Being brutally honest about books

Showing posts with label magic realism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label magic realism. Show all posts

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Ask the Passengers by A.S. King

Date finished: 22 August 2015

Ask the Passengers is one of the best novels I've read in 2015, and as you can see from my previous reviews, I've read some pretty good books this year. It's so good that I read it in one day, unable to put it down.

The plot is pretty simple, but nice. I think I'd read somewhere that it's a character-heavy rather than plot-based novel, but I enjoyed its simplicity - it's more realistic, considering the 21st Century, small-town America setting - you don't expect huge tragedies or monstrosities, or quest for the good of mankind. Instead, you get petty teenagers, small-minded townies and family getting in the way of a girl who just wants to be herself. I don't want to spoil anything, but there is a happy ending that will make you grin. There are a couple of points that didn't seem to be resolved, such as a court appearance that didn't happen, but I loved the plot in general.

The protagonist, Astrid, is a very cool character who I could connect to. She's smart, perceptive, and funny, a non-mainstream teenager who doesn't want to be labelled by her peers. I think one of the reasons she's such a success as a fictional character is that so many of us can relate to her, no matter who we love or where we're from. I don't know how you could read this book and not love her.

Most of the supporting characters aren't as loveable, including Kristina (Astrid's dishonest best friend), Dee (Astrid's pushy love interest), and Ellis (Astrid's selfish sister), and I disliked many of their actions, but their behaviours are justifiable and Astrid forgives them, so you can't help forgiving them too. The parents are far from perfect and understanding, but how many parents are? As Astrid herself philosophises, nobody's perfect. Her relationships with all these characters are rocky, but in the end everything is sweet.

The writing is beautiful, a requirement for me giving a five-star rating. Sometimes first-person point of view in the present tense gets old, but no other style would be suitable for this novel. Astrid's voice is fantastic and it feels like a teenage girl could really be telling this story - it doesn't feel like a middle-aged woman trying and failing to write about teens, it's authentic and not overly complicated just for sophistication. I even laughed out loud once or twice, as it's funny too.

This isn't your usual kid-realises-they're-gay LGBT teen novel, because there is so much more in it. I especially loved the Greek philosophy aspect, when in YA books I usually find it a bit pretentious of a young character to be that philosophical, but it's done in a neat way that instead of hurting my brain made me go along with it because it made sense. I also enjoyed the whole sending-love-to-the-aeroplane-passengers idea because even though it's unusual, it's believable, as people do have quirks like that. Of course, I did like the questioning-your-sexuality part too, which is the main theme of the book after all, but these other ideas make it wonderful and unique.

There are so many reasons why Ask the Passengers is worth reading, some of which I've probably forgot to mention, but I can't recommend it enough to fellow teenagers and young adults, and any people who don't like their identity being put into boxes by society. Astrid questions the paradox that nobody's perfect, but this book is pretty close to it.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Maya's Notebook by Isabel Allende

Maya's Notebook
Date finished: 19 March 2015

Although she's a bestselling author, the only reason I've heard about Isabel Allende is because she was mentioned in Spanish class a couple of times last year and the year before. About a month ago I was looking for Hispanic writers to read, and remembered her name and looked up her books. This one sounded alright, so I picked it up from the school library and gave it a go. I found myself liking it more than I expected.

Maya's Notebook is a beautiful story about grief and healing, but also a dark tale about addiction and crime. The contrast between Maya in Las Vegas and Maya in Chiloé at the end of the novel shows amazing character development as well as healing, and seeing her get better throughout the novel fills you with hope that while life can get bad, with time and effort and the love of others, it will improve.

There are lots of fantastic quotes about life and love, such as

Life is a tapestry we weave day by day with threads of different colours, some heavy and dark, others thin and bright, all the threads having their uses.


It doesn’t matter who we love, nor does it matter whether our love is reciprocated or not or if the relationship lasts. Just the experience of loving is enough, that’s what transforms us.

This novel is very slow-paced and I struggled to get through it at first. I very nearly gave up on it, exhausted by the long paragraphs and lack of variation in sentence length, but I persevered. Once I got through the first 30 or 40 pages, it got easier to read and even became enjoyable. Even though there is little in the way of action, Maya's Notebook is still a good read and I ended up really liking it.

I thought the structure was quite effective. Usually I'm not a fan of flashbacks, but because there are two stories being told linearly, one in the past and one in the present, it worked and I liked slowly uncovering the story of Maya's past, how her life gets worse and worse, while in the present she makes progress towards getting better.

The setting is what initially interested me. I've always wanted to go to Chile, and learning about Chilean/Chilote culture was fascinating. I had no idea what Chilean life was like, so this book opened my eyes to the reality of it. I grew up in a tiny, isolated place too, but it was nothing like Chiloé, so seeing how the community in this novel works together was lovely.

The first person point of view made me sympathise with Maya, which was good because I don't think I would have, otherwise. I cannot relate to Maya in any way, but I cared about her, feeling sorry for her when she was at her lowest in Las Vegas and wanting her to heal and be safe in Chiloé.

While it is slow-paced and long, this book is not at all boring, and the characters and relationships, rather than gripping plot, are what plays an important part in the story. I highly recommend Maya's Notebook to anyone wanting to read about Chile and what it takes to move on from the past. I know I'll be picking up other Isabel Allende books, after reading this one.

I'm Alexandria, a 19-year-old reader/writer/blogger from New Zealand. I love language, history, and sci-fi. Hi! I'm always around if you want to talk, which you can do via comments, the contact form, or Facebook.

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