Tag Archives: coming-of-age

Review: The Tumbling Turner Sisters

Screenshot 2016-05-22 at 11.56.59 AMRecap: Winnie and Gert come from an already poor family, but they’re about to be poorer. Thanks to their father’s drunken mishap and hand injury, he can no longer work in the factory where he’s employed, and now they, their mother, their two other sisters and baby nephew must find a way to keep going and pay the rent. Their older sister, Nell is too busy caring for her baby and too depressed over the loss of her husband to help. Their younger sister is still in school. But their mother is all too resilient to let the family fall apart. It’s the early 1900s. The solution is easy. Become a travelling vaudeville act. And that’s exactly what the sisters do.

They practice their tumbling and find an agent who books them gigs throughout Upstate New York. Along the way, Winnie meets a wonderful man who, unfortunately for her mother and her bias, is an Italian immigrant from Boston. His younger sister and Winnie’s younger sister become close friends as well. But Gert, the voluptuous older sister, falls for a black man, a fabulous tap dancer who performs in shows with them. Their love is kept secret for fear they would get in trouble. But a racially-induced misunderstanding eventually forces him to leave the show and escape, leaving Gert in shambles.

And as The Tumbling Turner Sisters continue travelling, adding things to their act and becoming bigger and better, it becomes harder or even impossible for Winnie and Gert to keep in touch with the men they love. They are finally reaching a state of comfort financially and emotionally until one tragic event changes everything. The girls start to realize vaudeville may not be forever, but where will The Tumbling Turner Sisters turn next?

Analysis: A story about four sisters growing up, working together, encouraging each other and trying to find their way in life, The Tumbling Turner Sisters is like a vaudevillian version of Little Women — a correlation made just a little too obvious with the author’s mention of the American classic within her own novel, as Winnie attempts to read Little Women, but is bored with it.

I suppose by contrast, The Tumbling Turner Sisters is more exciting than Little Women (though I will always love that book), and the narration helps with that. Each chapter goes back and forth between narration by Gert and Winnie, clearly the strongest characters in the novel and women in the family, offering differing perspectives on their lives, the theater and the world between 1918 and 1920.

Author Juliette Fay also does such an excellent job of seamlessly including historical aspects of the early 1900s America with her descriptions of vaudeville life that it helps to touch on the social issues of the novel, including  women’s role in society, racism and the economy. The setting is just as big a character as any, making it glaringly obvious just how far we’ve come since then (Women can vote! And go to college!) and yet, how little has changed in terms of racism. Her writing really puts things in perspective.

MVP: Winnie and Gert. Though initially described as sisters who couldn’t be more different — Winnie, the brainy type who wants to be a nurse and vote for the next President  and Gert, the Becky-with-the-Good-Hair of the novel who is beautiful and always has a suitor — they are also the most determined and focused on their goals and their family.

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Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Recap: When Jacob Portman’s grandfather mysteriously and suddenly dies in some kind of animal attack, it’s Jacob about whom everyone worries. The two were close, and Jacob was at his grandfather’s side shortly after the attack. Jacob claims to have seen the beast, which he can only describe as a monster. No one believes him, so 16-year-old Jacob Portman starts seeing a therapist. Soon after, Jacob and his father take a trip to Wales, where his grandfather spent some time as a child. The hope is that the more he learns about his grandpa, the sooner he’ll be able to let go.

On his journey, he discovers an old house where his grandfather spent time as a child: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. It’s in horrible shape. As it turns out, the home was bombed during WWII, killing all of the children inside. But Jacob insists his grandfather was one of those children and survived. That’s when Jacob discovers a time portal that transports him to the day of the bombing in 1940. Jacob befriends the friends of his grandfather and spends every day for weeks learning about this alternative world of peculiar children with special powers, time travel, and villains who are trying to take over.

When he learns that his own life is in danger, he has to choose: should he continue his life in present day with his parents? Or should he move permanently to the 1940 loop, where he has friends and a purpose?

Analysis: What sets this book apart from other adventure, fantasy novels are its pictures. Author Ransom Riggs wrote the book based upon pictures he collected. The pictures are creepy, and looking at the cover of the novel, I anticipated a thriller or ghost story that I wouldn’t necessarily enjoy. I was pleasantly surprised to learn the book wasn’t scary at all; rather, it was fun, exciting and full of surprising twists. The book moved in directions I didn’t expect and did a good job of incorporating the odd photos, including a levitating girl and another girl holding what appears to be a ball of glowing light.

