Tag Archives: Fiction

Boy A by Jonathan Trigell

BoyA

Harrowing. Heartbreaking. Fabulously discussion-worthy. All these are apt ways to describe Jonathan Trigell’s lightning bolt to the nervous system, ‘Boy A.’ It would be pretty accurate to say I loved this book, and even when I hated it, I loved it, because I realized when it was making me edgy and mad it was actually making me think. You don’t have to agree with it’s political viewpoint, but you will have to allow your beliefs and preconceptions to be challenged for the sake of the experience.

Jack is not an orphan, but he might as well be. After years locked away for a ghastly childhood crime, Jack has been reintroduced to society under a different identity, hiding from the media and potential acts of vigilantism. Jack’s Liberal social worker, Terry, believes he is essentially good. But can Jack really start his life over? Can he fall in love? Does he deserve to be given a second chance, considering what he did to another life?

Throughout the book Jack is portrayed to be a bit childlike and naïve, without coming off a saccharine or eye-rollingly idiotic. His romance with Michelle, a more experienced young woman, is touching and real. Finally a love interest with more reason for being than simply saving a troubled young man from himself. Michelle is not a manic pixie dream girl. She reminds me of the character from “Silver Linings Playbook” (the movie.) She’s made up of parts- strength, shrewdness, vulnerability. And she likes all those bits, even the dirty ones.

‘Boy A’, above all, a meditation on growing up, the possibility and unpredictability of change, and the horrors of living under the scrutinizing eye of the media. The writing is incisive and laden with layers of meaning. The ending is bleak, but also leaves us to contemplate how such a pay-off could’ve been avoided.

The only thing I really didn’t like about this book is the snide judgment with which the author portrays Angela, the victim of Jack’s adolescent crime. Angela is ten, but the author seems to treat her as responsible beyond her years, while the blame is displaced from Jack and his unnamed, delinquent friend. Once a bitch, always a bitch, the novel seems to say, which really didn’t sit well with me. I think less time could be spent on portraying Angela as a spoiled princess that ‘bad things just didn’t happen to’ and more time showing the grief of her family at such a senseless crime should have been incorporated. While focusing almost entirely on Jack’s pain is novel, it also seems kind of inappropriate considering the subject matter.

Although I found that aspect of ‘Boy A’ somewhat reprehensible, the rest of the book was so beautifully written and psychologically complex that I cannot help writing a glowing review. The shifting perspectives (though fully grounded in third-person) give a darker, deeper look into the events that make up the book’s chapters. I also highly recommend the film adaptation with Andrew Garfield. Garfield gives a beautifully realized portrayal of Jack, and the most important aspects of the book are retained in the film version. Happy reading!

Pet Sematary by Stephen King

StephenKingPetSematary

A rule of thumb- after your daughter’s newly resurrected cat comes back ‘stunted,’ 99.9% experts would advise you against burying your kid in the same Godforsaken place and in hopes that he will return from the dead as well. But that doesn’t stop Louis Creed, does it?

Believe it or not, this is my first Stephen King, though frankly I was a tiny bit disappointed at what I found to be solid yet somewhat overhyped prose. Don’t get me wrong, King has a great story to tell and some interesting commentary on grief and the dangers of meddling with the unspeakable, but I found the writing in general to be a bit underwhelming.

First, let’s dig into the premise itself- family man Louis has a loving wife, Rachel, and two great kids, Ellie and Gage. Together they move to a small town in Maine and Louis strikes up a friendship with grizzled local Jud Crandall. The damper on their otherwise happy life- the creepy burial ground built by the Micmacs years before unnervingly close to Louis’ property.

This is not the eponymous ‘Pet Sematary’, but a site relatively close behind it. Once the haunted locale gets hold of Louis, all bets are off (a string of disasters follow soon thereafter.) Despite Jud triying to convince Louis that ‘sometimes dead is better’ in the wake of tragedy, Louis in compelled to meddle with things that are not to be meddled with- with predictably horrific results.

In the dark, dank world of “Pet Sematary,” the beautiful, the natural, the wholesome can all be taken away with a domino effect of chaos. Stephen King does a pretty good job of playing on our basest fears, and on the inside the very old hardcover copy I read it said that this book was the one that Stephen King himself had trouble finishing.

