Book Review: Aphrodite Made Me Do It by Trista Mateer (eARC)

Aphrodite Made Me Do It by Trista Mateer

Genre: Poetry, Mythology

Publishing Info: October 2019 by Central Avenue Publishing

Pages: 224

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

Bestselling and award-winning author Trista Mateer takes an imaginative approach to self-care in this new poetry and prose collection,
Aphrodite Made Me Do It. In this empowering retelling, she uses the mythology of the goddess to weave a common thread through the past and present. By the end of this book, Aphrodite make you believe in the possibility of your own healing.

Thank you so much to Central Avenue Publishing and NetGalley for the eARC of this book.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book, or how much I would enjoy it, as I don’t often read poetry. In fact, I didn’t enjoy much poetry when I did my English Literature degree, but I’ve come to realise that I don’t hate poetry, it’s just a matter of finding the words that sing to you.

This book has a varied style, with some written in more poetic form and other sections written in more of a prose style. The mixture makes it more accessible, and although I personally would have enjoyed more of the fragmented poetry sections, I think this does give it appeal to a wider audience. You don’t have to like poetry to like this book.

The topics covered are very relatable, put in simple terms that everyone can understand, but those words are put together in a beautifully lyrical way. Subject matter such as body image, assault, love, coming out, abuse and family are all explored in a very honest way. Using mythology as a way to tell the story and explore the themes of the book was an interesting and effective choice. It does help that I’ve always had an interest in mythology. Aphrodite is given a voice and the book gives an interesting perspective on how the love goddess is represented in literature and culture.

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Book Review: Crank by Ellen Hopkins

7095108Crank by Ellen Hopkins

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Poetry

Publishing Info: 2010 by Margaret McElderry Books (first published 2004)

Pages: 537

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

Kristina is the perfect daughter: gifted high school junior, quiet, never any trouble. Then she meets the monster: crank. And what begins as a wild ride turns into a struggle for her mind, her soul–her life.

Ellen Hopkins, whom mediabistro.com has called “the bestselling living poet in the country,” exploded onto the young adult scene with her first novel, Crank, which has become a national bestseller. School Library Journal acclaims Crank as “a stunning portrayal of a teen’s loss of direction and realistically uncertain future.” Publishers Weekly raves, “[Hopkins] creates a world nearly as consuming and disturbing as the titular drug.”

Crank is a transfixing look into the tortured lives of addicts and the people who love them.

 

Crank is the second book by Ellen Hopkins I have read and, like Impulse, takes the form of the novel in verse, or verse novel. I was pleasantly surprised to have enjoyed the verse novel form when I read Impulse, and was keen to read more by Ellen Hopkins. Once again Hopkins tackles a serious issue head on. While Impulse looked at mental health, Crank follows its protagonist through drug addiction.

I don’t know much about drug addiction and have never read a book about it, so I found Hopkins’s blatant and open address of the issue difficult to read but enlightening. The verse novel form particularly suits the subject matter in this case, and Hopkins uses the verse brilliantly, fully capitalising on its potential. The poems are written in erratic stanzas that range across the page, with some of the verse in ‘normal’ stanzas and some spread across the page, others formed in shapes, and many other myriad and interesting styles. This reflects the erratic Kristina and the highs and lows of her addiction.

The other characters were fairly typical and flat as they weren’t given the time to become well rounded characters. However, I didn’t feel this was as big an issue as it would be in other books since the focus of the story is very much on Kristina’s internal conflict with her addiction. The plot was also fairly predictable in places, with some eye rolling on my part at some points which appeared to be presented as ‘twists’ but which weren’t all that surprising. Yet, as with my previous point, it didn’t really matter that much to me because it’s more of a character and emotion driven story that a plot focused novel.

The book was well paced and being told in verse didn’t hinder it carrying a strong narrative. However, the ending felt quite rushed compared. The last several poems summarised the end of the story too much, meaning it lost the emotional impact it had carried in the rest of the book.

Book Review: The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

9781406354386

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance

Publishing Info: Walker Books (first published 2010)

Pages: 320

Star Rating: 3.5/5

 

Back Cover Summary:

Seventeen-year-old Lennie Walker, bookworm and band geek, plays second clarinet and spends her time tucked safely and happily in the shadow of her fiery older sister, Bailey. But when Bailey dies abruptly, Lennie is catapulted to center stage of her own life – and, despite her nonexistent history with boys, suddenly finds herself struggling to balance two. Toby was Bailey’s boyfriend; his grief mirrors Lennie’s own. Joe is the new boy in town, a transplant from Paris whose nearly magical grin is matched only by his musical talent. For Lennie, they’re the sun and the moon; one boy takes her out of her sorrow, the other comforts her in it. But just like their celestial counterparts, they can’t collide without the whole wide world exploding.

