If I Stay – By Gayle Foreman
June 14, 2011

As you have probably surmised, I love YA. I love it because as a virtual grown-up, its always an escape for me. I gave up on “serious fiction” a long time ago. I made the decision that I didn’t want reading to be a chore, I wanted it to be an escape. I wanted it to be fun. I live a real life, with real problems and I don’t really want to read stories about real life.

This book is real life, and in this case it hit particularly close to home for me.

This book was pretty serious. It is the story of a girl named Mia who takes a drive with her parents and younger brother one winter morning. The drive ends in an accident which takes the lives of her parents and brother – leaving Mia gravely injured and trapped in a limbo of sorts. Like a ghost, she wanders the hallways of the hospital where her body lies comatose, reflecting on her life and trying to decide whether to try to live her now-shattered life….or to give up the fight and die.

Pretty heavy, right?

It is very heavy, yet still enjoyable to read. Mia’s life is simple and beautiful. She has no superpowers, there are no vampires or shapeshifters making things interesting. It is simply the story of a 17 year old girl – the child of mellowing punk rock parents. Despite her punk roots, Mia has become a talented classical cellist and has applied to Julliard.  Her life is filled with the usual drama and moderate angst that are the hallmarks of teenage life. Her boyfriend Adam is a talented musician in a local band on the rise, he fits almost perfectly into her quirky musical family – but in the days before the accident Mia had begun to fret that they would grow apart when high school drew to a close.  Before the accident, it wasn’t quite clear to Mia that her life was filled with such possibility and love.

Her reflections on her life paint a portrait of a family both unconventional and extraordinary and make the choice that Mia makes  all the more heartbreaking. She watches as her family and friends implore her to stay, but whisper quietly that they will forgive her if she cannot bear the weight of the tragedy.

I won’t tell you what Mia chooses, but I will say this: As I read this book I was quietly annoyed that the author recently published a sequel, Where She Went. I love a series, but I also appreciate a good stand alone story.  I hate to see perfect single volume tale ruined after the fact by the desire for sequel sales. I prepared myself to use this story as an example of an unnecessary sequel and rant and rave about greed and how series are ruining YA, etc etc etc.

But, when I finished the story, I realized I was dying to know Where She Went. So, I will continue to read Mia’s story.

Just not yet. As I was reading this book, friends of mine lost a young family member to a tragic car accident. I had only met this young woman a few times, but she was sweet and kind and her family loved her dearly. She was a real young girl, who lived and laughed and danced and loved – and in a moment she was gone.  There was no time for her to choose to stay or not. Her shattered family stays behind – grappling with the unimaginable – and comforted only by the dark reality that she did not suffer.

And that’s more than enough real life for me right now.

Advertisements

Caitlin: The Love Trilogy: Loving (#1)
January 30, 2011

God, that’s a long title for a book.

It does sound fancy though dosen’t it? And this book is nothing if not fancy!

On the surface, Caitlin Ryan is your standard issue Poor Little Rich Girl. She’s raven haired, beautiful and unapologetically bitchy and cruel.  Despite being worshiped by not just the students of Highgate Academy – the super-fancy boarding school that she attends – but pretty much the world in general, Caitlin is sad and lonely. She’s vaguely an orphan and lives with her Mean Old Grandma, Regina Ryan. Regina owns a coal mine, and is terribly wealthy and cold-hearted. Despite being old, she’s a super-modern liberated woman who is too busy being rich to  tolerate her granddaughter so she has sent her to a nearby boarding school.

Regina’s only interest in Caitlin is as something she can parade in front of mining industry people, to further her Mean Old Mining agenda. Its a little weird how much the mining industry is discussed in this book, considering that most of the characters don’t even receive physical descriptions. As I recall, the later books actually delve into the mortality behind treatment of mine workers and the environmental impact of strip mining.

Seriously.

