100 Sideways Miles (by Andrew Smith)

5 11 2014

Look: here’s the thing. I don’t know much, but if there is one thing I know, then it is this: Andrew Smith is a 16-year-old boy.

100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith

100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith

So, OK, I don’t know what it actually is to be a 16-year-old boy, but I have lived with one for the last 18 years (because grown up men will always be 16-old boys, no matter how old they get) and I made him read[1] 100 Sideways Miles and here’s what he said:

  • Yes, it is fucking ridiculous to pee with a boner (in the morning) – something I had been wondering about for a long time too before I actually dared to ask my 16-year-old boy.
  • Yes, it’s fucking embarrassing to have your best friend buy a pack of condoms for you and people are overhearing the conversation – I guess this is a situation most similar to buying a pregnancy test for your best friend because – even though she claimed that yes, they’d obeyed Cade Hernandez’s number one rule (“Dude. Don’t be a dumb fuck. You have to use a condom. Only dumb fucks don’t use condoms.” (p.138)), ‘the condom broke’ – you now end up at the pharmacy (over-)emphasizing the fact that it is for your best friend, not for you… really, it’s not.
  • Yes, teenage boys think about boners and balls All.The.Time. Also, thinking of boners can give them a boner – but I knew that from Grasshopper Jungle, of course, but still, it’s always good to double-check your facts and sources.

Just this to say that Andrew Smith really gets how much of a teenage boy’s experience is linked to sexuality. How ridiculous would it be if this were not included in a book, featuring a male adolescent protagonist, right?

But I didn’t have to confirm everything with the 16-year-old boy I live with. Here are the things I knew myself:

First, it’s true about the eyes. Just like Finn Easton, I have heterochromatic eyes and just like with Finn, people hardly ever notice it, because they just don’t look. If they do notice and say something about it, it’s usually mid-sentence and a real conversation switcher. Some even think you’re an alien visitor from outer space[2].

Second, Andrew Smith is really really smart. You know how Finn is a boy with some serious problems, right? Not only is he a boy in a book, but he’s also a boy in a book in the book. See what Andrew Smith did there? Look, here’s Finn, he’s a pretty unique boy: he’s got heterochromia, which is pretty rare[3]. But add to that a dead horse fell out of the sky, killing his mother and leaving Finn with a very distinct :|: scar and some nasty seizures, and you get an epilectic with heterochromia. What are the odds, right? So, yeah, our Finn is a pretty unique individual.

But look, the boy in his dad’s book is also called Finn, and that boy in his father’s book also has heterochromia and a :|: scar on his back. Again, what are the odds? No wonder Finn has doubts about his whole existence: “Maybe it’s like that for all boys of a certain – or uncertain – age: We feel as though there are no choices we’d made through all those miles and miles behind us that hadn’t been scripted by our fathers, and that our futures are only a matter of flipping the next page that was written ahead of us.” (p. 1)

As always, beautifully done!

As always, beautifully done!

So here’s a boy who is most definitely not okay… Does he have a say in his own life? Is everything already scripted for him? Can he make his own choices? What would you do if the only thing you wanted was “to feel like a regular human teenage boy and do regular human teenage-boy things” (p.175), but your whole existence is overshadowed by another boy in a book who wants just that, and you basically feel trapped inside a book? If it involves seeing the world through distance and miles instead of hours and time, fact-finding expeditions, falling in love with a girl, a shadow play and a road trip with your  best friend, then you might be like Finn who is slowly trying to step out of the book…

Andrew Smith is definitely at his best when he talks about the confusion and awkwardness of 16-year-old teenage boys… And confusion may well be the universal default teenage state of being, of course, which is why hundreds if not thousands of (YA) books have obviously used that as their premise. Andrew Smith, though, is always capable of coming up with so many detours that there’s a difference to reading his books. He links one thing to another and he invites you to discover that these connections actually make sense. Why would you not link time to space? Why would you not take the unusual path? Why would you not talk about boys with heterochromatic eyes and epileptic seizures who lost their mom in a freak accident? It’s more than a premise or a gimmick, his willingness to challenge not just himself as a writer, but also us as readers, is what makes reading any of his books like a new adventure. 100 Sideways Miles is no exception to this.

