November 11th, 2014

Rose-coloured reviews the Giller Prize Show 2014

8:41pm: Sitting around being excited for the show to start, allegedly doing some of my own work. This is my worst Giller year to date, in that I have read none of the shortlisted books. I asked Mark earlier if he remembered who is on the shortlist, and he got exasperated with me and asked why I wanted to watch if I don’t know who is nominated. Married 2 years and still he doesn’t understand me. Then he listed the nominees. I have decided to root for Heather O’Neill’s *The Girl Who Was Saturday Night* because that is the book I’m closest to having read–I’ve ordered it from the library and is currently listed as “in transit.”

I’m excited to see Rick Mercer, whom I’ve always liked, and see if I can pick out my agent Samantha Haywood and other friends and acquaintances in the crowd. I am excited to finally find out what Heather O’Neill looks like and whether she can pull of an evening gown. I’ve excited to see whether this enterprise will even succeed or if I won’t be able to get the streaming to work, or the time will have been mislisted–see my Giller post in 2012. In fact, here’s the whole archive, just in case: Giller Reviews.

8:54: Ok, after finding the website, taking a survey that asked me how I heard about the Gillers and seemed to indicate that I would be taking it after the event had happened, then going to a different website, I have found what appears to be the link to the livestream. I think I will go microwave some frozen fruit to snack on while I wait out the last 5 minutes….

8:59: And we’re back–got fruit, got Mark, no cats allowed because they are jerks. Let’s do this thing!!

Commercial break #1: Oh, I do like Rick Mercer. So charming–and the accent–“ONprecdented.” He pointed out that Carol Off was in the crowd and then joked that when people think of the CBC they should think of Carol Off. We were impressed that he got in a sly Jian Ghomeshi joke when those had been forbidden.

There was a series of flash interviews with Mercer and the authors. Mercer did mug for the camera a good bit, but it was definitely the most relaxed set of Giller interviews in my experience. And the funniest–Miriam Toews will put her prize money towards a pair of Sorels.

Someone named Kim Coates from something called *Sons of Anarchy* (band? Tv show?) present the David Bezmogis bit. The mike was too short for Coates and he was very obviously reading off a telepromter: all his pauses were in the wrong spots. The mini-movie of The Betrayers had the author reading a bit, and describing the book. Then back to poor awkward Coates, who described the book some more. Then Bezmogis was invited on the stage to get a leather-bound copy of his book and say a few thankyous, which was a nice touch. Some years the authors don’t get to talk at all unless they win.

The guy from Murdoch Mysteries introduced Frances Itani’s Tell. He at least could perform as though he wasn’t reading a teleprompter. The pattern from the previous presentation followed for this one (and all). All of the mini movies were filled with shadowy figures and spooky or flickering lighting–I really don’t know why they go to the trouble of making these videos when they all look so generic. Itani said some nice thank yous as well

Commercial break #2: Judges got introduced–no action there. Then we got the guy from Moist–David Usher, Mark remembers–introducing Sean Michaels Us Conductors for some reason. Again, there never appears to be any connection between the presenters and what they’re presenting, though Usher at least seemed pleased to be there. So did Michaels–his thank yous were stammering and delighted. Cute.

Someone from Hot Tub Time Machine introduced Heather O’Neill’s The Girl Who Was Saturday Night–interestingly, this was the first presenter who seemed to convey genuine enthusiasm for the book in question. O’Neill’s video was semi-interesting, but I’m starting to think I actually hate the video segements. I’m pleased to find out O’Neill is very pretty, but wearing some sweater/blouse combo and no evening dress at all. I liked when she thanks her daughter from the stage, and I liked her outfit even if it was not an evening dress.

Commercial break #3: Another Mercer interview bit with a mad-libs type “first paragraph of my novel” set up–again, actually pretty funny. And then–shockingly–an actual author introduced Miriam Toews novel All My Puny Sorrows. Naomi Klein did the honours handily–Mark has read the novel and thought the intro was perfect–but Miriam Toews somewhat awkwardly thanked her for taking time out from her fight “against the man” to be there.