We are supposed to hate Mean Old Grandma, but its hard.  Highgate Academy is freaking awesome. This may be where my Boarding School obsession began. Set in the rolling hills of Virginia, there are stables and riding paths and the dining hall is like the fanciest country club ever!  It features mahogany paneling and crystal chandeliers and everything! Caitlin’s dorm room is even awesomer than the rest of the school because her Mean Old Grandma tricked it out with mahogany bookshelves, a stereo and custom made drapes.

I also don’t see how we can feel sorry for Caitlin – she is living the teenage dream. She’s the richest rich girl ever and lives a life blissfully free from meddling parents or financial limitations. She has her own horses and when not at fancy-fancy Highgate Academy, she lives right around the corner at her grandmother’s resort-like palatial estate – Ryan Acres.  That’s right, a house with a name! (This is something I discovered with Gone With The Wind, and I have never really let go of. If I could get away with naming my house, I would TOTALLY do it!)

Plus she has RAVEN HAIR and sparkly blue eyes and is driven around in a sick Bentley by a chauffeur named Rollins.

I think we are supposed to be learning a lesson about how money dosen’t buy love, but I’m not learning shit because life is pretty awesome for Caitlin. When she wants to attract the attention of a boy at school, she just invites a dozen of her closest friends back to Ryan Acres for a fabulous weekend riding horses and lounging in luxury.

When Caitlin hears an awesome idea for a school fundraiser, she blatantly steals it. The girl she steals it from is named Tenny, and she dosen’t even bother to protest. That’s right, her name is Tenny. What is Tenny short for? Tennis? Tennessee? We will never know.

But, its not just any idea that Caitlin is stealing. Tenny has suggested that they sell tickets to a boys beauty pageant, where the boys dress in drag. Clearly, Caitlin cannot allow a girl named Tenny to take credit for an idea of that caliber. And even though you might think that a drag show starring wealthy teen-aged soccer players might be in questionable taste – everyone loves the idea initially.

When the boys have a moment to consider the ramifications of prancing around on stage in drag, they protest weakly, and Caitlin brilliantly twists the idea so that boys can also dress in costumes like napoleon and superman. Um, ok…. Whatever. This pageant is all window dressing for the real story here: the insane and dysfunctional love story of Caitlin and Jed Michaels.

Jed is a really hot cowboy from Montana with wavy hair and a hot body. Caitlin thinks its revolutionary that  Jed wears cowboy clothes. Its just so edgy! Also, his pants are tight. Jed is is new to Highgate, and Caitlin is immediately smitten. They bond over horseback riding and dysfunctional families.

Jed, however, has taken an interest in a scholarship girl named Diana. Caitlin is understandably horrified that Jed would take an interest in a poor person, who doesn’t even ride horses! Diana is from a trashy family and has to babysit for a teacher to afford to stay at the fancy school.

Despite Caitlin’s almost magical powers of manipulation, she is unable to distract Jed from Diana. Until, through a confusing series of events, Caitlin’s negligence results in the kid Diana babysits getting poisoned, and Diana is blamed.  Diana drops of out school and disappears.

Caitlin’s Mean Old Grandma forgets her birthday and dosen’t show up to watch the cross-dressing costume pageant. In addition, she feels really guilty for her part in the accidental poisoning  – oh that somehow leads to the kid being paralyzed, which really dosen’t make much sense, but whatever. Distraught, Caitlin dramatically rides her horse off in the rain, crying about how everywhere she goes, misery and death follow. She realizes that the reason Mean Old Grandma avoids her birthday is that Caitlin’s mother died giving birth to her, and even her birthday is shrouded in darkness and death.

Being emo and riding horses in the rain leads to Caitlin contracting pneumonia, and having to stay in bed at Ryan Acres for weeks, wishing she had died. Its totally melodramatic and dark and I know I loved it when I read this book back in the day.

The whole pneumonia/kid poisoning episode TOTALLY CHANGES Caitlin, and when she returns to school she has become an old lady who hates parties and just wants to sit in the corner. Well, this was the best move ever because Jed LOVES girls that sit in corners and he immediately wants to get all up on her.

