Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Hello Groin by Beth Goobie

An author with the name of Beth Goobie has written a book called Hello Groin and it’s about a 16 year old girl struggling with her carefully hidden suspected homosexuality. This has got to take guts. Oh, and also, it’s set in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. Yeah. Gutsy.

GUTS kept coming up in my mind as I read it. It’s such a visceral, gut wrenching, blushing, chest thumping, crotch tingling, heart breaking book.

Some of the images are very vivid. However, some of the words in between the vivid imagery are slightly awkward, as some images are repeated too much. I’d have to say that’s my only complaint about this book.

Dylan is a popular athletic and good looking 16 year old girl with a best friend whom she treasures and a boyfriend whom she adores. Problem is, she’s not turned on by Cam. She’s getting lustful feelings for Jocelyn, and she can’t figure out if those feelings are mutual. She’s very confused.

At first, as Dylan is trying to figure out if she’s gay or not, and realizing that she can’t pretend that she’s not anymore, I couldn’t quite figure out why it was a big deal. I hoped that a kid can come out these days without being beaten up or horribly ostracized.

Maybe we’ll never get to that point in our society. These 21st century kids still have a problem with it...and all for their own quiet reasons.

Dylan simply doesn’t want to be gay. She wants to feel lust for the boy she loves. She wants to find herself ten years later married to him and maybe with a child. She wants to be in love with a husband like the relationship her parents have. For her, it doesn’t matter what society accepts, or what it scorns. It’s a limitation she’s put on herself.

This is the tension in the novel. She doesn’t want to hurt her boyfriend...but she is in love with best friend Jocelyn. As events unfold, she fears she could lose them both.

The author got the teenaged mindset right. These kids are ruled by their peers, by sex, or the lack of, by the struggle between authority and rebellion, but unruly hormones, and by their brains, rapidly expanding with knowledge. They tell each other what books are changing their lives and what music defines them.

The character of Dylan would be pleased that this book is not just about sexuality; it’s about justice and honour and censorship. It’s about free speech and respect.

I particularly appreciated the way all the characters have changed and developed by the end of the book. Nobody is the same by the end.

I decided to read this book for several reasons:
-I’m writing a book about teenagers.
-I’m considering this publisher for a query when I’m done.
-I have such mixed feelings about that title that I just had to read the whole book.

Overall the tricky subject matter is handled sensitively, there isn’t too much offensive cussing, and despite the constant mental ruminations, the turmoil in Dylan’s head, the story clips along at a good pace, making us feel like the book was a good way to spend a few hours.

It isn’t the absolute best book I’ve ever read, but it’s pretty darn good. I recommend it to any young people, not just those facing a similar struggle. With it being so teen centred, I don’t know if many adults would be interested in it, although I found it to be a good read.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon

I am embarrassed that it took me four years to get my eyes on this book. Now that I’ve read it, I can say that yes, it was worthy of all the hype. It actually crossed over from the Young Adult category and repackages as commercial fiction. It may be about a teenage boy but it’s so interesting that a wide audience can appreciate it. It’s no wonder it’s become a huge crossover success since it’s publication in 2003.

Our odd hero, Christopher, is autistic, although now that I’ve read it I can’t remember if it’s ever stated so plainly. He’s brilliant with numbers and science, but can’t understand facial expressions. Facts give him comfort, jokes confuse him. He does not want surprises but instead takes comfort in schedules.

He sees absolutely everything in every detail and that’s why sometimes when he’s overwhelmed, which is often, he has to shut his eyes and groan to block everything out. The colours yellow and brown almost make him physically ill, and he’ll scream if he’s touched. He doesn’t cry when other people do. But he does like dogs.

Now imagine how things go when he discovers the body of his neighbour’s dog when he’s out on a night walk, and decides to solve the mystery of Who Killed Wellington.

He’s going to write a book, and not one of those novels with things called metaphors which make no sense. He’s going to write a book about the facts of his detecting.

His detective work uncovers some very unexpected facts and ends up taking him on a journey that he never would have taken before the Incident.

The amazing thing about this book is that Christopher’s voice is captured so perfectly. This book never breaks character! We really are inside his head.

It’s so realistically written that even while one part of you is thinking how irritating it must be to have to deal with a kid like him, you’re feeling an affection for his total honesty, and you’re really cheering for him.

Suddenly it’s perfectly understandable that you’d have times when you must tune a radio between stations and hold it up to your ear to drown out all the stimulation in the world. And of course you would scream if another human touched you. Clearly it would be better to live in a world where nobody said silly things that required no answer, and nobody ever looked at each other’s faces.

In fact, being someone who struggles with anxiety disorder, I had a very hard time reading about Christopher’s lone trip on the Brit rail. I really felt his pain. It made we wish that I was good at complex mathematical equations as a way of calming myself...

It may have been written for a teen audience, but anybody can read it, appreciate it, and maybe even get a better understanding of how a difficult young man’s mind works. Mark Haddon completely deserves the praise he got for this book.

