30. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Teen Books · Tags:

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton, 320 pages, read by Courtney, on 04/13/2014

When Ava Lavender was born, there were those who thought her to be an angel. Doctors were baffled; there’s simply no explanation for a girl to be born with wings. Ava’s mother, however, is used to strangeness in her life. To keep Ava and her twin brother, Henry, out of the public eye, Viviane, their mother, sequesters them in their house on Pinnacle Lane. As Ava begins to grow into a woman, she begins to stray from the house, seeking the company of other teenagers and possible explanations for her strangeness.
Ava’s story doesn’t really begin with her at all. It begins several generations earlier, in a small French town where Ava’s great-grandfather makes a decision to move his family to New York. This family includes Ava’s grandmother, Emilienne and her three siblings. All of the children are strange in their own way and each, save Emilienne, dies after falling in love with the wrong people. Emilienne decides to bury her heart and marries a baker. They move across the country to Seattle and into the house on Pinnacle Hill. It is here that Ava’s mother, Viviane, is born. It is only a matter of time before love plays its cruel tricks on her as well.
This book is absolutely gorgeous. Magic realism is rare in YA lit and this is magic realism at its finest (for any age group). To even attempt to create a synopsis of the story is to leave out so much of the myriad elements that make this book so wonderful. The language is evocative. The characters are memorable. The story is haunting. Love and its aftermath are central themes in Ava Lavender’s story, but there’s so much more to it than that. This is a novel that demands to be reread. As painful as it is at times, I will still unhesitatingly welcome the strange and beautiful world that Ava inhabits.
(nb: if this doesn’t wind up on either the Printz and/or Morris Award/Honor lists, I will cry. Or just lose my faith in ALA awards committees altogether.)

04. December 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Courtney, Teen Books · Tags:

The 39 Deaths of Adam Strand by Gregory Galloway, 314 pages, read by Courtney, on 11/16/2013

Adam Strand has killed himself 39 times. Most of them involve bridges or cliffs; Adam hates to leave a traumatizing mess for others. It’s not that he was simply unsuccessful in attempts at killing himself, he literally died each time, only to come back to life shortly after. It’s gotten to the point that the rest of the town treats these incidents with surprising nonchalance. If someone finds Adam, they simply pick him up and take him home; no reason to bother with the hospital. No one, least of all Adam, has any idea why Adam keeps coming back and only Adam knows why he keeps trying.
Adam is about as normal as it gets. He lives in an unnamed Southeastern Iowa town, right across the river from Illinois. There’s not a whole lot to do in town, so most of Adam’s free time is spent hanging out with the kids he’s known his whole life, drinking and hanging out under the bridge. Adam’s home life is decent; his grades are fine. His problem is mostly existential. Adam always seems to be fighting the urge to throw himself off of something. In his mind, it’s preferable to the grind of daily existence.
It’s not a cheerful premise, but it is darkly funny. Adam is sardonic and articulate. The characterizations of his friends and small town feel authentic. In spite of the fact that the main character of this book has committed suicide not once, but dozens of times, it is treated more as magical realism rather than a magical ability. Adam is not immortal; he has no other supernatural abilities; he is not a “chosen one”. He’s just a normal guy who desperately wishes he could end his own life, but for reasons beyond his comprehension, cannot. Don’t go into this one expecting blood and gore. It’s more of a coming-of-age story than anything else, but it’s definitely a story I haven’t heard before. For that, I am grateful. There was a lot of potential for this to be completely over-the-top, but it never crosses that line. It also leaves plenty of unanswered questions that will leave the reader pondering the ontological ramifications of growing up in the modern world.