And besides the fact that 100 Miles Sideways is  first and foremost a novel about a boy who’s trying to figure out what choices he has in life, the entire book actually also reads like a huge comment on ‘the coming-of-age’ story (for lack of a better word) and if you know a little bit about the way this book came to be, then you’ll see that Andrew Smith is taking the concept of ‘meta-story’ to a whole different level.  Stop messing with my mind, Smith. Continue messing with my mind, Smith. Exactly because he always has such honest, real, relatable and universal sounding protagonists and because this is so obviously an Andrew Smith book, his writing stands out and I don’t think I could ever get tired of it.

Look, I get it. Andrew Smith’s novels may not be for everyone. The small details, the quirks, the narrative detours, the repetitions throughout the writing itself … it’s something you dig or…not. I totally got on board with it[4]. But hey, some people don’t like dark chocolate and prefer Hershey’s. Who am I to judge that, right? I mean, I don’t like Hershey’s, but I sure do like me some Côte d’Or 70% Noir Intense. And although ultimately I don’t feel like 100 Sideways Miles tops Grasshopper Jungle (but nothing really does), it’s still Côte d’Or milk chocolate[5].

________________________

[1] Which he read during the Perigee moon, by the way. I kid you not!

[2] I don’t have the :|: scar on my back, but I have a similar looking scar right next to my eye – souvenir from a Mini Golf game when I was 13.

[3] Relatively rare, in any case. About 6 in 1000 may have a very mild case of heterochromia iridum , while the thing that Finn has (very distinctive, one eye green, the other blue) would be considered “very rare” (I read numbers of about 2 in a million but also “less than 200 000 people in the US”). I know me and one other girl who has it, so yeah, rare.

[4] Maybe that’s because even though outwardly I am the most organized person on the planet, in reality, if you could look inside my mind, you’d see it’s pretty much a free jazz record: all over the place and sounds likes complete chaos, try finding some structure in that! Something I recognize in Andrew Smith’s books, I think.

[5] Which is basically the (only) chocolate I always have in my kitchen cupboards.

 

Exclusive 100 Sideways Miles Blog Tour:

This review is part of Lady Reader’s Official 100 Sideways Miles Blog Tour. Please go and check out the other reviews:

LadyReaderBookstuff

 

 

There’s a great giveaway too:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

More about the book and the author:

100 Sideways Miles was published by Simon & Schuster. Buy it at your local Indie.

Drop Andrew Smith a line on his Facebook page or tweet him @marburyjack .

His website is at www.authorandrewsmith.com .

 

Finally, also huge thanks to Amy del Rosso @ Lady Reader’s Bookstuff. You’re Côte d’Or 70% Noir Intense!

 

Follow the tour:

 





Read in October 2014…

27 10 2014

Wolf in White VanWolf in White Van (by John Darnielle)

This book is easily going to make my top 10 of the year. I haven’t read any of the other books of the National Book Award long list, but they must be darn good for this one not to be a finalist, because, holy crap, this is a damn fine piece of writing. Strongly recommended to people who like good shit.

4 whole stars

WeWereLiarsWe Were Liars (by e. Lockhart)

I admit to finally having given in to the hype (my first mistake, given my not so good track record with e. Lockhart’s books). Admittedly,the “mystery” kept me going until the end, and makes this a short little pageturner. But now I can say also once and for all that e. Lockhart’s books are just not for me. I absolutely hate the white privilege ‘woe is me’ rants of most of her main characters I have read. I have no sympathy for the main characters whatsoever and the literary techniques used by Lockhart here feel very try-hardy… It’s not about ‘sympathetic characters’ at all (I could care less about nice or not in a book, I don’t even care for nice in real life), I just find no connection between myself and this book…at all…ever. And I want to read books that *I* connect to, in whatever form: characters, style, world, anything…but here’s it’s just not there. I recognize that Lockhart can write a book, but they’re just not for me.

3 stars objectively / 2 stars for me

Out of the pocket (by Bill Konigsberg)

I think this is an incredibly important book content-wise but I was really disappointed with the execution of it. Konigsberg ‘s sophomore novel Openly Straight is in that respect clearly a step up from this debut novel.Out of the pocket

3.5 stars for story / 2 stars for style

Not exactly a love story (by Audrey Couloumbis)

Cutesy love/friendship love story set in the 1970s, which reminded me a lot of Natalie Standiford’s How to Say Goodbye in Robot for some reason. It has the same vibe going on, only a little more stalkerish… (that sounded worse than it was!)

3 stars

She is not invisible (by Marcus Sedgwick)SINI_CVR_FINAL

This is an ‘I liked it’ Sedgwick novel and not an ‘I loved it Sedgwick’ novel. There’s no denying that Sedgwick has talent coming out of his ears and is great at multiple genres over the age-ranges (I mean Revolver and The Raven Mysteries are so different and yet so very typically Sedgwick at the same time…)… but for some reason, I love Sedgwick a whole lot more when he does the whole ‘atmosphere’ thing, rather than the somewhat meager ‘whodunnit’ thing like we get in She is not invisible, especially when the plot is well…rather thin.

3 stars.

 

 

What is worth reading:

  • The piece A.S. King wrote for the ALAN Review:

2014-10-20 18.33.31

 

  • And look here:

Glory

 

Still in the pipeline: a review for Andrew Smith’s 100 Sideways Miles.





Read in September 2014

27 09 2014

Due to severe lack of time, here’s a photo impression of recently read books:

  • Holly Smale’s Geek Girl: All the rage in London, so I decided to check it out. It’s not even half bad ;) Of course, it’s utterly predictable, but it’s an easy read which will please a lot of my reluctant readers. 3 stars
Because this seemed to be all the rage in London, I bought the series.

Because this seemed to be all the rage in London, I bought the series.

 

  • Michael Grant’s Messenger of Fear: another new series by the author of the Gone series. It’s no Gone, though, but luckily no BZRK or Eve & Adam, both of which I just couldn’t get into. This one shows some promise. Will check out the next book in the series! 3 stars
Messenger of Fear: First book in a new Michael Grant series, promising but has some definite 'first in a series' flaws. Bonus: this copy was signed by the author!

Messenger of Fear: First book in a new Michael Grant series, promising but has some definite ‘first in a series’ flaws.
Bonus: this copy was signed by the author!

 

  • Andre the Giant by Box Brown: a graphic memoir of Andre the Giant. Nice enough, although it lacks some depth. 3 stars
Graphic Memoir about legendary wrestler Andre the Giant

Graphic Memoir about legendary wrestler Andre the Giant

  • The Vinyl Princess by Yvonne Prinz: bought this solely because Andrew Smith told me to. Yvonne Prinz tells the tale of a music (vinyl) obsessed girl in Berkely, who works at a legendary music store. Although the (love) story in itself is one I’ve read before, there’s a melancholy sweetness to this book that makes it really hard to resist.  3 stars
The Vinly Princess by Yvonne Prinz, featuring Bob&Bob's record store, aka Amoeba ;)

The Vinly Princess by Yvonne Prinz, featuring Bob&Bob’s record store, aka Amoeba ;)

 

 

Currently reading:

Model Misfit, the second book in the Geek Girl series

Model Misfit, the second book in the Geek Girl series

The gigantic beard that was evil by Stephen Collins. Apparently this is a brilliant graphic novel... will let you know what I think later.

