Sunday, February 13, 2011

Review of Speak- by Laurie Halse Anderson

Speak- Laurie Halse Anderson

When Melinda calls the cops at an end of summer party, she finds herself the pariah of her high school. Her friends won’t talk to her and people she's never met hate her. Melinda is alone, trying not to think about what happened to her that night. If she thought about it, she would have to SPEAK the truth and then her life could really unravel.

I have to say upfront that I read this book in one sitting and loved it. Now the hard part, what makes it so good? I think it’s the simple language that Anderson uses. The metaphors she uses to describe what happens are not cliché, they are hers alone—new and unique. The voice is in first person and the reader learns in heart-breaking detail what the school year is like for her. No friends to speak of, no one to talk to, she is alone in her own head and for a girl like Melinda, that’s the last place she wants to be.

The novel is broken down into the four marking periods that comprise the school year. The sections are further broken down into vignettes that occur during that time. Things like gym class, job day, pep rally are used to move the novel forward.

Melinda finds an abandoned janitor’s closet that becomes her refuge when the day becomes too much for her to handle. She also finds solace in her art class, trying all year to draw the perfect tree. These two things provide her with the strength she needs to endure.

It’s clear that Melinda is depressed, but Anderson never states the words outright. She portrays Melinda with the symptoms of depression. She shows a lack of interest in almost everything; she needs and wants to sleep all the time, she shows a lack or disregard for personal hygiene. Her grades have plummeted from the year before. Even the town she lives in is dreary and gray. For writers trying to master the mantra “show don’t tell,” Speak provides the perfect example of what that means. Anderson shows the reader Melinda’s turmoil, never once does she tell us how she feels, she shows us her inner wrath in every scene. By the end you want her to finally SPEAK the truth.

Next up: Tale of Despereaux



Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Alchemyst

The Alchemyst(The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel)-by Michael Scott
Cover Image

Twins Sophie and Josh Newman take summer jobs across the street from each other in San Francisco. Three strange men enter the bookstore where Josh works looking for the Codex- The Book of Abraham, the Mage. The Codex is in the possession of Josh’s boss, Nick Fleming. The twins soon learn that Nick Fleming is really Nicholas Flamel—the Alchemyst and the holder of the elixor of life. The men swipe the Codex (and Flamel’s wife Perry), but not before Josh is able to tear out the critical last two pages. The twins learn that they may be mentioned in the book’s prophecies, a fact that will forever change their lives and have them on the run with Flamel.

In The Alchemyst, Scott weaves mythology, history and fiction together to create a story which begins at a breakneck pace and builds from there. Scott doesn’t begin with a scene or two to let the reader know a little about the characters—he starts almost immediately with action before the reader really knows who the characters are. It’s a riskly move but it pays off for him in the end as he sucks you with the action and fills in the other parts as the story evolves.

From a writing standpoint, The Alchemyst uses several different points of view, but never once did I get confused as to whose point of view it was that I was reading. Scott usually separates the POV’s as different sections or chapters. It helps that the pov changes follow consistently within the structure of the plot. Scott also includes a lot of historical and mythical information throughout the book. The background information is woven into the dialogue but it never feels like he’s using one character to lecture the other characters.

There are some plot points that do seem a bit contrived. The mirrors as a leygate (or passage) seems a bit reminiscent of HP 6, and the cabinets acting as passageway in and out of Hogwarts for Voldemort’s followers. The mirrors appear at a time when it seems that the main characters are trapped. Other than this flaw, I really enjoyed this book. It's a great example of how to write a fast-paced Fantasy novel as it doesn't get bogged down in world building or try to be more than it is.

Next up, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson