Monday, November 23, 2009

Mary fights against death in THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH by Carrie Ryan

OK Junkies, I've been debating whether or not to use common archetypal vernacular to tell you what this book is about. On the one hand, I don't want to cheapen Ryan's literary approach to a familiar setting and turn you off from this amazing book. But, on the other hand, I would hate for anyone to find themselves, as I did, all alone at night in a new house reading about something much more terrifying than expected. Maybe I'll decide by the end of this post.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth is dark, frightening, and beautiful. Mary is coming of age in a village, that according to the Sisterhood, is home to the last survivors of humanity. Mary's world exists several generations after The Return and the Sisterhood enforces rules and traditions to continue the human race.

Guardians protect and reinforce the fences surrounding the village. Beyond these fences is the Forest of Hands and Teeth, which is filled with the Unconsecrated who mindlessly paw and push themselves against the fence.

Mary's life changes forever when her mother is infected and becomes Unconsecrated, and Mary is thrust into the unyielding Sisterhood. As Mary searches to uncover the Sisterhood's secrets, she also discovers a forbidden love.

Mary must choose between duty and love, and between safety and her dreams. Not only is Mary brave in fighting against traditions and expectations, but she is hard-core in swinging an axe and scythe, decapitating death itself.

Mary lives in a horrifying world, surrounded by death. Yet she has the courage to hope for something more than simple safety and contentment. While reading, I intermittently wanted to kiss Mary and kick her in the teeth for deciding that being with the man she loves isn't enough for her. She risks her life (and those of her friends and family, eek) to pursue her dream and chase after hope.

Mary is courageous, and pretty darn selfish, in searching for a meaning to life beyond surviving, in finding a reason to live amongst so much death.

OK, Junkies. Basically, this book is a coming-of-age-love-story that takes place a few generations after the zombie apocalypse. Mary is a kick-ass heroine who decapitates the living dead better than her male counterparts.

But Carrie Ryan tells this story beautifully. Like the characters, you forget about the Unconsecrated relentlessly clawing at the fences. This story is about a young girl's search for happiness and her refusal to accept the role society has designed for her.

Read The Forest of Hand and Teeth, but lock the doors and turn on all the lights in the house before you do.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Gutsy CORALINE by Neil Gaiman

I was fortunate enough to grow up with a great mom who was also an amateur actress. This resulted in great bed-time stories and dramatic readings of picture books. My mom's talent, however, also led to some terrifying moments.

There were a few times (I don't know if I was annoying the crap out of her or what) when I was hanging out with Mom, maybe even curled up in her lap, and she'd snap.

She'd look down her nose at me with disgust and in a weird British accent say, "Mother? I am not your Mother! I have no idea what your talking about! I don't know who you are, little girl."

She'd keep it up for a few minutes, sometimes even pushing me away as I clawed at her, whimpering, "Mom! Stop!" Of course my pleading only egged her on more. This terrified me.

She'd then laugh and say she was just kidding, but I never thought it was funny.

Coraline, by Neil Gaiman, brought the horror of these moments all back to me.

Do not be fooled, Junkies. Sure the book is thin, there are illustrations, the font is huge. Looks like a quaint little children's book. Looks can be deceiving.

This book may be the most frightening thing I've ever read (granted, I do not enjoy being scared and stay away from horror, or anything with a spooky cover).

I finished Coraline in one night because I never found a safe place to put it down.

Coraline is an only child who moves with her parents into a new house and is feeling a little neglected. She finds a door in the house with a wall of bricks behind it.

One day she opens the door and instead of bricks, she finds a passage way to another house that is almost identical to her house, and a mom and dad that are almost identical to her mom and dad.


The other mother has buttons for eyes and promises Coraline to love her, pay attention to her, and give her whatever she wants. The only thing is, the other mother needs to sew buttons onto Coraline's eyes.

Corlaine navigates her way through the eerie and grotesque alternate universe to save her parents and battle the other mother.

OK, forget the talking dogs, the killer rats, the sticky membrane filled with the neighbors. Just the whole idea of the other mother makes me think that Neil Gaiman is either a warped creative genius, hates children, or both.

It's been ten years since I lived with my mom, but the idea of the other mother trying to make me her daughter in her goth-version-of-Alice-in-Wonderland-only-way-more-f-ed-up world sent shivers down my spine.

But this is what makes Coraline such a great heroine. She's terrified, the reader is terrified, but Coraline faces her fear and fights to save her parents. Coraline learns that true bravery isn't lack of fear, but being scared and doing what's right despite that fear.
Gaiman's writing is clean, simple, and elegant. He doesn't beat around the bush, he just focuses on the story and the wacked-out world created by the other mother. Each sentence packs a punch in this story told by a smart, brave, no nonsense narrator, Coraline.

I wish I was as courageous as Coraline. If I opened a door in my living room and was faced with the other mother, I'd probably curl up in a ball and cry.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Deadly Katsa in GRACELING by Kristin Cashore

Hey Junkies! How I've missed you! Sorry this week's post is late but sometimes "real life" gets in the way of pursuing and chronicling my addiction. Sigh.

OK, let's get right down to it. Not since my She-Ra days, has anything made me want to jump up and fight invisible bad guys in the backyard as much as this book.

Graceling by Kristin Cashore packs a punch and Katsa is the ultimate kick-ass heroine. (I hereby challenge anyone to find a literary heroine tougher and deadlier than Katsa).

Cashore creates a fantasy world with seven kingdoms that fortunately does not require the reader to learn elvish nor refer constantly to a map, (and thank goodness cuz that would just kill our buzz). In this world, some people are born gracelings. They have two different colored eyes and a special ability that manifests itself in adolescence. Gracelings are feared and exploited, especially Katsa.

Katsa is an orphan (of course! This is a YA book, hello!) who lives with her uncle, a nasty king of one of the 7 kingdoms. Katsa's grace is killing. She can't be defeated in a fight, she's rarely injured, and she can snap a warrior's neck with a flick of her wrist. I told you, she's bad-ass. Katsa serves as a hired goon for her uncle, threatening and killing people who owe him money or have insulted him in some way.

Katsa has moral qualms about her role as a mercenary and secretly works to put her talents to better use. She meets Po, a graced hotty from another land. Po is the first person Katsa's met who can challenge her skills at fighting, and together they work to uncover the kingdoms' secrets.

Graceling is marketed for young adults BUT it is sophisticated enough to tickle my grown-up dendrites. It's beautifully and intelligently written and I never felt like I had to reach up and turn off part of my brain to enjoy it. Katsa and Po's relationship is so nuanced, I'm not sure most teenagers can fully appreciate it. Also, there was enough political intrigue, romance, and suspense to keep my mind busy that I never fully guessed the ending, unlike with some YA books.

Graceling is about a tough chick finding her humanity and learning to be vulnerable. It is wonderful to watch how Katsa is perfectly skilled at killing a man with her bare hands, but fumbles through simple social situations.

Cashore's characters are so real, I felt bad for their losses days after I'd finished reading.

Fire is on my to-read-list and I have a feeling I'll be posting about that heroine when I'm through.

Go read Graceling and then open up a can-of-whoop-ass on the bad guys in your yard when you're done.