Tag Archive: Book review


This gorgeous image is by mariobraune and I found it on flickr. click the photo for more of this artist's work.

I’m going to start this post by saying that I don’t always believe that the best type of writing is writing that you don’t notice.  THE BOOK THIEF was definitely one of those books where the writing was noticeable and it added to the story.  In fact, I think when the book is more psychological and less action-y, a more florid writing style really fleshes out the book.  However, with action the opposite is true.

GONE has psychological elements.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, there is a character with an eating disorder.  There is a character who resents taking care of her autistic little brother.  In a situation where children grow up too soon, there has to be a psychological impact.

However, I believe, at its heart, GONE is an action story.

The majority of this book is action or tension-filled scenes.  Exposition is at a minimum.  Characterization is achieved largely through action.  Want to know what kind of person Sam is?  Look at how he reacts in a stressful situation.  What to know how he relates to people? Pay attention to how he talks to his friends.

GONE is written in the third person, which by its very nature keeps the reader out of the character’s heads.  I’m not a person who’s overly attached to reading a particular point of view, as long as it works.  I think, in this case, third person works.  It’s removed.  It allows for point of view shifts.  And it doesn’t lend itself to long passages of introspection.

The author keeps the action rolling.  There are chase scenes and emergency situations the characters have to respond to quickly.  Often, sentences are short or even fragmented.  There isn’t much in the way of flowery language.

Which makes my analysis of the writing for this story a pretty easy job.  The writing gets out of the way of the story.  At the end of most books I’m left thinking about a phrase or two that stuck with me.  Some even pulled me out of the writing briefly.  Not so with GONE.  This book is pure storytelling.

I’m sorry I don’t have more for you with the writing style.  I can say that I was so engrossed in the story, I was paying less attention to the writing than I usually would.  If you’re not trying to compose literary fiction, that’s a pretty high complement.

If you pick up GONE (which I really did enjoy) let me know how you like it.  Tell me if I’ve missed anything in the analysis.  I love to get other people’s points of view.

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This gorgeous image is by mariobraune and I found it on Flickr. Click the photo for more of the artist's great photographs.

GONE by Michael Grant has a premise that’s a brilliant hook: every person over the age of fifteen disappears and only children are left behind.  The author tells you about this situation in the very first sentence.  Consider this opening:

One minute the teacher was talking about the Civil War.  And the next minute he was gone.

As a reader, that sentence alone was going to be enough to keep me reading for at least a couple of chapters.  However, as I’ve been reminded lately, a premise is not a plot.  It will keep me reading for a couple of chapters but GONE is a whopping 560 pages long.  After the initial shock of children being left to their own devices, a story with tensions and struggles had to happen.

As a writer, I know the challenge of composing the beginning of a book.  You need to introduce characters.  In GONE, there’s a pretty sizable cast.  You also have to introduce setting.  If there’s world-building to be done, that needs to be solidly established in the first several chapters.  Besides all of that, the plot needs to move.

Mr. Grant uses a very effective device to get all of this done. The main character is Sam.  His love interest is Astrid.  Astrid has a little autistic brother and he’s missing.  Voila!  We have action.  We have an excuse to explore the setting.  And if we break up the search for little brother Pete with a point of view switch here and there to look at some of the other characters, that’s OK too.  It’s brilliant and there’s tension, even if the real antagonist of the story, Caine, isn’t introduced until page 140.

Once Caine shows up, the story is propelled forward.  We have our antagonist and his cohort of villain friends.  Our protagonist, Sam, and his cohort of hero friends have already been established.  Instant tension.

In the meantime, many of our minor characters have their own separate challenges and tension going on.  Lana, a character with a story-line of her own, fights for her life for weeks.  First, she’s terribly injured in a car accident, then coyotes trap her in a hermit’s shack.  Her private story is compelling and it’s sprinkled in amongst the main plot line.  Mother Mary is a character who takes charge of the youngest children.  At the same time she fights with an eating disorder.  Jack is a young computer genius who is having second thoughts about his association with the Cotes Academy crowd.

And these are just a few of the minor stories.