Commercial break #4: Some nice piano playing by a guy whom Mark recognized but I didn’t (are we getting from this post that Mark is more culturally current than I am?) I’ve been noticing throughout that this seems to be a more casual Giller–people look less like they’ve been to a stylist or borrowed a dress from a fancy store; more like they’ve been borrowing dresses and suits from their siblings and parents. Deepa Mehta did a great job, very emotional and enthusiastic, introducing the last book Padma Viswanathan’s The Ever After of Ashwin Rao. But there have been too many commercial breaks and I’m ready for this to be over.

Commercial break #5: Jack Rabinovich says his customer line about how dinner out in Toronto costs as much buying all the short-listed books, so eat at home and read. I’m not sure where he usually dines, but hey, it’s not bad advice. Then some bank guy opened the envelope and the winner is… Us Conductors!!

Mark and I said “whoa!” in unison–that was an unexpected ending! I wasn’t expecting Michaels to be able to do a polished speech since he was so flustered earlier, but it was actually very well-prepared, a bit emotional but also very professional. His wife, who in purple lace was probably wearing my favourite outfit of the night, was weeping.

The thankyous were long and address everything from his writing group to (obliquely) Ghomeshi. At one point, a long shot showed Mercer getting ready to say something on a different stage, but Michaels thanked for so long the livestream ended before that happened. Honestly, I was happy to hear all the thank yous and think the director made the right choice.

Best Giller show ever? Yes, I think so–funny, unobtrusive host, 2/5 genuinely meaningful presenters, all the writers get to talk, all the writers get money (not done until this year), and an articulate and humble winner.

Well done, Giller people! See you next year!

November 10th, 2014

On hobbies

I’m a recovering type-A personality. I doubt many people (of that small group that would even care to think about it) would peg me as such, because I’ve gotten a lot more easy-going over the years. But in truth I’m a standard eldest child: straight As not because my parents wanted them but I did, years of Conservatory music exams though I possessed exactly no talent, very few electives in university because why would I do anything other than the things I did best??

Yes, I’ve calmed down a lot since–the nice thing about being an adult is you get fewer letter grades, so “doing well” becomes by necessity an internal proposition much more than one bestowed from above. Many people use money in lieu of grades when they get older, but I don’t run in those circles. Happiness, I guess, is a good barometer…but so ambiguous!

One of the most important things I’ve found for healing the type-A blues is hobbies. In high-school and university, most people I knew were in a band or on a sports team, active in politics or their religious institutions, making art or performing something or other. As adults, we naturally narrow our scope to a few things we do really well, or at least can do really well sometimes. For most of us, that’s a job of some kind, because in this economy if you aren’t at least pretty good at your job you don’t eat. For me, I also have a second career writing, and though it’s not hardly keeping me fed, it’s very important to me to do it well (though I am procrastinating my current story to write this post).

So there: two things I have trained and worked for many years to excel at, at least a little. I feel terrible about even minor failures in either arena, and beat myself up for weeks (who is currently cringing with shame over a stupid mistake at work?? oh yes–me). Other people’s assessments of my work matter to me tremendously (sad but true) and though I’m not a cry-in-the-bathroom type, I remember every harsh thing said by a colleague or a reviewer for life.

For years, I didn’t have hobbies both because I didn’t think I had time, but also because when I was already struggling so hard at the things that are supposed to be my areas of expertise, I thought why would i want to start doing something I was LESS good at–for fun! Those 15 years I played the piano had their bright spots, but a lot of it was me failing over and over to play the music the way I knew it should sound. Constant disappointment, really.

But as it turned out, I needed an arena I could fail in–somewhere where the stakes were low-to-non-existent, where no one was even bothering to assess my work because it was just a goof-off, for fun. An opportunity to learn new skills instead of endlessly trying to refine old ones. The learning curve goes so much faster at the beginning–have you ever noticed that?