I don’t know if this was legit or a marketing ploy- I didn’t think the book was that shocking, but I guess it’s different if you’re a parent of a small child (considering the gruesome death and reanimation of a very lovable child character.) However, I had some problems with the writing.

I hate repetition in prose when there isn’t a good reason for it, and there was lots of unnecessary repeating of words and phrases here- the nonsensical utterance of “Hey ho, let’s go” (I know it’s a line from a song, but what the hell does it have to do with anything in context, anyway?) Every so often Louis would think something ‘randomly’ or ‘stupidly,’ or refrain from bursting into hysterical, horrified laughter at the drop of a hat.

How often does one burst into maniacal laughter, I wonder? I was also driven to  interpret moments in the story in a totally inappropriate way. For instance, I found myself feeling sorry for Church (Ellie’s cat, who returns from buying the farm only to be kicked around by the repulsed Louis) and disturbed by the portrayal of Rachel’s disabled sister Zelda as a deformed, evil freak.

I found this book a little overlong at almost 400 pages, even though it’s one of the shortest books Stephen King wrote (!) To be fair, I was having a lot of mental health problems at the time, including repetitive re-reading, one of the staples of my OCD diagnosis. Now I’m wondering if I’m ever going to read that “Under the Dome” book I bought cover to cover.

Now, for a question for readers- is the “Pet Sematary”  worth watching? Also, what Stephen King books would you recommend to a newbie?

Room by Emma Donoghue

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Resourceful youngster Jack is the dynamic protagonist of “Room,” a compelling offering from Irish writer Emma Donoghue. The initial premise of “Room” is at once heartbreaking and luridly fascinating- 5-year-old Jack and his mother, known merely as “Ma” for the duration of the novel, are prisoners at the hands of “Old Nick,” the psycho pervert who abducted Ma when she was a freshman in college. Jack has never left the small shed where he lives with his mother and is visited nightly by old Nick. who continually violates Ma while Jack hides in the wardrobe.

Despite his potentially traumatic upbringing (he has never come into contact with another person and believes that the outside world he sees on the television is imaginary,) Jack is sustained by his Mom’s love and manages to be innocent to most of the more horrific implications of his life. He has had a troubled childhood, but possesses a soul both intrinsically healthy and capable of giving and receiving love.

The dynamics shift when Ma starts having a reason to believe that her and Jack’s lives are in danger, and in her desperation,  she calls upon Jack to help carry out a daring escape plan. “Room” is narrated by Jack, who believes in the sentience of inanimate objects. Because of this and Jack’s youth, the book is written in fragmented, often confusing phrases. If you can handle the broken English, however, “Room” is a arresting and heart-pounding piece of fiction.

Emma Donoghue has a way of making potentially horrifying subject matter beautiful rather than sleazy. “Room” reminds me of “The Lovely Bones” in that way, treating the subject with lyricism and compassion rather than ickiness and shock value. I found Jack’s voice to be mostly plausible, with very few exceptions. There were only a couple of moments where I felt he was too precocious for a young child of his situation and the prose tipped me off that it was merely an adult telling the story.

Ma’s the truly remarkable character in this novel though. Building a life for her son under horrendous circumstances could not have been an easy feat, and Ma loves the child of her abductor with an intensity and devotion that is inspirational, to say the lest (although I never expect to find myself in that kind of situation.) Only in the scene where Ma is being interviewed on the talk show does the book get a bit preachy.

Mostly, though, it is Jack’s strong and idiosyncratic voice that propels “Room” beyond general ‘ripped-from-the-headlines’ fodder. Grappling with issues of motherhood and media sensationalism,  “Room” is a profound and heart-grabbing read.

The Quarry by Iain Banks

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“The Quarry” is a novel focusing on the slow-paced exploits of an appealing narrator, eighteen-year-old Kit, and seven exasperatingly mean-spirited nincompoop side characters, whose rants and abrasive political views take up a copious amount of the book. Kit, a high-functioning Autistic with an avid video game fandom, lives with his abusive, foul-mouthed (and dying) father Guy in a ramshackle house on the edge of a quarry. The house is scheduled for demolition as soon as Guy kicks it and the government vacates Kit, who is wondering seriously about the probability of supporting himself after his father’s death.

