Thursday, February 19, 2015

Book Review: The Bodies We Wear

Book Review: The Bodies We Wear by Jeyn Roberts

Goodreads Description: People say when you take Heam, your body momentarily dies and you catch a glimpse of heaven. Faye was only eleven when dealers forced Heam on her and her best friend, Christian. But Faye didn’t glimpse heaven—she saw hell. And Christian died.

Now Faye spends her days hiding her secret from the kids at school, and her nights training to take revenge on the men who destroyed her life and murdered her best friend. But life never goes the way we think it will. When a mysterious young man named Chael appears, Faye's plan suddenly gets a lot more complicated. Chael seems to know everything about her, including her past. But too many secrets start tearing her world apart: trouble at school, with the police, and with the people she thought might be her friends. Even Gazer, her guardian, fears she's become too obsessed with vengeance. Love and death. Will Faye overcome her desires, or will her quest for revenge consume her?
My Review:  A lot of my experience with this book could be summed up with simply: Ugh.

I was drawn to THE BODIES WE WEAR by its beautiful cover and interesting title. The hook didn't grab me much-- the tale of a streetwise punk hunting down dealers to get revenge for her best friend's murder. The idea was okay, but nothing about it made me shout 'ooh!' It was rather I wanted to see what the author did when dealing with teen drug use/abuse, the stigma associated, and how revenge and the street life affect someone as a person.

The beginning stood out strong, and by this I really mean only the opening scene with Faye standing in the rain with the preacher who calls her out. Some of these ideas brought up I really liked-- the conflict between religion and addicts, which was well done in the opening scene, as well as the question of the afterlife and what living really meant. It almost felt like the beginnings of some really awesome ideas that didn't get the attention they really deserved.

Instead, we are stuck with a a dull main character who tries to convince us she's a rough and tumble street punk. Really, what has she done in her life? She's a good student, helps the poor and downtrodden, stands up for girls being beaten up in the bathroom, and yet she presents with the attitude of "this isn't normal for me. I'm one of the cool kids just HAPPENING to do the right thing." It was a serious case of an author leading their audience, attempting to tell them what to think of their character instead of showing it. Not to mention our love interest, Chael, is about as transparent as glass and about as interesting. His story was horribly predictable (from the first moment he entered it was obvious as to what's really going on with him, though the story never explains the HOW or reasons behind what happens to him). He came in to be the mysterious protector who would "save Faye from herself." I couldn't find anything likeable about him, especially once he begins to do the mysterious "I know things but you need to figure it out for yourself." Barf. I'll tell you, if the guy I was dating constantly lorded information over me in such an arrogant way (especially coupled with his stalker tendencies) I'd clock him one. Which feels like something Faye should have done, but somehow six years of street life are completely forgotten when cute boys enter the picture.

The characters felt like they didn't make a lot of sense. Mostly, the construct of the society made no sense to me. Here we have a drug that is outright killing people from the first dose and anybody who has so much touched the stuff is instantly ostracized. I can... sort of understand this, but it didn't make much sense to me. People are afraid of drug use in real life because it changes their loved one. Makes them more aggressive, brings out odd behaviour, it causes them to lie and cheat those they love to put the drug first. Yet we didn't see any transformation from the use of Heam. Its users saw Heaven, and if they overdosed and got scars, (evidence of their use) they were essentially tossed aside. The author pushed this addict stigma to the point where it was horribly unbelievable. I can't believe a mother could one day go from "My baby girl" to "You're a horrible monster get out of my face," by the presence of a few marks. Therefore, the whole stigma of Heam use mostly made me roll my eyes.

Aside from the characters, the thing that really bothered me was how this book presented drug use/abuse. The environment was very black and white-- bad guys and victims. The villains in this book were not people-- they were drug dealers, pedophiles, murderers. It felt like the author compiled everything evil into a person and then set them up as pins to be knocked down by our main character. There was no way we could sympathize with them, which took out a huge point of conflict. They're still human, someone out there must have loved them. Instead of drawing up the dilemma of "these are humans too, no matter what they've done, and I'm going to kill them." Instead, we get, "He deserved it, but killing him didn't make me happy," which felt incredibly selfish and short sighted, not so much on the character's side but the author's. Emotions run much deeper than that. On the other hand, we had the victims-- little kids who are doing this drug, who had it forced upon them, who are poor little sufferers in this cruel society. It made me scoff. Yes, there are always those sob stories, but drug use is filled with people who seek out the drug, who go to it to escape pain in their real lives. The book completely neglected those people. Characters were either the devil or the poor, trapped and helpless. It would have been much more fulfilling to see the addicts who use it to escape, but also enjoy it. They do this for a reason. Let's get into their heads. See what they're really running from. Often drug addicts seem like evil, but the real evil is often lurking behind them, from something done to them that they're only trying to cope with.

