Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Tuesday's Book Bag: New Releases for 9/13.

A mixed bag out today! A sweeping, expansive novel from Ann Patchett and two YA novels featuring confused, high school age male narrators. More below:

In COMMONWEALTH, it's just a fairly regular day in Southern California: the day of young Franny Keating's christening party. When her father, Fix, opens the door, he's surprised to see Albert Cousins. Fix, a cop, doesn't associate much with the DAs on his beat, and he certainly didn't invite Bert. But Bert has shown up with a bottle of gin--looking to hide from his own wife and children--and he soon joins the party, making drinks with Fix's beautiful wife, Beverly. By the end of the evening, Bert and Beverly have kissed, triggering a chain of events that will alter the lives of all involved. This is an expansive book, covering the lives of the intertwined Cousins and Keating families in a series of almost interconnected stories. They are linked, of course, and form the framework of Packer's novel, but almost seem as if they could stand on their own. They are also set against the backdrop of another Commonwealth: when Franny, then in her twenties, meets famous author Leo Posen, she tells him the many stories of her misguided family. He spins them into the tale of his novel, forcing the family to face up to some of their most awful losses and decisions in the starkness of print. Some of the chapters of COMMONWEALTH aren't always particularly exciting, but they are poignant, and there is a deepness to them. They offer an amazing insight into these families-- an almost "behind the scenes" look at five or so decades of their lives. Overall, this is a lovely book, tender in many ways, and a little heartbreaking. It's not a page-turner, but it's beautiful and leaves you thinking. 4 stars

We shift gears to high school in IT LOOKS LIKE THIS, where Mike and his family have just moved from Wisconsin to Virginia for his father's new job. Mike isn't thrilled, as he's in high school, but the family is used to doing what Mike's overbearing father desires. Quiet Mike, who loves art more than sports, doesn't fit in well with his religious family, or with a lot of the boys at his school. Quickly, he finds himself being bullied by several kids at school and pressured by his father to join a school sports team. But Mike finds comfort when he meets Sean, another kid at school, and the two become fast friends. However, other people at school have an eye on the pair's friendship, too. This book is heartbreaking, lovely gem of a LGBT book. It's difficult to read: the dialogue is all jammed together (no quotation marks, for example) and there wasn't even a space between the start of a new section of thought. Once you get used to that, it's easier to read, and you get into the flow of Mike's thoughts. Tension builds slowly, as you learn more about Mike, his life, and his inner thoughts and desires. I wish this book could be standard reading for gay youth--and their parents. It's poignant and truthful, albeit it hurt my heart in many places. I don't typically seem to read a lot of YA novels with male narrators, but this is the second I've picked up recently, and it blew the other one out of the water. I quickly grew fond of Mike, whom I wanted to take in, and I loved his spunky younger sister, Toby. Mike's never-ending need for detail grows old at times (just get on with story already), but this is still a worthy read, and certainly a great tale for LGBT youth. It definitely affected me deeply. 4 stars

We remain in the torturous world of high school for THE BOY WHO KILLED GRANT PARKER, where Luke Grayson's life turns upside when he's sent to Ashland, Tennessee his senior year of high school to live with his father and stepmother. Luke's mother no longer wants to deal with his trouble-making ways and thinks his father, a Baptist preacher who has never played a role in Luke's life, can help straighten him out. But Luke's reputation comes with him to Ashland, where he stands out as the new kid from the big city. He's too progressive for this rural Tennessee town and rapidly becomes the target of the high school's golden boy, Grant Parker, who singles Luke out and makes his life miserable. But things change quickly after a confrontation between Luke and Grant goes awry and suddenly, overnight, life in Ashland changes dramatically for Luke. I wanted to like this book, but I just never connected with it, or Luke. Having grown up and lived in small towns, I understand how truly small and exclusive they can be. But this novel just fell flat for me. I was immediately bothered by the fact that Luke's mother shipped him off for his senior year to his extremely rigid (and awful) father, despite the fact that the his greatest transgressions seemed to be a couple of silly (and harmless) pranks at his old school. I never felt any sort of connection to Luke as a character, and truly, at points, I found reading his story a little painful and thought "blah blah blah" at huge sections of text. He's a passive character, without a lot of depth to him. In fact, the only character with any true depth to her was Luke's friend, Delilah and her storyline is the only one that seems to have any heft. But she often gets lost in the shuffle. 2 stars
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