Guy has cancer and isn’t expected to make it much longer. To accompany Guy in his final days- or drive him to an early grave, the more likely outcome (with friends like these, who needs enemies?) a group of Guy’s university friends come over to the water-damaged wreck of a house. I won’t go into great detail describing them for you; suffice to say they are horrible people, intellectual wannabes/ vacuous losers who aren’t really there for Guy at all.

No, what these self-righteous pricks want has nothing to do with altruism- they have their sights set on a missing videotape that allegedly contains shocking footage that nobody wants found. I was initially sucked in by the mystery of the tape, but the resolution of this plot thread was disappointing to say the least. I hate to say bad things about this novel- writer Iain Banks was dying when he wrote it and it was obviously a very personal project to him. Indeed, “The Quarry” has some very good qualities- just not enough.

You’ve got Kit’s story for starters. If you focused on Kit and cut out all the extraneous bullshit (i.e. the side character’s political crap,) you’d have one hell of book. Kit has a unique way of seeing the world due to his condition, and for every moment he was self-absorbed and painfully immature, there was another where he was charming and likable. And that’s as it should be- people with disabilities aren’t saints, and pretending they are is nothing less than careful, calculated nonsense. I’ll never look at traffic jams the same way again after hearing Kit’s wonderfully quirky take on their spiritual dimension.

Sadly, about 25% percent of “The Quarry” is simply unnecessary- long, pointless tirades haranguing the bureaucratic bullshit of just about everything. None of the characters besides Kit are remotely likable, and even the only one who serves as a friend to Kit, film critic Holly, ends up betraying him in the end. Kit wants to believe in Holly, and convinces himself she cares about him and has his best interests at heart. That’s not the point. We don’t believe in Holly. If anything, we believe she should get her free-loading ass out of Kit’s house.

The creepiness of Kit’s indecent  interest in mom-figure Hol didn’t even bother me. I just found parts of the book terribly dry and didactic. The character’s scathing monologues are more exhausting and annoying than affecting- does anyone actually talk like that? And do we really want to have anything to do with these terrible, and more to the point, completely uninteresting people?

Iain Banks’ first novel, “The Wasp Factory,” was great, and there really are moments that shine in “The Quarry.” I like Kit’s way of dissecting the fine points of the  everyday niceties that don’t come naturally to him, although sometimes he seemed more socially intuitive than most neurotypical  people. I just see a lot of filler that would be better off in the writer’s paper wastebasket. It’s a shame that he didn’t write a better book with his last time on earth.

Handling the Undead by John Ajvide Lindqvist

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Zombies are a source of fictional terror when you’re shooting them down “Walking Dead”-style. But what about caring for an undead family member- a spouse, a sibling, a child- when you suspect that there’s spiritually nothing left of them anymore? What would you risk- with the government swooping in to confiscate your dead and take them to a containment unit- if you had the tiniest iota of reason to believe that what they were when they lived was somewhere within them, waiting to be coaxed out?

This is the chilling premise of “Let the Right One In” author John Ajvide Lindqvist’s intriguing take on the zombie genre, “Handling the Undead.” Husband, father, and stand-up comic David’s worst fears are realized when his wife, Eve, is killed in a car accident. But things start to get seriously weird when Eve gets up- after being pronounced dead- and astounds the institute’s doctors.

Similar cases occur all over Sweden, where the dead wake in morgues or in their graves, suddenly alive, and initially harmless, but changed- shells of their former selves. Most of the book is focused on how the citizens deal with their feelings of grief and horror at this shocking occurrence.

Morbidly obese sadsack and newspaper reporter Gustav Mahler rushes to unbury his deceased grandson, Elias, while telepathic widow Elvy (Christian grandmother of a similarly gifted, emo teen, Flora) is reluctant to accept her newly-zombified husband into her life. As it is revealed that the living can read each other’s thoughts while in the company of the undead, causing further discord, the government frets about what to do about the socially marginalized hoards.

