Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez

25256386Until I read the premise of this book, I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t know about the New London school explosion—the worst school disaster in American history. It’s absolutely devastating just thinking about all the little lives that were eviscerated in an instant when the all-white school was blasted into smithereens on that fateful day in 1937. Could you imagine the media hype if this happened today? Three hundred lives lost. A brand new school blown to pieces. Neighborhood churches backed up with systematic funeral processions. The horror, the pain, the suffering—all of the agony that ravaged that small East Texas town is simply unimaginable.

I can tell you right now, my dear readers, this is not a light read. This is one of those stories that will sit with you long after you finish the last chapter. In the book blogosphere, this is what we call a “reading hangover.” That, in my opinion, is the mark of a good book. My biggest take away (no spoilers, I promise!) is that no matter how grim your situation may be, it does not have to be a dead end. Though that tunnel is dark and closing in around you, there’s always a way to claw out tooth and nail.  And even if you don’t make your way out, at least you put up a good fight. That’s what I got out of this story, and I hope more readers will pick up on this positive message.

This is also a story about true love. The blossoming romance between Naomi and Wash was so pure and sweet—a stark contrast from the cruelty and hate that overshadowed the hardscrabble oil-drilling town. Like Romeo and Juliet the interracial couple had to hide their star-crossed love affair deep within the piney wood forest. Some of my favorite scenes took place in their favorite tree—a safe haven reserved only for them and Naomi’s precocious twin siblings. But, alas, in the wise words of Robert Frost, nothing gold can stay.

With the threat of the gas explosion intensifying with each chapter, I knew that things were going to come to a head—and fast! When it all hits the fan, it’s impossible to stop reading. From beginning to end, this is a rough, bumpy ride. It’s not for the faint of heart, but well worth your while.

So when you feel like escapitng the world—including that addictive chirping device in your back pocket—why not transport yourself to another time and place for a while?  I may not have a special tree to climb into when life gets to be a little too much, but I’ll always have my books!

Want the scoop on this book? Read Ashley’s Q&A!

Jessica’s Cranky Corner: Still looking for reasons why I finished ‘Looking for Alaska’

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Oh wow…I don’t know where to even begin with this review. Okay, let’s start out by enumerating the most important elements of a good book. First and foremost a good read must have likeable, well-developed characters. Then, of course, there needs to be a plot. And let’s not forget that with every story, there needs to be believability. Even fantasy books have to be rooted in some semblance of reality, otherwise how are the readers ever going to relate to the story, the characters, the meaning of it all?!?

Now let’s dissect the many ways John Green ignored these key elements in this hot mess of YA fiction.

Likeable Characters

In this high school melodrama, I’m stuck with a whiny high school kid and his snarky clique of boarding school chums, all of whom are way too cool for school. Gee, does this sound vaguely familiar? Oh probably because the same annoying characters from Paper Towns were plopped into this book!

Remember that old MTV cartoon Darea? You know, the one about the emo monotone girl who mocked everything around her? Well if you enjoyed that, I suppose you might relate to these yahoos. I, on the other hand, got tired of the irony of it all. They were all so enveloped in their own little narcissistic worlds, save for the ringleader of the bunch, ironically named “The Colonel” who did have a few redeeming qualities. Come to think of it, this book might actually have been worthwhile if he was the lead character. But nope, we’re stuck in Pudge’s one-track mind throughout this sluggish journey of self-discovery. He’s that friend (we’ve all had one) who drones on and on about an unattainable crush, constantly ruminating about her mysterious ways. Who is the real Alaska? What’s driving her crazy mood swings? Why is she so self-destructive? WHO CARES?!? The girl in question—poetically named Alaska—is not in any way interesting, enigmatic or likeable. She knows poor Pudge has it bad, so she plays him like a fiddle, flirting, teasing and stringing him along just for fun. Playful and chummy one minute, downright evil the next (someone get this girl an exorcist!), Alaska is clearly surfing the extreme end of the bipolar spectrum. But, alas, this mysterious goddess rocks Pudge’s world, so he must make it his quest figure her out and ultimately get in her pants. And there, my dear readers, is your plot.

