Can a Book be Overrated?

I hate to be that person, but I definitely hesitate to call creative things ‘overrated’. Because the rating of the book or movie or whatnot depends on how that thing can be loved. That is, if millions of people love it then it must be doing something right, even if it isn’t necessarily ‘good’.

I think people need to be aware of the two ratings that exist when looking at these types of things. There is the subjective rating and the objective rating. The former rating is that of someone who loves it completely. They’ve connected with this work, and this connection completely dictates how they view it. The latter is the rating of someone who takes themselves out of the work, so to speak, and looks at a work technically. Is one more valuable than the other? I couldn’t tell you.

I think that to give an honest rating of anything, you’ve got to take yourself out of it a bit. But you also have to look at the impact. How did it make you feel? Does it sit with you? Do you love it? Do you hate it?

So to call something ‘overrated’ might be looking at it too objectively. Where you’ve taken all the feelings about it out of the picture.

Allow me to give you some examples.

Twilight. You had to know that was coming. It is easy to call it overrated, but, I mean, is it? So many people love it. Sure, the writing may not be that great, and the story might be a little weird, but people love it. I don’t exactly like it, but i can talk about it for hours. So it must have been successful at something. From what I’ve read, the subjective ratings vary from mindless love to mindless hate and the objective rates just sort of say ‘eh’. I find all of these rating appropriate. Now, if someone were to (somehow) objectively give it five stars, saying it was the greatest thing ever written do entirely to the ‘magnificent prose’ and the ‘realism of the characters’, that rating would be too high by the standards they have set. ‘They’ meaning the people and works which have set the standards. But that doesn’t make the book overrated. That means someone has overrated it. To reel it all in, it wasn’t that great, but people love it.

One the other end of the spectrum, Beloved. This novel won the Pulitzer prize for fiction and the Nobel prize in literature. Yet, I’ve talked to other people who have read it and they simply did not like it. They took nothing from it, could not understand that characters, and found the writing style weird. They were quick to write off the book as ‘overrated’. I actually really enjoyed this book. It’s not exactly my favorite book, but I can see why it won the awards it did. While my subjective rating would not be quite as high, my objective rating is a nearly perfect score. Because the rating is also dependent upon the context. Normally I wouldn’t point this out, but it seems relevant in the context. The people who did not like this book were young white people. Even though I am black, I felt like I had missed something. I was too young to have been followed around in a grocery store for fear I might steal something, too young to have first hand experience on racism in my area. I feel very strongly about these things and I feel very connected to them, more so than my white peers, but not quite enough to be as affected by this book as other people. It was great but people had trouble loving it.

If you call something overrated, you are either saying people love it too much or it has been rated higher than you think it should have. Are you frustrated when people love things you don’t? Do you really get the work?

Think about it.

Best YA Fiction

I’m supposed to be posted for the 30 Day Challenge, but I’ve gone rogue again. A book that makes me laugh? Most of my favorite books have made me laugh. Either from the sheer pleasure of reading them or because I actually find them funny. So instead, I’ve just compiled a list of some of my favorite young adult books. Enjoy!

Realistic

TwistedTwisted by Laurie Halse Anderson

High school senior Tyler Miller used to be the kind of guy who faded into the background—average student, average looks, average dysfunctional family. But since he got busted for doing graffiti on the school, and spent the summer doing outdoor work to pay for it, he stands out like you wouldn’t believe. His new physique attracts the attention of queen bee Bethany Milbury, who just so happens to be his father’s boss’s daughter, the sister of his biggest enemy—and Tyler’s secret crush. And that sets off a string of events and changes that have Tyler questioning his place in the school, in his family, and in the world.

It’s actually been quite some time since I’ve revisited this book. When you read the synopsis, it kind of has a ‘been there, done that’ sort of feel. However, the book tackles actual issues and is written in such a way where Tyler seems like an actual person. He has wants and fears and insecurities and issues. And his issues are pretty real issues that go a bit deeper the normal drama. There is emotional abuse, bullying, a bit of substance abuse and a bit of suicide. The book tackles them as serious issues quite gracefully. And I don’t think I could write this without mentioning Tyler’s best friend, Yoda. There is an actual character in this story called Yoda. Which is reflective of the fact that he and Tyler are total geeks. Somehow, I haven’t read many books that feature actual geeks and paint them as people rather than ‘actual geeks’ (recommendations?). This easily my favorite YA realistic fiction book of all time. (Okay, actually it ties with another book – I’ll be writing a blog about it soon).