These are situations that the average reader can identify with.  Sam and Caine might be awesome super heros/villains, but Mother Mary, Lana, and Jack are (mostly) just stressed out people dealing with crazy circumstances.  As a writer, this is a good lesson for me.  Sometimes, I avoid writing about the “normal people” for fear that the reader will find it dull.  However, watching normal people cope is rarely dull.  If I ever find myself in need of a subplot, I’m going to look to my secondary characters and see if there’s a story there.

Plotting in GONE by Michael Grant is a clever mix of hero quests, the struggle of good versus evil, and personal stories of coping.  There are aspects of the plot that I didn’t like.  It felt like a lot of time was spent following the travels of the main characters.  Books where characters travel through the desert, then travel through a forest, then travel on the water, then travel (pick your mode of transportation) one of my pet peeves.  Just moving a character around doesn’t mean they’re really doing anything.  Nonetheless, I never felt the urge to put the book down.  By the last half of the book, I was completely engaged.

So, that’s my plot analysis for GONE by Michael Grant.  On Wednesday, I’ll take a look at the writing style.  This was definitely a book where the writing didn’t get in the way of the story!  Until then.

This magical image is by mariobraune and I found it on Flickr. Click the photo for more great images by this artist.

GONE by Michael Grant is totally set up to be a book about what kids would do if they had to build a society.  Picture it: all of the adults disappear one day, suddenly, for no apparent reason.  Simultaneously, a barrier made of God-knows-what-but-burns-to-the-touch encloses a large but limited area around the town.  It’s a perfect set up for power struggles and warring factions.  And GONE is that, but somehow it’s also much deeper.

It’s pretty cool how Mr. Grant managed the setting.  There are two maps at the beginning of this book, one of the FAYZ (Fallout Alley Youth Zone, the area inside the barrier) and another of the town of Pardido Beach, California (the one small town within the barrier).  Let me just say, I HATE books that include a map at the beginning.  I usually think that means that the author doesn’t trust his writing enough to believe I can imagine his setting without pictures.  Amusingly enough, after my initial grumble I completely forgot they were there.  I didn’t need them, the setting was so clear.

It was fun to look at them after I finished the book, though, because despite the limit of the setting–it’s about 62 square miles enclosed under the dome–the setting is wildly diverse.  I honestly don’t think that this book could have been set anywhere other than California.  The FAYZ contains a beach (which plays a pivotal role in a chase scene), the desert (which plays a pivotal role in one character’s survival story), hills and forests (which offer a nice variety of wild-life to mutate and become terrifying), a gold mine, and some barrier islands.  As far as structures go, there’s one town, a nuclear power plant, a private school, and a marina.  Everything a pack of unsupervised children need.

However, the real treasures of this book are the characters.  Things don’t break down as utterly black and white.  Sure, we have our “good” characters: Sam, the protagonist; Astrid, his brilliant girlfriend; Edilio, the kid who’s got your back.  On the other side of the equation, we have the “bad” characters: Caine, the leader of the private school kids; Diana, his sort-of love interest; and especially Drake, the private school psychopath that likes to hurt people.

However, the bulk of the characters are the variety that is working each day to do their best.  Some of them are weak and some of them are clueless but all of them are complex.

  • There’s Mary, who later becomes known as “Mother Mary” who takes care of all of the little children.  She’s super-stressed, battling an eating disorder, and experimenting with self-medication.
  • There are the two local bullies: Orc and Howard.  Orc is the brawn and Howard is the brains.  While they’re annoying and potentially dangerous, they’re nothing compared to the evil that is Caine.
  • There’s little Pete, Astrid’s autistic younger brother.  Who knows if he’s good, bad, or neutral?  He joins my ranks of spooky little kids, though.
  • One of the most conflicted characters is Quinn, Sam’s best friend.  He longs to be special and wants to lead but lacks the courage.  He goes with the flow, even if the flow is being directed by some pretty dastardly dudes.
  • Or, my personal favorite, Lana and her dog Patrick, who find themselves stranded out in the desert when Lana’s grandfather blinks out as he’s driving them home.  She is On. Her. Own.  Stuck in a mining shack, surrounded by mutated coyotes.

I could go on and on.  These characters, the ones doing their best, were the best part of this book for me.  The idea that there would be a “good” side and a “bad” side was conventional.  The concept of a power struggle was utterly predictable.  But the idea that there might be kids filling roles with utter reluctance, in over their heads and coping badly was just simply beautiful.

