Irregular Review: The Darkest Part of the Forest

The Darkest Part of the Forest The Darkest Part of the Forest
Holly Black
★★★★☆ (I really liked it.)

Goodreads summary:

Hazel lives with her brother, Ben, in the strange town of Fairfold where humans and fae exist side by side. The faeries’ seemingly harmless magic attracts tourists, but Hazel knows how dangerous they can be, and she knows how to stop them. Or she did, once.

At the center of it all, there is a glass coffin in the woods. It rests right on the ground and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives. Hazel and Ben were both in love with him as children. The boy has slept there for generations, never waking.

Until one day, he does…

I was so excited to finally get a chance to read this. I was not disappointed.

The Good

I’ve mentioned before that Holly Black’s Tithe was life changing for me as a sixteen-year-old. It introduced me to urban fantasy, and I spent the next several years reading everything I could find. All because this one book turned me onto this genre and I couldn’t get enough.

The Darkest Part of the Forest is Tithe, if Holly Black wrote Tithe ten more years into her writing career. I’m not saying she’s recycling ideas or characters, and this isn’t a reboot of the Modern Tales of Faerie series. It’s a return to themes and concepts of those books, by a more mature writer: conflicted family relationships, trying to protect the ones you love by lying to them, a childhood (mis)spent with faeries, a town on the edge between reality and fairy land. There’s even a faerie revel like in Tithe, but instead of just being about Kaye and Kaye’s problems, Hazel has to worry about her whole town – and that was better handled than when the courtless fairies run amok over Kaye’s town in Tithe. The diversity felt more authentic and less weirdly Mary Sue-ish, and the realities of growing up with irresponsible bohemian artist parents were more realistically addressed.

I’m not putting down Tithe at all here. I loved Tithe. I just think The Darkest Part of the Forest is better, at least, technically.

The Bad

The Darkest Part of the Forest is a the better book, but I think Tithe is more fun. Maybe just because Roiben is so dreamy. Swoon.

My only other criticism? Why, at least in the books by Holly Black that I’ve read, which is not all of them, is the main character a straight girl and the secondary character a gay boy? Although, once again, even that was better handled than Tithe‘s Kaye and Corny; Ben was much more fleshed out and interesting as a person.

The Verdict

This is a good book, and you should read it – especially if you liked Tithe in particular or urban fantasy in general. The Darkest Part of the Forest weaves together a contemporary, character-driven novel with an urban fantasy adventure story, and it was very well done.

I really liked the shout out/potential future tie-in to Tithe, and Roiben’s old queen and the new king on the East Coast.

Advertisements

Irregular Review: Vivian Apple at the End of the World (Vivian Versus the Apocalypse)

Vivian Apple (2)

Vivian Apple at the End of the World
Katie Coyle (Vivian Apple, #1)
★★★☆☆ (I liked it.)

Goodreads summary:

Seventeen-year-old Vivian Apple never believed in the evangelical Church of America, unlike her recently devout parents. But when Vivian returns home the night after the supposed “Rapture,” all that’s left of her parents are two holes in the roof. Suddenly, she doesn’t know who or what to believe. With her best friend Harp and a mysterious ally, Peter, Vivian embarks on a desperate cross-country roadtrip through a paranoid and panic-stricken America to find answers. Because at the end of the world, Vivan Apple isn’t looking for a savior. She’s looking for the truth.

So, Vivian Apple.

The Good

I could not put this book down. It’s one of those things that I would sneak in pages at any opportunity – on the train, during lunch, under my desk, in the middle of a conversation. I needed to know what happened, and I needed to know if the Rapture happened or not. (I won’t say. Spoilers.) Some twists, I sooo called before they were revealed. Others, I didn’t guess. It was a good mix; it shouldn’t be too obvious, or too difficult. This wasn’t a mystery novel, although the mystery of the Rapture is the question Vivian has to answer, and why she goes on her Great American Road Trip out west.

I’m not sure how I felt about the ending, and I think the sequel, Vivian Versus America, will help me decide whether or not I liked it. How things shake down from here will put the end of the first book in perspective.

Vivian felt real to me, and I think a certain kind of goody two shoes will relate to her, although personally, I think reading this as a high schooler, she would have annoyed me. But Vivian was very “likable.” She’s the sort of person you’d want to befriend.

It’s subtle, but there’s an undercurrent of feminism throughout the whole story. Vivian drives the plot, and most of the time, the car. The Rapture happens to her – and her parents disappear, leaving holes in the roof of their home – but after a little bit of wallowing, she takes action to get to the bottom of this mystery. It’s Vivian who decides to leave the New Orphans and Vivian who decided to take this road trip in the first place; Harp and Peter are just along for the ride.

Along the way, she articulates her discomfort with the Believer’s anti-feminism, how women are controlled by Frickism, following “their” men a step or two behind, dressing “modestly,” punished for their sexualities. Frickian homophobia becomes a plot point, but that’s not something that happens to Vivian, but it happens to scare Vivian.