As for time–well, eff time. No one has enough–human activity is like a gas, expanding to fill what time is offered. I have to not work some of the time, and I might as well be using my brain and doing something at least a little cool. And guys, take it from someone who has agonized over a B-, it’s FUN to screw up and have there be not only no consequences but no evidence. No one knows how badly I just played that version of “O Holy Night” (except possibly my husband if he’s paying attention in the next room).

Here is a list of hobbies I’ve taken on in the last 8 or 9 years. With most of them, I’ve quit or stepped way back right around the time my perfectionist instincts kicked in. Once I started noticing how other people in my yoga class could bend so much deeper in Warrior II, the thrill was gone. But I loved learning yoga and I’ll probably go back to it one day–I just didn’t want to get far enough in that it wasn’t fun anymore. Other things of a similar ilk:

Pilates (as the first of the adult hobbies, this one did get a bit overboard for a while)
Yoga
Circuit training
Long-distance running
Crochet
Knitting
Fancy baking
Feldenkris
Cat clicker training
Guitar
Makeup applications (no, really–so fun!)

What these things all have in common–I have friends who enjoy discussing them, relatively low cost of entry both in money and time, vague but not passionate interest from me. And that’s really all it takes to get a fun weeknight or a few months or a few years. What do you do when you need to not need to succeed?

November 3rd, 2014

Still going…

A few more irons in the fire…my story The Framer is now out at Little Fiction, along with lots of other great stories–please read if you happen to have the time/interest.

As well, I’ll be doing a read in a few weeks–I don’t do all that many of those lately, and those I have been doing have had some constraints on what I could read. I’m very excited to read something pretty new, something I’ve never read in public before, from the new project. I’m also pretty chuffed to have finally wormed my way into a poetry reading series–the dream of prose-y folks like myself everywhere. Should be a hoot. I’m also reading with some very talented others, including my one and only husband… See below and I hope you can make it out:

PLASTICINE POETRY SERIES

FEATURING:
Phlip Arima
Yvonne Blomer
Rebecca Rosenblum
Mark Sampson

+ Open Mic

hosted by Nicki Ward

@ Pauper’s Pub (2nd Fl)
539 Bloor St. W.,
www.plasticinepoetry.com
Sunday, November 16, 2014
@ 6:00pm Free

October 20th, 2014

A story and an essay

Believe it or not, I do work on this blog semi-regularly. I come to the site, open a doc, work away on a post. Then at some point I get either get interrupted or bored, but either way, the piece gets saved in draft form instead of being posted, and I go do something else. Then a few days/weeks later, I come back to the site, but I have this even BETTER idea for a post. I start working on that and…repeat cycle.

This isn’t really a tragedy; you aren’t missing out on any particularly golden words, believe me. But some of them aren’t half bad, and with the amount of work I’ve put in on them, I’d really like to get something posted sometime. Plus, I feel I’m really too old to have become a flibberty-gibbet at this point in my life–I’d like to get the blogging back on the rails if only to prove I can!

Here, at least, is a very short post on some upcoming publications for me–since they are coming soon, the post is time-sensitive, which will force me not to ramble…

First up, coming at the end of the month, is my short story “The Framer” to be published on Little Fiction. I just had the pleasure of doing the edits with the insightful Trevor Corkum, which was fun–always nice to get another viewpoint on the work, as well as some suggestions for making it better.

The story is a piece that got cut from my book currently in progress, so I am very happy to have found it a home on Little Fiction. I think it’s a good story, just didn’t belong in the book (another story in that category is Everyone Likes a Little Guy, which appeared in the Rusty Toque a few years back). I’m also in a weird place in that “The Framer” will be the last story that I publish for a while. Because of the terms of my contract, I can’t submit pieces from the book right now. They may eventually get published singly; just for now that’s not on. So unless I cut more, you won’t be seeing anything from the *So Much Love* world for a year or so. And while I do have other pieces in progress, most date to well before I started on SML (I’ve been pretty single-minded on it for 3 years or so) and have significant problems that I don’t have time to fix right now. So yeah, weird–no more submissions for me for a bit. I’m going to miss it!