Supernatural

Honestly, I don't really like the cover.

Honestly, I don’t really like the cover.

Nevermore by Kelly Creagh

Cheerleader Isobel Lanley is horrified when she is paired with Varen Nethers for an English project, which is due – so unfair – on the day of the rival game. Cold and aloof, sardonic and sharp-tongued, Varen makes it clear he’d rather not have anything to do with her either. But when Isobel discovers strange writing in his journal, she can’t help but give this enigmatic boy with the piercing eyes another look.  Soon, Isobel finds herself making excuses to be with Varen. Steadily pulled away from her friends and her possessive boyfriend, Isobel ventures deeper and deeper into the dream world Varen has created through the pages of his notebook, a realm where the terrifying stories of Edgar Allan Poe come to life.  As her world begins to unravel around her, Isobel discovers that dreams, like words, hold more power than she ever imagined, and that the most frightening realities are those of the mind. Now she must find a way to reach Varen before he is consumed by the shadows of his own nightmares.

Admittedly, I was a bit skeptical about this one. I mean, I put it on my Christmas list because my brain saw Edgar Allan Poe and shut off (also, the second and third paragraphs are extremely intriguing). It was the whole ‘cheerleader and goth boy’ thing that had be worried. Another rich bitch who’s forced to work with the goth kid and then she falls into social oblivion and realized how much of a bitch she was being? Eh. But, thankfully, that’s not at all what happened. Isobel is actually a legitimately nice person and an actual cheerleader (with tumbling and stuff). And she doesn’t dump her football playing boyfriend to run off with Varen, she dumps him because he’s a jackass. She’s actually a really good character who takes reasonable action and makes reasonable mistakes. And the other two main characters, Gwen And Varen, are slightly amazing. Basically, this book works because the story is fantastic, the characters are like actual people, the main characters each bring something different to the table (and I enjoy all three of them) and it’s written well. So yeah. Another favorite.

It’s also worth noting that this is a romance book, but it is not a ‘love at first sight’ story. There’s actual development to their relationship. Starting from crush, going into mutual like and trust and going from there. I love that.

Some Honorable Mentions

I really like all these books too.

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And a couple of good series (I know Hex Hall is a series but I haven’t read the other books yet)2800905

My other favorites, which I’ve already blogged about, are The Fault in Our Stars (blog linked above) and the Chaos Walking trilogy.

What are some of your favorite YA books?

It Makes Me Sad

Day 6 of the 30 Day Challenge. Let’s talk about our feelings. No, but I am going to talk about a book that poured the feels all over my cold heart. I am one with the fact that I am a monster. So just know, this book is infused with those feels.

Okay, I’m sorry. I’m a liar. I don’t really find things sad like your average person. Because for all the sadness in the books, usually a happy ending will just erase all of the sad for me. Like in Les Miserable (the musical – I haven’t gotten to the book yet). For me, that is one of the happiest endings of all time. Everyone who died finally got to be free. Even with The Fault in Our Stars. Yeah, it’s sad. But then they find what they were looking for and it’s just beautiful. Beauty is always happy, no matter how sad it is, in that it makes me happy. So, rather than explain the hours spent grieving over a lost character or all the countless times when I actually yell at the book in my hands because it’s hurting me with unresolved pain, I’m going to tell you something that is my kind of sadness.

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That’s right. It’s Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. Okay, maybe the beauty couldn’t full erase the sadness. Because this is the kind of unavoidable and absolute sadness that just kills me. And that is the sadness of something that didn’t have to happen, something that happened to another person who just wanted to be cruel or ignorant. And that really kills me. It really does.

I have the same kind of sadness when reading books like Beloved and Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. It doesn’t always go hand in hand with racism, those just happened to be the examples that popped into my head. Since racism hits pretty close to home.

I don’t have to tell you that To Kill a Mockingbird is a great book. Because it is. One of my favorites. But just…the thing that happens to Tom Robinson didn’t have to happen. And it’s so terrible, and it didn’t have to happen. Mayella could have had the courage to say something, and maybe she would have if her daddy wasn’t such a waste of life, and if they didn’t live in a society where you could get away with anything as long as you blamed the black guy. And they had so much evidence. The jury knew what happened. They had to. And it took them so long, not because they were debating what was true and what was lie, but because they were debating what was right. And they chose wrong. And that’s sad.