Throw in the super powers and you’ve got one big mess!

So that’s the characters and the setting. On Monday, I’ll tackle the plotting.  This was a pretty long book and Mr. Grant kept the pacing good and fast.  I’ll see if I can’t figure out how this author does it!

This picture actually does go with the book! This great photo is by mariobraune and I found it on flickr. Click the picture for more images by this artst.

It was bound to happen.  I hit a writing slump.  I’m questioning my premise, my characters, and my pacing.  There’s only one thing to do when that happens: read some other author’s fantastic writing so I can get horribly intimidated.  The least I could do I share my experience with you!

The book up for deconstruction is GONE by Michael Grant.  Like so many of the other books I read, this is the first in a series.  As of October 2010, three of the books have been published (Gone, Hunger, and Lies).  There are rumored to be six books in the completed series. GONE, the first book, was published in 2008 which means Mr. Grant is putting out one pretty sizable book a year.  Seriously impressive!

Mr. Grant has a small promotional website through HarperTeen with a short bio and a little bit on each of the books in this series.  There’s a perplexing little website called “the fayz“.  It’s a reference to The Fallout Alley Youth Zone–the nickname given by the children to the 100 or so square miles enclosed by a barrier where the adults are missing. The website looks like a journal kept by a character named “Sinder” who, as far as I know, doesn’t appear in the book.  The cool thing (besides the journal, which was cool and does contain spoilers) is that the site contains a link to an on-line version of the book.  So, if you’re curious and don’t want to add to the stacks of books in your living room (come on, fess up.  I know I’m not the only one with book towers.) you can read GONE from here.

GONE is the story of what happens in one small California town when every human being over the age of fifteen blinks out of existence.  Very much like LORD OF THE FLIES bullies vie for power in this new adult-less world.  Unlike LORD OF THE FLIES, we have a supernatural element in this book.  Some of the children left behind develop abilities, like super strength or super speed.  Of course this just lends a sharper edge to the power struggles.  And, not even get me started on the freaky animal mutations….

The main character of the story is Sam, a reluctant hero-type.  He’s a leader.  He’s a good guy.  And he knows that power is a corrupting force.  He doesn’t want any part of it.  Still, when a scary group of bullies from the private school on the hill come to town, Sam has to decide if he’s going to lead or if he’s going to submit.

One of several antagonists in the story is Caine, the leader of the private school crowd.  He’s charismatic and smart.  He’s also brutal and selfish but in the absence of leadership, the kids follow anyone willing to tell them what to do.  Immediately he and Sam have serious problems with one another.

There’s a pretty big cast.  There’s also a fairly big scope in the story-telling arena.  I thought I was going to read a book about society building.  What I got was much, much more.

On Friday, I’m going to take a look at the characters and setting in GONE. Then, next week, I’ll tackle plotting and writing style in separate posts.  I’m looking forward to sharing my thoughts about this book with you!

I mentioned in my last post that the writing style in TOMORROW, WHEN THE WAR BEGAN by John Marsden, was one of the more charming things about the book.  Despite all of my complaining about the over-detailed story-telling and pacing issues and the lack of tension, this book has voice.  I feel like there’s a tough, young Australian person telling this story.

Consider the opening paragraph of the book:

It’s only half an hour since someone–Robyn I think–said that we should write everything down, and it’s only twenty-nine minutes since I got chosen, and for those twenty-nine minutes I’ve had everyone crowded around me gazing at the blank page and yelling ideas and advice.  Rack off guys!  I’ll never get this done.  I haven’t got a clue where to start and I can’t concentrate with all this noise.

To me, this definitely sounds young.  The run-on sentences read like a rush of excited energy.  If it wasn’t for the Australian slang glossary, I wouldn’t know what “rack off” means (Go away) but I would guess that it’s something like “leave me alone” based on the context clues.  Since I don’t know what it means without a glossary, it definitely sounds foreign.  Even without the story summary on the back of the book, I would have guessed that it was set in Australia or New Zealand.  That’s one pretty darn good voice!

Admittedly, I thought that the voice was that of a male character.  That’s something I would like to explore.