On the non-fiction front, I have an article called “How to Learn to Read (If You Don’t Already Know)” coming up soonish in Canadian Notes and Queries. Hilariously, I wrote the blog post Why a Creative Writer Is Not a Journalist very shortly before I started working on this semi-memoir-y, essay-ish piece with a bunch of interviews and quotations in it. Call it what you will. It was really ambitious for me to try this sort of thing, but I don’t think it turned out too badly, due in part to my having married an actual journalist who helped me with it. Anyway, I wouldn’t have tried if I were not a) pretty passionate on the subject and b) egged on Mr. Wells. So I thought it was worth a try–please be gentle.

And that’s what I’ve been doing. Actually, so much for not rambling: this “short” blog post is 600 words. Maybe this is what I should aim for from now on!

September 29th, 2014

Mark Sampson’s Sad Peninsula

As you may know, I am married to the novelist (among other things) Mark Sampson. As you may also know, his second novel, Sad Peninsula, is out in the world and the official Toronto launch is tomorrow night. Here’s the official details:

What: Sad Peninsula Launch
When: 6-8pm, Tuesday September 30th
Where: Ben McNally Books, 366 Bay Street (just south of Queen on the west side of Bay)
Why: Because it’s a great book according to not only me but Quill and Quire and many people on Goodreads, plus other reviews I know exist but can’t seem to track down at the moment. Also, we bought a lot of snacks and wine and someone’s got to consume them.

If for some crazy reason you aren’t free tomorrow night or don’t actually live in or near Toronto, fear not–there will be other events. Mark has the full list of upcoming readings on his blog, with more being added as they get booked.

And if you’re not a readings kind of person or tragically the tour isn’t coming to your town, you could always just get the book from your local bookstore, library, or online.

So exciting!!!

September 22nd, 2014

How to support a book

I get this question a lot about my own work–how can we help, how can we support your work? It’s awkward, because there are definite things I’d love for people to do to help me out, but I don’t want to put pressure on anyone if those aren’t really what they wanted to do. And it’s pretty squicky to be giving instructions for how to make my own work more famous.

However, my husband’s brilliant novel Sad Peninsula is launching next week and the topic is on my mind, so I thought I’d share here, in a “if you wanted to know” sort of format. Keep in mind that this is all optional–just a list of suggestions on how you might like to help out. If nothing below is your jam, feel free to ignore the whole thing.

1. Come to readings and events. Even for a pro, it’s scary to step in front of live, potentially judgmental, potentially drunk humans and read aloud something that has lived only in your own brain for years. It is so so so encouraging to see a friendly face beaming up at you, you have no idea. And if you laugh audibly at the jokes, oh my god, I owe you forever.

Everyone knows that literary events can be awkward to attend–out-of-the-way locations, late start times, weeknights. Completely understandable if you can’t make it, but that’s what makes it so awesome if you do. Really, it does.

A word about Facebook invitations and eVites: Though we all receive these through personal accounts, please keep in mind that they are marketing tools of a sort, not personal communications. If you can’t make it and want to write something on the wall, keep it about the event–“Wishing you well, sure it’ll be amazing, sorry I can’t be there.” If you honestly feel the event organizer needs to know why you’re not coming, drop them a personal message and let them know. Why? Because it is so discouraging for a potential attendee to go to an event page to see if maybe she’d like to go, and see a wall full of what others prefer to do that night instead. Seriously, I’ve seen everything from “there’s no parking around there” to “I’m planning on procrastinating all my work until that evening.” It’s really alientating to those who were on the fence about attending. Please don’t do this.

2. Buy the book. Books are usually between $20 and $30, and no one would suggest purchasing is required. If you can swing it, though, know that it’s appreciated. Sales make a difference, especially in physical stores where there’s limited shelf space and books get returned awfully fast if they aren’t selling. Online purchases certainly count towards sales numbers, though, though, and so do ebooks. Please note that if you don’t wish to buy a book, the library is another good way to go–authors receive payments through the Public Lending Right and so we are certainly fans of the libraries.
If you can’t find the book, one way to go the extra mile is to ask your local bookstore or library to order it. They might do it simply because you asked, or they might note it and if they get a critical mass of other requests, then order it. Either way, it helps!

