the streets and buildings were erected with the purpose of fostering a community and a sense of safety. And of course, all Eli wants is a home where she can stay put, and all Oskar wants is a friend.

There are some truly terrifying scenes described, including the scene in which Eli’s biggest fan, Hakan, returns to her as a disfigured monster and attempts to rape her. Also, when Eli shares with Oskar her memory of becoming vampire, it is gruesome and horrifying and absolutely terrifying that anyone could imagine such a thing. There are also sweet and poignant moments, shared by Eli and Oskar. Theirs is a truly unconditional love, which may well be the entire point to this story. After all, isn’t everyone in this world looking to be loved not for who they are, but in spite of who they are?