I once read on an agent wish-list that she was looking for strong female protagonists and that doesn’t mean girls that act like boys.  I was left wondering…what does that mean?  What if the strong female protagonist isn’t boy-crazy or tends to be mechanical or isn’t particularly in touch with her feelings?  Certainly, we all know real life girls and women like this.  Yet, in this book where the main character, Ellie, is aggressive, somewhat emotionally shut off, and great with heavy machinery, I came to the wrong gender conclusion.

I wanted to look at some of the reasons that I thought that the point of view character in this book was male.  The first descriptive clue you get about the point of view character is on page three.  That’s where you learn that she must be female.  By that time, she’s already been aggressive towards her peers (with the “rack off” comment), mentioned that someone male named Chris might be upset that she was chosen to write the group’s history instead of him, and made a couple of blatantly defiant statements.  To me, this set her up as male.

As the book goes on, even though I know Ellie is the girl leader with two male love interests, I’m thrown by her admiring attitude towards the beautiful Fi.  She’s the only person in the group capable of driving heavy machinery.  She makes a bomb and uses it against the invading enemy.  Why can’t a girl do these things without gender ambiguity?

So I leave you with this question, is the problem Kate-the-reader or John-Marsden-the-author? Am I gender biased or is Mr. Marsden having trouble representing the internal thoughts from a female perspective?  How do you create a strong female character or a sensitive male character without blurring the gender lines?  If you’ve read the TOMORROW series, or you just have an opinion to share, let me know what you think

I’ll see you on Friday with some writing thoughts.  Until then.

That gorgeous (and in this context, terrifying) photo was taken by tathamoddie and I found it on Flickr.

The plot in TOMORROW, WHEN THE WAR BEGAN by John Marsden is one big reason I didn’t like the book.  For the books I’ve blogged so far, once I’ve hit the halfway point of the book, I’m hooked.  By two-thirds of the way through if you interrupt my reading, I’ll growl at you.  I always ask myself one question when I finish a book; why did I keep reading? Usually the answer has something to do with the plot.  I needed to know if the main character would live.  I wanted to know the answer to a provocative story question.  I had to find out if the luckless lovers ever stop being star-crossed.  If it doesn’t have something to do with the plot, it probably has something to do with the writing.  For example, in THE BOOK THIEF the writing is just so beautiful and mesmerizing that I just enjoyed the turns of phrase.

My reason for finishing TOMORROW, WHEN THE WAR BEGAN was because I knew my co-worker who recommended it would ask about it.  Also, sometimes a story ending can knock my socks off.  If that happens, I can forgive whatever tedium I endured to get there (SIXTH SENSE, anyone?).  Unfortunately, that didn’t happen here.

Because every book is a learning experience, and because I doubt my little blog is going to hurt the sales of this series hit, I’m going to talk about the plot choices that didn’t work for me.  As always, this is just my opinion and I encourage you to read the book and judge for yourself.

  • The book is a flashback and throughout the book, the smaller stores are told in shorter flashbacks.  The book starts with Ellie announcing that she’s going to “write down everything that happened.”  Her friends are crowded around her, shouting advice.  So, what does that tell me right away?  Ellie survives the book and so do most of her friends.  As the story progresses, the teens discover that it is smarter to travel through the occupied town of Wirrawee in smaller groups.  Usually they creep stealthily in pairs.  Since TOMORROW is told from Ellie’s point of view, we only see her and her companion.  Everyone else has to tell the story of what they’ve been through when they get back to the point of view character.  Flashback, flashback, flashback.  And, again, if you’re there telling me the story, I know you made it through OK.  You lose valuable tension with this method.
  • The plot gets bogged down in details.  Ellie lists the things that they bring on the original camping trip.  She lists the things they need to set up camp outside of town.  And again when they decide to make it a more permanent camp.  And again when they make plans to fight back against the invading army.  I actually can find a laundry list interesting sometimes.  Maybe one in a book works for me.  Not this many.
  • It just doesn’t feel like there’s much direction.  Once the teens get back from their camping trip and realize that something horrible has happened, they systematically go to each person’s house.  It’s almost half of the book before we really get an action sequence.  I don’t feel like there’s a natural endpoint to this book: one enemy soldier that offers a specific threat; a ticking clock and a goal to complete in that time frame; a puzzle with a solution that would mark the end of the book.  To me, this book actually felt like only part of a book.

