Thursday, April 12, 2012

If I Stay, by Gayle Forman

Summary (from

In the blink of an eye everything changes. Seventeen ­year-old Mia has no memory of the accident; she can only recall what happened afterwards, watching her own damaged body being taken from the wreck. Little by little she struggles to put together the pieces- to figure out what she has lost, what she has left, and the very difficult choice she must make. Heartwrenchingly beautiful, Mia's story will stay with you for a long, long time.

Interesting Characters?: Yes
Doing Interesting Things?: Interesting, only sort of. But definitely unique and thought-provoking!
Told in an Intelligent Way?: Yes

If I Stay is a beautiful book, there's no doubt about that. Gayle Forman writes in a poetic, haunting voice that kept me mesmerized-I read this book in one extended sitting. It's a short book, only 200 pages, but they pack a mean punch.

The book is told through a series of flashbacks, interspersed with the present-day circumstances of her accident. You don't know much about Mia towards the beginning of the book (which is true of any non-serialized novel, I mean obviously Kat!), but you learn all about her as you experience her memories, which are all triggered by current events. The memories are joyful, sweet, honest, painful... just as any person's memories would be. But the way they make up Mia is remarkable.

Mia isn't what I'd call an exciting character, but she's real. I can see her coming down the street, in my classes in high school, even a few qualities in her that I recognize in myself. She's confused about what to do, in both past and present. As you re-experience her memories and see what she's got going on now, you sit there and contemplate... what would I do? It's not cut and dry. The rest of the characters are much like Mia - not super exciting, but relatable. Memorable. I know these people and I get why they act as they do.

I don't know how to express my thoughts on the book. I don't think there's much to "spoil," per se - there aren't twists and turns like so many of the popular books out there today. But the beauty of the book is how you, the reader, go through Mia's journey with her. You learn her background and you experience her struggles. The language is also beautiful. Haunting is really the best word I can use, especially towards the end. It's not the kind of poetry that makes me, impatient-reader Katherine, annoyed. It's sparse and to the point, but clearly well-crafted.

And it's sad. I think it's fair to say that much, no spoiler-alert necessary. Sad, bittersweet, and achingly lovely.

So we've got characters that are multifaceted yet simple. We've got the juxtaposition of the current and the past. And we've got a terrific writer who writes with an achingly lovely voice. Ultimately, I say the final verdict is a Success!

If I Stay on 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Variant, by Robinson Wells

Four-Sentence Summary (from the book's back cover):
At Maxfield Academy, the choices are:
Society, Havoc, Variant. Benson must join one in order to survive. But he is determined to escape.. And he can trust only himself.

I picked up Variant from the library on a whim, after reading a crazy-good review of the book from That Hapa Chick. All I knew about this book was that there was a twist, and that it was supposed to be an awesome one. But other than that, I was going in blind. And I hope YOU go into this book blind when you read it, because this one is a doozy! You don't want spoilers for this one - you want to be taken along for the ride.

And what a ride it is. Stylistically, this is definitely along the lines of all the dystopian novels coming out these days. Unlike many of those books, this one takes place in a modern-day society. It's got all the features that a great dystopian has: action, adventure, and a bright young narrator. But it's also refreshingly different from all the Hunger Games and Divergents and Matcheds out there, for a couple of reasons.

Reason 1: The Narrator
It's a boy. GASP! SHOCK! A boy narrator? The last boy-narrated YA book I read was probably The Giver, which I read over the summer. I don't try to discriminate against the dudes, but it just seems like there's a lot of female narrators these days. Anyway, don't let the boy stop you. (I mean, if that's what kept you from reading this book, then that's just silly.) Benson Fisher, other than having an awesome name (I want to call him Benson Burner! Because I'm kind of a dork), is determined and entertaining. Being a boy, we get a little less of the girly-drama that oftentimes happens in other books. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy love triangles and girl talk, but sometimes it's nice to get away from the drama and keep to the action. Benson doesn't obsess about subtle glances or subtle touches. All the details that a female narrator might spend pages and pages thinking about are mentioned briefly, but not dwelled upon. Does that make sense? Basically, these things might happen (or they might not), but it's not the focus of the story. The story is the focus of the story.

Full disclosure: I'm thoroughly aware that not all dystopians dwell on the drama - it's part of the reason I like them, the drama is just a part of the story! But I think I've been reading some pretty dramatic books recently, because to have a drama-light book felt incredibly refreshing. OK. Enough on this topic. Kat, get off the soapbox and move on with this review!

Actually, now that I think about it, the last book I read with a male narrator was Ready Player One. And holy smokes that was an excellent read as well. Maybe I just need to be reading novels with male narrators!

Ok. Actually moving on now.

Reason 2: The Action
This book is seriously non-stop action. I never got bored while reading this. There were a couple of quieter moments, sure, but they didn't drag. It was exciting! Every scene was important, and I never felt like it was wasting my time. The pacing was excellent.

Reason 3: Twists and Turns
I feel like every five chapters there were some excellent twists and turns. I had to cover up pages while I read because I didn't want to glance at the next page and spoil myself 30 seconds early. And unlike many other books, where the twists can be a touch predictable, I never anticipated any of them. I was just as confused as Benson was. Usually I hate being confused, but this was totally fun confusion!

Was it a success?
Oh yes. Characters were great, the plot was gripping, and I loved Benson's voice. Highly recommended!