The gigantic beard that was evil by Stephen Collins. Apparently this is a brilliant graphic novel… will let you know what I think later.

 

Also, coming soon: a review of Andrew Smith’s 100 Sideways Miles… (thanks Amy Del Rosso)!

 

100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith

As always, beautifully done!

As always, beautifully done!





Overdue update (August reads)

5 09 2014

A long overdue update about books read in August.

The disappointments:

  • Crazy (Amy Reed): Even though it gives an insight into a important mental health issue (bipolar disorder), it’s not done very convincingly. The book is told in emails between Connor and Izzy, which is a poor choice of narrative device to tell this particular story, because it gets in the way of real character development and it actually hinders the plot advancement. The result is a fairly predictable course of events. It also doesn’t really help that the main characters are…well… dull.
    2.5 stars
  • California (Edan Lepucki): mCaliforniaore dullness… I got Californa mainly for the Colbert Report / Amazon / Sherman Alexie reason. The hype about this book was huge, it helped Edan Lepucki immensily, but the book itself…meh…I’m not too wild about it. It’s the story of Frida and Cal in a post-apocalyptic world that seems to just be… It looks like something environmental happened, but there’s hardly any world building so it’s all a bit sketchy.
    The main problem with this book though is that it seems thoroughly underdeveloped: the characters are dull and need fleshing out, the plot is not really going anywhere and meanders its way towards a sort of non-conclusion, there’s a lot of talk about actions that have been taken / are being taken but that we never get to experience being taken… if that makes sense? No? Don’t worry, the book itself makes very little sense as well. And nothing gets any sort of satisfying explanation because the reasons mentioned to do something are all so very arbitrary (like the whole Containment – Children bit: doesn’t make sense). A poor man’s The Road, I guess?
    2.5 stars

Onto the better stuff…

Picture book classics

  • Robot Dreams (Sara Varon): a wordless picture book about a dog and his robot-friend. This picture book classicsis a timeless and universal tale of the search and need for finding a connection and friendship. I also adore Sara Varon’s visual style. It’s so soft and easy-looking. My kid loves it as much as I do (Odd Duck is probably my kid’s favorite book).
    4 stars
  • The Dark (by Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen): I think Jon Klassen’s Hat-books are a stroke of pure genius, but what he does here with Lemony Snicket is equally brilliant: a variation on a child’s age-old fear: fear of the dark. Really not to be missed!
    4 stars

Great YA books

  • 17 & Gone (Nova Ren Suma): I have to say that me liking this book came as a bit of a surprise. I liked – didn’t love – Imaginary Girls, but 17 & Gone is such a step up from that, in my opinion. Yes, I did guess from the very start what was going on, but despite that I continued to be enthralled by what was going on with Lauren and her visions of the lost girls. The main reason for this is Nova Ren Suma’s lush writing: her sentences are more than words on a page. They’re vibrant and have a sense of urgency that is mesmerizing and just urge you to keep on reading. Definitely the surprise of the summer.
    4 stars
  • We Were Here (Matt de la Peña): I have to say that I have completely fallen for Matt de la Peña’s books. I liked Mexican Whiteboy a whole lot, but I have to admit that I fell a bit in love with We Were Here. We Were Here is about a boy Miguel who’s sent to Juvi for a crime he’s doesn’t reveal, but which obviously haunts him. There he meets 2 ‘companions’ in Mong and Rondell. Three teens, each with baggage aplenty on a ‘road trip’ to Mexico. This story of (especially) Miguel and Rondell is the stuff classics are made of and it’s done so well. We Were Here really made me think of Of Mice and Men, a book that is also referenced in the story. We Were Here really broke my heart in the exact same way as Steinbeck’s classic did. I can’t wait to hear Matt de la Peña speak at NCTE’s Annual Convention in November!
    4.5 stars

 

 





Re-read: As I Lay Dying (by William Faulkner)

18 08 2014

2014-08-18 14.07.14I read this the first time when I was somewhere between 16 and 20, I think. But to be honest, I understood fuck all about it then.