If I could play fantasy writing group and had a chance to critique the plot of TOMORROW, here’s the advice I would probably give (everyone’s a critic, right?).  I would explore moving out of the first person point of view.  This is a book that I think would gain more immediacy if it was told in real time and if the point of view shifted among the characters.  I would probably try to shorten the account of the camping trip and limit some of the description to pick up the pace.  And I would probably advise the author to give the team of teens a clear, active goal that it takes them a while to solve.  For example, the town of Wirrawee was attacked before the rest of Australia because it’s in a strategic location.  Maybe the kids could find out that they need to intercept a key convoy before a specific time.  Much of the book could be spent puzzling out this problem.

But, then again, maybe that’s why Mr. Marsden is a published author and I’m an unpublished amateur blogging about his book. 🙂

On Wednesday, I’m completing this analysis by looking at the writing style which I thought was one of the more charming things about the book.  I enjoyed the Australian voice.  Until then, I hope everyone has a great week.

That gorgeous (and in this context, terrifying) photo was taken by tathamoddie and I found it on Flickr.

TOMORROW, WHEN THE WAR BEGAN by John Marsden is another book where the setting is as important as the characters.  Actually, it’s a pretty cool set-up.  We have the fairgrounds in the middle of Wirrawee, a small town in Australia where this story takes place.  The fairgrounds are where the townspeople are being held by the invading army.  Surrounding the fairgrounds is the town–a blown-up abandoned tangle of streets.  Surrounding Wirrawee is the rural farmlands where our main character lives.  Surrounding the farmland is the Australian bush.  Since I enjoy symmetry, the concentric circles worked for me.

When the characters enter the bush, they travel along a ridge called Tailor’s Stitch and climb down the cliffs into a crater named Hell.  This is where I start to have trouble with the setting as a reader.  Where some authors are sparse and light with description, Mr. Marsden is detailed and exacting.  I might even venture to say that the setting description is ponderous at times.  On the one hand, it created a vivid mental image of the Australian wild.  On the other hand, some descriptions of the setting are so extensive that I was getting impatient, skimming, and skipping whole paragraphs.

In the afterward, the author states that he based much of the setting on real places.  I don’t know if that might be part of the problem.  He seemed so intent on the reader seeing his version of the setting, that he seemed unwilling to leave much of anything up to the reader’s imagination.

The characters in this story are eight school friends.  Seven of them go on a camping trip and miss the foreign invasion.  The eighth survives the invasion in the town without being captured and joins up with the campers later in the book.

The main character and the point of view of the story is Ellie, an aggressive, rugged, capable young woman.  She’s the person who arranged the camping trip and she convinces her friends to make the precarious descent into Hell.  Here’s the odd thing (and I don’t know what it says about me): I kept thinking that Ellie was male.  Before names or genders were revealed, based simply on the voice, I was so sure this character was male that when her gender was revealed, it was actually jarring to me. That continued for me through the whole book, even though she has two male love interests. I’m not sure if this is my problem for buying into gender stereotypes or Mr. Marsden’s for not representing women accurately.

Perhaps if you’ve read TOMORROW, you can help me out.

The rest of the friends are a pretty typical ensemble cast.  The nearly as rugged, almost as capable, always faithful best friend (Corrie).  The troublemaker turned brilliant strategist (Homer). The beautiful rich girl who is tougher than she looks (Fi).  The genius, sensitive, artistic love interest (Lee).The best friend’s boyfriend (Kevin).  And the fainter (Robyn).  We are repeatedly told how each character blooms under pressure.

OK…sorry, sorry, sorry.  Like I said, I had trouble with this book so delving into it deeper is taxing my good nature.  But, again, let me remind you that this is the first of a wildly successful ten-book series.  Lots of people loved the TOMORROW series.

If you’ve read it, let me know how you feel.  See you Monday.

That gorgeous (and in this context, terrifying) photo was taken by tathamoddie and I found it on Flickr.

To deconstruct TOMORROW, WHEN THE WAR BEGAN by John Marsden, I moved outside of my comfort zone in a couple of different ways.  First, the author of this book is Australian. The main character’s voice definitely reflected that.  Since this is my first Australian author (I usually favor American and British authors) the glossary of Australian slang terms at the beginning of the book came in awfully handy.  Second, as the title suggests, this is a book about war.  I’m not usually a big fan of war stories but I didn’t think THE HUNGER GAMES was going to be my cup of tea either, and I devoured the whole darn series.  So, on the recommendation of a co-worker, I decided to give the TOMORROW series a try.

