March 8

The Things They Carried Critical Review

 

The Great Descriptions They Carried

Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carriedportrays the Vietnam war through numerous short vignettes. Some stories are fiction others non. In his short story, “Sweetheart of The Song Tra Bong,”a story in which O’Brien admits he’s not sure if the story is real or not, Tim O’Brien reveals through internal and external description how war can rob a child robs of their innocence.
The story starts with Lt. Mark Fossie arranging to have his girlfriend, Mary Anne Bell, brought to Vietnam for a visit.  Medic Rat Kiley, who narrates the story to his companions, describes Mary Anne upon her arrival to the Song Tra Bong outpost as follows:

The cute blonde—just a kid, just barely out of high school—she shows up with a suitcase and one of those plastic cosmetic bags. (…)  She’s got on culottes.  White culottes and this sexy pink sweater. (90)

Kiley provides a pretty picture of Mary Anne Bell with three sentences, and readers see the words Kiley didn’t say: innocence, an innocent girl.  By using the term “kid” to describe Mary Anne, Kiley gets readers to immediately think of the innocence of childhood.  The mention of her being “barely out of high school” has connotations of her still growing up and having little or no experience out in the world.  The plastic cosmetic bag is an interesting detail.  By itself, the detail can attest to her vanity and naiveté.  Here she’s brought a non-essential item into a warzone, a place where people are too busy fighting for their lives to worry about their appearance or how someone else looks.

According to wisegeek.com, Culottes are “a form of split skirt. They are usually made full or calf length, and consist of a pair of loose, flowing trousers which strongly resemble a skirt until the wearer engages in vigorous physical activity.”  In other words, a fashion accessory that is like the cosmetic bag: useless in a warzone, pretty, but impractical. The fact they are white easily refers to purity, the untarnished innocence that white is often associated with.  The pink sweater returns readers to Kiley’s descriptor of “kid,” which is when the favorite color of girls is most often pink.
Mary Anne Bell’s innocence in reillustrated a few pages later when readers are given the history between Mary Anne and Mark Fossie:

Mary Ann Bell and Mark Fossie had been sweethearts since grammar school.  From the sixth grade on they had known for a fact that someday they would be married, and live in a fine gingerbread house near Lake Erie and have three healthy yellow-haired children and grow old together and no doubt die in each other’s arms and be buried in the same walnut casket. (94)

This description shows the idolized life Mary Anne sees for herself.  O’Brien chose his words carefully to convey that this was a fantasy she had, without actually saying it out right.  He mentions they were “sweethearts since grammar school.”  Grammar school refers to a time of innocence and a lack of expectations.  The fact she would get married “someday” instead of a specific date also indicates she’s thinking of a vague concept of time that can easily slip through her fingers.  There is no basis of reality to the assumption yet, no date set.  The “gingerbread house” is possibly the strongest evidence that this is a fantasy, as it refers to the “Hansel and Gretel” fairytale told to children, which links readers back to the “grammar school” reference.

O’Brien also shows Mary Anne’s loss of innocence with descriptors in the story.  Changes in Mary Anne start to show around the time she starts helping treat injured people and saving lives. She also learns how to use M-16s. Within weeks of arriving:

 

There was a new imprecision in the way Mary Anne expressed her thoughts on certain subjects.  Not necessarily three kids, she’d say.  Not necessarily a house on Lake Erie.  “Naturally we’ll still get married,” she’d tell him. “But it doesn’t have to be right away.  Maybe travel first.  Maybe live together.  Just test it out, you know?” (99)

The new imprecision shows her dreams and plans have changed.  She’s gone from the childish certainty that she will marry and have three kids, to a more adult attitude about maybe this wasn’t what she wanted; a realization that there is more out there than marriage and motherhood.  She could do other things with her life, like travel.  Mark Fossie noticed other differences about Mary Anne:

He couldn’t pin it down.  Her body seemed foreign somehow—too stiff in places, too firm where the softness used to be.  The bubbliness was gone.  The nervous giggling, too.  When she laughed now, which was rare, it was only when something struck her as truly funny.  Her voice seemed to reorganize itself at a lower pitch.  (99)

The description of Mary Anne being “stiff in places, too firm where the softness used to be,” is a metaphor.  The softness and flexibility of her childhood has faded, and became hard, adult, tarnished. The bubbliness, and the nervous giggling, are often associated with childhood as well, innocence.  The fact her voice reorganized itself at a lower pitch is another indication of her growing up, stripping the childish innocence she arrived with. All these changes occurred as she learned more about war, saw more of the war: learning how to shoot, how to live like a soldier, learning how to treat wounds.