I actually liked this book better than Lindqvist’s previous novel, “Let the Right One In,” but not nearly as much as the Swedish film adaptation. I found this book easier to read because there were not as many extraneous characters and subplots as the former (although, to be fair, “Handling the Undead” also had a rather abrupt ending.) The characters in “Handling the Undead” range from pretty well-developed (Flora and Elvy are the highlights of the book) to hardly developed at all (Mahler’s daughter, Anna, who mostly comes of as a passive-aggressive bitch) but for the most part the cast is pretty interestingly written.

The horror of the initial premise, pays off here, with lots of gooey descriptions of zombie guts and decomposition. However, there is also a definite element of tragedy at play as well, as families struggle to cope with their loved ones’ changed natures. There seems to be an undercurrent of political commentary too. The dead (charitably called the ‘reliving’) are shuffled of to a sterile environment and are not exempt from experiments carried out by eager medical personnel.

Like the very sick and disabled, the undead are a problem society simply does not want to deal with. The solution- make the problem go away. This serves as a potent (though decidedly non-PC) allegory. However, I did not like the direct connections drawn between the undead and people with Autism.

Apparently “Handling the Undead” is going to become a TV series, which I am somewhat excited for. I suspect some of the gruesome details (such as the child, Elias’ horrific appearance,) will be gussied up or omitted completely for the sake of so-called ‘good taste’ (on the other hand, the film “Let the Right One In” did fine without the zombie-Hakan attempted rape scene or the icky details of Hakan’s pedophilic escapades from the book.) Also, can we expect a forgettable U.S remake?

To be truthful, I like funny-zombies better than serious-slash-scary-zombies. That said, I enjoy serious zombie stories (such as “The Walking Dead” or “The Returned”) if it has that special something (intriguing characters, genuine scares, or a vitally new take on the familiar story of a worldwide epidemic.) As it so happens, “Handling the Undead” has a little of that something. And I never (I mean never) read horror fiction, but count Lindquist on my radar.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Lord of the Flies

Author William Golding’s classic ‘attempt to trace the defects of human society back to the defects of human nature,’ is as beautifully written as it is barbaric and grim. Even if you are one of the thousands of students for which this was mandatory reading, it might be behoove you to revisit it at an older and wiser age. This harrowing quick read (and seemingly, the author’s only widely remembered novel) is the story of a group of schoolboys who crash on an uninhabited island, and quickly go psycho without the guidance of parents and teachers to keep their homicidal impulses in check.

“Lord of the Flies” is less about character development and plot that the (riveting) descriptive writing and an attempt to see the bigger picture psychologically and sociologically. Ralph represents the benevolent leader who wants to keep the feuding boys in check, Jack, his opposite, the yin to his yang. Fat, ever well-intentioned Piggy is the scientist, and Simon serves as the instinctive, spiritual force of the group.

Several characters ironically state on several occasion that the children are a group of ‘proper English boys.’ This seems to be a satiric jab at the silly assumption that one race is more capable of order and reason than any other. “Aah,” Mr. Golding seems to say, “Wouldn’t the white colonist like to think so.” His is a tale of intrinsic evil, carried out by children, no less, the members of our society considered the most innocent and impervious to blame.

Despite Ralph’s alignment on the side of (relative) good (as a posed to pig-killing, Satan worshiping chaos,) I did not really like him all that much. I did not like the way he treated Piggy, teasing him, nettling him, betraying his confidence and ensuring he would be called an awful nickname for the rest of the book. Like many, I felt most protective of and absorbed by Piggy, who just really wants everyone to get along because ‘what’s right is right,’ and after all, they’re a group of proper English boys, not savages (…Heh.)

