July 16

Leftovers: Critical Review

Finding a book written in second person is like finding a shark with no teeth: rare. That’s because the second person narrative is a difficult undertaking, like surviving in shark-infested waters with a severely bleeding wound. Attempts may be made; a hard fight might ensue but in the end, the narrative dies a bloody, frustrated and messy death. Laura Wiess handled the second person narrative beautifully.

Wiess had some difficult decisions to make with this book. The story would not have been the same without the dual narrators from different socioeconomic backgrounds. Most authors would have chosen to write the story in third person. Third person is a great way of getting multiple points of view across without confusing readers. It is a popular format for such situations. However, it also tends to distance readers from the characters and the story.

Wiess could have tried writing the entire story in first person narration, with the girls switching back and forth, on who was telling the story.  First person allows readers to get deeper into the head of a particular character and there have been successful cases where the story switched between two narrators with such a narrative. However, this frequently means readers are temporarily jarred from the story when the narrator changes and can make some readers put the book down.

The second person narrative practically requires the reader to step into the identity of the protagonist. This is because the reader becomes a character in the story told. Second person narrative allows readers to get deeper into the character’s heads than any other narrative. There are risks in doing this. Some readers simply cannot get past the “you” aspect of the narrative. The word “you” can often be overused. Although we use second person narrative in many different forms of writing, like pamphlets, essays, speeches and cards, it is extremely rare and hard to write in the second person narrative for the length of a book, which shows how much skill it takes to write in the second person. Otherwise, it would be more popular in literature.  However, as Wiess demonstrates in Leftovers, if the author has the skill, second person narrative allows multiple protagonists, multiple points of views, and deep characterization.

The second person narrative also allows readers to feel that a friend, someone they care about, is telling them a story. When we tell fairy tales to kids, we often stick with third person.  “The big bad wolf huffed and he puffed.”  But when the story is about ourselves we use a mixture of first and second person. “You know how I get tipsy when I drink? Yeah.  Well, you know that I went to the bar…”  Wiess takes advantage of the story-telling feel of second person by turning Leftovers into a frame story.

The book switches between past and present tense. When the story is in present tense, the characters are speaking to a police officer, reacting to the story they just told or are about to tell and defending their actions. When the story is in past tense, readers are learning about Ardith and Blair’s stories, they are learning a new element of why they did what they did, without knowing until the end what they did.  All we know, through some flashforwarding is that the story they’re telling is what led to their actions.

This switch between past and present also gives readers a chance to prepare for the other girls story, her perspective on what happened that contributed to their loss of innocence and to their crime. The switch between times also gives readers an idea of what happened and raises the questions up.  The officer they’re confessing to is wearing a neck brace, and, apparently, in need of pain medication. And yet, readers don’t know what happened in the past that put him in that condition. So, readers keep reading to figure out what is happening, to understand the plot and to uncover the horrific crime.

Through a high-level of skill and some clever ingenuity, Wiess manages to write a fantastic book using the second person narrative

Works Cited
Wiess, Laura. Leftovers. New York, NY: Pocket, 2008. Print.
July 5

Leftovers by Laura Wiess

Blair and Ardith are best friends who have committed an unforgivable act in the name of love and justice. But in order to understand what could drive two young women to such extreme measures, first you’ll have to understand why. You’ll have to listen as they describe parents who are alternately absent and smothering, classmates who mock and shun anyone different, and young men who are allowed to hurt and dominate without consequence. You will have to learn what it’s like to be a teenage girl who locks her bedroom door at night, who has been written off by the adults around her as damaged goods. A girl who has no one to trust except the one person she’s forbidden to see. You’ll have to understand what it’s really like to be forgotten and abandoned in America today.

This book is gutsy. It takes risks. It breaks rules. It does not hesitate.

The story switches from Blair and Ardith’s point of view, two girls who live completely different lives–and yet find friendship with each other because of how those different lifestyles affect them in similar ways. Leftovers is written in a second person, narrative, which I’ve heard of but do not believe I’ve ever read before. For those unfamiliar with the term, second person narrative is when the word “you” is used.  So instead of  “I opened the box.”  It would read “You open the box.” The second person narrative had an unusual affect on how the story was presented that I wouldn’t mind trying to replicate in one of my own books. This may very well be the topic of my critical review on this piece.

Throughout the book we know the girls are confessing to a crime–but we don’t know what they did until the very end of the book or what made them do whatever horrible crime it was. And as they say in the book, , technically, they did everything right so they, though not blameless, did nothing wrong. The cop in question, seems to ask questions, make comments, but he does not speak within the narrative portions of the interview–only in the actual story where he appears.  Ardith and Blair answer and respond in a way that lets readers know what the officer said or asked.

Perhaps the best description of the book though, is said by Blair in the first chapter.  “See, guys freak out. They hit critical mass and blast nuclear, white-hot anger out over the world like walking flamethrowers. But girls freak in. They absorb the pain and bitterness and keep right on sponging it up until they drown.” You see both girls drown in this book and the after affects of them hitting that breaking point.

This was a good book.I felt for the characters, no matter what circumstances they found themselves in. I found the build up to what they did interesting, though a little anti-climatic. I was hoping for something with a little more bang, but considering how Blair and Ardith set everything up it makes since that it didn’t have a louder ending.  Their were issues within the book, of course, no book ever escapes without them, and they’re minor in my mind.

Also, although this is a YA novel, parents may want to be wary of the subject matter.  It all stays true to life, it’s all within the realm of possibility. The girls are bullied at school. They find themselves in a lot of situations teenagers today find themselves in all the time. And they learn, the hard way, how to deal with it. I would have no problem recommending it to teenagers or adults, but some parents may not want their teenagers reading it. It’s a true coming of age tale in it’s own way. So the girls explore sex, experiment with each other and boys. They drink. They smoke. Their are consequences and not just the parent-found-out type. It explores the different kinds of abuse teenagers may endure.