Genre: Non-Fiction

Notes: 23/50 Chilling, well-researched, and fascinating.  About time someone got it right

Review: While I don’t remember Columbine as well as others (I was in elementary school at the time), I still remember vague echoes of horror and a little tightening around my parents about sending my sister and I off to school.  In my mind, this is the first school shooting that really rattled America and made school seem like a battlefield rather than the safety it was supposed to provide.

I remember hearing about Cassie Bernall because I want to a small, evangelical Christian school, and they lived for modern day martyrs. Cullen debunks the rumor that “she said yes” about her faith in God before Eric Harris shot her in the face.  And you know what’s so great about this book?  There’s no malice.  Cullen didn’t set out to tear the rug out from under the Bernall family and prove their daughter didn’t die for her faith, as they hoped.  He just reported the facts as he understood them. There’s no shaming the community, the police response, or blaming the Harris or Klebold families for raising sons who murdered fellow classmates.  This account simply is.

Cullen presents a painstakingly researched account of what happened at Columbine that day in 1999, an attempt to explain why, and how the community struggled to rebuild and come to terms with what happened.

What

What exactly happened that day?  Or, really, what didn’t happen?  Columbine wasn’t just meant to be a school shooting, Eric and Dylan weren’t two loners who snapped at jocks, they weren’t a part of the Trench Coat Mafia, or any of the other silly rumors circling after the shooting.  It was a bombing gone wrong.  Eric and Dylan didn’t want to shoot specific students or have a hit list, they wanted to kill everyone.  When police and emergency personnel rushed to the scene, they wanted to blow up Dylan’s car to increase the body count even more.  The guns were merely to pick of stragglers picking their way out of the wreckage of a bombed school.

Cullen was a member of the media covering Columbine and they made serious leaps of faith with little facts and primarily contributed to the myths and rumors that surround Columbine to this day.  In my opinion, this was the first truly American strategy that played out on television with the 24/7 news machine.  Reporters constantly vamp and speculate when new information isn’t available in an attempt to keep the audience engaged.  The leaps they made were logical leaps but ultimately untrue.

Why

The first question people tend to ask when something like this happens is “Why?”  We need to know motive.  It helps us tie things into neat little packages.  We need a world that makes sense and follows rules.  Outcasts picked on one too many times fit the bill.  It made sense.  Sad, tragic, yes.  But unfathomable?  No.

Unfortunately, Eric and Dylan didn’t fit into these boxes.  The FBI’s assessment of Eric concluded that he was a psychopath.  He simply enjoyed killing.  There was no motive that prompted his killing.  He simply liked to watch people suffer.  He felt no empathy and very little emotion even though he could charm the pants off of any adult who felt any suspicion toward him.  Dylan simply hated his life and needed a direction – he followed Eric because it offered him a way out, it seems.

When I read this account, and I couldn’t help but think of the shooting in Aurora, CO in the movie theater of the Dark Knight Rises premiere. When I heard, I was disgusted and sad.  It hit me harder than I thought it would because my friends and I frequently see midnight premieres.  I wanted a motive.  Why would anyone do this?  What purpose does it serve?  But, unfortunately, I think reading this book gave me the answer.  He did it to do it.  Killing people was the motive, not the result. He likens himself to the Joker in the series.  Like Alfred said “some men just want to watch the world burn.”

How

The community, obviously rattled struggled for years to become normal again.  Long after the world stopped paying attention to them and long after (sadly) the nation really cared anymore.  There were lawsuits, angry parents, and students on suicide watch constantly.  Cullen’s interviews and portrayal of the principal, Mr. D, are refreshing. That man deserves a medal for taking care of his students as well as he did.

Eventually, the community reclaimed Columbine High School.  Even while today Columbine is synonymous with “school shooting,” students wanted their school back and shouted “We are..COL-um-BINE” to reclaim their identity and their pride. The world crushes us all, but they became stronger in the broken places, as Hemingway so gracefully puts it.

