Sunday, April 24, 2011

Four Books to Read Before You Die

As many of you know, I'm probably the most negative writer on this blog. For me to praise a book, it has to impress me on many different levels. And since I know that many people have different tastes in books than I do, I've decided to vary my list a bit. Just a warning, all of these have sex in them, one deals with drug addiction, and they all deal with alcoholism. They aren't issue books, but they are very depressing.

1. Into the Great Wide Open: by Kevin Canty

Smart but scarred, Kenny Kolodny yearns to awake from the nightmare of his smashed-up family: his mother is in an institution and forever away; his father is an abusive alcoholic; his brother lives abroad. Seventeen and alone, he hangs on the periphery of his world, until he makes a passionate connection with the troubled, beautiful, fiercely independent Junie Williamson. Kenny discovers in their highly charged, intensely erotic relationship a reality—and a capacity for caring—he has not known before.

In prose startling for its diamond-hard edges and bravura lyricism, Kevin Canty revives the heady carnival of adolescence, evoking its confusing emotional landscape and its heightened sensuality, too soon lost. Into the Great Wide Open is a haunting, mesmerizing novel by a writer of deep sensitivity and undeniable talent

I've wanted to read this book since 2009. But finding a copy isn't easy, unless you want to purchase it. I am cheap. I don't like buying anything. But I finally realized that this wasn't going to purchase itself. I bought a hardcover from Amazon for $4.01. Not a bad deal and it wasn't worth a cent more.

As the blurb says, this is very lyrical(meaning colorful, slow, and overwrought). That ruined the book for me. And the ending was bad. But I liked the relationship between Kenny and Junie. It felt real.  Their dialogue was real. They're both huge emos, but you get over that. This book is a tale of what happens when real 'undying love' doesn't turn out the way you want. I'd love to direct the movie.

If anything, it felt more like an adult book than YA. But Kevin Canty is an adult writer, so take of that as you will. Three stars. It's possibly one of the best modern coming of age stories. It takes the traditional, oh the poor rich suburban kids story, à la Bret Easton Ellis, and actually makes you care for the characters in a way that Less Than Zero never did.

 A truck driver's daughter who grows up in the front seat of her father's truck, Jo shares her father's love of country music, junk food, and the open highway. Jo's life is a perfect slice of Americana, except that their Â"open road" is in England, and her father—the gentle, melancholy Bobby Pickering—is from Northern Ireland. The only truly American thing about Jo is her mother, whom she has never met. 

Jo is twelve when she and Bobby pick up hitchhiker Cosima Stewart, an American country singer whose band is touring England. They become dedicated fans, and Cosima, touched by the unlikely duo, comes to regard Jo with an indulgent, even sisterly, eye. 

But when Jo is sixteen, Bobby sinks into serious despair and Jo seeks refuge in Cosima and the band. When Bobby disappears, Jo's adoration becomes obsessive as she follows her idol all to the way to California. Here, in the sweltering Mohave Desert and alone for the first time, Jo must face the painful truths of her own life, the mother she has never known, and the father she can't force from her mind. With shades of Zadie Smith and Mark Haddon, Albyn Leah Hall's powerful debut is a page-turning study of what frightens us about one another and ourselves; of how we run away and what we can't, ultimately, escape from.
I hate country music and I hate truck driving, so you can imagine my surprise when I read this book and actually liked it. I picked it up in 2008 when I was living in Daytona Beach. It was so good, I decided to buy it two weeks ago. It was also an Amazon purchase. It cost $3.79 for the hardcover, but I would have spent full price.

This is technically a foreign book, although it was an American debut. There is a lot of Irish, Scottish, and English slang. The girl also gets addicted to cocaine, as well as a lot of other things. But it rings true. You understand why she's the way she is. While her story is told from first person, her mother's story is told in alternating chapters from third person.

