Three Things Thursday: It's Groundhog Day!
I don’t have any quality Groundhog Day content, sorry. And I don’t actually know the results of our weird annual groundhog obsession. I just felt like it was worth acknowledging.
Anyway, I read a lot of books this week, so let’s talk about some of them.
This Adventure Ends
I’m a little late to this one—it had somehow slipped under my radar when it came out last year. But oh, am I glad I got to it now. In Emma Mills’s novel, Sloane has recently moved with her family to North Florida, because her author father is convinced the move will help him push through his creative slump. It doesn’t take her long to fall in with a new friend group—twins Vera and Gabe, former athlete Remy, reserved and suspicious Aubrey, and party savant Frank.
The plot of the book involves the kind of slightly heightened desire to complete a mission common to contemporary YA, with the variation on offer here a multi-state search for a painting that had been sold by mistake. It’s a serviceable storyline, and one that is a little more grounded in reality than most, but it’s ultimately secondary to the character dynamics Mills puts in place. Much of your response to this book will be dictated by your response to Sloane, a witty character who finds it difficult to let herself trust in her new friendships after so many years of relative independence, and for whom admitting what she cares about feels more like a weakness than a strength. I severely over-identified with many of Sloane’s struggles—some of her inner dialogue could have been lifted straight from conversations I’ve had with my therapist, quite frankly—and so I likely would have found myself swept along by the way she developed even if the rest of the book was a disappointment.
But I don’t think it was. The book includes a sweet depiction of fandom and fanfic (one that feels more respectful than other books that are ostensibly love letters to fandom),* and Sloane’s delightful and complex relationship with her father is arguably the most sharply drawn relationship in the entire book. There is a romance, yes, but it’s a quiet one that doesn’t overly dominate the story. Instead, the book lets us watch as Sloane falls in love with her friends, and with the way that they help her learn to be a more honest version of herself.
*Is it still a subtweet if it’s in blog form? No? That’s fine. We’ll just call it plain old passive aggression, then.
I can’t say whether this is a book everyone should read. But I can say it’s a book I needed to read.
Our Own Private Universe
Robin Talley’s new novel is about two girls falling in love with each other while on a mission trip with their youth group. To be honest, you probably know if you want to read it or not based on that description alone—or based on this cover.
Our Own Private Universe wears its social consciousness on its sleeve. The church organization to which each of the youth groups belongs is in the process of having its first national conference, which means the teen characters are passing around petitions on various social issues throughout the book—culminating in an organized debate to discuss them. The text acknowledges narrator Aki’s awareness that she and her family are among the only black people in attendance on the mission, too, along with the tension that comes from not knowing how her father, as an active member of the church, will respond if Aki tells him she is bisexual. The sheer range of the book’s focus, which includes references to marijuana legalization, police brutality, gun control, and climate change, among other topics, means that some of these discussions and the subplots they belong to end up feeling a little underdeveloped—not out of place or unimportant, just necessarily flattened.
I would have liked, though, to see more depth granted to the characters Aki interacts with in Mexico—she spends a lot of time arguing for the church to provide aid for towns like the one she is visiting, but doesn’t ever ask anyone from the local community if they need or want that help. Additionally, Aki’s only significant relationship outside of her fellow Americans is with a little girl, who is generally afforded little more than the chance to laugh, cry, and play with Aki’s hair. Some of this is grounded in Aki’s shortcomings rather than the books’, but there is space to more directly address why Aki’s lack of engagement with those she is ostensibly helping might be a problem.
But I suspect the book’s place in YA literature is likely going to be built elsewhere. Talley foregrounds the reality of Aki’s physical relationship with Christa in a way that feels intentionally reminiscent of how Judy Blume’s Forever… dealt with Katherine’s relationship with Michael. The visit to Planned Parenthood from Forever… becomes an internet search and a trip to a university health care center, but the defining impulse is the same: to put clear, factual information about safe sex on the page, and to have the characters recognize its importance and act accordingly. If frank depictions of sex between two girls are rare in YA lit, frank depictions of overtly safe sex between two girls are basically nonexistent. This is a subject from which Our Own Private Universe refuses to flinch away, and the novel is the better for it.
Wires and Nerve
I’m not a person who visualizes a story when I read it. I don’t have a mental movie playing, and I rarely have any concept of what characters are meant to look like. Unless an author makes a point to really drive home a particular feature, I just tend to have a generic, person-shaped blob in mind when I think of a character. It’s why the seeming reversal in stature of Peeta and Gale from The Hunger Games book to the movies really never bothered me—their physicality hadn’t really ever registered with me in the first place.
And yet when I started reading the graphic novel continuation of Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles, Wires and Nerve, I had A LOT of opinions about how the characters were drawn.* None of those opinions have any sort of textual grounding, really—I certainly can’t point you to the page where Cinder is first described and go, “See?? Wrong!!” But after spending so much time with the characters (and I remind you, the last novel in the series is over 800 pages, all on its own), I had apparently come up with some vague idea of who I thought they were. So, in that way, reading Wire and Nerve was a bit of an odd experience.
*Also, I find it very hard to tell Thorne, Jacin, and Kinney apart. At least Wolf stands out!
I am interested, though, to see how willing Meyer’s readership is to follow her as she continues her work in comics form. The book as an object feels substantial—I noted the paper weight once or twice as I read—but the story is very clearly a piece of a larger whole. While this is par for the course for readers of The Lunar Chronicles, the “To Be Continued” ending suggests that readers will be expected to buy in for another ongoing story arc, even if it’s being doled out in smaller chunks. This time, we have android Iko as our primary character, and the groundwork for a Pinocchio-style story is certainly being laid—but it sure looks like it’s going to be a long game.
None of this is a complaint, really. I’m certainly curious to see how Meyer’s skill for writing for a graphic medium develops as she gets further along, and there are some cute visual gags executed by illustrator Doug Holgate that suggest the series is going to take advantage of its new form. But this series feels like it could be a bellwether for what’s on the horizon with YA comics, and so I’m quite curious to see where it leads.
Bonus Round: What I Read This Week
Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
This Adventure Ends by Emma Mills
Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley
Wires and Nerve by Marissa Meyer and Doug Holgate
By Your Side by Kasie West