3. Read the book and talk about it with the author. This is completely separate from #2–many people who have proudly shown me their copies of my books on their shelves have never mentioned the contents. And many who couldn’t afford to buy it borrowed it from friends or the library and chatted about it with me enthusiastically. Both are fine ways to go about things, believe me. Authors really value when you bring up their work and have an opinion on it. Most of us would never bring it up ourselves (“What did you think of page 43?”) because it seems showboaty and also risks embarrassing us both if you hated it. If you did hate 100% of the book, feel free to never bring it up, but if you have one nice thing to say, or even a question, bring it. Reviews are getting scarcer and scarcer in this country, and authors really value feedback, a sign their work is getting through to someone, at least a little.
If you don’t want to read it, please don’t mention it. I swear, I’ll never ask–it’s no one’s job to read my books. It’s just that there are no reasons for not reading my book that will not make me sad. (“I hate fiction.” “I actually don’t read anything ever.” “I only like vampire books.”)  I completely respect your decision, it’s just an awkward conversation.

4. Recommend the book and talk about it with friends. The easiest way to do this is some online reviewing–on Goodreads, on the sites of online retailers, your blog. These are wonderful, Google-able ways of offering support and do a lot to improve search results and automated recommendations from online sales sites.  But social media shares, which go to everyone, aren’t as awesome as the personal recommendation. A lot of stuff that pops up on social media I miss or ignore or assume isn’t relevant to me, but if a friend grabs my arm and says, “I was reading this book I think you would love,” I usually listen.

That’s it–all I can think of, anyway. If you have more suggestions for how to support a book, please do share in the comments. And then go read a book you love!

September 16th, 2014

On Literary Envy

I’ve been wanting to write something on literary envy for a while now–by which I mean being envious of others’ literary achievements or accolades (not characters in literature being envious, as I just realized this could be interpreted). And then this morning in Jessica Westhead’s Twitter feed (which, like most things JW does, is interesting and you should check out) I saw on article on that very topic. It’s Nathan Rabin’s Salon piece on being envious of John Green. It is an excruciatingly honest piece on feeling bad about how Rabin and Green were casual friends, then grew apart and Green got crazy successful. Rabin, who was pretty successful in his own right and also apparently not even in touch with Green, felt miserable in the face of Green’s gargantuan achievements. And fair enough–if you’re going to make that comparison you’re probably going to feel bad about yourself.

Myself, I’m hardly immune to literary envy (of the first kind), but it would never occur to me to be upset by someone like Green–I mean, let’s dwell in reality for a second and realize I’m never going to be a cult rock-star author whom young girls weep about the possibility of seeing in the flesh. Really, I’m ok with that–I can’t even see him from here, just read and enjoy the books. If I met him, I think I would just be pleasantly fannish and hope he remembered my name.

It’s the people are a couple rungs up from me that sometimes unsettle me a bit–I can see them from here, so very clearly. And everything a writer does–maybe everything anybody does professionally–is about getting a little better, working a little harder, accomplishing a little more than you’ve done already? So why can’t I get to that next rung?

A good answer, both for Nathan Rabin and for me, comes from Dear Sugar, the pseudonym of the (very successful) writer Cheryl Strayed. Sugar wrote a column on this very subject, and it was really inspiring to me. I’m actually not a very envious person most of the time, and so while I have definitely had days of staring at Facebook and feeling sorry for myself, most of the time I can get past it and feel good about deserving people reaping excellent rewards.

Sugar’s advice is powerful and helpful for those of us with even a touch of the green-eyed monster, though–I promise to slow down on those Facebook spirals after rereading this…

“You know what I do when I feel jealous? I tell myself to not feel jealous. I shut down the why not me? voice and replace it with one that says don’t be silly instead. It really is that easy. You actually do stop being an awful jealous person by stopping being an awful jealous person. When you feel like crap because someone has gotten something you want you force yourself to remember how very much you have been given. You remember that there is plenty for all of us. You remember that someone else’s success has absolutely no bearing on your own. You remember that a wonderful thing has happened to one of your literary peers and maybe, if you keep working and if you get lucky, something wonderful may also someday happen to you.