I highly recommend a read of it and I give it FIVE OUT OF FIVE JOHN DEERE TRACTORS.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Reading: It's not just for fun anymore!

This is an interesting couple of weeks for me in the world of books. I finished writing and editing one, and have literally put it on the shelf for a few weeks. I need a short break from it before I rewrite it, oh I dunno, about three more times. Plus I'm querying the one-before-this-book, and of course, always finding things to fix every time I print it up. I'm taking a bit of a break to soak up some reading.

Just for the sake of my sanity (Ha ha. Wha?) I need to step away from writing. I need to read some other people's words.

I usually have a book and two magazines going at once, and my reading is always a combination of pure joy and reseach. So in the name of research I decided to read some books that have fallen into my hands recently that I wouldn't have normally picked up.

It didn't work out so well.

I rarely leave a book half read. Until this last couple of weeks...

First try: Runaway Jury by John Grisham.

I got four chapters in before I decided to cut my losses and walk away from this one. Four chapters of jury selection. There was nothing really wrong with it, technically speaking. I don't remember seeing any terrible grammar mistakes, at least not with my loose grip on grammar. It just didn't get my attention.

Although I was slightly curious about Juror #58, aka Juror #2, a young man with a very bland past who apparently wants to be on the jury --wtf?-- it wasn't enough to keep me turning pages. I had a very hard time getting interested in a bunch of lawyers and corporate suits and all of their little games for picking a jury who will....

Geez I can't even finish the paragraph, I'm so bored.


Second try: Second Chance by Danielle Steel.

I'm trying to remember now if I've ever been able to finish reading one of her books.

I always chalked it up to not being able to relate to her. I mean, look at her.
She's fabulous. She even has her own perfume. I'm guessing it smells like money. And silk. And roses.

And look at me. I'm hickulous and ridiculous. If I had my own perfume it would be a heady comination of pine shavings, horse manure, and hay, with subtle undertones of laundry soap and a top note of Burt's Bees Milk and Honey Hand and Body lotion.

Seriously, I just didn't get it. It's written in a very even tone, with a lot of commas, a lot of lists of attributes, clothing styles, even when the subject changes, commas, as opposed to a semi-colon, but always there are more descriptions of how fabulous everybody is.

They are all fabulous, they are fashionable and wealthy. She is fabulous, the nice man she has a nagging attraction to is fabulous, as is her house man who borrows her Manolo Blahnik sandals, he is fabulous. Her house is fabulous, full of expensive treasures, always hosting the best parties that often last all night. Fabulous. Run on fabulous.

After five chapters I was choking on fabulosity and nothing had really happened, other than a photo shoot which was, of course, both disastrous and fabulous.


Black Creek Crossing by John Saul.

I actually managed to finish this one but I will admit that I sort of skimmed some of it. I never do that. I feel kind of ashamed of myself. But hey, I read it to the end.

I forced myself to stay with it for one main reason: It centres around a couple of teenagers. Because my most recent piece of work is about teenagers, I want to read more books like it. I'm not sure, now that mine is finished, if it's really for the age group that it's about.

This book is not aimed at the teenage reader.

The kids don't converse like real teens. They don't much act like real teens either.

There is way too much going on with the adults in the story. Young readers don't give a crap about grownups. If they want to read about grownups, they'll read something off the Bestseller rack instead of the Young Adult rack.

Also there's no sex. Other than a suggestion of it in early in the story but it has nothing to do with the plot and is (urgh, yuck, retch, omigawd gross) between two parents.

This book isn't aimed at a teenage audience, despite having teens as main characters. It was a good exercise for me to make this definition.

I found a few problems with this book. I thought the characters were very one-dimensional.
- alcoholic father who is always in a rotten mood, hates everybody, and cusses all the time.
- long suffering mother who believes that her drunken good for nuthin husband is her cross to bear, and is such a good catholic that she crosses herself every few minutes while praying to the saints.
- shy girl who never looks anybody in the eye. Ever.

It's hard to care about these exaggerated stereotypes.

It took ages and pages to get the whole story rolling. I wanted to quit reading many times. What hooked my interest was the ancient haunted house itself. Is it good if the house is the most interesting character?

I was also confused by the supernatural elements in the story. I've read enough fantasy to know that the magic has to have a structure of rules to be believable. I'm really not sure how the supernatural/ witchcraft/ haunted system all worked in this story.


Having cracked these comments about these three books...

They must be doing something right.

John Grisham doesn't have to make his living at lawyering anymore because he's sold a couple of books, which got made into a couple of movies.

Danielle Steel, other than being fabulous and having, like, seven or eight or nine children, has found the time to write-- are you ready for this--SIXTY TWO novels!!! Although by this year that number's likely gone up. I mean, with having raised all those people and still getting all those words out there...I must admire this woman for her work ethic alone.

And John Saul has written over thirty novels.

This tells me that whether I appreciate their work or not, they are writing books that sell. And this really just confuses me more than ever.