I’m right with Boo Radley on this one. Shutting yourself up away from the mess that is humanity doesn’t seem like such a bad idea sometimes.

It’s when you get into the ‘what ifs’ that make things really sad for me. Because that’s when you can’t do anything about it and you have nothing else to do but dwell on it. And that’s sad.

Terribly sad, actually. I’ve gone and depressed myself.

It Makes Me Happy

This is day five of the 30 Day Challenge. As you may have noticed, there is no day four. Well, day four asked me to choose my favorite book out of my favorites series and I couldn’t do that so I passive aggressively skipped it. Moving on. A book that makes me happy.

So many books make me extremely happy. So I thought I might choose a book that most people probably haven’t read. I could have gone with The Last Exit to Normal or Going Bovine or Suck it up. But I don’t have any of those books on hand to rediscover their wonder (But I just realized there’s a sequel to Suck it Up and I’m freaking out just a little bit). Anyway. So my final decision came to a book that made me happy before I even opened it: The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff.

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This is one of my favorite books, and probably my favorite book cover of all time. I mean, just look at it. That’s why I picked the book up. There are sharp objects hanging over an old style stroller. What’s going on there? And the back cover is just as interesting.

In the story, Emma’s four years old. She gets out of bed and pads across the floor in her footie pajamas. When she reaches her hand between the bars, the thing in the crib moves closer. It tries to bite her and she takes her hand out again but doesn’t back away. They spend all night looking at each other in the dark. In the morning, the thing is still crouched on the lamb-and-duckling mattress pad, staring at her. It isn’t her brother. It’s me.

So I was officially intrigued. So I bought the book and thoroughly loved it in the comfort of my own home.

Are you familiar with the stories of the changeling? Here’s a small run-down. A changeling is a sickly fairy baby who is left in the crib when the fairies take the healthy human baby. Because they need healthy children and they are jealous, so they take the human baby and leave their own behind. The changeling never lives long.

This is a story in the point of view of the changeling.

There are a few changes to the lore here and there. It kind of combines a lot of stuff. Basically, the changeling – the replacement, in this story – never survives because the family knows it’s not theirs and, assuming they don’t kill it, they can’t love it. And it’s because it is unloved that it dies. BUT, when it dies it always returns to the tunnels under the city to live with it’s people again. So the fairies (who don’t really have a name in this story) never really lose anything. And they take the healthy human baby (or child) not because they are jealous and need a baby, but because one of the older ones is nuts off her ass and – well, I don’t want to give everything away.

Creeped out yet? Oh, I love it.

Now, the town of Gentry is a small town in the middle of nowhere that is heavily superstitious. Which is one of the reasons why the changeling never survives. In this town, everyone hangs iron off their homes because their superstitions tell them the fairies are allergic to iron. And they’re right. But somehow, this doesn’t always stop the children from being taken.

In this case of our protagonist and the main family, it almost did stop them. The family includes the dad, who is the town preacher, the mom, who had been taken as a child and survived, and Emma, the sister. Then of course Mackie, the replacement. Because of the backgrounds of the parents, the fairies fully expected Mackie to die and return to them. They did not, however, count on his sister. Emma was only four years old when her ‘real’ brother got taken, and when he got taken it was her fault. But she doesn’t remember him. She remembers the creepy wrinkly thing they put in his crib, and this is the brother she proceeded to love. It was sort of her fault, because her mother had hung a bunch of iron over his crib. That iron included scissors and knives and all that good stuff. Emma didn’t want them to fall and hurt the baby, so she took them down. Not five seconds later, a man pops in the window and takes the baby and leaves the replacement behind. The parents wouldn’t kill it but they certainly didn’t love it. But then he wouldn’t die and he grew on them. And everything was nice in the Doyle family.

Aside from everything, two things i really love about this book are the lore and the protagonist.

