A YA Double Dip: Beasts of Fantasy and Rocky Realities…

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Sit down, relax and take up your favourite snack for today’s YA-focused double dip review.  I’ve got a contemporary that deals with mental health and teen friendships, and a fantasty retelling of Beauty and the Beast, set in a mythical Japan, so take your pick and let’s wade on in.

First up we have Made You Up by Francesca Zappia. which we received from HarperCollins Australia for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Reality, it turns out, is often not what you perceive it to be—sometimes, there really is someone out to get you. Made You Up tells the story of Alex, a high school senior unable to tell the difference between real life and delusion. This is a compelling and provoking literary debut that will appeal to fans of Wes Anderson, Silver Linings Playbook, and Liar.

Alex fights a daily battle to figure out the difference between reality and delusion. Armed with a take-no-prisoners attitude, her camera, a Magic 8-Ball, and her only ally (her little sister), Alex wages a war against her schizophrenia, determined to stay sane long enough to get into college. She’s pretty optimistic about her chances until classes begin, and she runs into Miles. Didn’t she imagine him? Before she knows it, Alex is making friends, going to parties, falling in love, and experiencing all the usual rites of passage for teenagers. But Alex is used to being crazy. She’s not prepared for normal.

Funny, provoking, and ultimately moving, this debut novel featuring the quintessential unreliable narrator will have readers turning the pages and trying to figure out what is real and what is made up.

made-you-up

Dip into it for…

…a funny and engaging story full of quirky characters that won’t make you work too hard, but still contains some unexpected twists here and there.  Despite the potential heaviness of the topic – the lead character Alex has schizophrenia and has difficulty differentiating her hallucinations from reality on occasion – this book has quite a light tone for the most part and characters with personality traits that will make you laugh.  Alex can be forgiven for having trouble figuring out what’s real and what’s not at her new school, because it is a bit of a bizarre place.  There’s Miles, the sometimes-German-speaking head of the detention club, a scoreboard that gets more attention from the Principal than the students do, and a bunch of strange goings-on that would have even the least imaginative person around scratching their heads and wondering whether they had slipped into the twilight zone.  As well as Alex’s condition, the book also deals with making new friends in an untrustworthy situation, caring for ill parents, navigating the precarious halls of high school and finding a place to fit in.

Don’t dip if…

…you like a straightforward story where everything is as it seems.  Alex tells us straight up that for her, reality isn’t always exactly as it appears, and unless she records it on her trusty camera, she won’t have a hope of keeping reality straight.  Funnily enough, this bleeds over a bit into the story, so if you don’t like second-guessing every single action and word of every character to test for its voracity, this probably won’t be the book for you.

Overall Dip Factor

I did enjoy this book, although not as much as I expected to.  I had heard great things about it around the blogs and given that it has a mental health theme, I thought it would be up my alley, but there were a few elements that didn’t ring quite true to me.  I loved Alex’s little helpmates – her camera and magic eightball, that help her separate the real from the unreal – but the book situated the schizophrenia more as a cute quirk than as the actual, devastating and debilitating (and in a third of cases, deadly) condition that it is.  There were also a few parts with Alex’s parents right at the end which seemed like a pretty unbelievable response to the situation in question, but I can’t say any more about that because, spoilers.  I suppose I shouldn’t really complain because the book never claimed to be one that was going to deal with mental illness in a realistic and meaningful way, and I really did enjoy the light tone and the main characters (and especially the triplets!) so I can recommend it to those looking for a humorous, reasonably light YA coming-of-age tale with some elements that you won’t see coming.

Next up we have Barefoot on the Wind by Zoe Marriott, which we received from Walker Books Australia for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A companion title to Zoë Marriott’s critically acclaimed Shadows on the Moon, BAREFOOT ON THE WIND is a darkly magical retelling of “Beauty and the Beast” set in fairytale Japan.

There is a monster in the forest…

Everyone in Hana’s remote village on the mountain knows that straying too far into the woods is a death sentence. When Hana’s father goes missing, she is the only one who dares try to save him. Taking up her hunting gear, she goes in search of the beast, determined to kill it – or be killed herself.

But the forest contains more secrets, more magic and more darkness than Hana could ever have imagined. And the beast is not at all what she expects…

Dip into it for…  barefoot-on-the-wind

…a deeply atmospheric foray into family tragedy and having the strength to follow one’s own mind in the face of opposition.  As retellings of fairy tales go, setting one in a fantasy version of historical Japan is a stroke of genius.  I will admit that this was the element that drew me in to this book.   The first few chapters, in which we are introduced to Hana, her peculiar ability to talk to trees, and the shadowy curse plaguing her village, had me immediately hooked.  The writing is laden with imagery and Hana is shown to be kept on the outer by her peers, troubled by grief and family tragedy and yet steadfast in knowing her own mind.  The historical setting of the book felt so unlike any fairy tale I have read before that even though the book is a retelling (or re-imagining, I suppose), there is no deference to the usual tone and motifs typically seen in YA retellings of such familiar tales.

Don’t dip if…

…you are hoping for a Disney-esque retelling of a Beauty and the Beast, complete with twirly skirts and singing furniture.

Overall Dip Factor

As I mentioned earlier, the strongest parts of the novel for me were the beginning and end, as both of these took place in Hana’s village.  In the beginning, as the story moved on and we discover more about the curse of the Dark Wood, I was a little bit sad to let go of the down-to-earth aspects of the story to engage with the fantasy elements, which is unusual for me, but I’m sure those that love fairy tale retellings will adore the unique setting for the Beast and the other forces that manipulate the Dark Wood.  It was great to see a bit of influence of Japanese fantasy culture included here, with a truly frightening spirit throwing her weight around in the latter stages of the story.  If I’m honest, I could take or leave the “romance” bit, which read more like a developing relationship and building of trust than romance (thank goodness!) but the atmosphere and imagery generated by the writing were absolutely absorbing and so I can definitely recommend this to those who love retellings, or indeed those who love a good historical fiction with a fantasy twist.

If neither of these has prompted you to go in for a bite today (really?!), stay tuned, because tomorrow I have a round up of enticing middle grade titles (including some of the best indie reading I’ve done this year!), while on Thursday you can pick over some of my recent DNFs for potential new reading fodder.

Until next time,

Bruce

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