“And if you can’t muster that, you just stop. You truly do. You do not let yourself think about it. There isn’t a thing to eat down there in the rabbit hole of your bitterness except your own desperate heart. If you let it, your jealousy will devour you.”

It’s just such simple basic advice that will, at the very least, allow the struggling writer to have more friends–and we could all use those.

Another thing that just occurred to me is that I am posting this on Giller day. I’ve actually seen nothing but supportive loveliness online today, but if there’s anyone out there secretly feeling less than lovely, please read Sugar’s column (and maybe don’t read Rabin’s–while honest and heartfelt, it won’t exactly make you feel better).

August 30th, 2014

Wasted food tally, Week of August 23-30

It is with a great deal of shame that I post this, the tally of the worst wasted-food week in Rose-coloured Ranch history. I hereby pledge to do better.

–1 pint raspberries (liquefied in fridge for some reason)
–half of a litre jar of applesauce (grew blue mould)
–most of a 1-pound package of organic spinach (also liquefied in fridge; starting to have doubts about the fridge)
–3/4 full jar of Classico pasta sauce (fell out of the fridge and smashed; also many wasted paper towels, possibly destroyed slippers)
–1 raw chicken breast (fell behind some other stuff in the fridge while defrosting and was not found until paste the “questionable” date)

Things can only get better from here, right?

August 25th, 2014

RR readings this fall

I haven’t donevery many readings lately, but I’m doing a couple this fall if you’re feeling you’d like to see me read. Actually, both of these are the result of me tagging along on stuff far cooller than I…like…

September 24, Biblioasis 10th Birthday Biblioasis, amazing home of amazing literature (and publisher my first two books) is turning 10, and invited 10 authors to help them celebrate at the International Festival of Authors. I’m so honoured to be one, but much more excited to hear the others read–this is a great list. If you’re in Toronto, please join us (and if you’re not, worry not, there are other birthday activities in other cities coming up!)

November 16, Plasticine Poetry Reading series Yes, they’re going to let me read at a poetry series–amazing! But even better, the star of the evening will be my husband who will be reading from his new book, which is terribly exciting!! Sad Peninsula is onsale September 6 and launching September 30, with lots of readings throughout the fall. I am very pleased to be a part of this one.

August 24th, 2014

Rose-coloured reviews *The Fault in Our Stars*

I was originally just going to post a review of The Fault in Our Stars by acclaimed young-adult writer John Green on GoodReads, but then I read some of the other discussions on that page on that page and decided to put it here instead. I might still post to GoodReads if I’m feeling brave later, but those teens get, um, intense about this book. They HATE it or they LOVE it, and if they LOVE it then they HATE the other teens who don’t love it, to the point of flame wars and (apparently) death threats. I’m not sure I can wade into those waters.

Nevertheless, I get it–this is a book that inspires an intense reaction. Even in me, 20 years older than the protagonists and, in Green’s own words in the Q&A at the end, not an audience he cares much about. For the first two-thirds, I was genuinely astounded at how much the book was living up to the insane hype that surrounds it. Not flawless, but riveting, and not in a way that made me feel cheap when I looked up from the book. The last third got a little slow and predictable, rounding up with a frantic chase for a document that, once found, contained no new information (this is the part I thought the teens would attack me for).