I’ll go into the lore a little bit first. In addition to the stuff above, the fairies can’t go into the church. It’s either because it’s hallowed ground and the town believes quite fervently that it will keep them away, so it actually does. OR the church was built on iron foundations. Either way, they can’t go into the church. Which includes Mackie. Which is kind of awkward because his dad is the town preacher. So he shows up every week, but he kind of hangs out outside. Then of course there’s the music. The creatures in this story have an affinity for music. Perfect pitch, talented musicians, stuff like that. The music they make is actually mesmerizing, like a spell or something of the sort. It’s wonderful.

Then there’s Mackie. Mackie is kind of awkward, really strange, and just generally wonderful. He really wants to fit in, even though he doesn’t feel like a real person half the time. But it’s a bit difficult since he’s really obviously different and he’s kind of been slowly dying due to all the iron around. And his allergy is so severe he’ll have a reaction if someone gets a paper cut. Due to the iron in the blood. But he’s also a sweet heart and generally just sort of confused about everything, being that he is a teenager.  I love him so much.

I think I’ve sufficiently gotten across how happy this book makes me. If you’re still with me through all the creepy: Here, have an actual synopsis. That I’m editing. Because I don’t like the one on the book so much.

Mackie is not one of us. Though he lives in the small town of gentry, he comes from a world of tunnels and black murky water, a world of living dead girls rules by a little tattooed princess. He is a replacement – left in the crib of a human baby sixteen years ago. Now, because of fatal allergies to iron, blood, and consecrated ground, Mackie is slowly dying in the human world. Mackie would give anything to live among us. But they want him back. There is an oddly intriguing girl named Tate, and when her baby sister goes missing Mackie is drawn irrevocably into the underworld of Gentry: Mayhem. He must face the dark creatures of the slag heaps and find his place in our world, or theirs.

Recently, I said that I had never been able to read a book more than once. As of 1 am on October 16, 2013, this is the first book I’ve read twice. I think it’s because how utterly unremarkable it is. The story gets a 4.5, the characters (mostly Mackie) get a 4. Execution and general development get a possibly generous 3. But because of ratings one and two, this book makes me quite happy. In the quiet sort of way where I’m not distracted by how amazing it is to feel, but just enough where I’m inclined to keep going. It’s really quite nice.

Chaos Walking

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For those of you who aren’t hip to the 30 Day Challenge, this is Day 3. And this is my favorite books series. Chaos Walking by Patrick Ness. It’s a really interesting take on science fiction, in that it doesn’t really seem like it’s a science fiction. At the start, it seems a lot like a coming of age story about a boy and his dog. But, like most books I love, it’s so much more than that. Here’s the premise of the first book, The Knife of Never Letting Go:

Todd Hewitt is the only boy in a town of men. Ever since the settlers were infected with the Noise germ, Todd can hear everything the men think, and they hear everything he thinks. Todd is just a month away from becoming a man, but in the midst of the cacophony, he knows that the town is hiding something from him — something so awful Todd is forced to flee with only his dog, whose simple, loyal voice he hears too. With hostile men from the town in pursuit, the two stumble upon a strange and eerily silent creature: a girl. Who is she? Why wasn’t she killed by the germ like all the females on New World? Propelled by Todd’s gritty narration, readers are in for a white-knuckle journey in which a boy on the cusp of manhood must unlearn everything he knows in order to figure out who he truly is.

The whole story takes place on a planet called New World, a planet 80 years from ‘Old World’ with years that are 13 months long. And the story begins in a small town called ‘Prentisstown’. Possibly the last human settlement left on New World after the war with the Spackle (the indigenous reigning species of the planet) which unleashed the Noise on all the men and killed all of the women. So it’s a dying colony. As the story goes on, we get to explore New World as layers of conspiracy are peeled back and a new great war is starting.

I cannot stress enough how great this trilogy is.

Aside from everything, one thing I really love about this series is the continuity. The title of everyone book has meaning. The title of the series has meaning. The title of the series is referenced early on in the first book. The title of the first book is heavily alluded to in the first book, but comes back full circle in the third book. The title of the second book is revealed in the second book. The title of the third book is originally discussed in the first book. Stuff that happens in the first book comes back and proves to be vitally important for the rest of the series. It’s amazing.

Another talking point is the relationship Todd has with the girl he finds. Viola. It’s a bit strained at first, in that they are both on the run, he’s never seen a girl in real life so he’s understandably put off, and she won’t say anything. They don’t know what’s going in and things are just weird. But as they story evolves and time goes by they form this really great bond of friendship that’s kind of more than friendship and it’s a lot a bit beautiful.

