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August 2015

Shatter Me (2011)

Written by: Tahereh Mafi

Juliette Ferrars is a slightly unhinged and emotionally unstable seventeen-year-old girl who was isolated and thrown in a facility for “problematic people”. She inexplicably has the ability to painfully drain the life away from the people she touches. Juliette has the internal conflict of longing to be touched and interacted with, yet she wants people to avoid her person for their own safety. She’s kept isolated with only a notebook and a pen about to run out of ink for company until Adam (A handsome hombre who’s not affected by Juliette’s ‘power.’) comes into the equation.  Adam keeps up the façade of being ignorant to their situation to gain Juliette’s trust. In actuality, they both have a history together before Juliette was thrown in the institution. It goes alright for a while when guards suddenly barge in their room one day, and realisations are made. Warner plans to use Juliette’s power for his own benefit. Juliette is defiant to this, and once again, feels lonely, but her heart warms when it’s revealed that Adam has formulated a plan to escape from the institution. They eventually escape (I won’t elaborate.), and Juliette meets Adam’s endearing little brother, James. Adam and Juliette are already in an established relationship by this time of the novel. The story progresses quickly at the point where they see Kenji, Adam’s soldier acquaintance, bloodied and bruised on the doorstep. They are infiltrated by Warner’s forces, and Juliette is distraught at seeing her lover, bloody by a gunshot. She has an encounter with Warner who attempts to seduce and coerce her to his side. She then shoots him, and finds her lover who she finds hanging by the arms in preparation for torture. She blacks out and finds herself with the resistance group which comprise of individuals who like her have unusual capabilities. Juliette finds Adam well, and is drawn into joining the resistance as they offer her the opportunity of belonging.

I was disappointed as this novel actually had the potential of being an engaging read. The dystopian setting is amazing. (A movement is trying to wholly reestablish the world by erasing all traces of history, culture, and literature thus making the people a generic conglomeration.) Unfortunately, the writer chose to write this novel in the perspective of an unstable adolescent who doesn’t even have realistic depth. Quite frankly, only the villain, Warner was the dimensional character. Warner is ruthless, intelligent, and expedient, yet he is also so human. He twistedly desires Juliette as not only a weapon for his use, but as a companion in his conquest.  Meanwhile, Juliette’s character to put it bluntly, is flat. A neglected girl who’s been ostracized, and bullied while not being taught moral or encouraged becomes a withdrawn and unrealistically kind. She’s written humane, but not realistically so. Adam’s character seems to be obsessive, clinging to the enigma of the nice girl who didn’t show up to school one day. His planning and concern for his younger brother are the redeeming qualities that put a splash of colour to his personality.

The writer seemed to draw out the introductory chapters to wholly establish the setting and perspective. Unfortunately, this just made it tedious to read. The writer then progresses to make the novel fast-paced until it draws to its conclusion.  At the very least, the author brings attention to the conjecture that prosaic people either are disgusted or inexplicably drawn (for their benefit) of the extraordinary qualities of other people.

Before I Fall (2010)

Written by: Lauren Oliver

This piece of contemporary young adult fiction starts off as a pathetically stereotypical white girl story. Samantha Kingston practically has a charmed life. She’s very popular, has a gorgeous boyfriend, and her circle of friends are the prettiest and most popular girls in school. By all means, the twelfth of February or Cupid Day should be yet another inimitable and normal day in her life. Yet, not all things go as planned, and Samantha is killed in a tragic car accident on her way home from a party. It doesn’t end here; however, the protagonist relives her last day seven times. Samantha discovers how her actions and decisions affect the course of the day until she finds out some hidden truths, and chooses the “right” thing to do thus ending the time loop where she ambiguously fades.

Admittedly, this novel isn’t exactly my cup of tea to peruse, and honestly, I didn’t truly enjoy it especially because of the introductory chapter where it just drones on about the minutiae and romanticised  musings of a popular girl. The added supernatural and spiritual element that was added after her death managed to perk my interest a bit in an otherwise ostentatious white girl book. Samantha does things that she normally wouldn’t even dare do in a normal situation, but the daunting idea of the inevitability of her death makes her rebellious and apathetic for a while.

Afterwards, she gains a sense of purpose because there must be a reason a dead person is having her last day replayed, after all. When Samantha finally realises this, she unveils some lacklustre secrets about her best friend and her relation with Juliet, the lonely, unpopular girl.

I have to say kudos because for a romantic young adult novel, Samantha has the most wonderful character development. I’ve observed that heroines of YA books these days hardly go through character development if at all.

Disregarding the tedium of reading the reflections of a typical popular stereotyped girl (Some of her thoughts made me wince and put down the book more than once.), there is a poignant tone to this novel. It shows us how our action and decisions affect the course of the day, and like Samantha brutally shows us the consequences of what we have done and not done in a day of our limited lives.