The last time Kiley says he saw Mary Ann Bell was after she’d disappeared for weeks with the greenies, special force members, and Mark Fossie, after waiting a long time for Anne Mary to come out, goes into the special forces building:

It took a few seconds, Rat said, to appreciate the full change. In part it was her eyes: utterly flat and indifferent.  There was no emotion in her stare, no sense of the person behind it. But the grotesque part, he said, was her jewelry.  At the girl’s throat was a necklace of human tongues. Elongated and narrow, like pieces of blackened leather, the tongues were threaded along a length of copper wire, one overlapping the next, the tips curled upward as if caught in a final shrill syllable. (110-111)

The eyes are known as windows to the soul.  Those who are innocent, tend to have a playful spark in their eyes, a sense of life and wonderment. But in this description her eyes are perfectly flat and indifferent, no emotion in her stare, no sense of the person behind it, a sign that any innocence she once had has now been killed. She has been corrupted by the war and the person she once was has been murdered.  The jewelry she wears is also a sign of who she has become.  Instead of the jewelry being sexy, cute or pretty, it’s grotesque.  The tongue necklace shows she has nonchalance about the lives that have been taken, a lack of horror, and is a sort of badge of what she’s done and lost: her innocence.

Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, possess a short story titled Sweetheart of The Song Tra Bong. The story is narrated by Rat Kiley, and through O’Brien’s word choices and descriptions effectively show how Mary Anne Bell and how soldiers lost her innocence by going to Vietnam.

Works Cited

O’Brien, Tim. “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong.” The Things They Carried. New York: Broadway, 1990. 89-116. Print.
Smith, S.E., and Bronwyn Harris. “What Are Culottes?” WiseGeek. Conjecture, n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2013.

March 7

The Things They Carried

They carried malaria tablets, love letters, 28-pound mine detectors, dope, illustrated bibles, each other. And if they made it home alive, they carried unrelenting images of a nightmarish war that history is only beginning to absorb. Since its first publication, The Things They Carried has become an unparalleled Vietnam testament, a classic work of American literature, and a profound study of men at war that illuminates the capacity, and the limits, of the human heart and soul

I knew right off I wouldn’t like this book.  I haven’t found a war-centered story that I do like, at least not a historical one. I also remembered hearing book reports about The Things They Carried when I was in high school and not feeling an inkling of interest toward it. However the book was required reading for my second semester of graduate school so I sat down and actually read the book.

The book did not bore me to the point its cousins normally do. The book was focused on war but it seemed to be more than what a war-story is. I’m not sure how to explain it. The story has several short stories in it which allowed the author to address the aftereffects of war, the choices made before one went to war and the horrors that may be seen during the war.  Some of the stories are true, others are admittedly fictitious. The author spoke to the reader in parts, discussing how to write a good war story, his opinions on life and war and what inspired some of the stories he wrote. He has some interesting views and insights, but nothing in the book made me want to go: “I must buy this!”  I can see why it’s so popular, why it’s seen as powerful, but in the end I was glad I got my copy from the library.

Since I’m not into war stories, the biggest compliment I can give it is that the book didn’t bore me to tears.  I managed to read through the book without dreading having to read more.  The chapters were normally pretty short.  But I imagine those interested in true, historical war stories would probably find this book enthralling.

My critical review on this book will be posted on Friday if you want a more…academic view on the book.