Bottom Line: Forget everything you thought you knew about Columbine.  This book isn’t depressing or gruesome or graphic.  It is just an attempt at an accurate account of that day and those involved. Highly recommend!

Advertisements

Genre: YA Dystopian Literature

Notes: 22/50 (no way I’m gonna make 50 books by the end of the year..blurgh.  The challenge continues another year)

Review: Okay, so I liked this book better than the first one of the series. Maybe because I’ve grown accustomed to the spelling and understand the political situation on New World a little more.  Plus I’ve gotten used to the NOISE.

To me, this novel (and the series) grapples with the question of “What is it to be a man?”  And it’s a question we see today.  A disturbing amount of teenage boys (and girls) think being violent and not allowing any “disrespect” is what makes a man.  In this society, men are only men if they have killed another man.  The refrain “We are the choices we make” echoes throughout the book and forces people to consider what kind of people they want to be.

Our protagonists Todd and Viola are separated for most of this book and each has to make his/her own choices.  What does it mean to be a man/woman?  What side of this war am I on?

As much as this story is about Viola and Todd and their choices, the villains in this story aren’t really villains, which makes their choices that much harder.  In the first book, it is easy to see Mayor Prentiss (now President) as a stock villain. However, book 2 explains his motives and his absolute conviction that his antics will bring peace to New World/New Prentisstown/Haven. He reminds me of the Mayor in the Walking Dead series in the way that he probably doesn’t see himself as a bad man – but he has to do bad things to keep the peace and get things done. He sees himself as a hero and as a man who has to do the dirty work no one else has the balls to do.

Mistress Coyle, the woman who is trying to overthrow him, is even more confusing.  She means well, I’m sure of it and I’m positive I would be on her side.  But she does…regrettable…things to strike back at the president’s men.  She reminded me a lot of Coin in The Hunger Games series.  A strong woman who did necessary evils, but unfortunately has all of the trappings of a dictator herself.  Even if she believes what she is doing is right, her means are no more justified than the tyrant she attempts to overthrow.

My one critique of the story lies in Todd and Viola.  I found them a bit irritating.  I can’t explain why exactly, but their love for each other and obsession with each other didn’t feel real to me. They’re 14.  It is one of the primary reasons I despise the premise of Romeo and Juliet.  They’re no overt sexual tension, but their feelings are so damn intense (maybe I’ve forgotten what it means to be a teenager already?  I’m sure my 14 year old self would defend that plenty of 14 year olds have intense feelings.  Isn’t that one of the hallmarks of adolescence?) but my jaded 24 year old self could not accept these characters were 14.  However, I will acquiesce and say that they have gone through more than most people do in a lifetime and that has aged them prematurely (they’ve killed for godsakes) and their shared experiences forged a bond stronger than most people see in their lifetimes.   And Todd just giving up because Viola “abandoned” him made me want to throw down the book in disgust.

Also, minor quibble: the font change between Todd and Viola’s chapters was annoying.  They weren’t different enough to announce THIS IS A DIFFERENT CHAPTER in capital letters.  And why do we need to differentiate them still further?  Each chapter had either TODD or VIOLA printed neatly at the top so we would know who narrated the section.  I am competent enough to follow those cues without the text changing, thanks.

Bottom Line: On the whole, good book.  Very emotional.  Very intense. It’s a little contrived and has been done before (YA dystopia, can’t get enough), but I can’t wait until I can get my hands on book 3 because this one left us with a cliffhanger!

Genre: Fiction

Notes:21/50

Review: This review won’t be very long, so..sorrynotsorry. This book is fine.  Shawn Goodman obviously cares deeply about the subject of juvenile detention and the vicious cycle these young girls are trying to break.  His bio in the back of the book mentions that he works as a counselor in these institutions and has based the book off of a lot of things he’s seen – from the people who genuinely want to help to the corrupt people in the system who live to break these girls.