You're able to empathize with all of the characters. This is what I want Like Mandarin to be like. This is the standard I hold all books about obsession up to. It also deals with family, it has three dimensional gay characters that are, lo and behold, in relationships, and there's no love triangle. If that's not enough to get you to read it, I don't know what it. But as an added bonus, I'll give the first person to review this book, a paperback copy of Jacob Have I Loved and a chance to read my WIP. Yes, that's a loaded offer. Just read it. I'm a bad salesman. Four stars.

How do you come back from the point of no return?

Seth McCoy was the last person to see his best friend, Isaac, alive, and the first to find him dead. It was just another night, just another party, just another time when Isaac drank too much and passed out on the lawn. Only this time, Isaac didn't wake up.

Convinced that his own actions led to his friend's death, Seth is torn between turning his life around . . . or losing himself completely.

Then he meets Rosetta: so beautiful and so different from everything and everyone he's ever known. But Rosetta has secrets of her own, and Seth soon realizes he isn't the only one who needs saving . . .

There's a lot I don't like about this book, but it's all redeemed by Kendall. She's my favorite character of the year. I read this after reading Courtney Summer's review of it. While it didn't exactly fulfill my expectations, it's a good read. It's modern YA, and it shows, but I like it despite that. Rosetta gets on my nerves though. I read this in ebook format and I'll probably purchase it soon. It's worth having a physical copy of.

4. The Perks of Being a Wallflower: by Stephen Chbosky
Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it, Charlie is navigating through the strange worlds of love, drugs, "The Rocky Horror Picture Show", and dealing with the loss of a good friend and his favorite with the loss of a good friend and his favorite aunt.

This was probably my favorite book of 2009. Alright, it came out years before, but I hadn't read it. If you read my Nanowrimo novel from that November, it'll become very obvious. 

Charlie is one of the most interesting weird kids I've ever read about. Shun him all you want, he still loves you. So if you haven't read this, you should plan on doing so very soon. Be warned, it's very angsty teenager.  

Bonus Time

5. The Catcher in the Rye
6. Of Human Bondange
7. Some Girls Are
8. Almost Perfect
9. Becoming Chloe

Read these and you'll have a greater appreciation for YA. These are some of the best 'dark' books I've read within the genre. All have great narrators and all of them are severely depressing. So go read them. Now.


  1. Cory, I'm thinking you should read Split by Swati Avasti; it sounds like it would be right up your alley! Also, I have the book, if you want it.

  2. I've actually got it on hold at my library. I read Tatiana's review, and
    that had me hooked.

  3. Oh.. well, this is depressing. I don't want to insult you or anything but you negativity towards these books, which already deal with darker issues, doesn't make me want to read any of them-- and they're books I'd usually pick up. Sorry :/

  4. I'd like to rephrase that, I realize it's not negativity you have (my bad, apologies) it's just.. the tone-ish. Might I suggest an exclamation mark? :p

  5. Well I agree with Audrey, although I have loved your other pieces on this site. You label this post "Four Books to Read Before You Die" and then the first book you mention, you say it wasn't worth more than $4.01. I would think a list of books to read before you die would have more than the "meh" reaction that most of these books seemed to elicit from you (at least by the tone of your review). You didn't give a glowing review of any of these books, yet they are one of your "Four Books to Read Before You Die"? Unless you are being sarcastic, it seems a bit sad that that's all the enthusiasm you could muster for the books in this category. I would be interested in reading a review of a book you flat-out loved in the future - one that is worthy of the title of this post.

  6. You don't need to type in caps and exclamation points to like a book. Also, you can like a book with knowing it's worth. The "meh" reaction seems to be an acknowledgement that these books, although great, do have flaws.

    Are you really commenting on the tone of the post? The tone? Sure, it's a valid point, but next time maybe you could strike up a complaint with the actual post instead of the adjectives used in it.

    Just sayin'.

  7. I'll be flat-out honest with you: Cory is a tough reviewer, and she's unapologetically so (and we love her for it since we know that the books she does recommend are definitely worth the time and effort to read). She never gives out five-star reviews because five stars can often give the impression that a book is perfect or nearly perfect (when we all know that nothing is ever perfect), and even her four-star reviews highlight the pros and cons of a book, never failing to critique where it's necessary or give praise where she feels it's due. I think her point of giving this post the title 'Four Books to Read Before You Die' is that she wholeheartedly recommends these books in spite of their flaws and probably thinks that other readers would gain a lot from reading them.