March 1

Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch By Constance Hale

Writers know it instinctively: Verbs make a sentence zing. Grammar gurus agree: Drama in writing emerges from the interplay of a subject (noun) and a predicate (verb). Constance Hale, the best-selling author of Sin and Syntax zooms in on the colorful world of verbs. Synthesizing the pedagogical and the popular, the scholarly and the scandalous, Hale combines the wit of Bill Bryson with the practical wisdom of William Zinsser. She marches through linguistic history to paint a layered picture of our language—from before it really existed to the quirky usages we see online today. She warns about habits to avoid and inspires with samples of brilliant writing. A veteran teacher, Hale gives writing prompts along the way, helping readers “try, do, write, play.” Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch  guides us to more powerful writing by demonstrating how to use great verbs with style.

I truly enjoyed reading this book. A lot of books on writing that I do read at this point often re-hash the same information as other books: new information is rare. This book focuses not necessarily on writing, but on words.  We learn the history of English, how some words are stronger than others, proper grammar usage. If you follow me on Facebook  you’ll have noticed I quoted this book several times.  What you may not know is that I have a long list, from this book alone, of books I should do my best to eliminate from my story and everything discussed is well explained.

I found this book invaluable and I will probably purchase it for my own shelves.  I borrowed it from the library.  I also plan on checking into Constance Hale’s Sin and Syntax.

February 22

Promises To Keep By Amelia Atwater-Rhodes

I must admit something before I say anything else about this book. Amelia Atwater-Rhodes is the author that got me to take my writing seriously.  I was twelve when I read her book, In the Forests of The Night.  She’d written it at 13, published it at 14.

She was the first teenage author I was aware of and us being so close in age had me swearing I’d try getting published by the time I was 15.  Getting published didn’t happen, at least not that early and not in novel-writing, but I started writing daily, studying the craft and basically internet stalking her. I’ve read every book she’s published, including the short story she published in the anthology 666.

I grew up, and my stalker habits  faded. I still read Amelia’s books and keep an eye on her sporadic posts on her website.  Mainly for book updates, I swear. I also follow her on Facebook, which is how I managed to get an ARC (Advanced Readers Copy) of Promises to Keep. Thanks again Amelia!

With that admission out of the way, we can begin with the review.

I wasn’t sure what to expect of Promises to Keep after the release of her last book Poison Tree, which felt dated and stretched to the point of being unrealistic, even in terms of the world she created.  The last few books she’s published didn’t feel as ready for publication as others. This one…felt much more put together than Poison Tree, but their were still things…

I saw no real point to the prologue in this book.  It introduces Daryl, and Brina and the fall of Midnight. We met Daryl and learned about Midnight in Midnight Predator. There was a brief mention of  Jeshickah, who we also met in Midnight Predator. And hints of a pact by a Sara Vida, not the Sarah Vida in Shattered Mirror or All Just Glass, another one.  Jeshickah and Sara Vida are not mentioned again in the book, nor is the pact, which bothered me. How did it connect to the rest of the story? Sarah Vida from previous books is frequently mentioned but does not make a physical appearance.

The prologue would have been better if it related to the book,  perhaps introducing elementals instead. From what I’ve gleamed on the subject, Elementals are the incarnations of the elements, fire, water, wind, blood…  I kept imagining them in human form, but I’m not sure that’s what Amelia meant to convey. And I can’t tell you how much of my impressions of Elementals are because of Promises to Keep and how much are from previous books where they were mentioned, if not made a very short appearance.

Chapter 1 starts in the middle of a fight scene. The scene is later revealed to have no real importance in the story other than to cause the main character, Jay, to be late to a party. Being late is how he obtains information he didn’t know he’d need until much later.  Why he couldn’t receive the same information from his invitee, I don’t know.   But once Jay walks into the party, the story takes place.

I believe one character from each of Atwater-Rhodes’ previous books, with the exception to the Kiesha’ra series, make a cameo appearance in Promises to Keep. And they’re true Cameo appearances, some of them only a paragraph long.  It was nice to see the characters on stage again, but I  wanted them to do a lot more on screen than showing up for a role someone else could easily have been assigned. Some of the reappearing characters have supporting roles in the book, like Caryn Smoke.