I only re-read it now, several university degrees later and after 2 more decades of reading (none in the least after reading Adam Rapp), and pheww… this book, this author: so far ahead of its/his time: structure, voice, topics, everything is so different from things that came before. And now I can see how much authors that came after him owe Faulkner.
Only now I can place this in the proper context.
What an overpowering book this is.





B as in…

10 08 2014

1) Brock and Barrington Stoke

Now, I’ve always liked Anthony McGowan and his wittier-than-witty sense of humor in books. Seriously, if you want to know how dark and twisted should be used in the same sentence as humor, go on an read *any* of his other books. I promise you there is no one like McGowan out there. But, I think Brock just made me like him even more! Brock was published by Barrington Stoke. On their website you can read that they are an “independent publisher dedicated to cracking reading. We know that every parent wants their child to become a reader, and every teacher wants their students to make the jump from learning to read to loving to read. Our books are commissioned, edited and designed to break down the barriers that can stop this happening, from dyslexia and visual stress to simple reluctance.” As a teacher I know how hard it can be to get reluctant readers to pick a book, a2014-08-05 12.15.20ny book… and often books that they might pick up are just books they have to read but don’t like anyway, or they pick it up because it only has X number of pages… as few as possible.

With Brock McGowan accomplishes a number of things at the same time, not in the least just telling a really greatand poignant story. McGowan does not compromise on integrity or heart in this book, which is what makes any of his other books also so memorable. Brock is the story of Nicky and his brother Kenny and their ‘adventure’ with a badger.  The brothers themselves don’t have an easy life as is made clear early on, but the story McGowan tells is not just a harsh one. This book is a perfect combination of dark and light, horrifying and sweet. A excellent read for a reluctant and basically any reader.

4 stars

 

2) The Boy in the Smoke or World Book Day…

In 2014 Maureen Johnson wrote a short little book called The Boy in the Smoke, especially for World Book Day. Bonus for Maureen Johnson fans is that this book is part of the Shades of London series and that it gives the reader an insight into Stephen Dene’s background. Stephen Dene is the lead detective of the Shades, of course, and the more interesting of characters from that set of books. The prequel is nicely done, nothing too special, but a sweet in-between thingie to keep you going until the 3rd book in this series comes out (scheduled for March 2015).

3 stars





London and books.

29 07 2014

The cat went to London and this is what she saw.

After 3-ish days in London and visiting some of the ‘bigger’ book stores (4 Waterstones and 2 Foyles*), it is obvious that what YA is concerned, the ‘world’ will think there are only 4 or so worthwhile books and/or authors (in the “adult” book world it was all about Robert ‘J.K. Rowling’ Gallbraith’s second book, The Silkworm):

  • John Green (The Fault in Our Stars had its own stand in most of the stores, but also his other books get a prominent spot)
  • Rainbow Rowell (Fangirl, Fangirl and Fangirl, and some Eleanor & Park which even had its own “very special edition”)
  • David Levithan (who has his own underground billboards, people! Yay! See photos below.), whose books for some reason have all gotten a ‘John Green Cover Makeover’ What is that all about? Also, Waterstones Picadilly was selling tickets for a David Levithan event in August.
David Levithan @ Camden Town Tube Station

David Levithan @ Camden Town Tube Station

David Levithan @ London Bridge Tube Station

David Levithan @ London Bridge Tube Station

  • Veronica Roth‘s Divergent series, which also has its very own special boxed edition, which included the ‘Four’ vignette-story-thingie.
  • We were liars by E. Lockhart
  • and there’ s a thing there about a series called Geek Girl by Holly Smale.

All that is great for these authors of course, but… the other authors don’t get the attention they deserve, *at all *. Books by so-called lesser known authors, like A.S. King, that I know were still sold a few months back, were just not available now.