This remarkable debut is perfect for fans of Sarah Dessen, Deb Caletti, and Francesca Lia Block. Just as much a celebration of love as it is a portrait of loss, Lennie’s struggle to sort her own melody out of the noise around her is always honest, often hilarious, and ultimately unforgettable.

 

What first attracted me to this book was the many poems spaced throughout the book, which are designed to look like they’re written in Lennie’s handwriting on an assortment of things including crumpled notepad paper and paper cups. I can’t imagine how that would look on an eReader, so I think this is one of those books which is best experienced in paperback.

The poems added an interesting element and created another level for looking into Lennie’s thoughts and feelings. The idea is that Lennie writes these poems on random scraps and they’re dotted around the town. The issue I had was that it randomly says Lennie scribbles a poem on a few occasions in the story, but then the reader isn’t given any insight into why she has written that particular poem, what her thoughts were when she was writing it. It’s flippantly mentioned that she writes the poem, and then that’s it the story moves on. This meant that it felt disconnected. It contrasted with the high level of access the reader gets to Lennie’s thoughts through the whole narrative and just seemed odd that her thoughts just disappear whenever she writes a poem. It just felt strange to read and inconsistent.

The book kept me reading and I found Lennie’s narration charming and at times humorous, as well as her quirky family putting a smile on my face. Grief, I think, as a major part of the book was portrayed well. I could feel Lennie’s emotions and the metaphors Nelson used meant I could really put myself in Lennie’s position and understand her grief. Everyone copes with grief in different ways, and I think this was shown well through the members of Lennie’s family.

I was dismayed to find that the cliché love triangle had snuck into another young adult novel. It wasn’t completely despicable though, unlike others I have read. There was a reason for the pull both boys had on Lennie, and the ‘love interests’ were both fully formed and unique characters rather than cardboard cut-out stereotypes. Also Lennie was only really in love with one of them, so the book wasn’t full of irritating ‘ohhh who should I choose?’ dilemmas that drive me up the wall.

As a young adult contemporary romance it is by far one of the better ones I have read, with likeable characters and some humorous moments amidst the heart-wrenching portrayal of grief. It’s just a shame that the poems aspect of the book wasn’t effectively tied to the narrative.

Book Review: Impulse by Ellen Hopkins

Impulse by Ellen Hopkins

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary

Publishing Info: May 2008 by Margaret K. McElderry Books (first published 2007)

Pages: 667

Star Rating: 4/5

 

Back Cover Summary:

Sometimes you don’t wake up. But if you happen to, you know things will never be the same.

Three lives, three different paths to the same destination: Aspen Springs, a psychiatric hospital for those who have attempted the ultimate act — suicide.

Vanessa is beautiful and smart, but her secrets keep her answering the call of the blade.

Tony, after suffering a painful childhood, can only find peace through pills.

And Conner, outwardly, has the perfect life. But dig a little deeper and find a boy who is in constant battle with his parents, his life, himself.

In one instant each of these young people decided enough was enough. They grabbed the blade, the bottle, the gun — and tried to end it all. Now they have a second chance, and just maybe, with each other’s help, they can find their way to a better life — but only if they’re strong and can fight the demons that brought them here in the first place.

 

Although I have read plenty of poetry and plenty of novels, I had yet to read a novel in verse until Impulse by Ellen Hopkins. The book looks dauntingly thick, but is actually an incredibly quick read since there aren’t all that many words on each page. It explores how three teenagers came to be at Aspen Springs psychiatric hospital and doesn’t shy away from dealing with complex issues.

The book uses three different narrators – Vanessa, Tony and Conner – with headings to show which is which. It switches between the perspectives about every three poems. Surprisingly, I was mostly able to keep track, but there were times where I forgot which point of view it was, got confused, and had to flick back and check.

I enjoyed my first novel in verse, and liked that Hopkins didn’t go overly flowery and poetic with the language, as that would have come across as quite unrealistic for the voices of most teenagers. The characters were developed slowly, their personalities pieced together as different bits of their past were revealed. I liked that the three protagonists, although very different, had things that connected them. I thought Vanessa’s point of view was written very well, and found the way Hopkins described the experience of bipolar to be effective for imagining what it would be like.

While reading, I questioned the realism (and sense) of taking a group of patients on some kind of wilderness training thing as the last stage before they would be allowed to be discharged. However, after some internet searching, I discovered that wilderness therapy is an actual thing. Maybe it was just hard to keep track of the passage of time, but it seemed like the characters were able to get to that stage quite quickly, which seemed quite surprising (they would start at Level One and progress up to get different privileges until the wilderness training).

In future, I wouldn’t turn away from a novel in verse, and would consider reading more of Ellen Hopkins’s work, as this seems to be her narrative style of choice for her novels. The book was both quite dark and deep, exploring the troubled pasts of the characters and their thought processes.