Sunday, March 20, 2016

Anything But Typical | by: Nora Raleigh Baskin

Jason has autism. The world tends to overstimulate him and sometimes he can't control his movements. He doesn't say much, and that only seems to cause drama in a world that is constantly searching for a response. But that doesn't mean there's nothing in his head: Jason writes stories quite often, and he posts them to a website called Storyboard, where he meets a member named PhoenixBird. He thinks she might actually be his girlfriend... but in a world where even his mother struggles to understand him, how can he expect PhoenixBird to accept who he truly is? 

Anything But Typical is the second book I've read from someone on the autism spectrum's point of view (the first being Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork, one of my favorite books of all time). Seeing the world through someone with this condition's perspective is of course intriguing and insightful, but simply as someone who enjoys writing and connecting with others through the Internet, I was immediately interested in this novel's premise. The idea itself is golden (as is this cover).

The execution? Not as much.

Don't get me wrong, Anything But Typical did not outright falter. I think Baskin did a pretty good job of showing readers what was going on in Jason's head as he interacts with the world and struggles to be the socially-superior person everyone wants him to be. I could feel his hopelessness and I often felt angry at how some of the adults around him would react - fictional adults who represent what happens all too often in real life. The teachers are not trained as well as they should be to work with him, his mother struggles to understand how her son can possibly feel anything when he is not very expressive, and his grandmother... Well, his grandmother doesn't understand much of anthing. I also thought it was good to see how Jason's stories reflect his views of himself in relation to the world around him, even if it does get borderline corny at some points.

However, the last quarter of the book just felt clunky, which is odd because I would have expected that issue to arise when Jason is flashing back to past times as the present story continues. But that element was done well enough. There is so much build up to the climax, but once we get there, it's a bit underwhelming and doesn't have a very good flow to it. Keep in mind I totally understand the need to have a 'realistic' ending that is not totally happy or totally miserable - I like that aspect of the book. (And really, that's what's accomplished in the book I mentioned earlier, Marcelo in the Real World.) But the pace was weird and one of the moments where he was daydreaming wasn't written in the clearest way.

Since I was so excited to read this book based on the premise, I have to say I'm a bit disappointed in how this one turned out. Genius idea, rocky execution. 

Friday, March 4, 2016

The Ocean at the End of the Lane | by: Neil Gaiman

So, you might have heard of Neil Gaiman. Dude's done pretty well for himself as a writer; basically everyone has heard he's great. Unfortunately, I have not read any of his books since Coraline when I was twelve despite the fact that I really enjoyed it. But when I had to read a couple of his short stories for a class about two years ago and The Ocean at the End of the Lane was released, I became quite curious. I had a feeling that it would be a good book.

Even though this is technically an adult book with an adult-aged protagonist, as the narrator returns to the lane he grew up on, he relives memories from his childhood, and those memories take precedence in this small novel. He returns to his neighbors, the Hempstocks and their farm, where he experienced mind-boggling, near-death experiences with his friend Lettie, who protected him from the monsters of other dimensions as they entered the world as us ordinary people know it. Memories fade with time, and some are simply unreliable, but going back to the place where such beautiful and horrible things occurred makes it all come back to the narrator.

To be honest, in the first half of this book I was a little unsure of how I felt about it. Even though the writing impressed me right off the bat and the general uniqueness of the monsters intrigued me, I felt it might be a little too far in left field for me to truly love. After all, some of these monsters are hard to fathom. I mean... A canvas? Really? And Ursula is the kind of antagonist bound to make readers' skin crawl. She bugged me. But I rolled with it all and was determined to give it a fair chance. It all had to be leading up to something, but I couldn't quite tell what it could be. 

I think the last 25% of the book is when I realized that I was completely in love with it despite any initial thoughts, because it certainly did lead up to something, and my God was it beautiful. I wasn't expecting something that seemed so creepy and quirky to end up being so gorgeous. If these are the types of feeling all of Gaiman's work leaves people with, then I need to buy the rest of his books ASAP. I can't stop thinking about it. The Hempstocks are so intriguing, as are the revelations our narrator had as a child. Childhood is important to our understanding of the world, even if we can't make sense of what we see.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is full of imagination and beautiful passages that I just want to reread forever.