The book sparks a little of my idealist spirit (swore I wanted to help people, but haven’t found the right niche yet.  I applied to Peace Corps and chickened out without submitting the application 3 times and get rejected from Teach For America), and it’s a very quick read.  I found it in the YA section when I was browsing my local library and picked it up on a whim.

But to be honest, this trope is tired.  It has been done with The Blind Side.  Touches on it in The Help.  Books in this vein don’t start of this way, but the end of seeming like “benevolent white person helps disadvantaged black person.” I mean, sometimes it is the nature of the situation.  Unfortunately, a lot of the youths in detention centers are disproportionately African American while most of the counselors and administrators are white.   What are you supposed to do?  Not help them?  Obviously not.  But books like these saturate the market so the power Goodman is going for and the plea that youths in juvenile detention centers deserve more falls on deaf ears.  We’ve heard it before.  We’ve seen it before.  It’s old.

Is it just me?  What does anyone else think?

Bottom Line: Not really worth reading. Unless, like me, you’re bored and have nothing else to read!

Genre: Memoir

Notes: 20/50 books.  Slightly funny throughout with some legitimately pee your pants hilarious moments.

Review: OMIGOSH I love Jenny Lawson.  I read her blog, thebloggess, regularly and snort with laughter as she describes her love affair with taxidermied animals, her relationship with her saint of a husband, and her wild country life in the Texas hills.

I love Jenny Lawson, but I probably wouldn’t be he friend.  Reading her blog is hilarious, but he book is slightly exhausting.  It’s totally manic, neurotic, and panicky.  She openly admits she has an anxiety disorder, struggles with depression, and a whole host of other issues like rheumatoid arthritis and gets her point across – it is tough living in Jenny Lawson’s head.  And you know what? I totally get that.  I also come across much better and put together over email, blog, or text.  I can come off as witty when I have a chance to think about my response whereas in person, I mostly just say awkward things.

So, some of these chapters tend to get overwhelming, but it keeps a pretty even keel of funny moments.  However, there are some moments that are legitimately hilarious.  One of my favorite chapters/stories is from her blog: Beyonce the Metal Chicken.  I had read this about a year earlier when my friend sent me the link – I almost spit coffee all over my office computer.  And the chapter where Jenny ate wayyyy too much Ex-Lax and she thought her cat was a rapist – that sounds weird typing it, but I cried reading that chapter.  Cried in a good way.

Basically, I don’t know if Jenny Lawson should have a whole novel.  Or, maybe, she just needs a better editor.  I think all of the material is there, but I’m not sure the execution is there.  Some of the chapters are pure genius (the chapter about the shit she dealt with in HR was amazing), but most of the chapters lack direction.  She creates great moments of hilarious-ness, but lacks a narrative thread.  It is mostly musings from Jenny Lawson which is perfect for a blog but less perfect for an entire book.

The thing I liked most about the book is the Jenny finally comes to the realization that weird is good.  Weird is interesting. (which might be her narrative thread, but it gets lost)  Nerdy people rule the world, and everyone is a little bit crazy.  I like to think I’ve embraced my nerdiness and have become more myself as I’ve gotten older, and I’ve rarely ever yearned to fit in. I mostly didn’t give a shit about what anyone thought by high school and did my own thing.  Being weird is cool! I feel like I’m going to tell this to my tween when she is 12 and she’s going to punch me. Regardless, weird > not weird.

After I read this book, I was drinking beer on a rooftop deck at the beach and the wind was making the can move a little.  I put my hand around the can, not touching it, and concentrated really hard.  When the can moved because of the wind again, I felt like a magician.  I promptly told my friends that I was a magician and offered absolutely no follow up or reasons why I felt like a magician.  I’m pretty sure they thought I was drunk, but it’s really just the Jenny Lawson Effect.

Bottom Line: Read this book.  It’s worth it!