Mr. Marsden runs a pretty awesome website.  Aside from being a national and international bestselling author, he is also a teacher.  He started and runs a school called Candlebark in Australia on 850 acres of natural bush.  In addition to that, he also seems to be an all around good fellow.  He made passionate pleas for compassion for refugees during 2010 Refugee Week.

John Marsden is best known for the TOMORROW series and the companion books, THE ELLIE CHRONICLES.  However, he is the author of other young adult fiction such as the award winning SO MUCH TO TELL YOU and non-fiction like THE HEAD BOOK.  Furthermore, TOMORROW, WHEN THE WAR BEGAN is about to come out as a movie.  You can watch a trailer here.

TOMORROW, WHEN THE WAR BEGAN is a story told from the point of view of Ellie Linton, an outdoorsy, capable teen living in rural Australia.  She and six of her friends decide to go camping for a week in the Australian bush.  Their destination is a secluded, overgrown crater in the Earth called “Hell”.  It’s so secluded, that the seven teens are completely unaware that their country, starting with their hometown, is being invaded and taken over by a foreign power.  When they do return to civilization, their town is bombed, the townspeople are prisoners, and the war has begun.

OK…so I have a confession.  I swore I wasn’t going to blog about a book I didn’t love.  So far I’ve managed that, even if I had to quick-read something new because my intended blog topic didn’t turn out to be stellar.  However, I wasn’t wild about TOMORROW.  It could just be me…I know someone who is finishing book 10 and couldn’t be more thrilled.  So don’t let my lukewarm reception turn you off if it sounds interesting.

It does have an appealing voice and an intriguing premise.  I’m going to look forward to talking about some of the aspects of the book that didn’t work for me.  I hope you get something out of the deconstruction of a book I wasn’t in love with.

Until Friday.

That gorgeous (and in this context, terrifying) photo was taken by tathamoddie and I found it on Flickr.

One thing that I really enjoyed about THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER by Stephen Chbosky is that was an easy read with some very philosophical thoughts.  At first, I questioned Charlie’s voice.  He’s only supposed to be fifteen years old and sometimes he comes off as so much younger.  For example, consider this exchange between Charlie and his gay friend Patrick after Charlie has eaten his first marijuana brownie at a party and caught Patrick kissing the high school quarterback.

Patrick then took me out of the room and closed the door.  He put his hands on both of my shoulders and looked me straight in the eye.

“Brad doesn’t want people to know.”

“Why?”

“Because he’s scared.”

“Why?”

“Because he is…wait…are you stoned?”

“They said I was downstairs.  Sam is making me a milkshake.”

Patrick tried to keep from laughing.

“Listen, Charlie.  Brad doesn’t want people to know.  I need you promise you won’t tell anyone.  This will be our little secret.  Okay?”

“Okay.”

When I read this, my mental image of Charlie became that of a ten or eleven year old.  The way Patrick speaks to him, calling the incident our little secret, making the sentences very simple, is the way one might speak to a confused child.  Charlie’s perceived youth and inexperience is further reinforced by the way that Sam tries to help Charlie through being stoned by getting him ice cream.

The age gap between Patrick and Charlie seems so vast.  But it isn’t really.  Charlie is fifteen and turns sixteen during the school year.  Patrick is a senior, making him seventeen or eighteen.  Two to three years difference and yet Patrick and most of his friends treat Sam like their babysitting a very precocious child.

At the same time, the whole book is told from Charlie’s point of view.  We know what he’s thinking and we know that he’s very capable of understanding things.  He seems to have a particular interest in the motivations of the people around him.  Consider this scene where Charlie is watching his grandfather as the family views a VCR tape of his older brother playing college football:

My grandfather was crying.

The kind of crying that is quiet and a secret.  The kind of crying that only I noticed.  I thought about him going into my mom’s room when she was little and hitting my mom and holding up her report card and saying her bad grades would never happen again.  And I think now that maybe he meant my older brother.  Or my sister.  Or me.  That he would make sure he was the last one to work in a mill.