Which brings me to…

The Bad

Vivian is a straight white girl. Her best friend, secondary character Harpreet Janda, is Indian-American. Harp’s brother, Raj, is gay. So, points for inclusion, but this is still Vivian’s story and, given the unsubtle message about the dangers of religious fundamentalism and extremism, it would have been stronger if Vivian had been a person of color, or a queer, or disabled, or something that put her in danger from the remaining Believers.

As a non-Believer, Vivian is an outsider. Most of America has converted, and the “left behind” Believers are focused on a passage from the Book of Frick about how “the road to salvation is overcrowded with the damned” and some have taken that to mean they must exterminate the “sinners” – non-Believers, generally, but in particular, “harlots” and “fags.”

I would have found the story much more compelling if Vivian had more at stake – if Peter, the love interest, were Petra, for example. Even Vivian’s non-Belief isn’t a thoughtful articulation of her theological or even moral qualms with Christianity in general or Frickism in particular, she just floats along, not believing. How would this story go if she did believe, but in something else? What if Viv was Catholic? What if Viv was Muslim?

I don’t want to hate on this book for everything it wasn’t, but I think it could have been stronger if Vivian had more left to lose after the Rapture.

My Thoughts On…: My True Love Gave to Me

My True Love Gave to Me  One of my New Year’s Resolutions for 2015 is to actually review (some of) the books I read. I figured, Why wait? and so here we are, with My True Love Gave to Me.

Goodreads summary:

If you love holiday stories, holiday movies, made-for-TV-holiday specials, holiday episodes of your favorite sitcoms and, especially, if you love holiday anthologies, you’re going to fall in love with MY TRUE LOVE GAVE TO ME: TWELVE HOLIDAY STORIES by twelve bestselling young adult writers, edited by international bestselling author Stephanie Perkins.

Do I love holiday stories? Yes. Holiday movies? You bet! Made-for-TV-holiday specials? Ohhh yeah. Holiday episodes of my favorite sitcoms? Bring it on.

I love Christmas so much that I get excited about starting Advent somewhere around Halloween. And let’s be honest: it says “holiday” up there, but it’s mostly Christmas with a token Hanukkah story. There was a token Hanukkah story, and a token “queer” story – we’ll get to that in a minute – but it was a Christmas anthology.

I didn’t recognize most of these authors. I know Holly Black from Tithe when I was a teenager and Doll Bones now; Rainbow Rowell for Fangirl, which I read this year but it did not impress me; David Levithan from the good/bad old days of digging up something anything queer I could get my greedy little hands on reading Boy Meets Boy and then Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist in university; and though I’ve heard of Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone, I’ve never read it. The others were a mystery to me.

Usually, I get bored of short story collections, but these were just the right length, and just the right number.

Most of the stories washed right over me. I enjoyed them enough to keep going and not skip any, but then I promptly forgot about them. (This happened with Levithan’s “Your Temporary Santa” and “It’s a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown” by Stephanie Perkins.)  Others I really didn’t like at all because it felt like wasted potential. (e.g., Ally Carter’s “Star of Bethlehem,” and Holly Black’s “Krumpuslauf.” Black’s story felt too much like she was trying to be Holly Black then just tell a story.) The closest I came to skipping was “Polaris is Where You’ll Find Me,” by Penny Han.

A handful really stuck out for me: “Beer Buckets and Baby Jesus” was probably my favorite. I hadn’t even heard of Myra McEntire, and the whole thing fell flat when I tried to explain to my roommate why I liked it so much, but I actually laughed out loud – multiple times, even! – at this story, and I’d love to read more by her.

The other two I liked were magical: “The Lady and the Fox” by Kelly Link was vivid and beautiful, like a Tam Lin retelling? and I love Tam Lin retellings, ever since I read Holly Black’s Tithe when I was sixteen or so. “The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer” was so vividly told that I’m curious if it’s part of another, larger piece… I hope so!

All in all, I’d give it three stars: a solid I liked it. (I’m trying to be stricter with my stars. Otherwise, I give everything four stars and it just becomes meaningless.)

However, in twelve stories, there was one couple that wasn’t straight – the two boys in Levithan’s “Your Temporary Santa” – and there wasn’t a single queer girl to be seen. There were no trans characters. While each individual story was good enough on it’s own, I guess, as a collection, I wanted to see a little… more.

Cis gay men are always the token queers. Cis gay men’s stories are the dominant narrative of what it means to be queer in 2014. That’s not David Levithan’s fault, but they couldn’t find a single author to write about a lesbian couple? Nobody would write about a trans main character?

Let me tell you: this asexual lesbian (that’s two points on your diversity bingo!) freaking loves Christmas. I’d like to read about girls like me falling in love with girls like me and kissing under the snow or whatever it is couples do in holiday specials.

That’s what I want for Christmas.