Genre: Non-fiction, Fantasy, Romance

Notes: 19/50.  Started off with promise, but sort of fell apart into this weird vampire romance novel that reminded me too much of Twilight.  Also, I listened to this in audiobook form.

Review: I decided to “read” this book on my way back from Maryland to Charleston.  I had complained to my boyfriend that I was tired of searching for radio stations or listening to Christian country rock stations through large swaths of rural Virginia and he suggested that I buy an audiobook instead.  Genius!

And really, it worked out great.  I had constant noise (but I didn’t have good headphones so I had my phone like weirdly perched on my shoulder held in place by the seat belt), I didn’t have to scan for radio stations roughly every 20 minutes, and I adore reading in the car.  I like  road trips when I’m not driving because all I want to do is sleep and read.

However, the actual book got annoying fast.  It turns out this book is a gigantic tome and would take 24 hours to listen to.  I’ve gotten through about 8 hours and have given up hope of finishing.  Part of it is the narrator.  She gets kind of annoying and reads in this breathy tone like she’s reading poetry.  All of her lines go up at the end and she read in a kind of monotone.  But he vocal range and the different voices of the characters are great.  I just didn’t like Diana’s (the main character) voice which unfortunately is most of the book.

It started off with a lot of elements I like: Magic, universities, academia, and literature.  I mean, it has an enchanted book for god sakes!  But, alas, it totally fell apart into this Twilight-esque romance novel.  Diana started the book as a self-sufficient witch with a HUGE chip on her shoulder.  She refuses to do magic at all because she believed magic has something to do with the death of her parents.  I found that annoying.  You’re a witch.  Act like it. Not using magic doesn’t make you less of a witch.  It just makes you a stupid witch.  Diana takes care of herself and makes herself be independent to an almost irritating degree because she will not accept any help from anyone ever.

That is, until a beautiful vampire named Matthew Clairmont ensnare her heart.  They aren’t supposed to mix .  Vampires and witches do not start romances.  It’s just not done.  But there is something about him that she feels herself drawn to.  And he finds himself drawn to her as well.  He admits he craves her blood (hello Twilight) and begins to fall for her as well.  He even snuck into her apartment and watched her sleep.  GAG.  That’s pretty much where I stopped reading. She became too into him for my taste. Maybe I just don’t like romance novels in general, but this novel felt like it followed every stereotypical romance trope without changing anything.

Bottom Line: Yawn.

Genre: YA Dystopia

Notes: 18/50 books. So much teenage angst.

Review: Sigh. Divergent, like you can tell from my review, started off so strong. I liked the characters, I liked Tris, and I liked her relationship with Four/Tobias.  She seemed strong, independent, and didn’t seem like a silly teenage girl for the most part.

Oh, how wrong I was.  Tris is a silly teenage girl with angst oozing out of her pores.  Before I rail on Tris and the problems I had with the book, let’s start with what I liked.

First of all, I really liked this book.  It’s not the best book ever written and it’s not fair to compare it to the Hunger Games, but I like it and will definitely be reading the third.  (I’m going to guess it’s going to be named Emergent – just going with the “-urgent” theme.  Roth, I expect royalties on the title. Thanks).  We get a much better look at the factionless.  We see what motivates them, how they organize themselves, and a better idea of what life is like for the people who don’t make initiation into their faction or were kicked out due to old age (Cough Dauntless Cough.  Heartless bastards).  Plus, Roth gives us a decent look at every faction in turn – she shows their idiosyncrasies and their strengths.  However, herein lies my biggest problem with the book:

HOW AND WHY DO PEOPLE ONLY HAVE ONE ATTRIBUTE THEY FOLLOW ABOVE ALL OTHERS? Like, does not being in Erudite make you a moron?  Some of the stuff that Tris points out to the Dauntless about their plans is ridiculous.  Is she the only one who can think logically because she’s Divergent?  Like, really?  Dauntless is just a bunch of brave, screaming idiots who will rush into danger without a plan?  And the Erudite can’t not think logically?  People don’t fit into boxes and asking me to accept that in this world, people do (mostly) fit neatly into boxes is beyond absurd.  Every person should have all five of the faction traits in them – that’s the only way to be a complete human being.