I don’t know if that’s good or bad.  I don’t know if it’s better to have your kids happy and not go to college.  I don’t know if it’s better to be close with your daughter or make sure she has a better life than you do.  I just don’t know.  I was quiet and I watched him.

So the writing style is very simple, right?  No crazy vocabulary.  No complex sentences.  In fact just about every other sentence is a fragment.  Simple words.  Short, clipped thoughts.  Huge, deep idea.

We could have a whole philosophical discussion on those two paragraphs alone!  And these sorts of conundrums and questions are peppered through the whole book.  These are some astute observations from someone who is at a time of life when so many thoughts are turned inward.  In fact, despite the way people treat him, Charlie seems to have the maturity of someone much older than sixteen.

This representation of Charlie’s interactions juxtaposed against his thoughts does something very interesting: without ever telling you that Charlie is a brilliant, innocent, unique teenager, you get that strong impression.  He brings out the protective nature of the people around him.  He gives everyone the benefit of the doubt.  He empathizes.  Rather than putting Charlie in gifted classes and having adults talk about how smart he is, the reader experiences the reality of Charlie’s intelligence through the way he thinks about his friends and family.  This book was one of the most poignant examples of showing instead of telling that I’ve read in a long time.  And for this, I applaud Mr. Chbosky.

I hope you enjoyed this deconstruction.  If you read THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER, I hope you’ll let me know how you enjoyed it and if you got any insights that I didn’t think of.  Until Wednesday!

That great image is by Filomena Scalise and I got it from freedigitalphotos.net.

Like I mentioned in my last blog, THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER by Stephen Chbosky has a plot that I’ve been having a lot of trouble dissecting.  It’s very similar to SPEAK, in the sense that it’s one year out of a teenager’s life.  In both books, the storyline encompasses their first year of high school. However, unlike SPEAK, PERKS doesn’t have a well-defined story question.  There isn’t that compelling sense that something bad (or good) is going to happen or a lingering aggravation that the author is withholding information to keep you reading.  There is a little ambiguity about some trauma in the main character’s past but it isn’t the driving force of the book.  The school year goes along the way that most school years do: punctuated by holidays and weekends.  As a writer that likes to analyze things, it’s MADDENING.  Why on earth did I keep reading this book?  Beyond that, why did I devour it in one four hour sitting?

I can only come up one idea: I kept reading this book was because it reminded me that people don’t always suck.

Charlie is a vulnerable little guy.  He’s gifted and he’s sensitive.  To me, that sounds like bully fodder waiting to happen.  When Charlie falls in with this older crowd that’s waaaay more experienced than he is, I was sure they would break him. Briefly I thought that was exactly where the story was headed.  But it wasn’t long before I realized that wasn’t going to happen.  He found friends–real friends.  The kind of people that Charlie might still know into his adulthood.  They took care of him and he, in his small way, took care of them.  It was beautiful.

Charlie is also very introspective.  He looks at what people are going through and relates that to the way they behave.  For instance, Charlie’s step-grandfather beat Charlie’s dad and aunt.  Charlie knows that’s the reason why his late Aunt dated men who liked to hurt her and why she drank too much.  He also knows that’s why his father is stern and unemotional.  Charlie doesn’t blame them for the way they act; he tried to understand them.

But, that isn’t a plot, is it?

So, after wrestling with this for a couple of days, I can’t figure out the plot.  Why does it work?  Why do I keep turning the pages?  It was beautiful writing.  It had round, compelling characters.  But the thread that holds this story together? I just don’t know.  It really feels much more like I had stumbled on to a shoebox full of letters and just happened to be reading them.

Perhaps it’s the voyeuristic pleasure that made me eat up this little morsel.  Maybe it’s the fact that I loved the characters and wanted to spend more time with them.  Maybe it’s just that a person’s life is interesting enough without explosions or vampires to keep this reader completely enthralled.  Whatever it was, this book was compelling and can’t put my finger on why.

I’m glad that next time I’m going to be looking at the writing style on Monday.  This book is deceptively easy to read.  The vocabulary and the sentence structure stay simple so that the ideas can be complex.  Until then!

That very cool photograph is by artist Filomena Scalise and I found it on freedigitalphotos.net.