Which is why I shamelessly plugged some of these ‘smaller names’ that *were* in the stores, like putting Andrew Smith ‘s Winger next to a stack of Michael Grant ‘s books (see picture below), or making sure a book like The truth about Alice by Jennifer Mathieu was now suddenly next to We Were Liars (which I picked up about 5 times but just put back time and again, btw, it starts with a map and a family tree. I don’t like maps in books.), getting Trish Doller‘ s Where the Stars Still Shine some ‘facetime’ (see picture below), and always, always putting Grasshopper Jungle in plain sight!

See what I did there?

See what I did there?

this book also deserves some facetime

This book also deserves some facetime

... and so does this one.

… and so does this one.

Grasshopper Jungle and Winger side by side!

Grasshopper Jungle and Winger side by side!

So there.

 

But all that doesn’t mean that London doesn’t like books. London does like books, even though ‘they’ may not be very adventurous in their preferences (which of course, is not unlike any other place). They like to keep things fairly traditional, I guess. But yes, London likes to honor its traditions and nowhere was that more clear than in the Books about Town benches, which is really a great initiative and something every major city should do once in a while. Here are a few photos capturing some of that.

 

Clarice Bean - Books about Town

Clarice Bean – Books about Town

The Librarian (Terry Pratchett)... and who might that be on that bench? Oh, it's Tim Federle!

The Librarian (Terry Pratchett)… and who might that be on that bench? Oh, it’s Tim Federle!

 

And yes, then there was also this little thingie that happened: lunch with Andrew Smith! What was that you said? LUNCH WITH ANDREW SMITH!*

Remember that Dr Seuss bench?

Remember that Dr Seuss bench?

AS at HG

 

*Who signed all of my books. So honored he took the time to talk to little old me. What a great and interesting person he is! And he got some fantastic news about Grasshopper Jungle while he was in London: Edgar Wright is to direct the movie!

Andrew Smith signing books

Andrew Smith signing books

 

In other news:

Books I bought while in London:

  • I want my hat back and This is not my hat (by Jon Klassen): both so incredibly witty! Perfect picture books!
  • Lost and found (by Oliver Jeffers): such a sweet picture book about friendship, again I can see why Jeffers’ books are favorites to so many kids and parents alike.
  • The journey home by Frann Preston-Gannon who won the Sendak Fellowship and worked on this book while with Maurice Sendak. This one is a picture book with a clear message about our planet and what we do/have done to it.
  • Brock by Anthony McGowan, the book he wrote for Barrington Stoke and which is ‘a dyslexia friendly’ book. Knowing McGowan’s wit, I really look forward to reading this one.
  • Why we broke up by Daniel Handler.
  • The boy in the smoke, which is Maureen Johnson’s book for World Book Day 2014 – and it’s a story that fits in the Shades of London series.
  • The absolutely true diary of a part-time Indian (by Sherman Alexie), which I didn’t own yet.
  • She is not invisible (by Marcus Sedgwick): I am really curious about this one. Midwinterblood obviously won the Printz last year, but I felt it really wasn’t Sedgwick’s strongest book, nor did I think it was ‘the most literary YA book’ of the year or even ‘the best’ book of the year, so I don’t really know what to expect from this one.
great picture books

great picture books

Books I read while in London:

  • Mexican WhiteBoy by Matt de la Peña: de la Peña is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers. This is such a perfect coming-of-age, caught-between-culture story. Excellent stuff.
  • Better Nate than Ever by Tim Federle: this is how to do showtime Broadway musical fun. I’m usually quite frustrated with books with that very topic, but not this time: I loved every second of this book. So funny! Can’t wait to see what’s next for Nate in Five, Six, Seven, Nate!

 

* Here is a photo of the new Foyles, by the way:

The new Foyles flagship store at Charing Cross

The new Foyles flagship store at Charing Cross








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