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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Flash Review #1

This is my first Flash Review! Flash Reviews are reviews are for books I receive that fall outside of my preferred genres.  I'm always curious about what comes my way and am appreciative of publishers who think of me for their titles.  The distinction between these and normal reviews is made to prevent disappointment in current or future JRT readers.  I don't want to mislead any of you into thinking I make a habit of reviewing Contemporary YA or Romantic Comedies (i.e. Chick Lit).  That doesn't mean these are problematic genres, but like anyone, I have my favorites and I tend to stick to them. :)

The big difference you'll see is these reviews are shorter and unrated.  I think it's unfair to judge these on the same merits as I do normally since they've already got one thing against them, not being books I'd pick out on my own.

I hope you enjoy them! And you never know: you may find something new for yourself or to recommend to someone else...

If I Grow Up by Todd Strasser

If I Grow Up chronicles the teenage years of DeShawn, a young boy living with his grandmother and older sister in the Frederick Douglas projects.  I was worried as I began reading that this book would suffer from alienating stereotyping and overdone caricatures.  The struggle of inner-city children and life in general is nothing I haven’t heard or seen before, albeit nothing to be taken lightly--If I Grow Up proved no different.  The book didn’t tell me anything new, but that’s just my point. It didn’t tell me anything new, but it could enlighten a broad readership, especially younger readers able to relate to twelve-year old DeShawn as he grows older.

Strasser writes a book so well-researched it threatens to make his agenda too transparent.  It’s clear he wants to be respectful of his characters; their dialogue attempts to be inoffensive and painstakingly real, their fates are half unexpected and tragically predictable.  But I ultimately found everything a bit too choreographed.  With a cast of mainly peer-aged boys and girls, DeShawn also has a loyal and loving relationship with his sister and grandmother, as well as a somewhat detached and disinterested relationship with Mr. Brand--a Teacher--and Officer Patterson.  These two adult figures are inconsequential and negligible as DeShawn, not surprisingly, ignores their encouragement.  Even with such strong stand-in supporters, Strasser illuminates the range of complexities of DeShawn’s life--the different stressors influencing his limited decisions and the ultimate eye-opening events that cement his future.

Strasser packs so much into this short read that I felt the epilogue suffered as a result.  It felt even more preachy than the rest of the book, a bit like Strasser letting himself speak to us through DeShawn in a more direct way than the character would ever do himself.  To pass this difference off as experience, remorse, or age is perhaps what I should do.  I couldn’t help feeling unconvinced.  The rest of the narrative was plausible enough for readers to draw their own conclusions, conclusions that DeShawn states explicitly, albeit a bit unnecessarily.  This was, however, a minor concern. Relative to the rest of the book, the epilogue may have been weakest for me, but may elucidate very crucial points for many readers and draw important conclusions for those who need to be told DeShawn Learned His Lesson, even if it was too late.

My Single Friend by Jane Costello

"Surely fancying someone is about so much more than what they look like." - Henry, p. 109

I don’t usually read Chick-Lit. I have, in fact, read only two that I can think of. Romantic Comedies don’t usually engage my attention, but I was in the mood for something out of character, something light and relaxing.  My Single Friend was good for this.  It’s endearingly British with the type of humor I’ve come to adore, even though some of the Pop Culture references were lost on me, being raised this side of the pond.  My British Slang iPod Touch app is not as helpful as it is amusing.

Lucy Tyler’s job at a PR firm is more successful than her love life, which isn’t saying much if you consider she gets more action out of her sleazy co-worker than the men she’s been going out with lately.  To soothe her pathetic romantic life is her best friend since childhood, Henry Fox.  If that name doesn’t stir the literary waters of foreshadowing, the impromptu makeover dubbed Project Henry will.  After Lucy and her friends, Erin and Dominique, take it upon themselves to unleash the hidden Sex God within, Henry turns out to be quite the catch.

I think you know where this plot is going.  It’s a little Bridget Jones’ Diary and a little My Best Friend’s Wedding, but ultimately a very funny, light, and endearing book that focuses more on developing Henry and Lucy’s backstory than it does Lucy’s increasing discomfort and jealousy.  This is what saves the novel from being a bit too contrived and cliché.  Jane Costello’s characters are blessedly flawed and faulty.  The bumbling sweetness of her friends and the wickedly vileness of bad dates and coworkers can come off a little predictable, but play into the strengths and weaknesses of Lucy wonderfully.  Costello’s ability to build up and execute some horrifyingly devastating and hilarious situations doesn’t hurt at all, though.

My Single Friend can be tortuous at times--we all want poor Lucy to See The Light.  That she doesn’t immediately catch on is part of the charm.  I had fun reading it, especially because it made me feel less weird about the relationship I, a 26-year old, have with my 27-year old brother that still resembles grade school-aged bickering. I don’t care if Lucy and Dave are fictitious, I feel validated.

Thank you to Simon & Schuster UK for my review copy of both books!


MissAttitude said...

If I Grow Up has a depressing title and sounds like a hard, but good read. haha does that make sense? Hard meaning depressing/sad. I don't think the dialogue should be so inoffensive to the point where it's no longer genuine.

My Single Friend looks cute. I've never read British chick lit, but I'm amazed that there is an app for British slang :o

Erika said...

@MissAttitude: I struggled a lot with how I felt about this book. I even had two reviews written! What it came down to was me realizing I was not the best audience for it. I don't think the dialogue was completely disingenuous, I just felt at times the actions combined with the dialogue to become a bit predictable. I also realize how I completely forgot to mention the book was about a black protagonist and gangs... And for that, I feel kind of ashamed! Actually, I thought the dialogue was the best part of the book. :)

My Single Friend is very cute. Haha, there is an app for British slang! Unfortunately, it's not a real dictionary and more of a bunch of flash cards with the British slang on top and American equivalent underneath. I wish I could look up some words though! Even in context, it's hard to find a rough translation of what something means on my own. ;)

Anonymous said...

You know, the flash reviews really aren't as short as I imagined they'd be!

Though, not exactly my type of fiction...

Erika said...

@TJ: They're not as short as I imagined either! I kept finding things to ramble about. Go figure. It seems I had more to say about books I wouldn't normally read (or avoid reading) than I thought I would.

Lily Child said...

My Single Friend does sound like a light, fun read. :) I'll have to check it out when I'm in need of a lighthearted read!

Also, I have an award for you! :)

Erika said...

@Lily Child: I think you'd like it! It's a lot of fun, like watching a romantic comedy on television, only funnier because it's British and I love British humor. ;)

Awww thank you Lily!

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