It is May 1996, and Emma and Josh are juniors in high school. They’ve been neighbors and best friends forever, or at least until last November when Josh misread some signals and tried to kiss Emma. Oops. They are tentatively reestablishing their friendship now, and Josh brings Emma an AOL trial disk that he got in the mail for her to install on her brand new computer. At this point, fewer than half of high school students had been on the internet. When they finally get online (45 minutes of installation time later), they find the normal stuff they’d expected, like chat, but they also find this strange page with a blue bar across the top called Facebook.
Emma is able to use the email address she’s just created to log in to Facebook, and she starts seeing her own wall and posts from 15 years in her future. They both can’t believe that people would put the kind of stuff they’re seeing on the internet–why does anyone care what someone else had for breakfast? In this future, Emma lives in Florida, is married to some guy and also unemployed. Josh is married to the hottest girl in school who’s up to this point never given him the time of day. These futures are completely surprising to both of them but it’s Emma who takes steps to try to change this future where she’s unhappy. This gets them into a spiral of checking future Facebook and changing what they would’ve done to get them to that future.
The story is told in alternating chapters by Josh and Emma, each set of chapters written by one author that gives them each a distinct voice. As a person who graduated from high school the same year as Emma and Josh, I can report that they also capture pretty perfectly the way I felt about the wonders of the internet at that time–I used to use my dad’s PINE email to send stuff to my friends who’d already graduated and were in college. This book is also an insightful look at how ridiculous the idea of Facebook actually is when you look at it with unobsessed eyes. For today’s teens, who’ve always known the internet, this book could potentially connect them with us old fogeys.
So, a charming story of a friendship and how relationships and actions have repercussions we can’t imagine. Much lighter than Jay Asher’s first book (which I also loved), Thirteen Reasons Why, but still one I read in pretty much one sitting. You should probably read it right now.
Posted in folios
Tagged #cbr4, reviews, ya
I first heard of A.S. King when her 2010 second novel Please Ignore Vera Dietz got a Printz Honor Award (the Printz being the American Library Association’s teen book award). You can read my CBR3 review of it by clicking here. When I saw Everybody Sees the Ants on the new books shelf, I had to pick it up because Vera was so great.
Lucky Linderman doesn’t really feel lucky. His dad spends too much time at the restaurant where he’s a chef; his mom spends most of her days swimming endless laps; Lucky has been relentlessly bullied by Nader McMillan since they were both seven and Nader peed on Lucky’s shoes in a public restroom. Nader is pretty categorically a terrible person, and his torments aren’t just limited to Lucky. After an incident at the pool (Nader takes exception to Lucky rescuing a girl’s bikini top from the bottom of the pool and buffs his cheek on some cement), Lucky’s dad won’t do anything (where Lucky’s swimming mom is a squid, his dad is a turtle) and Lucky’s mom decides she can’t take it any more. Mom and Lucky hop on a plane for Arizona where they’ll spend a few weeks with Uncle Dave and Aunt Jodi.
Oh, and interspersed with all of this, plus backstory of the Nader/Lucky relationship, are the years and years of dreams Lucky has had where he’s trying to rescue his Vietnam War POW grandfather Harry from a prison camp in Nam. Lucky has been having these dreams since he was 9, sometimes waking up with an item from his dream in his hand, like a bamboo stake or a handful of chicken nuggets. Lucky’s also followed around by ants who commentate on his every move, editorializing with tiny M16s or whatever.
One of the things I really like about this book, as opposed to many YA novels, is that the adults are complex characters. They don’t just appear out of the sky to be prohibit stuff or advise things, they are people with problems and neuroses, who are trying to help and trying to let Lucky figure things out on his own. Both of King’s novels I’ve read have a wonderful sardonic tone. Neither Lucky nor Vera are really getting what they want out of life (if they were, they might not be good protagonists), and the first person narration lets the reader really get inside that feeling and how they deal with it. You can tell they’re born from the same authorial brain, and it’s one I’ve really enjoyed getting to know.