The only thing I did not like about the novel (*SPOILER ALERT*) was the way the Naval Officer at the end reacts so obtusely to the anarchy and bloodshed. “Fun and games, eh?” he inquires despite the fact that the whole island is on fire and Ralph is covered is blood and bruises and has even been stabbed by a spear. That was just stupid. I know that it was meant to convey that the miniature whack jobs were really just little boys, as far as an outsider looking in was concerned, but I really did not like how the only adult in the book was a complete dim bulb. (*END OF SPOILER*)

This meditation on human evil and societal decay is a cynical literature reader’s dream, but you don’t have to have a bleak outlook on life to appreciate what’s being done here (although it probably helps.) Mr. William Golding might not be the finest of human beings (Rapey incidents aside,) but he was a Hell of a writer. My wish is that in reading this review you will revisit this classic or discover it for the first time.

lordofthefliesSam Weber

God’s Own Country by Ross Raisin (AKA Out Backward)

God's Own Country

The unreliable narrator. How much of what he says is true? What does he hold back? Is there ever a time you should take his word on a given event, or is the wisest thing to do turn around and accept the opposite as given truth? As these kind of characters go, nineteen-year-old misanthropic oddball Sam Marsdyke is a whopper of of an unreliable narrator. Even as his soul turns dark and sour, you want- desperately need- to believe this troubled boy’s story.

Sam swears he didn’t try to rape schoolgirl Katie Carmichael in detention as a teen, but his parents- nay, the whole Yorkshire community, believe different. The incident has made Sam quite the outcast, and, maybe because of it, he has developed a revulsion for his peers and people in general. Sam is the farmer son of a cowed mother and an abusive, gruff father, and he develops a rapport with the animals on the farm- Sal, his sheepdog puppy, and even the livestock.

His conversations with animals and even inanimate objects are offbeat and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. The Yorkshire dialect is difficult to wrap your head around, but it’s not really a very tough read- you can usually riddle out what a word means from the context. When Sam meets Jo, a newcomer to ‘God’s Own Country’ and also an off-limits fifteen-year-old girl, it’s obsession at first sight. Jo and Sam strike up a casual friendship, not so casual for Sam, who is completely enamored with her, but the fun doesn’t last long as Sam becomes increasingly obsessed and volatile.

This book has two main plot threads going for it- the modernization of rural farmlands all over (but specifically in England,) which exasperates Sam and his working man father, and Sam’s descent into madness, culminating in the arrival of Jo and her family. The narrative really reminded me of ‘The Butcher Boy’ by Patrick McCabe, in that you’re sucked into the world of a flippant, charismatic madman. The first-person narration really crackles and the psychology behind the character’s madness is pretty legit too.

The only real issue I have with “God’s Own Country” (re-titled “Out Backward” for its US publication) was it was so grim it left me feeling sucked dry by the end. Sam’s sardonic voice alleviates the misery for a while, but as he goes down the rabbit-hole mental health wise you’re left shaking your head in horror. One Librarything user discussed a ‘lack of redemption,’ and she’s absolutely right.

Sam never really learns anything from his experience, though he does manage learn to adapt to his increasingly horrid circumstances by the book’s end. Which may be realistic, but it’s a lot to swallow. “God’s Own Country” was in also unnerving in that it made me sympathize with an increasingly depraved personality. A very bad person, or a person who does very bad things? You can decide for yourself if an when you decide to read this troubling and brilliant book.

Reclaiming the Sand by A. Meredith Walters

Reclaiming the Sand cover

Wow. I have quite the love-hate relationship with this book, much like the novel’s protagonist, Ellie, has with her frienemy-turned-romantic-interest Flynn Hendrick. On one hand, it was a mostly well-written story and a well-done depiction of a young adult on the Autism Spectrum, which was good. It depicts the Asperger’s character as multi-faceted and a sexual being, and the characters were pleasingly three-dimensional. But on the other hand, it was so damned depressing. I kept having to put it down and not wanting to return to it, because it just barely involved me enough to move past the uber-heavy subject matter.

Flynn, who has Asperger’s, is tormented by a gang of kids as a teenager, flanked reluctantly by the girl he falls hard for, Ellie McCallum. In the privacy of Flynn’s home, Ellie is his ‘friend.’ At school, with the clique watching, she is anything but. Flynn, an innocent, naive boy with a literal mind and a blunt tongue, can’t understand why Ellie hurts and betrays him again and again. Years later, Ellie runs into Flynn again when he returns to his hometown of Wellston, West Virginia. She’s still the same small-minded pathetic person, and he’s the same shy, awkward young man.

