Smackdown Books 2017

Arlene's smackdown17 book montage

The Memory of Things
Hour of the Bees
The Gospel Truth
Ultraman, Vol. 1
Ghost
The Bunker Diary
Echo
Trouble Is a Friend of Mine
Footer Davis Probably Is Crazy
The Hired Girl
An Ember in the Ashes
The Porcupine of Truth
Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir
Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans
Goodbye Stranger
Beautiful Blue World
The Blackthorn Key
One
Updraft
All American Boys
»

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

And...after much gnashing of teeth, I can post again!!!!...


Daybreak vs. My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece:

Two Books That Will Eradicate Any Sense of Christmas Joy That You Have Managed to Muster Up


Well, this is sort of a tricky one right off the bat, as both books are...well…kind of m’eh.


Daybreak by Brian Ralph

My love of all things zombie is unfettered.  Movies, books, graphic novels—if there are zombies in it, I’ve read it or seen it.  From a remarkably young age, I have had a “Zombie Plan” for every room that I have ever had to spend any amount of time in (my bedroom, apartment buildings, classrooms, etc.).  Any student I’ve ever taught could attest to this (mainly because I have to answer questions, at some point in the year, like “why is there a hammer and a stepladder in the back of the room, Mr. Smilanich?”). 


There are, to be sure, some interesting variations on zombie tropes that have entered the zeitgeist, due primarily to the popularity of The Walking Dead (such as Ralph’s take on the eternal slow-moving zombies vs. fast-moving zombies debate:  in Daybreak, zombies are slow-moving during the day but become fast at night).  The graphic novel is violent and gruesome at times (ameliorated by the cartoonish drawings and the fact that it is black and white), and nihilistic and depressing throughout (with healthy doses of dark humour).


But the most disconcerting element of this text is the fact that it is written in second person point of view; that’s right, YOU are in the graphic novel.  Curiously, though, it had the opposite of the (presumed) desired effect for me; rather than involving me in the story, it had this strange, distancing effect.  I was never really that emotionally invested; perhaps this is due to “the reader,” thick in the events of the novel, never having any control of his or her actions.  “I” make some thunderously poor choices.  Ultimately, the choice of point of view actually creates this sense of almost existential passivity rather than generating any sense of putting the reader in a position of agency.


I can see me putting this in the hands of some students, but it really is, disappointingly, m’eh.




My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher


Well, you can tell from the title that this is going to be a real laugh riot.


Here’s what is great about the book; there is a real sense of time and place generated, mainly through Pitcher’s at times remarkable capacity to capture the voice of a ten year old boy, the ten-year old mind filled with the buoyancy of hope and innocent optimism.  Jamie is a great, complex, cleverly-written character, and deals with the issues of the novel realistically as a ten-year-old would, with some laugh-out-loud moments of guilelessness. 


But, oh, those issues.  None of them unrealistic or “over-the-top,” I suppose, as grief often begets grief, as a traumatic event systematically dissembles a family.  Jamie’s elder sister was killed in a London terrorist attack, leading to his father’s deeply-felt racist views against Muslims.  And his alcoholism.  Jamie’s mother, unable to cope, leaves the family, and her absence hangs over the novel, a metaphor for absent compassionate parenting.  And there’s bullying.  And more death.


The grief, throughout the novel, is palpable.  And honest.  And entirely realistic.  And periodically moving.


Which leads to some of the problems of the novel.  There are a few late stage moments where ridiculously “happy” events occur and, amidst all the genuine grief, they come across as more than a little clich├ęd—dare I say, schmaltzy.  To the point where this reader, who bursts into tears on a regular basis while reading, was rolling his eyes rather than dabbing them (this is not to say there weren’t other moments where the room wasn’t very dusty).  The very definition of bathos.  And I’m the World’s Biggest Sucker.


Also problematic?  I’m not really sure who the audience is for this book.  It doesn’t really feel like a YA book, so steeped in the time and place of the London bombings. And so steeped in Britishisms; I think a student would require some coaching through this.  And there is a lot of sadness.  A lot.  It feels more like a book for adults with a child protagonist.  And yet I’m not sure there is the “meatiness” expected to make this a great novel for adults either.


But, for the voice and the character and the sensitive handling of some contentious issues, I begrudgingly move My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece onward!

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