Smackdown Books 2018

Wolf Hollow
Salt to the Sea
The Serpent King
Optimists Die First
The Hate U Give
Orphan Island
Dan vs. Nature
The Female of the Species
Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere
Paper Girls, Vol. 1
The Passion of Dolssa
The Distance Between Us
When We Collided
Louis parmi les spectres
Girl in the Blue Coat
Defy the Stars

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Thing About Jellyfish vs. The Art of Secrets

I moderately enjoyed both of the books. For the most part they were able to peak my interest and keep me engaged until the conflict was resolved. I found both novels to be inaccessible for Div I and II, but for different reasons. How are readers supposed to see themselves in either of these texts? They are forced to be either; depressed, a passive-aggressive follower, a jerky/womanizing-jock, a conniving/scheming do-gooder, a foreign exchange student with little English, a student from an “immigrant family”, or someone wracked with guilt and depression (and who possibly sits on the spectrum - not that there is an issue. If you’re going to write a character who is on the spectrum, at least make them someone who will make someone in their shoes proud. But, I guess, if this character is to be on the spectrum - this could be a perspective completely foreign to me. And then who am I to judge how authentic the character is…?? Sorry, I tend to ramble once I get started…  Other than the odd boy and the science teacher in TTAJF, there aren’t any really likeable characters in either book.
The Thing About Jellyfish
Compared to The Art of Secrets, I think The Thing About Jellyfish is better written and flows better. I think it is slightly more accessible (language and skill wise) than The Art of Secrets. The Thing About Jellyfish seems to be targeted towards a more mature audience; an audience that has some experience being the isolated or “weird” student. (In my humble opinion - with limited experience with tragedy in my teen years) I found her fixation on the jellyfish to be a rather strange coping mechanism for a teenager. I don’t think I would recommend this novel for anyone below grade seven (or the very advanced and mature grade five or six student). I do not think this book would resonate with male readers in Div II or III.
The Art of Secrets
Overall, I think I enjoyed The Art of Secrets a little more this go-round. I enjoyed the mystery element over the confessional style of The Thing About Jellyfish. My only real complaint is that for a novel about a family who has immigrated to the United States, it is rather difficult to follow along. I was hoping for a first hand account from the “new” student. I was hoping this novel might provide a voice for an “immigrant” student. The perspectives/ interviews are very disjointed and at times confusing… I think a student with limited English would have difficulty staying engaged long enough to finish the whole story.
Theme/ story wise I would recommend the novel to a strong Div II reader. Skill/language wise, I would recommend this novel to a Div III student. I think the content of the novel would resonate equally with male or female readers - as it portrays both genders in a positive and negative light. I also don’t particularly appreciate how the art teacher is homosexual… it is too expected and stereotypical.  I appreciate how the sexuality of this particular character is not a big deal or abnormal... But to be honest, I’m not sure why it was included at all. It seemed a little contrived for the art teacher to be homosexual… and to only be introduced to serve as someone’s alibi and nothing more. At least have a character’s sexuality have an impact on the story if you’re going to include any mention of it. 

The Thing About Jellyfish
The interesting… readable, and in places even moderately engaging.  The irritating... so much female adolescent grade 7 drama.  First the interesting.  TTAJF is organized around the seven steps of the scientific process ...that was interesting.  The facts about jellyfish had me researching … that was interesting.  Even Zu’s wild hair (analogous to the tentacles of JF?) is interesting.  Her fascination with JF resulting in a nickname of Medusa was interesting and even amusing.  These qualities made the pages turn.  The irritating?...   in a word, forced and tedious drama (ok, four words).   Loss of a friend, divorced parents, gay siblings, childhood pacts, best friends, worst enemies, conciliatory and begrudging acknowledgements, sitting alone in the cafeteria, spitting, frozen urine frizbees in lockers (yes, you read right), …. puhleeeeese.   Then the coup de grace (can you believe that more could happen to our woebegone herione?)… “Zu”  steals her father’s credit card and purchases a plane ticket to Australia, to speak to an expert who does not return phone calls.  Thankfully some adult was conscious enough to recognize and thwart the mastermind scheme. Let me end on the positive.  Isn’t the science teacher, a delight!!

The Art of Secrets has a different voice or writing style than I am used to.  I kept hoping that the unique writing style of memos, newspaper clippings, interviews and soliloquies, all written in the second person, would eventually captivate me.  It did not work, at least not for me.  I did not really get the feel of development, depth of personality, subtle character traits, or interesting challenge.  Rather, it felt very static and one dimensional.  Not sure if that makes sense.  It might be better to just say it felt “flat”.  I did enjoy the “who dun it” aspect of the plot, and my predictions were proven wrong in the end.  That was fun.  I was also intrigued by the reference to a little known artist, Henry Darger, and a little Google research verified the troubling nature of his “outsider art”.  Much of this art is quite disturbing and I wonder how appropriate it is for young readers.  Finally, the book plays with the reader’s perceptions of characters, and at times challenges stereotypes.  As I read my own meandering review, I realize that the book has me perplexed and a little off balance.  For that reason, it gets my vote as the better of the two.  I hope the next round has me more enthusiastic. 

I was interested enough in both books to want to finish them.  They both had enough “mystery” for me to want to find out in The Thing About Jellyfish what the terrible thing was that she had done to Franny before she died. The way the girls grew apart in their friendship was believable as that is the age that some girls start to want to “grow up and be more mature” and are more interested in boys, physical appearance, and some aren’t interested at all.    As an adult  teacher reading this book, I can infer that there was possibly some traits of aApergers in the main character, but that there was also the question of puberty and changing and growing away from childhood friends.  I don't know if this would be apparent to a younger reader or if the character would just seem weird.  But.  it was a nice ending that she found some new friendships with kids she had things in common with.

In the Art of Secrets, I was intrigued enough to want to find out who set the fire, and was unable to predict that ending at all, so the red herrings that were thrown out had me guessing to the end….the brother, the principal...everyone had motives for stealing the artwork too!   There were more engaging elements of mystery apparent in the Art of Secrets.  I also like the different narrators telling the story from their perspectives.  As an adult, I enjoy reading Jodi Picoult novels for that is always good to hear another perspective.  Yes, the characters were formulaic - dumb jock, immigrant Muslim, blonde hair blue eyed “all american” family, crazy principal, gay teacher, but it was easier to understand their motives with the stereotypes. 
Overall, we didn't love either of the books, but are voting for The Art of Secrets to go through.



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