The book is narrated in alternating chapters by Flynn and Ellie. Flynn’s POV sections are set in the past, when he is brutalized by Ellie’s friends while Ellie watches and doesn’t lift a finger to help. Ellie’s chapters are set present-day, as she and Flynn reconnect and Ellie experiences an emotional awakening. The flashbacks are devastating, but the present-day chapters have an unnerving vibe because of how cruel Ellie was to Flynn, so watching them get cozy is discomforting to say the least. The only thing I can compare it to is a romance where the rapist hooks up with victim. What Ellie did to Flynn was emotional rape, and Flynn’s easy forgiveness of his tormenter is heartbreaking.

Yet, despite everything, I DO feel for Ellie. She’s a broken girl who grows up to be a troubled woman, hanging out with the same trash that accompanied her through the high school halls. These include Dania, expectant mother and drunk/addict extraordinaire, and Stu, a cruel and often downright sociopathic creep who callously uses women for sex. Ellie narration explains her actions somewhat, and she grows hugely as a character throughout the duration of the novel.

The writing is mostly good, though I found some of the lovey-dovey and sex scenes to contain more cheese than necessary. Ellie’s emotional dependance on Flynn to feel like half a person was disturbing, and I found it hard to believe that a relationship between a considerably Autistic and neurotic man and a self-loathing woman with her own baggage could work. I empathized with their love, but between Ellie’s meanness and Flynn’s tantrums, I couldn’t fully ‘ship’ this couple.

Although I found the subject matter painful, I am glad I read this book. The author obviously did her research on Autism, and there were many aspects of the novel I appreciated. On a side note, the editing needed a lot of work. There was a lot of incorrect homonym usage (“There” and “Their,” anyone?) and the book often read like a rough draft in terms of spelling and grammar. Although I had moments when I wasn’t enjoying this book too much, I am excited for the sequel, ‘Chasing the Tide,’ and want to continue Ellie and Flynn’s story when the novel comes out. I just sincerely hope A. Meredith Walters hires a new editor. A book I would recommend, but with some hesitation, as I think the subject matter could have been done slightly better.

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork

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“Marcelo in the Real World” is a novel that, like it’s sweet but often bewilderingly naive protagonist, took time to grow on me. It gets points for offering a unique perspective on Autism Spectrum Disorders and a fair and balanced portrayal of Christianity. Marcelo Sandoval, a quiet and innocent Mexican-American 18-year-old, seems to have an Asperger’s Syndrome like condition which, on top of typical AS symptoms, causes him to hear ‘mental music’ that no one else can. Doctors can’t figure out why this happens. and Marcelo is an enigma to friends and family.

All Marcelo wants to do is stay at Patterson, his school for kids with special needs, and take care of the Hafflinger ponies that reside there. His plan for a sheltered and uneventful summer takes a detour, however, when his father, Arturo insists he work at his law firm over vacation. Marcelo complies only after pressure and is send to Sandoval & Holmes legal firm, where he begins to come face to face with some very unpleasant realities for the first time. These include manipulative and hedonistic Wendell Holmes and his bullying father Stephen, Arturo’s partner in crime. But what rattles him most is a picture of a severely disfigured teen that leads him to bitter realities about his father, the firm, and the ‘real world’ his dad wants so desperately for him to join.

Consistent with most AS patients, Marcelo has a special interest- in this case, religion. He also has an annoying habit of referring to himself in the third person, i.e. ‘Marcelo is scared’ or ‘Marcelo is hungry,’ which got some getting used to. A lot of the book focuses on Marcelo’s relationship with his attractive and sturdy co-worker Jasmine. As his sweet genuineness and her strength brings them closer together, Marcelo wonders if he is capable of passionate, sensual love. The other parts of the book are a mix of coming-of-age, theology, and a little bit of legal thriller.

At first, I had trouble of conceiving of a creature like Marcelo existing. In today’s voyeuristic, media obsessed, sex-crazed world, Marcelo is a soft-spoken, childlike, pure, all-around good guy. Wendell, on the other hand, is not someone who you’d like to be on the receiving end of when he wants his way. I felt protective of Marcelo (why can’t he take care of the ponies over the summer anyway?) but was simultaneously annoyed by him. He really did not have a clue about human err. He grows a lot as a character throughout the book, however. Over the course of that crazy summer, he becomes a man.

