All Our Wrongs Today by Elan Mastai
Wow, just wow - this book is a bit mind-blowing. Author Elan Mastai, Hollywood screenwriter and first-time novelist, has written a unique, creative take on time travel and all the inherent problems involved in not only going back in time, but in attempting to right past mistakes. Does this sound a bit Back to the Future - ish? Perhaps, but that would be like comparing Dr. Seuss to Emily Dickinson. Mastai's take on time travel is deep and puzzling and mind-bending and exciting and humorous and dark...all in just one book. Main character Tom, who becomes John and then Victor, thanks to different mishaps in time, is a 32 year old whose father invents a time machine that takes him, accidentally, back to the inception of the greatest invention of all time - a generator that has unlimited energy, that creates a 2016 that is reminiscent of the Jetsons. However, in Tom's time travel, the world is disrupted and he ends up back in our 2016, a world of questionable food choices, lack of environmental protection, and archaic automobiles that stay on the ground. The voice for Tom is highly engaging, drawing us in to his world through his humor, his frustrations, his eventual insight into what life ultimately should be. What a provocative choice for a book club as well as a fantastic read on your own; I highly recommend this debut novel!
The Most Dangerous Place on Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson
Cyber bullying, nasty gossip, and treacherous friendships all located in...where else, a public high school! As a retired English teacher, this was right down my alley. I confess, I was underwhelmed by the first few chapters; I did not find it particularly well written, nor full of depth. Yet as I kept reading, I realized that these teenagers are more complex than I had at first thought. The book begins with the suicide of a bullied young man in eighth grade and then follows the bullies as they enter high school. Each student has dealt differently with the death, either becoming someone they never thought they would be, hiding their feelings under baby fat and criminal behavior, using their parent's money to protect themselves, or chasing popularity through wild partying. Sound familiar? My one complaint would be the young innocent teacher who wants to save the world, be her students' best friend, and ignore the cynicism of the veteran teachers. I was once that curmudgeonly veteran, and occasionally, we actually have some wisdom for the newbies. However, I do agree with many of the reviewers out there that this was a fascinating, yet disturbing, look at high school life in the 21st century. It would be an interesting book to read with your own teenage child and see where their life connects with the vision of this author.
Himself by Jess Kidd
Ah, tis a beautiful little Irish tale found within the pages of this debut author. Set in County Mayo, a poor young Irish lass is viciously murdered and her child taken to the church orphanage in Dublin. Years later, Mahoney, the babe all grown up, returns to his hometown of Mulderrig to solve the mystery of his mother's death. Steeped in Irish folklore, this beautiful little book recounts the town's reaction to this citified young man as it also remembers the life of his teenage mother. The prejudice towards the poor is on full display here, making my skin crawl at times and my anger awake. Mahoney is not the perfect hero; he has some criminal tendencies, is a bit loose with his affections, and batters at the lines drawn by the town. Yet there is beauty in Mahoney, in his friendship with the ancient old stage actress who takes him under his wings, in the love he shares with a young woman, in the interactions he has with the many ghosts he encounters in Mulderrig. And yes, many ghosts flit through the scenes and become well-loved characters of this beautiful book. Jess Kidd can write not only beautiful prose, but is adept at creating characters who sing with life, who make you smile at their conversations, and make you care about both their past and their future. Heading to Ireland in the near future to explore small villages? This is the book for you:)
The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo
Meredith, a very typical eighth grader, is low on self-confidence, longs to be part of the popular crowd though she protests that she does not, has an older brother she adores, parents who are in her business too much, and ultimately gets caught in a 'moment' that will change her life. As she stands in a convenience store next to Miss Popularity, Lisa Bellow, a robbery ensues, ending up with Lisa being kidnapped while Meredith lays on the floor, unmoving and terrified. As the news of Meredith's involvement slowly leaks out, her hum-drum life changes as she attempts to deal with the trauma this incident does not only to her social identity, but to her psychological identity as well. Thrown into this mix is her brother, Evan, dealing with the aftermath of a terrible accident that ended his baseball career, the grieving mother of Lisa Bellow who is unable to move on, and the parents, dentists who are rightfully concerned about the traumatic changes in both their children's lives over the past year. The plot premise is creative, yet the character development lost me, as did all the tangents taken throughout the story line. I kept searching my brain for some compassion for any of the characters and came up empty; the mother has nary a redeeming quality, dad has no backbone, and Meredith is beyond annoying, when I wanted her to be more complex, heroic, intuitive, you name it. About the only character I could stomach was Evan, the brother. Ultimately, I skimmed through the last quarter of the book, hoping for an ending that could redeem a rather 'meh' book for me. Sadly, I was disappointed.