    I don't mean to speak for Cory by saying all this (or look as if I'm going all angry lioness on you, Jennifer, for speaking your opinion about Cory's post), but I felt the need to defend her because I know that Cory would never use the words 'to read before you die' unless she really thought that about all the books she mentioned.

    (For the record, the only book I've read on this list is Almost Perfect -- yes, I'm woefully unread at times -- but this post made me realize there are many books I could easily overlook if not for a well-timed mention from someone whose opinion I respect.)

  8. I don't mind you speaking for me Jillian. You took the words right out of my mouth. Plus, I left a warning. I am a negative person.

    @Audrey and Jennifer: As for listing the price. I don't have money to buy books. My parents refuse to buy me anything YA for quite a few reasons, so any books I want, I have to wait for my library to get, or I have to read a shared ebook. For me to buy something is a very big deal for me. Four dollars is A LOT of money to me because it's my money. I listed the price so that people who don't have a lot of money to spend on books could see that it's easy to come across a really good book for cheap. I'm sorry if I came off as sounding negative or unenthusiastic.

    I don't know what you mean by tone though.

  9. I'm not trying to insult you or change the way you do reviews and I'm not offended by any of these counter-responses. I'm simply expressing my surprise that in a list titled "Four Books to Read Before You Die," implying that they are important and worthy books, you include books that have mostly moderate praise in the reviews and even include one book that you rated 3 stars. You really don't have other books that you suggest we read before we die that rated higher than 3 stars?

    What I mean by tone is that there is very little of the positive aspects of the books you reviewed here in the actual reviews. I mean the first book for instance, you say that the characters are well-developed, but the book was "ruined" for you by both the lyrical writing (meaning, I'm assuming the entire book was a slog to get through) and the ending. That seems to me like the book ultimately wasn't worth it, but you recommend it in this category. I'm not trying to pick apart your reviewing style and I think Severus Lawliet deeply misunderstands my point when s/he implies that I mean you must gush about a book you think is great, but I was just surprised at the difference in implication between the title of the post and the actual reviews.

  10. Severus, I don't think you entirely understood my comment. I don't believe that you have to use caps and exclamation points to review a book you liked. I also understanding liking or admiring a book while understanding there are serious flaws to it. For instance, I really like Lolita while recognizing that there is a whole host of thematic and feminist issues in there.

    I was commenting that the post title seems misleading based on the reviews of the books given. I do think that has to do with content rather than simple tone. In my opinion, it is not tone when a book is referred to as "ruined" and yet listed in a post titled "Four Books to Read Before You Die." It is not tone when there is very little indication of what makes these books worthy to make that list and more indication of what makes them not worthy of that list.

  11. Thanks for your comment Jillian and I totally take your comment in the spirit it was meant. I was not familiar with Cory before encountering this blog, so I didn't know much about her review style. It does help, in context, to know that she never gives 5-star reviews. I just didn't get the impression that she wholeheartedly recommended these books based on the actual content of the reviews vs. the post title. I hope you can understand why, not knowing these things, I might have been confused. I kept waffling on adding them to my GoodReads list because of the difference between title vs. content; now they've been added!

  12. I see what you mean Jennifer. What I meant by overwrought prose is kind of funny. In a way, it's an inside joke. See, I have a short attention span and I find it hard to get through books that have a slow narrative. So while I loved the emotional connection between the two characters, and found their relationship to be one the realist relationships in YA, I found the inner 3rd person narration kind of slow.Sorry, for the misunderstanding.

    For me, this was three stars because of the characters. I assumed that others would enjoy it despite the narration, I just wanted to say that I didn't enjoy that part in case others did because I'm a bit biased in that department. You should, however, read it. I had really high expectations, which is why I said ruined, but I can see this easily becoming someone's favorite book.

    I tried to recommend a variety of books with different narration styles because I wanted something for everyone on the list.