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Joyful Girl

Andrea Blythe's blog about writing, reading, and everything else


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Books Read in May
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1. Kafka on the Shore, by Haruki Murakami
2. Zombies vs Unicorns, edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier
3. Darkness at Noon, by Arthur Koestler
4. Aya (graphic novel), by Marguerite Abouet & Clément Oubrerie
5. Peeps, by Scott Westerfeild


Reviews:

1. Kafka on the Shore, by Haruki Murakami
Discussed elsewhere.


2. Zombies vs Unicorns, edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier

What began as a debate between Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier on their blogs has now become a rather fabulous anthology.

Holly Black is thoroughly on the side of unicorns, which she says are noble and beautiful and far better than those icky, shambling zombies (she disapproves of shambling).

Justine Larbalestier thinks unicorns are rainbow farting freaks, while zombies clearly symbolize the human condition and can comment on any aspect of our existence.

So each writer put together their own team of young adult writers and asked them to submit stories that better prove the awesomeness of the zombie or the unicorn in literature. Stories are clearly marks as being a zombie or unicorn story, so the hapless reader can be aware of what they are getting into (though some stories are clearly hybrids of both).

The stories are consistently good throughout, however, I am thoroughly on Team Zombie (my love for zombies being what drew me to the anthology in the first place) and many of my favorite stories are the zombie one. "Love will Tear Us Apart," by Alaya Dawn Johnson, for example, is a delightfully bloody love story, and Carrie Ryan's "Bougainvillea" is a powerful coming of age story in a world ravaged by zombies.

I've never been much drawn to unicorn stories (except maybe for a time when I was in elementary school), but many of the unicorn stories in this book were equally captivating and some outright funny. Take "The Third Virgin," by Kathleen Duey, which is haunting and unsettling and redefines the idea of purity in connection with they unicorn.

Black and Larbalestier continue their Zombies vs Unicorns debate throughout the book, and their arguments are as equally entertaining as any of the stories. All in all, this is a clever idea for an anthology and they pull it off with pizzazz.


3. Darkness at Noon, by Arthur Koestler
Rubashov is a former leader of the revolutionary movement (the novel never says which movement, but makes it clear by comparisons that Russian communism is intended), who is arrested one night and placed in prison for "political divergences." There he ruminates on his life, which has gone hand in hand with the progress of the revolution. When he is not pacing his cell or chain smoking, he is dragged off to a series of interviews with his accusers. Over the course of his stay in prison, he become more firmly in the belief that the revolution has become polluted, that it is no longer "for the people," and that he is right to diverge from the party line.

I was drawn into this story almost instantly. Koestler drops overly flowery language (his character Rubashov is certainly eloquent and straight forward) in favor of clarity. The writing flows along easily, and allowed me to fall into story and relate to the characters and events. As Rubashov remembers his past and how it lead him to exactly this point of crisis, I was as fascinated as he was with his development and his formation of thinking. I was equally captivated by the intellectual volleying between Rubashov and his interrogators, both of whom strive to use logic to make their point-of-view clear and thus proven right.

This is not a happy story, per se, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.


4. Aya (graphic novel), by Marguerite Abouet & Clément Oubrerie
Aya is a sixteen year old girl living in Ivory Coast, Africa, who wants to go to college and become a doctor, something her father disapproves of. Meanwhile, her two best friends are into partying late into the night and hooking up with guys. The story follows events over a few weeks as each girl gets into and out of trouble. It's a very normal teenage story, more comedy than tragedy and one you could just easily see set in San Francisco or New York, without the sensationalism that tends to be in a lot of stories about Africa (which is refreshing). Definitely an enjoyable read.


5. Peeps, by Scott Westerfeild
I'm feeling lazy, so here's the description from the book:
"One year ago, Cal Thompson was a college freshman more interested in meeting girls and partying in New York City than in attending his biology classes. Now, after a fateful encounter with a mysterious woman named Morgan, biology has become, literally, Cal’s life.

Cal was infected by a parasite that has a truly horrifying effect on its host. Cal himself is a carrier, unchanged by the parasite, but he’s infected the girlfriends he’s had since Morgan—and all have turned into the ravening ghouls Cal calls peeps. The rest of us know them as vampires. And it’s Cal’s job to hunt them down before they can create even more of their kind."


This is one of the most inventive takes on vampire stories that I've seen in a long time. I love the way Westerfeld combines biology and mythology to shape the world in which the book is set. Not only does the book present a unique twist on the vampire (zombie, ghoul, werewolf, whatever myth you want to call it by), but the story veers into an unexpected direction.

Cal is well developed, brave out of necessity and smart in some ways, but also lazy and wounded in others. I liked him, and I liked all the characters.

The one caveat that I should warn you about ... in every other chapter Cal presents readers with the low down on a new parasite, which tends to be both funny, fascinating, and revolting. Reading these chapters may cause OCD compulsions to washing your hands and fear of raw meat. I'm cringing just thinking about all those lovely parasites (but also smiling, because I am disturbingly amused by this sort of thing).

Despite my newly developed paranoia (~_^), I would definitely recommend this book and I'm looking forward to diving into the sequel.
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