Review: Annihilation

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Review for “Annihilation” by Jeff VanderMeer (2014)

Rating: None (DNF)

I DNF’d this at about 50% percent.

I have to admit that this novel did spark my curiosity at first. The setting has a definite creep factor and it fits squarely in the sci-fi genre, two things that I like. As far as the story itself, “Annihilation” is about four women explorers–a biologist, a psychologist, a surveyor, and an anthropologist–commissioned by a presumed government agency known as the “Southern Reach.” The team is the 12th expedition to the area, all other efforts to explore the region have failed and ended in the deaths of the explorers. The names for the women are never given, they are only there to work together, explore Area X, and report back to the agency with their findings. The story, however, is told by the biologist, who writes her findings in a journal.

Immediately upon entering Area X you know that things are not what they appear to be. The land is uninhabited, though there is evidence that humans lived there. Upon entering, the team discovers a tower (or is it a tunnel?) that is not on the map, with strange plant-like spores and cryptic writing inside. The mystery of the tower (tunnel?) is obviously the crux of the book (there are pages and pages of descriptions about it, veering dangerously into Big Dumb Object territory) but it all got so boring that it just wasn’t enough to sustain my interest in continuing.

For the first 10%, I was willing to suspend my disbelief long enough to give this a chance but by the middle, it no longer seemed worth it. The characters have no real personality and are so frustratingly neutral that I was disengaged from about the 10% mark onward. For my time invested, I felt like all of the weirdness went nowhere. Hence, I stopped reading.

I probably will see the movie for this one, which is due in theaters in a few days. Though I am in the the “I Didn’t Get It” crowd, I’m still, in some ways, curious about the Area X mystery. I probably won’t read the rest of this series though to find out. I do want to know what it is, I’m not that damn curious. Not by a long-shot.

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Review: Green

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Review for "Green" by Sam Graham-Felsen (2018)

Rating: none

No rating. I DNF’d this. I just couldn’t take the main character anymore. And it’s totally not the character’s fault, he’s a 12 year old boy. The tragedy of this one is 100% on the author.

David Greenfeld is a white, middle class kid living in Boston in 1992. His Jewish, hippie parents are gentrifiers, living comfortably on the borders of a mostly Black housing project. They decide that Dave should go to the local middle school instead of a private school to be exposed to all of life’s “perspectives.” Dave explains all of this in the first few pages of the book, and I admit that his POV interested me immediately.

As far as Dave himself goes, he is socially inept, attempting to survive in a school environment where he is an outsider. His younger brother does not talk (there’s a strong suggestion that he’s on the autism spectrum) and his parents refuse to buy him the latest clothes. He succeeds in getting his Mom to buy him a trendy Charlotte Hornets tracksuit, only to get robbed near his neighborhood. He’s teased about the robbery at school. He eventually takes up with a black student named Marlon, and they bond over their nerdiness and love of the Boston Celtics. Both want to get into prep school. Dave learns, however, that race and class are far more powerful forces in his friend and his own life than he imagined.

So let’s get to why I DNF’d this. THE LANGUAGE. Dave speaks with a over the top, 90’s hip hop slang that’s reminiscent of corny minstrel movies such as “Malibu’s Most Wanted.” Clothes are “gear,” items are “rocked,” shit is “wack,” girls are “shorties,” and so on. It’s all over the book, even Dave’s thoughts are presented this way. It has no authenticity whatsoever. I was in the 8th grade in ’92 and I don’t remember the slang we used being as pervasive as this book makes it out to be, to the point to where it was in every. single. line. of our speech. I can certainly understand what the author was TRYING to do by showing us that Dave is trying too hard by performing what he thinks is a display of “blackness,” if you will, but it’s just too much. At first I skimmed, then I stopped reading after 200 pages. Plus it wasn’t like there was anything happening anyway (plotwise, that is) to compel me to read any further.

Also, even though this book is about a 12-year-old boy, it is not a YA book. You’ve been forewarned.

This could have been one of the most important books of 2018 had it not been for technicalities, namely, its language execution. Read at your own risk.

Review: Theft By Finding: Diaries 1977-2002

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Review for "Theft by Finding: Diaries, 1977-2002" by David Sedaris (2017)

Rating: none

DNF around page 200 or so, hence no rating.

I like David Sedaris. I’ve read numerous books he’s written over the years (When You Are Engulfed in Flames, Me Talk Pretty One Day, Naked) but this one I just didn’t care for. Perhaps I am just the wrong audience for the kind of minutiae that makes up his journals. I simply don’t find details about insects from 1982 or diatribes on an unpaid phone bill the least bit entertaining. I’ll still read Sedaris, but I realize now that I’m one of the rare people on this earth who is not at all interested in how his mind works.

Review: Sing, Unburied, Sing

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Review for "Sing, Unburied, Sing" by Jesmyn Ward (2017)

Rating: none

DNF, right around 54%.

I simply couldn’t get into this book. Not that it wasn’t good, or that Jesmyn Ward isn’t a sensational writer (she is), but I just don’t think that this book is quite for me at this time. I go through phases with my reading, sometimes I can endure what I’m not into and sometimes I find it so unbearable I can’t finish. This one of those times.