The Fault in Our Stars (2012) (Novel)

Written by: John Green

First and foremost, I would like to express that I am not an avid fan of John Green, and if you expect this review to be some sort of ode to him, then you are in for an ugly awakening.

Hazel Grace Lancaster is an intelligent 16-year-old girl who has spent all her life lurking in the shadow of terminal cancer. She is persuaded to attend cancer support group, where she meets Augustus Waters. Their similarities allow their relationship to blossom quickly as they search for answers to Hazel’s favorite novel, An Imperial Affliction, which ends ambiguously. Augustus then drops a bomb; his cancer has returned. At his funeral, she gives a different eulogy from what she originally wrote for him. This is because she realized that funerals are not for the dead, but for the living. In the end, she learns that Augustus had written her a eulogy that he had sent to Peter Van Houten. She reads the eulogy, which states that he hopes that she’s happy with the choices she made. Hazel says that, yes, she is happy.

In most contemporary novels, the problem is an oversimplified plot. Here, though, the problem is an ostentatious plot. For a typical romance-tragedy, it strives to be more than it is. Now, I have no issues with anything that aims to surpass itself, but the exhibitionism in this novel’s style manifests itself on a whole new level. Forced intellect imprints itself on every piteous page. As conformation to The Fault in Our Stars review stereotypes, I did in fact feel a whirlwind of emotions during the read. Mostly bad emotions. Some times I wanted to retch; other times I was a pinky finger-breadth’s close to crying out of disappointment in humanity.

Again, the characters are so desperate to shine that they become lackluster. I don’t even wish to elaborate on this. Overview: Hazel – boring, Augustus – tries too hard to be cool and poetic, Isaac – kinda okay but not focused on enough to make any real impact, Hazel’s mom – would remind one of a mushy version of Regina George’s mom from Mean Girls.

For all it’s worth, this book receives way more credit than it deserves. Not only does it romanticize cancer and have girls all over the world clamoring for a boy diagnosed with a fatal disease in hopes that they will conceive a romance worthy of publication, it also glamorizes the act of going out with strangers you just met. One last tip: If you meet a cute guy anywhere and he asks you to come over, it’s probably not because he wants to watch a movie with you. Sad as it is, this is the truth. Deception is a norm now — thrown in the objectification of women, too.

If I Stay (2009) (Novel)

Written by: Gayle Forman

Mia Hall, an ordinary girl with quite an extraordinary knack of playing the cello, has always thought that the hardest decision she would ever make was to choose between her boyfriend, Adam, and the school of her dreams, Juilliard. This changes when one snowy morning, her family decides to visit a close friend’s house, and ends up in a violent car-to-car collision, her parents dead and her brother half-so. She finds herself wandering the hospital outside her body. Mia finds out that Teddy, her little brother is also dead, and then begins to wonder if there was anything left worth living for.

Alright, I’m going to cut to the chase. This is a really bad book. There’s just no existing euphemism for it. From the all-too-conventional plot to the completely bland chain of paragraphs, I have never read anything so deplorable. I was required to read this for a certain competition involving discussing the elements of a set of appointed novels, and I regret to say that it took me half a week to finish this one book. Whenever I attempt to trudge on through the paltry pages, I always end up sleeping or scowling so hard my face gains ten years of age per minute.

The protagonist, Mia the Cellist, as opposed to true artists, is quite a pitiably predictable character, which does not help in developing an in-depth connection between the main persona and the reader. The author may have focused too much on Mia’s musical abilities that she forgot to refine her protagonist’s identity. This caused Mia to turn out one-dimensional and therefore not feel-able.

The supporting characters are equally unimpressive. Adam, so pretentiously cloaked in all his rock glory, does not make the striking effect that characters of his type usually make at all. What is the word for it? Ah, yes. Lame.

I admire the thoroughly-researched history of music, though. I think that was the only thing that kept me going through the little story.

But amidst all the boiling loathing I felt whilst reading, there were some very valuable lessons that came to materialize in the calmer side of my mind:

First. never ever assume that anybody leads an ordinary life. We are taught that everyone is special, and that everyone encounters their very own extraordinary experience at least once in a lifetime. Yet this is not what we are shown. Every time we feel something new, they say, that’s normal. This response is probably on the Top Ten List of Things I Hate to Hear from People. Nothing is normal. Nothing is what it seems. Everything is unique and beautiful and ever-changing, and that’s why we should learn to value every moment of our lives. Second, there is always something worth living for. If not for others, then for ourselves. Yes, no man is an island, but no man is born entwined with another. And third, love is powerful. Love is always there. If you can find it in yourself, then you’ll know that you have power.

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