I wanted this book to look at the complexities of addiction and street life, and instead got a Disney-esque, black vs. white story of people who are given drugs, rather than people who take drugs.

All in all, there were some poignant moments and a few really interesting thoughts that kept me interested, but sadly, it was too far and between.

TL;DR: 1.5/5 stars. Just.... just skip it. For your own sanity...

Monday, February 2, 2015

Book Review: Vanishing Girls

Book Review: Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver 

Goodreads Description:  Dara and Nick used to be inseparable, but that was before the accident that left Dara's beautiful face scarred and the two sisters totally estranged. When Dara vanishes on her birthday, Nick thinks Dara is just playing around. But another girl, nine-year-old Madeline Snow, has vanished, too, and Nick becomes increasingly convinced that the two disappearances are linked. Now Nick has to find her sister, before it's too late.

My Review:  I was fortunate enough to receive an ARC of Vanishing Girls and could not be more grateful for my chance to take a peak early. That said, my review is entirely my honest opinion.

Cracking open Vanishing Girls, I was enthralled from the start mostly due to the focus in on character and the mystery woven into the opening chapters. The story focuses on two sisters and how a car accident completely alters their relationship. Though the back cover tries to pitch the book as a darker and more plot-driven thriller, the story actually very much focuses on the relationship and development of the characters. Lauren Oliver really wanted you to know these girls, and they succeed in popping off the page and being real life people that I could see myself befriending. Dara, of course, is a vibrant character in the sense that she's a rebel without a cause and manages to be larger than life, even just in the way she takes control and does her own thing. Nick, on the other hand, can come off a bit of a plain, everyday kind of YA character, but through Dara's POV we see the cracks in her demeanor. Nick takes for granted that she's the older sister and often doesn't see how her actions or feelings can leave Dara feeling like the third wheel. It sets up a delightful shift where Dara tries to take control which causes more trouble between the two of them.

The characters were very real, and the rest of the story itself feels real in the way it doesn't shy away from things like sex offenders, underage girls lured into porn/prostitution/etc, drug use, drunk driving, etc. This book would definitely be qualified as 'edgy' and yet because of that feels more authentic. It doesn't shy away from the gritty or real, which can give a lot of kids something to relate to. After all, (and I'll repeat it until my face turns blue), there are teens going through these very struggles, and sometimes they need to see how others handle it and make it through. It's nice how it shows how teens can get dragged down the rabbit hole without setting out looking for Wonderland.

Though the tension and mystery is very nice in this book, it does take a bit before the story gets into the really juicy parts. Because it isn't plot driven, it can be hard to keep the tension high while building up everything else that is needed. There are bits of mystery to keep you interested, but the real delight was coming to the end and the twist. I had the twist figured out about mid-way through, and though it could be kind of obvious to some people, I found it satisfying. Not to mention the secondary part of the plot (What happened to Madeline Snow) keeps you in the dark enough that it doesn't feel like everything in this book is horribly obvious. There were definite parts where I wondered whether the two plot lines would actually come together (The accident + Madeline Snow), and though by the end I could find nothing to complain about, the Snow subplot only seemed to buff up the relationship plot and didn't do much to really wow me, aside from keep me guessing as to how it would turn out.

All in all, I really enjoyed the book for how it made me feel. There were a lot of poignant points in this book and a lot of truths hidden in the pages. By the end I was crying, because I really loved the characters. They were by no means, "These characters are so badass, they're my heroes," and more, "These characters are so wonderful because they're real, because I could find them in any of my friends."

TL;DR: 4/5 stars. Made me ball. Intense relationship thriller with very realistic characters. Don't miss if you're a contemporary lover.