But oh my goodness, how delightful is that first chunk. Hazel Grace Lancaster is 16 and has thyroid cancer that has spread to her lungs. She has been sick since she was thirteen, and probably always will be. Her cancer is terminal, but she is on a kind of miracle drug that is staving off the inevitable for…well, no one is sure how long. Hazel is on oxygen, has thought she was about to die more than once, and has never been to high-school. This gives Green license to do something he loves to do–create a teenage voice that doesn’t sound much like most teens. In his novels (those that I’ve read), he likes to take his protagonists out of normal life (child stardom, elite boarding school) in order to escape the constraints of voice and experience that would otherwise govern a teen character. I have seen a lot of not-hardly-realism in his other books, though I did find them charming, but Hazel Grace is his greatest success so far. She has that giant vocabulary that pretentious teens since time began have indulged in (including me), is an obsessive reader and an equally obsessive tv watcher, and has some additional quirks that I recognized from the home-schooled kids I used to know–an “everything is mine to question” confidence that is thrilling or tedious, depending on the listener (many of the GoodReads haters especially disliked such riffs, like why have hurdle races when one could run so much faster without them, and what qualities of scrambled eggs make then a breakfast food? I, for one, was pretty charmed.) And she has the black humour, patience, fortitude, misery, and fatalism of the dying.

Anyhoo…she goes to a cancer support group and she meets a guy who is recovering from a type of cancer that cost him half a leg. He is dreamy and funny and wry and kind–YOU KNOW, of course, because everyone has seen the movie based on this book or at least the coming attractions. A romance ensues, a lovely doomed romance (star-crossed), blah blah blah.

But it’s really good. I say that as someone who has read a bunch of YA novels in the past two years, and knows that YA books always feature instant connections, talks long into the night, etc.–things that are always mentioned, never enacted. These kids ACTUALLY talk about stuff–the dialogue is part of the book, not summarized as “an amazing conversation.” And every YA novelist knows that kids are always playing video games, reading books, watching tv, and looking at Facebook. And texting. But I have never seen these things actually realistically depicted–it’s always again, some bizarre summary that indicates very strongly that the author rounded up a bunch of kids and asked them what Facebook and Playstation are. Green has the first ever video-game scene that was both believable and fun to read–no small task. His characters make realistic use of Facebook and text when it is appropriate to do so–at other times, they call and email and even write letters. The shows they watch make sense for their age. In short, he gets the cultural context way right.

So the romance is believable because the conversations are believeable–they exchange favourite books and then talk about then, the boy invites the girl over to watch him play video games with his friend, they watch DVDs in his parents’ living room. Oh, and they comfort their friend whose cancer has made him blind. Just enough familiarity, just enough alien, to be compelling.

I don’t want to get into an analysis of the romance and subsequent sadness too much–you’ve heard it. Suffice to say, if you want to read a very sad love story about teenagers, this one is exceptionally well done. And if you don’t, well, I would understand. It’s the little things that got me–the above mentioned cultural stuff, and the fact that the mom is pretty much the most devastating character in the book. When Green mentioned, as quoted above, that I doesn’t really care about adults, I chuckled that that’s why he doesn’t bother to write them very well. But this mom–she doesn’t actually get a name, as I recall–has a rare emotional affect for an adult in a YA novel, a nuanced pain that read as real. For the first time I believed in adult Green had written. The dad, the boy’s parents, other adults they encounter along the way are so many stick figures, but Hazel’s mom made me cry. Really. And I’m not a crier at books, at all.

I’ve been trying to keep this short so I could have space to allude to the format–I got FiOR as an audiobook (this version) and it was brilliant. Probably the reason I was affected to the point of tears is Kate Rudd‘s pitch-perfect narration. Because it’s a first person narrative and Rudd sounds credibly like a teenage girl, the book comes across as an audio diary, which makes it all the more intimate and devastating. Rudd does teariness, out-of-breathness (Hazel spends the entire book on oxygen), and several accents perfectly. And the best parts of her performance is when she is being Hazel being her boyfriend, doing a teen-girl’s lower voice to imitate a boy. So funny and accurate!

Yes, the ending does get predictable, but even then there was a few surprises. There’s also a devastating scene involving Anne Frank (no, really) that is ruined at the last moment by a bit of over-the-top-ness, and assorted other little gaffs and foolishness. But overall this is an extremely strong novel, a 9/10 in its class–and to me there are no perfect books, so that’s really saying something. But I don’t know if the teens would believe me.

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