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, January 11, 2017

Wolf by Wolf Over Bone Gap

wolfbywolf.jpgBone Gap.jpg

Longtime readers of my long-winded blog posts will recall that I’m often a little (and maybe overly) critical of those YA books that have just too much going on and there is a bit of that feeling for me with Bone Gap, despite the fact that for big stretches it was a pretty entertaining ride. I’m right there with you on the burgeoning Finn and Petey romance; I like the eclectic small town touches; I’m moderately interested in somewhat sullen, almost too good to be true, Sean; and Roza - beautiful and mysterious Roza - yeah, I guess I was kind of into her story(ies) too, but there comes a point where it all seemed a bit forced to me and that was exacerbated when these mythic elements and what E. Lockhart calls “magic realism at its most magical” begin to dominate the show and when the big connect the dots moment turns out to be (wait for it) prosopagnosia (only look that up if you don’t plan to read this book, as it will be a major spoiler) I found it all a bit much.. Ok, you know how you felt reading that last sentence? That was kind of how I felt reading Bone Gap, at times: a little confused, waiting for things to gel and then kind of intermittently disappointed. It has some really interesting moments, but I don’t think the whole is as intriguing as its individual parts. I could live with that, though. It’s an ambitious book with lots going on and I’d take that any day over an author that doesn’t take any chances and doesn’t try to say anything. I do, however, have a big issue with this book and for me it is a deal breaker. I can see that the book is intended to be a critique of the over arching damage caused by the ubiquitous male gaze. Here’s Roza’s initial impression of Sean: “He didn’t stare at her face or her breasts or her legs the way other men had. He was looking directly into her eyes, seeming to see straight into her, as if he knew something about her already and was not that surprised.” So, I get it: Roza’s life has been an allegory of objectification and that sucks. For me, though, the book ultimately seemed to betray its own ideals in the way it lingers on the physical. An obsessive focus on Roza’s beauty; a slightly less, but still pronounced, focus on how attractive Finn is and most disturbingly, an unrelenting focus on Petey’s “ugliness”, really made me feel yucky throughout the book. Is this simply an author painting in broad strokes for a younger audience? Maybe, but I don’t think she should discount the profound impact of the authorial gaze within the universe of a novel. Just because everyone sees that true beauty is within at the end of the novel doesn’t undo the hours we’ve spent reading where even the good guys are just as fixated on physical beauty as the over-the-top bad guy. My concern is that the book may actually be entrenching a beauty-obsessed mindset, rather than challenging it. For me, this was  a big enough flaw that it unraveled the structure of the novel. I’m genuinely eager to hear some dissenting voices on this, as it seems from those shiny faux medallions on the cover that this is a well-respected novel. Maybe I’m missing something.

What I’m pretty sure I’m not missing, however, is the fact that Wolf by Wolf is a kick- ass novel that is not getting beat out by Bone Gap at this early stage of the Smackdown. You could give me a whole series of magic realistic weirdness, but you are not taking down a book that features a cross country motorcycle race with an end game of killing a still living Adolf Hitler. Really, I could probably just stop there, but, shockingly, I won’t. When I was a kid and mildly (or some might say, completely) obsessed with Marvel Comics, one of my favorite series was called What If? and each issue was effectively a reimagining of some seminal moment in the Marvel universe. The very premise of this book (What if the Nazi’s won world war two?) kindled the same kind of wonder in me as that series and really surprisingly, the book surpassed my expectations. On one level it is a Hunger Games/Battle Royale adventure with interesting and dangerous teen characters and I’m certain the Hollywood powers that be are already making plans for a string of blockbusters. It’s also, however, a surprisingly meditative exploration of identity. Yael’s backstory is as horrifying and moving as that of any holocaust survivor’s, but her ability to transform her features - itself a result of Nazi medical experiments - adds a surprisingly nuanced layer to the narrative, as Yael’s work for the greater good has her losing her sense of self and struggling with some pretty profound internal issues. Perhaps some of the most intriguing scenes have Yael dealing with the emotional and, often, physical repercussions of navigating relationships while trapped in a body that is essentially not your own. Despite the sci-fi nature of the premise, I found that the dialogue and the internal struggles rang true and were deeply engaging. I’m intrigued enough that I’ve already got the sequel (Blood for Blood) ordered and my ten year old is sacrificing her precious post-Christmas sleep hours to finish this book. There is a lot going on, but I think Graudin has crafted a compelling and cohesive narrative with a good balance of intrigue, action and introspection. Wolf By Wolf moves on to the next round.  

1 comment:

  1. As always I enjoyed your blog! You brought up issues in Bone Gap that I didn't even think of. My issue with the book was taking me from what I thought was a Criminal Minds-esque thirller into this demented fantasy world that totally wrecked the book for me.
    I know there is a lot of love for Bone Gap but it's not coming from me!