Sunday, July 6, 2014

Re-read: Before I Die

There comes a time in a book blogger's life when re-reading a book becomes the highest compliment you can ever give. (According to Kat from Cuddlebuggery.) And after my cover comparison post, I went and picked up Before I Die again..

I am so, so glad I did. 

In fact, I kinda hope that TFIOS garners even more accolades, so that people may rediscover this book (and hopefully the movie that goes along) and love it as much as I do.

(It's similar to TFIOS in the same way chips is similar to a potato dauphinoise - it has the same main ingredient, but the prep and delivery are widely different. Also, one is more pretentious than the other. Still...) 

The story is your typical "bucket list" tale - 16-year-old Tess' doctors have declared her terminal after years of her battling cancer. Her father is trying his best to be optimistic and find alternative solutions, but Tess knows better - she knows she's going to die, so why get the most out of life and do 10 things she's never done before? Stuff goes wrong, then it goes right, lessons are learnt, Tess falls in love, and gets her estranged parents together (sort of) and so on, and so forth.

I went on GR hoping to find my old review, so that I could leave a link here and talk to you about what I got from the re-read...

BUUUUT all I found was a note saying I cried my eyes out. Which just goes to show I really was NOT ready to talk about this book three years ago.

Because whether we like it or not, our perspective on a book will change as we grow older and gain more experience. In this case, my own experiences with dealing with sickness and depression have changed me a lot... and have made me appreciate this book a lot more for what it is.

See, Tess is depressed. Not just in a vague way, I mean seriously, gravely, the-world-sucks-and-I-suck-and-there-is-nothing-good-about-life-so-why-bother way. She alternates between bouts of energy and listlessness, she cares deeply for her family and friends, but shuts down often, she thinks of herself as worthless and miserable and often lets her sadness take the best of her...

And I love it because it rings true for me, and the text handles things beautifully. When Tess latches onto her bucket list as a means to extract some meaning from life, her friends and family indulge her to an extent, but each and every last one of them has a moment where they go: "No, stop, this is not right, and I won't help you in this." And they do it because they realize that, in the words of Dianna Wayne Jones, "A tantrum is rarely about the thing it is about." 

Tess is throwing a tantrum, for very good reasons, but the book showcases what is, in my opinion, a healthy attitude towards them. Yes, she's allowed to be sad and miserable, and yes, her loved ones let her have some things she wants, but all is within reasonable boundaries and they do set their boundaries clearly.

Following on the theme of the other characters, one I'd like to talk about particularly is Tess' father (I know in YA we tend to focus on the love interest, but Adam is perfect, so there!) Mr. Scott is his daughter's main caretaker, after his wife left the family, and he's, in some ways, very much the overbearing parent. However, rather than make him a caricature (Fangirl, I'm looking at you right now!) he's portrayed as, again, in my opinion, a parent who's been caring for a sick child for years. 

One of the most difficult things for parents, and adults in general, is admitting that we are wrong, or that we don't have all the answers. And Mr. Scott, faced with the reality of Tess' illness, is equal parts in denial and in depression. His interactions with his daughter are, indeed, the most poignant moments of the book, and lend him a humanity which I'm sad to say I have not encountered in parents in books for a long, long time.

Before I Die is not what you'd call a cheery read, but it's cathartic. And I'm glad I rediscovered it.

Note: Image from BookLikes.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Crow Road and the Subject of Framing

Content warning: discussion of death and religion. Also, references to a corpse blowing up due to poor medical practice.

Iain Banks was one of those authors who, like Siobhan Dowd, I wish I'd discovered earlier, if only to hope I could one day meet them and shake their hand. As it is, I'm left with the legacy of their work to peruse and marvel at.

Long-time readers of this blog will remember Ceilidh's heartfelt tribute to Iain Banks when he died last year. At the time, the only novel of his that I'd read was "The Wasp Factory", which I felt was insufficient for me to say anything about the author in general.

So I picked up "The Crow Road."

It took me months to read.

Mostly because the main character Prentice spends about 80% of the novel being an entitled little shit.