Other issues I had: Brina seemed to have a complete personality change half-way through the book.  There is a slight transition for the change, but it didn’t seem enough.  When we first meet her she’s in deep mourning for her brother, the change happens and she’s still a demanding brat, but a few pages later she’s a light-hearted girl who seems to have forgotten all about her brother Daryl.

After finding an unconscious girl, later revealed to be named Pet, Jay goes in search of answers about her. He  receives the only important information before he goes into the woods, where he finds the new  Midnight. Midnight is basically the headquarters of the slave trade and the major setting for Midnight Predator. Afterwards, pages are spent with him deciding how to figure his way out of the woods.  Then Midnight is never mentioned again.

Jace goes back to Haven number 2, awakens the girl, who disappears, supposedly seeking revenge on Midnight (the ones who did her wrong). We see Pet once more before the book ends.  But we never know what happens to her.  Did she survive?  Was she killed?

 Other questions are left unanswered: Does Jay end up with Zeke or Brina? What does Brina do with her life after she became human? Did anything happen to the new Midnight after Jay found it? If, so, how did this affect the characters in Midnight Predator?  Their are more questions I wanted answers to but I believe those were the biggest ones. As of this writing, I do not believe Amelia has a follow-up book planned for this story. So I may not receive answers. Other than those issues, I found the book enjoyable. Jay is an interesting character, with a new perspective.

For those of you who see me referencing so many characters from previous books and haven’t read any of Amelia Atwater-Rhodes’ work, don’t worry.  Although the reappearance of several characters is nice for a long-time follower to see, I do not believe their appearance would keep new readers from completely enjoying or understanding this book.
 

December 4

Another book Podcast

The undead can really screw up your senior year … 

Marrying a vampire definitely doesn’t fit into Jessica Packwood’s senior year “get-a-life” plan. But then a bizarre (and incredibly hot) new exchange student named Lucius Vladescu shows up, claiming that Jessica is a Romanian vampire princess by birth—and he’s her long-lost fiancee. Armed with newfound confidence and a copy of Growing Up Undead: A Teen Vampire’s Guide to Dating, Health, and Emotions, Jessica makes a dramatic transition from average American teenager to glam European vampire princess. But when a devious cheerleader sets her sights on Lucius, Jess finds herself fighting to win back her wayward prince, stop a global vampire war – and save Lucius’s soul from eternal destruction.

So my friends and I got back together and made another podcast.  This time we did a review on Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side by Beth Fantaskey. Olivia, Cyna and I also decided to make the podcasts a regular thing. As such, we’ve come up with Papercuts Podcast.”  Stealing from Cyna because she described it so well, i”we’ll regularly discuss YA literature and entertainment. It won’t always be straight book reviews – we’ve also got plans for tropes discussions, trailer snark, book vs. movie chats, guest reviewers, and hopefully some interviews in the future, so we’re really looking forward to getting this off the ground, and we hope you guys are, too.”

Since we’re still new to this, we’re still trying to figure out how to make this all work.  Any suggestions on improvements or topics you want to see us discuss are welcomed.
November 20

Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien: A different review

In the future, in a world baked dry by the harsh sun, there are those who live inside the walled Enclave and those, like sixteen-year-old Gaia Stone, who live outside. Following in her mother’s footsteps Gaia has become a midwife, delivering babies in the world outside the wall and handing a quota over to be “advanced” into the privileged society of the Enclave. Gaia has always believed this is her duty, until the night her mother and father are arrested by the very people they so loyally serve.

Now Gaia is forced to question everything she has been taught, but her choice is simple: enter the world of the Enclave to rescue her parents, or die trying.

So every month, or so, a few of my friends and I get together on Skype to discuss writing, whether we’re talking about tropes are critiquing a book we’ve all read.  This time Cyna of You’re Killing Me, Ollie of Olivia’s Secret Reading Room and I decided to try recording one of these meetings. The podcast is very rough.  We didn’t even introduce ourselves at the beginning but I think it turned out well for a first attempt and we are talking about doing this on a semi-regular basis. The project may become bigger than that, but right now no guarantees.  In the below podcast you can listen to what we had to say about Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien. Let me know if there are any topics you would like to see discussed whether via podcast or written.