The characters are so real it literally hurts. This includes Manchee, Todd’s dog. And the Spackle when they really become prominent in the story. And Todd’s dads, Cillian and Ben. Especially Ben. And Davey. Oh, ouch, there my thoughts go again. Even the freaking bad guy is real and almost sympathetic in how absolutely and unforgivably insane he is. I mean, two of the books take plays in the middle of this cluster-fuck war. The whole thing is just painful. Just, wow. Right in the feels.

But it’s also wonderful. So wonderful that everyone should go read it immediately. The Knife of Never Letting Go  is a wonderful opening. It establishes the characters, the major conflict, and some prominent themes and motifs and stuff. The Ask and the Answer adds more stress to the conflict as people are broken and loyalties are really put to the test. Monsters of Men is the epic conclusion which is perhaps more heart wrenching and more heart warming than anything else ever.

You’d being doing yourself a favor to put it on your reading list.

The Best Book I Read Last Year

Before I really go into, I’d like to make clear my definition of ‘last year’. it means something different to different people. For me, I’m going to go with last school year. Admittedly, I didn’t read that many books last year, but one really did stand out to me.

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Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

This book…is wonderful. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. It was slightly adorable at times, gut wrenching, heart warming, angering and just plain painful at times. And it was worth it. Here, have a synopsis:

In 1969, Henry Lee joins a crowd outside the panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle’s Japantown. It had been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has discovered the belongings of Japanese families who were sent to internment camps during World War II. As the owner displays and unfurls a Japanese parasol, Henry, a Chinese American, remember a young Japanese American girl from his childhood in the 1940s – Keiko Okabe, with whom he forged a bond of friendship and innocent love that transcended the prejudices of their Old World ancestors. Now, forty years later, Henry explores the hotel’s basement for the Okabe family’s belongings and for a long-lost object whose value he cannot even begin to measure. His search will take him on a journey to revisit the sacrifices he has made for family, for love, for country.

This book switches between the 40s and 1986 until we’re up to speed on both stories, and they come together in a wonderful final stretch. The thing that really got me about this novel is the perspectives it presents.

I have always been very interested in WWII. I’ve done a lot of independent research about the war away from home and some (but less) about the war at home and I’ve found that something the consistently brushed over in school was the treatment of minorities during the time – especially pertaining to Japanese internment. Most of WWII related books I’ve seen are related to the holocaust (concentration camps, a Jewish family on the run). I’m not negating the devastating significance of the holocaust, but WWII was more than that.

This book goes into perspectives which are often missed. I had never even thought about how the war might have effected the Americans of Chinese (or otherwise Asian) descent. The main character wears a button for a big chunk of the book reading ‘I am Chinese’ for fear of being mistaken for being Japanese, since no one could tell the difference (not that they tried). The book also goes into the jazz scene of the era. It’s definitely worth noting that Henry’s best friend is a (black) sax-man named Sheldon. Then of course there’s Keiko, Japanese ancestry but American nationality. Through these perspectives, we get a lot of cultural and racial identity and the treatment of such identities within several cultures.

But, like all my favorite books, it’s about much more.

It’s about hope and loss, friendship and family. I could say it’s about jazz music saving a nation, but that might come off as a bit biased (and maybe a bit of a stretch).

It really is a lovely read. I’d recommend it to anyone interested in compelling characters, a good story, any of the themes listed above, WWII, and especially someone who likes to consider the troubles of racial and culture identity (we’ve all been there, am I right?).

Just a side note, I love the title so much. It’s a title with a meaning that is probably slightly apparent in the synopsis alone. I love it.

Anyway, yeah. Great book for a book list. Give it a look!

30 Day Book Challenge

As a new blog, I figured a great way to get started is with the 30 Day Book Challenge. What I’m going to do is complete the challenge, and have other blogs elaborating on my challenge  posts. For example, after I post about my favorite book (a post which will include no spoilers), I will write up a post discussing the book, meant to be read after the actual reading of the book.

Here’s the actual challenge:

  • 30 day book challenge

Let me know if you’re doing it too. We can follow each other as the challenge unfolds. Insert suggestive wagging eyebrows here. Have a nice day.