Posted in folios
Tagged #cbr4, reviews, ya
Marina Singh is a pharmacologist in her early 40s, working for a pharmaceutical company in a Minneapolis suburb. She’s in a secret relationship with the company’s CEO, and her lab partner Anders Eckman has been in the Amazonian jungle checking up on a research station for a few months. One day, they receive a terse letter from the station’s head Annick Swenson stating that Eckman is dead. The CEO and Eckman’s wife ask her, as a former student of Dr. Swenson’s, to be the one to go find out what happened to Anders and to see if she can get the information about the project’s status that Anders was unable to.
For Marina, the problems in traveling to the Amazon are manifold. The Larium she must take to prevent malaria causes terrible nightmares. She just plain doesn’t want to go, plus Dr. Swenson doesn’t want to be found. And Dr. Swenson was her teacher, when Marina was studying to be an OB/GYN before a terrible accident caused her to switch tracks to pharmacology. But off she goes anyway, losing her luggage twice in the process and having any progress stymied by the Bovenders, an Australian couple employed by Dr. Swenson for just that purpose.
As a dyed in the wool Minnesotan, there were a few details that were off, like calling the airport “St. Paul Minneapolis” rather than the other way around. Those are things that most people probably wouldn’t notice or care about, but once Marina leaves the Midwest, you’re clear of that kind of problem. I’ve only spent 3 days in the Amazon, so my reactions to those details are not as visceral. I do think Patchett accurately captures the closed in feeling of the jungle. Patchett also addresses the economics and politics of medical research and of dealing with indigenous tribes in a scientific context. As Marina learns about the realities of Manaus, Brazil and the jungle, so do we. I listened to the audio book, and Tony-award winning actress Hope Davis does an excellent job, though I was surprised that “Marina” is apparently a short e, which is not how I’d pronounce it, but there you go.
(Library book on CD)
Sometime I think I’ll make a list of things that will make me more or less likely to read something. Like, feisty nerdy teenagers: plus 50%, capitol-B Beautiful people, minus 30%. The Revisionists had a couple pluses: time travel and a dystopian future. Of course, for Zed, an agent of the Department of Historical Integrity, what’s the future to us is his present, the Perfect Present to be precise. He doesn’t actually spend a lot of time there. He spends most of it in the past, as the discovery of time travel technology has allowed hags, anti-government agents in the parlance, to go back to try to avert Events that lead to the Perfect Present.
Zed spent some time in the 1940s, helping make sure World War II and the Holocaust happened. Now he’s in our present Washington DC, prevention the hags from stopping the Great Conflagration, some sort of nuclear attacks that are the catalyst in bringing about future Perfection. Zed is supposed to make as little impression on people in this past as he can, but loneliness and an extended amount of time here make him seek out connection. Tasha, a corporate lawyer whose firm’s clients include defense contractors, is one connection. Her brother had enlisted and was killed in Iraq, on his third tour. Leo, a disgraced CIA agent-turned contractor PI, is another character we meet. He’s tired of investigating lefty activists so when he meets Sari, a Javanese 22-year-old maid (almost slave) for a South Korean diplomat he almost can’t help getting a little bit back into the intrigue of his previous job.
The narrative switches back and forth between these 4 main characters. Zed’s chapters are first person and the others are in the third. At first this unusual switch was jarring. I feel like I’m used to switching between multiple points of view or multiple narrators, but not both. However, this technique highlights the already extant differences between the characters–Leo, Tasha, and Sari may be struggling with job dissatisfaction, grief or culture shock, but Zed is really coming to question his whole world view and the validity of his whole life and work. This story is really about Zed’s discovery that Perfect isn’t actually perfect. It definitely made me think more than I expected it to, and I bed it’d do the same for you.
Here are the things I intend to do with this blog this year.
1. Cannonball Read 4. Since I actually completed CBR3, I figured why not do it again. It’s not like I won’t be reading stuff anyway. I will definitely try to keep on top of it throughout the year rather than reviewing way over half the books in the last 2 months of the year. 52 is one per week. I say I’ll do those on Thursdays. Yeah, Thursdays.
2. Other things! There will be other things. Like how challenging it will be to Not Buy Any Yarn In 2012. Serious business people.