 

October 10

Tenderness Critical Review

Almost any writer can tell you that the three act structure consists of Set up, Confrontation and Resolution.  However there are more ways to write a story then the three act structure.  A book could be written with three, four, five or even six acts. Robert Cormier provides a strong example of the four act structure in his novel Tenderness.

According to Larry Brooks the first act of the four act structure “introduces the hero in his everyday life, sets a hook to keep readers reading, establishes the hero’s stakes (what he cares about that will be endangered later), and foreshadows later events. It also introduces the changes in the hero’s life that propel him toward the First Plot Point.”

Readers see the first act in first 100 pages of Tenderness. Readers are in the first Act of the story. In this act we meet Lori, learn about her fixations and see how she gets rid of them with Thrash. Afterwards, while watching the news, readers see her develop another fixation on admitted killer, Eric Poole.  Unwilling to leave town before she gets rid of her fixation on him, Lori finds a temporary refuge at Harmony House.

Eric’s past is revealed through an interrogation by a police officer. He then foils the officer’s plans to keep him in prison. On one of his last days in prison, Eric develops his own fixation on a girl, Maria, who fits his victim profile.

In The Four-Part Structure, Larry Brooks wrote the following about act two, “Everything the hero cares about (and readers came to care about in Part 1) is in danger. The hero is usually just reacting to what happened at the First Plot Point—not being proactive. She might try to save the day, but if she does, it doesn’t work yet.”

From pages 100 to 140, readers are in act two. Eric stays at his Aunt Phoebe’s house. While waiting for the media to lose interest in him, Eric thinks about Maria and slowly grows tired of biding his time. He wants to kill Maria. Meanwhile, because Eric avoids the media watching his aunt’s house for him, Lori is unable to see Eric, much less remove her fixation.  She is stalled, non-active beyond keeping a vigil on Eric’s house in the hopes of him coming out.

Eric however has seen Lori through the back window of the house.  She looks familiar to him at first, but he eventually remembers that she was a potential witness to one of the murders he committed years ago and wonders if she might be a lose end he has to kill to maintain his freedom.

Concurrently, one of the girls at Harmony House is trying to get Lori in trouble and Lori recognizes she can’t stay there any longer. Giving up on removing her fixation on Eric, she leaves Harmony House to return home. Before she leaves, however, she swings by his house one final time to say a silent goodbye.

Act three, according to Larry Brooks, is when “the hero becomes proactive, and begins to seriously fight back against the antagonist. He also starts to fight against the inner demons that are holding him back.”

From pages 140 to 214, readers are in the third act structure.  In this act, Lori and Eric finally meet or are reunited as the case may be.  However Eric is suspicious of her and wonders if he needs to kill her. They spend some time together, during which Eric decides Lori isn’t a threat to him and Lori manages to get rid of fixation of him. By then she has grown to care for Eric though and realizing he has not been freed of his fixation on Maria, Lori encourages Eric to go after her. Maria is a trap however. Lori realizes this and stops Eric from hurting Maria, before he has done anything the police can arrest him on. The police threaten to arrest Lori for interfering and she runs into the woods to escape them.

In the Four-Part Structure, Larry Brooks wrote that in Act four “Everything in the previous three parts comes together in a final climax, in which the hero shows that she’s overcome her inner demons. After that, there’s a bit of time for tying up loose ends.”

From page 217 to 229 readers are in the fourth act. Once Lori and Eric find each other again, they decide to celebrate their near escape and rent a canoe in the park. They trust each other, are fond of each other and feel they may be together for a while.  However Lori falls out of the canoe and into the river.  Eric tries to save her. However Lori dies and Eric is sent to prison for her accidental death. In prison, Eric mourns for the loss of a living creature for the first time in his life, which ends the four act structure.

Cormier is a master storyteller, who uses the lesser known four act-structure to tell the story of a serial killer and his would-be accomplice.

