Friday, November 19, 2010

Books that kick ass despite being about boys

When I started this seldom-updated blog, my mission was to write about books featuring strong girls.  Not so much in opposition to books about boys, as much as in opposition to books about weak girls who are saved by boy strong boys.

But because of this mission, I often refrain from gushing about a book that knocks my socks off simply because it's not about a strong heroine.  But I just read T.H. Mafi's post and was totally inspired.

So for this post, I'm going to share with you my story of how I met my "magical friend" and give you my official list of "Books About Boys that Rocked My World."

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone came out when I was in high school.  Of course I didn't read it.  It's a children's book and I was a teenager and thus stayed away from anything that could pin me as a child.

I had heard all about Harry Potter, who hadn't? But it just seemed so silly.  I even saw the first movie, but was not all that impressed.  It was long and had this silly sport on broomsticks.

I didn't start reading Harry Potter until grad school.  I was student-teaching in an 8th grade class and found that every student had Potter on the brain.  They talked about muggles and Quidditch, and I just didn't get it.  It was like a different language.  I couldn't relate.

So, in an effort to be a better teacher, I started reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.  I was hooked.  Any scrap of free-time was now filled with Hogwarts.

I was earning my masters while student teaching.  I was the busiest and most exhausted I'd ever been in my life and all I could think about was getting home to bed with my cat and some tea so I could be swept away to Hogwarts.

I was amazed by how immersed in that other world I became.  I was shocked by how strongly I felt for these characters.  (I'm still not over Sirius).  It was truly magical.  And it was the gateway drug.

Harry Potter led to Lemony Snicket which led to The Golden Compass and all of a sudden this huge world of YA literature opened up to me.  My childhood ambition to be a children's fantasy writer was reignited.
I was teaching and writing my masters's thesis, while wishing I could write about kids with magical powers.  But my career was already set, so I didn't give writing much *serious* thought.  Plus, how does anyone go about becoming a "writer" anyway?  I was going to be a teacher.

Eight years later and that ambition has not faded, but grown.  As much as I love my students, I wish I could spend more time writing stories for them to get lost in instead of preparing them for state tests. So I lead a double life, teaching and writing.

Part of me wishes that I had read Harry Potter when I was in high school.  Maybe I would have recognized my dream then.  Maybe I could have chosen a sensible path to writer-dom and majored in literature and gotten my MFA or gone into publishing or...something.  Maybe things wouldn't seem so hard now.  Or maybe I needed my adult brain to understand and appreciate the best children's literature.

All I know is, today a student mentioned "Harry Potter's owl" and I felt an immediate tightening in my chest.  I know Hedwig's fate and like most parts of this next Potter film, I'm both anticipating and dreading it.

So, in celebration of the latest Potter film, here is--in no particular order--my list of
Books About Boys that Rocked my World

The entire Harry Potter Series by JK Rowling (if you don't like it, then we can't be friends.  That simple)

The entire Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan (I've heard it criticized for being too similar to Potter.  But in the same vein, Potter can be criticized for being similar to Lord of the Rings or Star Wars.  It's the epic hero's journey, people!  The greatest story ever told (over and over again).  So, to the critics I say: shut up and go read some Joseph Campbell)

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon (not YA, and not a strong girl to be found, but a damn good book)

Looking for Alaska by John Green (if you consider yourself a fan of YA and have not read this, then you need to correct that problem immediately)

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie  (people say boys don't read.  Have you tried giving them this?)

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (ah-may-zing.  Can't really say if it's about a boy, and ain't that the point?  this is a contemporary hero's journey)

The Road by Cormac McCarthy (some make fun of it for being pretentious, but that doesn't make this novel any less brilliant)

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris (not a novel, but another book that pushed me over he edge and got me to actually sit down and start writing)

That's my list.  What's yours?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Rooting for the dark side in PERSONAL DEMONS by Lisa Desrochers

For some reason, the cover of Lisa Desrochers's Personal Demons didn't strike me as YA.  And being the idiot I am, this prevented me from reading it at first.  Even the hubby saw the book on my nightstand and said, "What? You're reading porn now?"  (Ok, hubby is definitely NOT an expert on all things literary).  All I'm saying is, listen to your mom and don't judge a book by its cover.

Personal Demons is the best angel/demon book I've read.  I loved that we got two perspectives: Fanny, the heroine's, and Luc's, the demon who's trying to tag her soul for hell.

I also loved that--unlike most paranormal romances--we don't spend half the book trying to figure out what kind of paranormal creature the hot new guy at school is, and what he wants.  We know on page 2 that Luc is a demon and he wants Fanny's soul in hell.  Fair enough.

It's hard for one's personal theology not to influence the reading of a book about hell, demons, angels, and heaven.  Luc is such a steamy character and the chemistry between him and Fanny is so hot, that it didn't take long for me to root for the demon.  Even when Luc himself hesitates in marking Fanny for eternal damnation, I was thinking, "Come on!  Just drag her to hell!  You can burn eternally together!"  Maybe more devout readers didn't go that far.

This book definitely gets better and better, the farther you get into it.  At first I was annoyed because Fanny's brain seemed to turn to mush when she was around Gabe and Luc (the two hot "new" guys in town).  I kept thinking, "OK, no one's THAT hot that you can't form coherent sentences."  But then I realized that it was Gabe's angelic and Luc's demonic powers that set Fanny's hormones
and thoughts all a flutter.

Then Luc started acting funny too and I thought, "OK, in his thousands of years of existence, this dude has to have seen a pretty girl, what's his deal?"  And this is the best part.  Luc acts strange around Fanny because she has a power that blows both his and Gabe's abilities out of the water.  You know I love me a powerful female.

The potential of Fanny's power and the spicy hot scenes with Luc kept me up at night reading.  Again, it was kind of strange rooting for Fanny to turn to the dark side.  "Come on Fanny, sleep with the demon already!  Commit the mortal sin of lust!  An eternity in hell is SO worth it!  He's so hot!"  This is definitely one of the sexiest YA novels I've read in a while.

Personal Demons does not read as young as other YA books, but since I'm a grown-up reading YA, I really didn't mind.  But if you're a 15-year-old looking for a story with prom, cheerleaders, and tons of teen angst, then this might not be the book for you.  Other than that, I'd recommend Personal Demons to any fan of the paranormal romance genre.

I can't wait to see what Fanny does with her power in the sequel, Original Sin.