Fat Boy vs the Cheerleaders (by Geoff Herbach)

20 07 2014

Geoff Herbach has a thing with sports and ‘funny’ (intentional or not) male voices. In Stupid Fast, Felton was the boy ‘on the outside’ who suddenly came to the center of attention because of his athletic prowess. In Fat Boy vs the Cheerleader, Herbach once again has a look at ‘a boy on the outside’, Gabe ‘Chunk’ Johnson, a fat band geek who – after hearing that funding for summer marching camp is going to the new dance squad – decides to wage the war of the vending machine.

And although this book definitely has a couple of things in common with the Stupid Fast-trilogy, it’s more of a watered down version of ‘the funny’ and ‘the great male voice’ we are getting here – it’s like a Stupid Fast meets Glee ultralight.. And I have to say that I am more than just a bit disappointed.

Stupid Fast – Herbach’s debut – remains the strongest of his novels up to now, and with each consecutive book it seems to me that the narrative element that stood out the most in his debut, namely “the voice”, just gets watered down and doesn’t manage to grab me anymore. In Fat Boy vs the Cheerleaders, we get Gabe’s voice as he is recounting the events that led up to where he is now, namely talking to Mr Rodriguez, an attorney. We’re not actually getting the dialogue here, but just Gabe’s responses, which takes a bit of getting used to at first, but which is just annoying after a good couple of chapters. This type of narration also just seriously stands in the way of actual character development.

The thing that irks me the most about this book, though, is once again the ‘absent’ (mom left) or ‘clueless’ (Gabe’s dad) parent trope. Instead we’re getting a grandfather who used to be a bodybuilder champion, and who serves as the voice of understanding, but I can’t shake the feeling that we’ve also seen him before in I’m with Stupid.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t any interest things about Fat Boy vs the Cheerleaders. There’s a thing to be said about the name-calling that goes on (and one of the characters does say it), there’s bullying, there’s a whole lot about the social stratification at high school, there’s something about friendship and shifting allegiances and changes. All that could and should have been combined in a very interesting way, something Geoff Herbach managed to do in his debut, but hasn’t managed to do since in my opinion. Here everything just felt really fluffy and coincidental. All in all, I sincerely hope Herbach finds what’s missing soon, because I definitely loved the pants off of Stupid Fast and I refuse to believe that Geoff Herbach was a one-book wonder!





Read or reading in July

7 07 2014

 

I’ve been buying second (or maybe 3rd or 4th) hand copies of Paul Zindel novels. Confessions of a Teenage Baboon is the first one to arrive. It’s absolutely not what I expected it to be, but I really liked it. It has a ‘hopelessness with a shimmer of hope nonetheless’ that I think must have been rare at the time it was written. It certainly is rare to find nowadays. Also, it amazes me once again how much was possible in the 70s… This is something you also see in TV-series or in movies. Show a boob on TV today and it’s 16+ and a guy who’s smoking is always the bad guy of course. But here there is some really crazy shit going on, which I am sure would land this book on some ‘watchlist’ today. And even though it’s clear that this book wasn’t written today, it’s pretty timeless as well. Good stuff.

Confessions of a teenage baboon

After reading The Free, I’m also on a Willy Vlautin kick. Good thing we have them all lying around here. The Motel Life, Vlautin’s debut is up next.

The Motel Life





Books and … nails…

29 06 2014

So one of my teacher-colleagues gave me this nail art pencil set to thank me for stuff and because we both envy the mad nail art skillz of many of our students. Beginning of summer vacation, so I thought I would try it out. This is the result. From now on nails will match the books I read (if I have the patience and the colors to match the book…), starting with Andrew Smith‘s Grasshopper Jungle.

The greens are called Funky Lime and Pearly Apple.  The grasshopper antennae are done with just straight up Black and Silver Sparkles.





Mid-year reading update

25 06 2014

thefreeIt’s almost July 1st and I feel I am way behind on my reading. Even though it’s not about the quantity (I’m only at 46 books read) and all about the quality, this bugs me.

So how about that quality then? Here are the books that rocked my little reading world so far:

2014 publications:

  • Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith: lonely at the top, nothing even comes close to the uppercut this book was. If this doesn’t get the Printz then the Printz is worthless.
  • The Free by Willy Vlautin: So good! This is what 21st century social realism is all about. If Steinbeck and Vonnegut lived today, they’d be proud of Willy.
  • The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson: excellent as only Anderson can be!