Works Cited

Brooks, Larry. “The Four-Part Structure.” Squidoo. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Oct. 2012. .Cormier, Robert. Tenderness: A Novel. New York: Delacorte, 1997. Print.
October 10

City of Bones: Critical Review

City of Bones opens at a dance club called Pandemonium. Inside, a demon searches for prey among the dancing humans. By slowing this scene down and choosing the correct words, Clare turns a simple walk across a crowded club into a sort of dance that also raises the tension in her novel.  This is seen in passages like:

His hand tightened on the blade he carried and he had begun to step out onto the dance floor when a girl broke away from the mass of dancers and began walking toward him. (…) She smiled, passing him, beckoning with her eyes.  He turned to follow her, tasting the phantom sizzle of her death on his lips. (3)

Despite the demon’s unsavory intentions, this passage has a clear flirtatious feel to it, at least from the girl who is later identified as Isabelle. She is acts almost predatorily with the way she moves around him, makes sure that he sees her and he watches.  We know she’s constantly moving but readers may not realize how much it’s mentioned because Clare wisely chose her words carefully. Instead of several “walks” and “moves,” readers instead encounter “step out,” “broke away,” “neared him” and “passing him.”  Keeping their constant movement from feeling repetitive as it would have if Clare had used the same set of words repetitively to tell the actions.

On the next page, the constant walking continues with the following passage but Clare’s choice of words only adds to the tension that the author has already started to build:

The girl was a pale ghost retreating through the colored smoke. She reached the wall and turned, bunching her skirt up in her hands, lifting it as she grinned at him. Under the skirt she was wearing thigh-high boots.
He sauntered up to her, his skin prickling with her nearness. (…)
A cool smiled curled his lips. She moved to the side and he could see that she was leaning against a closed door. No Admittance—Storage was scrawled across it in red paint.  She reached behind her for the knob, turned it, slid inside.  (…)
He slipped into the room after her, unaware that he was being followed. (4)

Here the words that Clare uses to show the girl’s movements up the tension in the same way that simply slowing the scene down does. The word “retreat” has connotations of fear and prey attached to it.  However the word sauntered is the opposite. Someone who saunters is confident, perhaps even a predator. And as readers are aware that the boy/demon wishes to make a meal of the girl, the tension is raised with those word choices.

In two pages, with the two above passages, Clare describes the boy and girl walking at least ten times and only actually uses the word walking once.  Instead Clare uses descriptions like “retreat,” “sauntered,” or “pass” to add more tension and keep redundancy at bay.

Works Cited
Clare, Cassandra. City of Bones: The Mortal Instruments #1. New York: Simon Pulse, 2008. Print.
October 1

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder—much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Then the body disappears into thin air. It’s hard to call the police when the murderers are invisible to everyone else and when there is nothing—not even a smear of blood—to show that a boy has died. Or was he a boy?

This is Clary’s first meeting with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. It’s also her first encounter with Jace, a Shadowhunter who looks a little like an angel and acts a lot like a jerk. Within twenty-four hours Clary is pulled into Jace’s world with a vengeance, when her mother disappears and Clary herself is attacked by a demon. But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know. . . .

I felt…wronged by this book. It started off with so much potential and then it backslid, reverting to already popular story lines to tell the rest of the story, namely Harry Potter and Star Wars. It made the book entirely too predictable for my taste. However, the way this first book is written, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some of the plot lines established in this book are reneged on later,  “Oh, yeah.  We told you that.  But it wasn’t true.  Surprise!”, which would suck and I really don’t like books that do that to you.

I did enjoy the banter found in the book. However everyone in the story seems to have been blessed with a repertoire of witty comebacks, which is a bit unrealistic but I was willing to let it pass. The action scenes had a lot of potential, but I don’t think they moved along fast enough or had enough tension to really keep my interest.

There were a lot of plot conveniences. Clary’s mother is kidnapped, kept unconscious but otherwise, from what readers are shown, left unharmed. In effect, Clary no longer has an adult she needs to worry about.  The information her mother could have provided her is  revealed until a more dramatic moment. There really weren’t any adults in the book.  One is stuck inside the Institute forever and the Brotherhood does basically nothing. Lupien…I mean Luke (that’s his real name. But he also has similarities to Skywalker and to Snape) “saves” the day after being absent for most of the book.