In this book, Tris seems to dissolve into a teen drama queen.  She has this massive guilt trip about shooting Will (which is fair, I would too) and she’s beyond convinced that Four will leave her because she’s just that unlovable.  Barf, please.  Having some insecurities is human, but harping on them all of the time and actually driving people away is pathetic.  She battles with depression, tells herself she doesn’t want to live, but when faced with death, actually finds she loves her life.  Please.  It was like she took every annoying characteristic Katniss had when she moped around about Peeta and magnified them.  Get a grip, girl.  Don’t you see there are more important things going on?!

Bottom Line: The series is addicting, but has annoying plot holes and mediocre world building. I would still recommend it because Dystopian Literature is fantastic, but I’m still saying Hunger Games  and Katniss > Divergent and Tris.

Genre: YA Dystopia

Notes: 17/50.  Don’t judge my reading choices.

Review: This. is. my. new. series.  Love times ten. And you know why?  BECAUSE THERE ISN’T A FREAKING LOVE TRIANGLE IN IT.  No Katniss > Peeta > Gale and especially no Bella > Edward > Jacob.  I love Hunger Games, but the love triangle was a bit much.

Divergent is set in a future Chicago that has basically crumbled.  We get snippets that there was a big war, everything got fucked up, and the leaders basically created factions to keep the peace (which makes no sense, but we’ll get to that later).  Each faction has one value that hold about all others: Dauntless values Bravery, Amity values Peace, Candor values Honesty, Abnegation values Selflessness, and Erudite values Intelligence. Each faction believes their way of thinking is the key to peace in the world and each has specific jobs to make sure society continues functioning. Each faction lives separately, wears special clothing, and only thinks like their faction.  If you can’t fit into one faction, then you live factionless, which is basically living in homeless squalor.

You know why I love this book?  Because Beatrice Prior (aka Tris) is a badass.  She does some dumb things, but she takes care of herself.  Originally born into the Abnegation faction, she chooses to join the Dauntless faction on choosing day at 16.  Their initiation process is brutal (and stupid, I would never have joined Dauntless) and she learns how to fight, how to survive, and how to become the person she was meant to be.  She takes a short trip to bitch town for awhile, but who doesn’t? She rights herself in the end.  What’s special about Tris is that she’s DIVERGENT.  She doesn’t fit into any one faction well.  She actually fits into three, Abnegation, Dauntless, and Erudite.  In this world, being Divergent is dangerous because it basically means you can think for yourself and can’t easily be controlled – something the power-hungry Erudite won’t stand for.  Divergent are usually rooted out and murdered.

I mean, to be honest, the story has been done before.  16 year old girl has a sneaky suspicion she doesn’t belong, no one understands her, has an inner struggle, and goes on a journey to find herself.  Finds love along the way, kissy puppy love, and saves the day.  How many times do we need that storyline? Apparently a lot because girls like me eat that shit for breakfast. I identified at times with Tris because I think (hope) that I would be Divergent too.  No one can make me do what I don’t want to do.  Just try.  I’ll spite you just because I want to.

Now, the plot holes: CREATING FACTIONS IN ORDER TO FOSTER PEACE DOESN’T MAKE ANY SENSE. Sorry Roth, your dystopian premise doesn’t hold a lot of water.  I’m willing to forgive you though because the action moves swiftly and my 12 year old girl heart loves Tris and Four/Tobias together.

Bottom Line: I bought this book at the airport in Minneapolis on Sunday morning for my flight back to South Carolina…and finished before I landed.  Get your hands on it!  I’m reading Book #2, Insurgent, right now and #3 is slated to come out Fall 2013.