I found a little bit of the dialogue distractingly over-the-top, particularly at the beginning. In fact, at many ways Marcelo seems like the least self-centered, blunt, ‘autistic’ person in the firm. Everyone says exactly what they want to say, everyone gripes and gossips. Maybe this is really how the world works, but it seemed wrong to me. Jasmine is a character who I liked a bit better over the course of the novel too. Wendell was the only lead character who stayed the same throughout the book. Frankly, he needed to be slapped.

Marcelo’s voice is well-researched and genuine. He doesn’t seem like an Autistic Spectrum stereotype or a “Rain Man”-type character at all. Author Francisco X. Stork doesn’t make Autism define Marcelo and doesn’t make him a number-droning zombie, incapable of human feeling. Marcelo is only mildly on the spectrum, but honestly, you fear for him a little while reading this book. He’s so easily beguiled and taken advantage of that I myself wouldn’t want him walking the streets of Boston, Massachusetts by himself. It’s not that he’s stupid or defective, but his seemingly boundless naivete makes him such an easy target.

This is young adult fiction but it’s written in a such a way that anyone can enjoy it, and it’s not bogged down with a lot of psychobabble about Asperger’s (“House Rules” by Jodi Picoult comes to mind in the psychobabble department.) “Mindblind” by Jennifer Roy (a book about a brilliant fourteen-year-old Aspergian) would make a good companion read with this. It is a touching coming-of-age story in the same league as books such as “The Perks of Being A Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky.

By The Time You Read This, I’ll Be Dead by Julie Anne Peters

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Although it has some examples of grating and cliched prose (all of which is typical for YA lit,) “By the Time You Read This, I’ll Be Dead” provides a fairly accurate look at the confused and self-despising mind of a suicidal teen. Daelyn Rice is at boiling point- after various attempts to take her own life, she has joined a suicide completion web site and is determined to succeed this time. Her parents are amiable but clueless- her classmates, cruel, and her teachers apathetic. Daelyn’s head brims with contradictions, despair, and hopelessness. She both hates the world and hates herself- but will the eccentric Santana draw her out of her suicidal shell?

Daelyn was an simultaneously tragic and profoundly frustrating. She’s a sick little girl, and considering her history of bullying by both the kids and adults in her life, that’s no surprise. I was so mad at Daelyn’s parents, though of course I felt bad that their daughter detested them and wanted to kill herself. I don’t know about you, but if I was locked in the closet for eight hours by some students and pissed my pants, my dad would be tearing the bullies, the teachers, and the administration a new asshole.

And I understand why parents don’t have the time and resources to homeschool their bullied kids. But don’t these people have any protective instinct towards their offspring? At first I thought Chip and Kim Rice were nice. Now I think they’re idiots. Daelyn herself is a somewhat unreliable narrator, especially in the way she portrays suicide. I would suggest that parents look up this book before they let their teens with depressive issues read this. I know you can’t always control what teens read, nor would they want to (adolescence is a time of burgeoning freedom) but the story is not exactly hopeful, and could be triggering to a certain audience.

However, for teens who are not suicidal-slash-are recovering, this is a compelling read. The Santana/Daelyn aspect was a little unbelievable. Trust me, I’ve been there, I’ve been drawn within myself and bitter and hopeless, and nobody pursues you to the point that Santana pursued Daelyn. After a while, they stop trying to open you up. And when they reveal Santana has cancer? Please. Figures that the one boy who follows her to the ends of the earth is extremely ill.
‘By the Time You Read This…’ isn’t for everyone. Depressing for some audiences, annoyingly one note for others, the book is best suited for people who have been lowered into the abyss of depression, either by traumatic life experiences or their own inner demons. You’re more likely to enjoy the book if you can relate to Daelyn to some extent. Which I did. Her downer attitude was exasperating at times, but that’s what bullying does to a person. Please. Bullying is not, and will never be cool. Don’t fuck with people.

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