With Diana gone, Jed – who apparently has a fetish for sad girls – falls for Caitlin.

Jed tells Caitlin that he never really loved Diana. He realizes now that he was just into her because she was quiet and sad and reminded him of his sister. He also tells Caitlin he didn’t like her initially because he thought she was shallow, manipulative and flirtatious, which reminded him of his mother. But, now that Caitlin is sad and broody he’s totally into her. Um. Is it just me, or does Jed have a thing for his sister???

Oh who cares if its creepy, because the love of Jed Michaels changes Caitlin into a totally different person who is happy and nice and actually cares about other people. You see, all Caitlin needed to be human was the love of a sexy cowboy in tight corduroy jeans.

Only one thing mars the perfection that is the icky love of Jed Michaels,  and that is the teeny tiny secret that it was really Caitlin who caused the accident that paralyzed the kid and drove Diana back to the trailer park. Caitlin decides that she cannot keep the secret any longer and writes Jed a letter confessing her part in the accident. But, she just can’t bring herself to give him the letter, because she fears that he will stop loving her and obviously the world will end. So she does what anyone would do. She hides the letter in a book of love poems that she places upon the mahogany bookshelf in her dorm room.

You guys don’t think that someone is going find that letter in The Love Trilogy #2 – Love Lost, do you???

Let’s talk cover art. I was pretty sad when my copy of this book arrived from amazon, as did not feature the epic painting you see above. Instead, I received a version so bizarre that I can’t even find it on the internet. Apparently these books were re-issued in the early 90s and they decided to use a cover model. She kind of looks like Jamie Gertz and its wearing leather gloves and holding a riding crop. Its awful.

Finally, the best part about reading 1980s era YA is the awesome outfits. Caitlin wears such fashionable items as a pink and magenta taffeta dress, an indigo jumpsuit and a black leather pants suit. Oh if only these books came with pictures!

Up next: Love Lost.

Sweet Valley High #7 – Dear Sister (or Head Injuries 101)
April 27, 2010

This was literally one of my favorite books growing up.

It starts out with Elizabeth Wakefield glamorously coma-struck following a motorcycle accident. I was probably 10 when I read this book, and OH MY GOD how I wanted to be in a coma. My in-depth medical knowledge told me that it was like sleeping, but with all kinds of dramatics like hospitals and doctors and stuff. Also, when you wake up and start acting just like your identical twin sister – and polar opposite – Jessica, no one really blinks an eye. Your parents totally buy you a sexy nightgown and a new green bikini and other neat outfits. Also, you have permission to be a sudden slut and plagiarist, ignore all your responsibilities and use your gossip column in the school newspaper to forward your suddenly slutty agenda.

So, who else could use a little Sweet Valley High coma right now?

But I digress.

While Elizabeth is whoring around the school, ignoring her nerdfriends and super-loyal boyfriend Todd, our resident sociopath Jessica is forced into performing household chores! It doesn’t stop there, either! Apparently there is some kind of Sweet Valley city ordinance stating that only one Wakefield twin at a time can be slutty and self-obsessed. This cruel twist of fate forces Jessica to pretend to care about someone other than herself and *gasp* wear conservative outfits!

Comas are all kinds of fun until someone gets hurt, aren’t they??

The true message in this story is one of balance. For every slut who wears a low-cut blouse and allows herself to be groped drunkenly by Bruce Patman, another girl must cover her breasts, abstain from alcohol and chastely perform household chores. There cannot be two drunken sluts at any given time. Ok, just kidding. The cast of Jersey Shore totally disproved THAT theory!

Anyhow, everything turns out OK. We learn the time-tested cure for blunt force trauma-induced personality disorders… You know, another smack on the head reverses it. Also, to protect the fragile virgin mind of Elizabeth Wakefield, she totally doesn’t remember how she was about to do the nasty with Bruce Patman! She also doesn’t remember that drinking is fun. Bummer.

I loved this book, and you will too!