That's your cue to split, Pudge.

That’s your cue to split, Pudge.

The Plot

Halfway through the book I started to question when the plot would take shape. Come to think of it, that’s probably the point when you should call it a loss and toss it in the DNF pile. But like a good soldier, or idiot, I continued on. Like Alaska’s shameless teasing, the provocative chapter headings that counted down the “days before” kept me reading. What catastrophic even awaited this group of sardonic teenagers? Who’s gonna bite the big one? Please tell me it will be Alaska. Until we reach the aftermath chapters, the story slogs along at a snail’s pace. Here’s what we’ve got: Bored little rich boy demands to go to boarding school so he can find “the great perhaps.” He immediately joins the cool misfit clique (think Perks of Being a Wallflower). Then it’s nothing but chain-smoking, esoteric musings of “escaping the labyrinth” and pranks against the rich kids. When the catastrophic event finally hits, I’m already over it.

Believability

I’m sure Green has met a teenager at some point in his adult life, but it sure doesn’t show in this book. Though they were all absorbed in their narcissistic worlds (an intrinsic quality of this particular age demographic), these poetically minded kids were WAAAAY beyond their years. Apparently they are all child prodigies that can speak and think at a level that would put a 50-year-old philosophy professor to shame. That, my friends, is unfathomable. The sad reality is that kids express themselves in 60 characters or less, or whatever threshold it is that Twitter allows. I’m sorry, John Green, but the young Jack Kerouacs of the world are few and far between. I have no doubt that Mr. Green was one of those gifted kids who spent his Friday nights memorizing the famous last words of great American presidents (one of Pudge’s shticks). But the chances of finding a group of millennials who all have impressive academic hobbies such as this are slim to none. There’s this golden rule in writing called “write what you know.” Green clearly does not know teenagers. It would behoove him to spend a day studying them in their natural environment –a One Direction concert perhaps—and really listen to their dialect.

Could that be the vast wasteland of Alaska's inner arctic tundra? How very poetic.

Could that be the vast wasteland of Alaska’s inner arctic tundra? How very poetic.

On a happier note, I must admit that Green is a highly talented wordsmith. It’s easy to get lost in his lyrical prose and esoteric musings. But just like a movie can’t solely rely on all A-list actors, he can’t get by just on pretty writing. I know that YA is clearly a marketable genre for him, especially after his smashing success with The Fault in the Stars. But if he insists on creating these mythical teenage geniuses—who all seems to be cut from the same mold—these books are always going to miss the mark.

“The Girl Who Chased the Moon” by Sarah Addison

 

A  fellow chick lit lover -and auidobook aficionado- over at Lip Gloss and Literature recently posted a guest blog by yours truly! Here is a taste of my review on The Girl Who Chased the Moon.   

 The Girl Who Chased the Moon is the literary equivalent of a gorgeous pink-frosted cupcake – rainbow sprinkles and all! It’s light and sweet and so much fun to gobble up in one sitting. The only hitch with cupcakes is that they leave me wanting more. That’s how I felt after I devoured the last chapter of this book. 

The story begins when Emily sets foot in Mullaby, a wooded patch of a sparsely populated southern hamlet that her mother left behind. Left in the care of her eccentric 8-foot-tall grandfather, the orphaned teen is lost and alone in a town that seems to resent her. As Emily struggles to adjust to her new – and very peculiar – surroundings, she uncovers some startling secrets about her mother’s past. 

Things really get strange when Emily spots the elusive “Mullaby lights” floating in the woods outside her bedroom balcony. And when she falls for a boy who can only be seen during daylight hours, she begins to wonder what kind of world she’s living in.

 Just what did her mother do to upset the entire town? And why does her grandfather forbid her to chase after the Mullaby lights? Emily is determined to find out.

 Want to read more? Well then hop on over to Lip Gloss and Literature to read the full review!