If "The Crow Road" had been released today, would it have been classified as NA? It certainly has some of the qualifiers - a main character in University rebelling against his father and having pantsfeelings for an unattainable girl most notably - and yet, once again, it would have been ahead of its time, since its subject matter and treatment are something of a rarity in this marketing section.

"The Crow Road" is a novel about growing up and about death. In fact, the two themes are so tightly drawn, it is impossible to talk about them separately. It starts with Prentice at his grandmother's funeral, where he alternates between being prissy at his dad and dreaming of the divine Verity, then the grandmother explodes because somebody forgot to take the pacemaker out before she was cremated, and it pretty much goes on like that for the rest of the book. There are some subplots which will appeal to fans of mysteries and family secrets, but for the most part, the novel is about Prentice coming to terms with being an adult.

Fair warning: this book contains quite a debate about religion and death, and ends with a fairly concrete resolution on the part of Prentice as to whether there is life after death or not.


Minor spoilers ahoy.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Cover vs Cover: Before I Die by Jenny Downham

Marketing, y'all. It's a necessary evil.

So let's talk a little bit about covers and re-branding. (Because... you know, other people don't do it enough.) Now, we all know that it is customary, when a book is adapted into a movie, that the book is re-released with a cover to match it to the movie poster, in order to highlight the tie and draw a new audience to the original work. As a marketing tactic, I have nothing against that. In fact, a good movie poster re-design can sometimes be even better than the original cover.

The one for "Before I Die" by Jenny Downham (which is even re-titled "Now Is Good", because apparently the faces of the two movie stars were not enough,) is not one of them. In my opinion.

In fact, it reminds me in many ways of the "Twilight" movie cover which.

But this isn't about resembling "Twilight" (or a Nicolas Sparks novel. Or any or all of the NA books that are out there right now.) This can be as bland and generic as it wants to be, even if I think the light falls a little funny. No, it's just that it doesn't seem to reflect the book at all.

The story of a dying girl and her bucket list isn't new, but "Before I Die" was particularly poignant because of how realistic it was. Tess, as the POV character, gets the most limelight, but the rest of the cast is equally build up, which adds dimension and quality to her journey. She starts off wanting to break the law and do drugs for the sake of it, but it's her interactions with the people around her that make her really think about what she's doing and what it means, and in the end helps her grow as a character. 

And the original cover reflects that. Sure, in terms of framing of the shot and model, it's not that different from a lot of YA out there (in fact, I originally thought that scarf was Tess' hair) but it makes it crystal clear who the protagonist is and, in a way, reflects the place she sets out to reach - one of contentment.

The new cover (and by extension, the new title) makes me think of a romance novel, which would have been fine, except the romance was never the main focus. It was a subplot, and a fairly good subplot at that, but a subplot nonetheless. The focus of the book has always been about Tess' journey, and I'm not sure how I feel about a repackaging that misrepresents everything the book is about. Was there really no other shot from the movie they could have used? Even the actual posters reflected that better!

Of course, one might assume that the reason for the change was to appeal to fans of TFIOS, especially with the new movie coming out soon. (Well, the rebranding took place in  2013, as far as I can tell, but the movie has been announced for a while now, so it's not an unreasonable speculation.) Which... I don't know. On the one hand, I'm all for drawing in a new audience. But did a multi award-winning novel really need rebranding and repackaging? I can't help but feel that more and more marketers are trying to go down the "romantic tearjerker" route with their offerings, which frustrates me because... well, is that really the point of it? Come on! Be real here.

I don't know. Which one of these two covers do you prefer? Or the third one, perhaps?

Note: Images via BookLikes and Goodreads.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Sever: A weird finish

"Wither" caught me by surprise. "Fever" added to that surprise. I liked both books with some caveats, but overall I enjoyed them more than I didn't.

I don't know what to think about "Sever".

On the one hand, it has all the things that enjoyed about the first two books - nice prose (yes, I am one of those people,) an abundance of female characters, very light on the romance and heavy on other relationships, a psychological view on dystopia and the effect of a deadly genetic flaw on young people which dooms them to a short life and a violent early death. We even get some worldbuilding kinks ironed out, which made me really happy. 

On the other... oh, dear.

Let's just say that maybe the ending was a bit too much.

Short review: it's an okay ending, but not overwhelming. 

Long review contains spoilers.