At one point, Jace takes Clary to a restaurant and they discuss the menu.  “That food is for werewolves, Kelpie, Zombies, vampires, Sirens.”  Honestly what was the point of that scene? As far as I could tell they were naming every mythological creature they could to show they were a part of the world Clare built but some of the creatures listed are so rare, I’m sure not everyone would know what they were talking about and there was no explanation for the creatures they named. So if you didn’t know what a Kelpie was, well, look it up.

A lot of Clare’s similes and metaphors are awful.

“Leaving the Institute was like climbing into a wet, hot canvas bag.”

Um.  How does one fit into a canvas bag, wet or otherwise?

“Her face felt like one big bruise, her arms, aching and stinging, like raw meat.”

I think there would be a lot more vegetarians out there if raw meat stung upon contact.  I could be wrong, however.

Clary is whiny and, other than complaining and getting mad at other people, doesn’t seem to do much. She does manage to find the cup everyone is looking for but that doesn’t help her case much as it was a small thing. She does punch and hurt a few people, but considering they were all on her side can’t really be attributed to her doing something in the book. She got credit for killing a demon but a frightened two year-old could have done what she did. So apparently ravener demons aren’t that hard to kill.

Very few of my friends would find value in reading City of Bones. It’s very much an introductory novel that could have been significantly trimmed down and a little less Star Wars-esque. If I read any of the sequels to this book, it’ll be because I’m hoping the storyline gets better. However, if you don’t mind a do-nothing-female protagonist and a predictable storyline it may have some entertainment value.

September 14

Holes: A Critical Review

No Holes in Emotional Arc
Louis Sachar’s Holes is about fifteen-year-old Stanley Yelnats, who is falsely accused and charged with theft. He is sent to Camp Green Lake instead of a Juvenile detention center where he endures and survives inhumane conditions. Sachar gives Stanley a strong, and believable emotional arc through the entire story.

When Stanley first arrives at Camp Green Lake he is overweight, he has no friends and no self-confidence. He’s miserable at this term of his life and at the circumstances that brought him to Camp Green Lake.  Despite his emotional dislike of himself, Stanley does still feel sympathy for the guard and bus driver that took him to Camp Green Lake, which is conveyed after the guard grumbles about the return drive: “Stanley thought about the long, miserable bus ride and felt a little sorry for the guard and the bus driver (13).”

However Camp Green Lake is hard on Stanley.  Digging Holes in desert heat, Stanley begins to grow physically stronger, and loses weight. His body, like his personality,  begins to harden due to the harsh conditions of Camp Green Lake.  This is perhaps best demonstrated when Zero, another camper, admits he can’t read or write and would like Stanley to teach him.  Stanley’s reaction is unsympathetic and unkind:

After digging all day, he didn’t have the strength to try to teach Zero to read and write. He needed to save his energy for the people who counted.

“You don’t have to teach me to write,” said Zero.  “Just to read.  I don’t have anybody to write to.”
“Sorry,” Stanley said again. (82)

Later, Stanley gets in trouble when one of his fellow campers steals a burlap sack of sunflower seeds.  Stanley takes the blame for it and is sent to the Warden’s for the theft.  When he returns to finish digging his hole, he finds that someone has nearly finished digging his hole for him. He realizes that Zero, who hadn’t been involved in the theft, had done the work for him. Zero’s act soften’s Stanley toward him. He agrees to teach Zero how to read. From this point on Zero and Stanley begin to grow as friends.

The hardness Stanley developed earlier does not completely disappear though.  It’s just changed into a different kind of hardness–he becomes less sensitive, more confident in himself and as a result, willing to stand up for himself and others. On page 138, the Warden tells Stanley that he can no longer teach Zero how to read. Instead of accepting this as he would have at the beginning of the book.  He stands up to the Warden.  “‘Why can’t I dig my own hole, but still teach Zero to read?'” he asked.  “What’s wrong with that?” (139)

Thus completes the emotional arc of the story. Stanley starts at an emotional low at the beginning and concludes the arc as a strong, confident and emotionally empathetic guy.