Older stuff:

  • Anything at all by Shaun Tan, but most especially The Arrival, The Red Tree and The Rabbits. Tan’s mind is un-freaking-believably spectacular.
  • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, the most poetic YA book I have read in a long long time.
  • Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware, a graphic novel that is truly groundbreaking.
  • The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman. I re-read this one and it’s still amazing although I remember certain things differently.
  • The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes: yes, very British in style, topic matter and execution, yes very ahum ‘literary’, but what an excellent philosophical detective-y thought experiment this is!




Exam reads: one pass, one fail.

22 06 2014

My life next door (by Huntley Fitzpatrick)

Despite the butt-ugly cover (yes I am a sucker for good covers and this one is just too cheesy!), I liked this book quite a bit. It’s what one would call “a beach read” but in the best Sarah Dessen sense of the word: well-plotted, good characterization (protagonist Sam as well as the love interest Jase and his entire family), a summer romance, an all around satisfying contemporary read by an author who takes her time to tell a story. I like that. If this is what my summer will be like, reading-wise, I am a happy camper!

4 stars

 

the adoration of jenna foxThe Adoration of Jenna Fox (by Mary E. Pearson)

Very disappointing read…reads like it was ‘so 5 years ago’… by which I mean it’s a book that followed a certain trend (e.g. Matched, Beta, The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer…) and the trend wasn’t a great one to start out with. It did start off intriguingly enough with a girl who woke up from a coma with no memories and who tries to put the pieces together again, but it soon goes down the hill of predictability. Those pieces of the puzzle, well, it’s not very hard to figure out for the reader what went on with Jenna as Pearson takes us along on a tour of medical science and bio-ethics. All very “issue-y” and all none too subtle. Nah, just a blah book, I guess.

2 stars

 





Panel Borders: European Female Voices

10 06 2014

Originally posted on Panel Borders and other podcasts:

Cover and interior art from Love looks away by Line Hoven / from When David lost his voice by Judith Vanistendael

Cover and interior art from Love looks away by Line Hoven / from When David lost his voice by Judith Vanistendael

European Female Voices: Starting a month of shows looking at the work of female comic creators, Alex Fitch talks to German scratch board artist Line Hoven, and Belgian cartoonist Judith Vanistendael about their family drama graphic novels Love looks away published by Blank Slate Books and When David lost his voice, published by Self Made Hero. Hoven discusses her meticulous technique used to render the biography of three generations of her family, including a member of the Hitler Youth, while Vanistendael explores how her various graphic novels have each used a different artistic style, depending on the subject matter she is bringing to the page, in this case about a grandfather who reconnects with his family when diagnosed with throat cancer. Recorded at the British Library exhibition…

View original 799 more words





Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (by Benjamine Alire Sáenz)

10 06 2014

Aristotle and DanteAristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is the most poetic, most beautiful, book I have read all year. It is so many things at the same time: a book about friendship, a book about family, a book about love, a book about heart, a book about secrets, a book about truth, a book about what it means to discover the secrets of the universe.

This book is such a special thing, the language deceptively simple, which renders it so powerful and a book for all ages. Every word of every sentence is meticulously placed and makes the reading so natural and the whole experience of reading this book so powerful and magical at the same time.

In a vague attempt to lay out the plot: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is told from the perspective of 15-year-old Ari (Aristotle) Mendoza, a loner and an angry boy. It is summer 1987 and Ari meets Dante Quintana, who is completely unlike Ari. Dante is open and joyful and he teaches Ari how to swim. It is a meeting that will evolve into a friendship and this friendship is something that will change both of their lives forever, in ways neither of them could have foreseen.

And even though the friendship between the two boys is the focus of the story, there are so many other elements in the book that just shine, not in the least the way in which the grown-ups are not described as ‘obstacles’ in the process of growing up (as is sometimes the case in certain YA novels), nor are they nuisances of magically absent, no: they are very much there. Also, most things are just so obvious in this book, it’s not really about putting things into question for the sake of it, but about discovering things, discovering things that Ari had hidden in himself for a long time. There are so many things going on – yes, this is about Mexican-Americans and how to reconcile different lifestyles, yes this is about sexuality, yes this is about a family with a dad who’s a war veteran and a son who is in prison, etc. – but it is all treated in the most normal way possible, like “this is how things are, let’s find a way to ourselves again, navigating through all that”. Of course there are also struggles and fears but these struggles and fears happen in lots of families and they may happen to all boys who are trying to find a way to their soul. And family and friendship formed the much needed anchors to confront the struggles and fears that Ari had. As such, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe describes both unique and very individual struggles and fears, but has an unmistakable universality as well, something which is the hallmark of true Literature.

For all those people out there who say that YA (or MG or…) doesn’t have any depth, for all those people out there who say that YA does not have any meaningful characters, for all those people out there who say that YA is not Literature, you are Wrong with a capital W. With Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe I have, yet again, a book here that completely overturns your biased little minds.








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