Despite what the reviews say, I found this to be a very depressing novel from the outset. Preteen Jojo and his sister are from an impoverished family near the Mississippi border, living with (and pardon my French) the most fucked-up parents imaginable. Michael, his father, is a former convict, and Leonie, his mother, is a drug addict who gets high on the regular and talks to her dead brother. Despite his parents’ waywardness, Jojo is a good kid who manages to take on a parental role to his sister Kayla. He is wise beyond his years in a way that a child should not have to be, which made my anger toward his parents all the more apparent. Pop, Jojo’s grandfather, is also a kind man, who seemed to add a bit of tenderness to the story.

There is a lot of magical realism in this novel (ghosts that are very much real, etc.) and even though I’ve read plenty of stories with it, I found this element to be kind of confusing. As the story went on, I felt farther and farther away from it, which is pretty much why I stopped reading it.

I see myself coming back to this book, probably in the near future. For now though, I won’t rate it, other than to say that it wasn’t quite for me.

[Thanks to NetGalley and Scribner for a free digital copy of this book.]

Review: Today Will Be Different

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Review for "Today Will Be Different" by Maria Semple (2016)
Rating: No Rating (DNF)

DNF on page 87.

“Today will be different,” declares Eleanor Flood. She wakes up and decides to be polite: spend time with her son, have sex with her husband. Of course you know that today won’t be different, but anyway, so begins this book.

Zzzzz…

It’s interesting that even the author calls this book what it really is on page 7: “a normal day of white people problems.” It helps to know that even the author knows her character is complete bullshit: a rich doctor’s wife with too much time on her hands, grudging time with her son, her dog, her husband, pretty much everyone around her. It begins somewhat funny, but it declines into one a really bad joke. A book trying to be witty when it isn’t. Bleh.

And oh yeah, the plot is all over the place. Between learning about the main character’s long lost sister, her husband’s secret, her dysfunctional childhood, her former career as an artist–you just don’t care about what else is going to be thrown in during the course of one day in poor, rich Eleanor Flood’s life. I wouldn’t mind this clusterfuck so much if it were not for the fact that she’s not even a likable person–she’s ridiculously self absorbed, uninteresting, and obnoxious while pretending to be friends with people.

Perhaps other people find this book amusing, which is why it’s on the NYT Bestseller list. I normally don’t read books on the list though. I’d feed this book to wolves.

Review: Harmless Like You

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Review for "Harmless Like You" by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan (2017)
Rating: None (DNF)

I DNF’d this book, so there’s no star rating. I didn’t want to, but I just wasn’t feeling it.

This book is a like a cloudy day with no sun, just black clouds everywhere. Every time I picked it up it was the same thing, just leaving me more and more empty on the inside. The writing is good but the characters are stiff and wooden, the action was super slow to develop. I made it to page 200 before just putting it down for good.

‘Harmless Like You’ is the story of Yuki, a Japanese-American girl growing up in NYC in the late 1960s. Her parents move back to Japan around the age of 16 and leave her in the care of her friend, an amoral model by the name of Odile and her mother, Lillian. Lillian is physically abused by her boyfriend, Lou. Yuki begins starving herself, and eventually moves in with Lou, who also ends up abusing her. She quits school and longs to be an artist, yet she doesn’t pursue this dream. Yuki marries a friend, a boring dude who stifles her creativity. They have a son.

Cut to present day: the novel also follows the story of Jay, a douchebag of a guy who hates his wife. He also feels no paternal instinct toward the baby he has with her and eventually cheats on her. We later learn that Jay is Yuki’s son whom she abandoned many years before in pursuit of her artistic dreams.

Yuki’s chapters are in a detached third person, Jay’s in brief, first person narration. It doesn’t do anything for the unrelenting bleak tone of this novel, it’s the same all throughout.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with somber reads. I just think what killed this book for me is that I have to be in the mood for such reading and now was not such a time. I do recommend it, however, perhaps you will get something out of it and can explain it to me. :/

Review: This is Where it Ends

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Review for “This is Where it Ends” by Marieke Nijkamp (2016)

Rating: none

DNF’d at 250 pages. Yep, I was actually almost finished. But the horror of this…oh no, not today, Satan…

What this is: a narrow, ridiculously unclever book told from the perspectives of four students in an Alabama high school surrounding the events of a 50-minute shooting spree/hostage situation. Several students, teachers, and the principal are gunned down after the student shooter traps the unsuspecting student body in the auditorium during an assembly and kills some and terrorizes others for nearly an hour. The characters are bland and indistinguishable from the other, and the shooter is so cartoonish in his evilness it’s laughable. It’s literally just bang bang bang…then one of the characters presents us with a flashback. You get to the end and find out that he shoots and kills his classmates not because he was bullied or had a mental problem or he was angry but because well…he wanted to.

Maybe it was the violence at the LGBTQ club in Orlando the night before that caused this book to strike such a sour note for me. I am not saying that mass shooters aren’t evil, but the acts they commit cannot afford to be reduced to such simplicities. I don’t shun violence in literature, but it pays to give those who perpetrate it depth, specifically if you would like to understand why it occurred in that particular context in the first place.

I recommend Jennifer Brown’s “Hate List,” Jim Shepard’s “Project X,” and Shaun David Hutchinson’s “Violent Ends” if you’d like more fleshed out, realistic, and thoughtful discussions of school violence in YA literature.