Upon finishing Miss Peregrine, it was surprising to me to learn that it’s a young adult fiction novel. It doesn’t read like one. Yes, it’s a coming-of-age tale at heart, and it’s about teenagers, but some of the issues Jacob must deal with are adult, and the end of the novel is pretty dark. It was so good and well-written, I was surprised to learn it was meant for teens rather than adults, who might possibly appreciate it even more. It also sets up nicely for the sequel — which I have yet to read, but can’t wait to.

MVP: Jacob. Despite being 16 years old, he has some tough decisions to make, and ultimately he does what’s not only right for me, but what’s wrong for everyone — whether they know it yet or not. He is mature for his age, and as the book continues, his confidence grows. I believe he’s the kind of person most teenagers aspire to be like.

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Movie vs. Book: Paper Towns

Margo Roth Spiegelman is Quentin’s miracle. Margo and Quentin grew up next door to each other in Orlando, and though they were close as kids but grew apart during their teen years, Q never stopped pining after her. He had altogether given up on the prospect of them ever being close again. That is, until she sneaks into his room one night and wakes him up to accompany her on an adventure around the city.

Their overnight rendezvous consists of pranking all of Margo’s “friends,” who she’s recently learned haven’t been as good friends as she thought they were. It’s a night to right a lot of wrongs. It’s a night that Q imagines will change his relationship and future with Margo forever. Little did he know, he was right.

After that, Margo disappears. She doesn’t show up to school, and her parents haven’t given up on looking for her after all the random trips and disappearances she’s planned in the past. But Q doesn’t give up. He won’t. Now more than ever, he needs Margo and is on a mission to find her. After some of his own detective work with the help of his friends, Ben and Radar, he discovers where Margo is — a paper town, an unbuilt copyright trap of a town that doesn’t really exist, except on a map — a parallel to Margo’s fakeness. At this point, the friends — and one of Margo’s friends, Lacey, set out on a journey to find Margo.

Up until this point, Paper Towns, the film, follows Paper Towns, the novel, closely. The casting for the movie on pointe, and the teenage coming-of-age feeling of the book is captured on screen. The last act of the film is where the changes from the book set in — for instance, Radar’s girlfriend also accompanies the group on the road trip to Margo. The novel uses prom as the deadline for the road trip, as opposed to an urgency stemming from Margo moving around. But the very end is the most dissimilar.

Without giving anything away, the book’s ending is open for interpretation. It doesn’t feel final, and it’s up to the reader to decide or assume what happens next. The movie shows what happens next. The movie portrays what happens after the Margo meeting. The movie also does it in a way that only Q sees Margo again, and not the other friends. The movie explains how each of the characters winds up several months down the road. And let me tell you something — that ending is far more satisfying than that of the book.

I’m not usually a fan of a movie over the book on which it’s based. But in this case, I didn’t particularly love the book. The ending of the novel was a let-down after all I felt I’d “been through” with the characters. The movie’s ending was not. It was also more focused on friendship than chasing not-so-real love. It was more in line with what would really happy. Plus it gave me the satisfaction of knowing that everyone and everything ended up alright — better than alright. And when you’re talking about such fake things as paper towns, it was refreshing to see an ending that was real.

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Review: I’m Glad I Did

Recap: JJ Green comes from a family of lawyers, and she’s expected to become one as well. But as a 16-year-old growing up in New York City in the 1960s, she doesn’t want to be a lawyer; she wants to be a songwriter. She lucks out when she nails an interview and lands herself an internship at one of the biggest music publishing offices in the city. That’s when she makes a deal with her parents: if she writes and sells a song to be published by the end of her summer internship, her parents will have to let her continue on the songwriting path.

As her internship begins, JJ is quickly thrown into the real world and adult life — meeting Luke, a cute, older boy on the elevator and running into her estranged Uncle Bernie, who’s said to be involved in some illegal side activities. But things get real, real fast when she learns that one of her friends has died, and it just happens to be the same woman who recorded an amazing demo for JJ’s new song. The police rule it a suicide, but she knows there’s more to the story. Suddenly her songwriting summer is swirling with love and the mystery of murder. She wants to help solve it, but she also has to sell her song — big goals for one young girl in one short, crazy summer.

Analysis: “I’m Glad I Did” isn’t only the title of the book. It’s also the title of JJ’s original song. It’s also how I felt after having read the book. Yes, I am aware that those three sentences were a little hokey. To be fair, the book is a little hokey as well. But as a YA novel, it should be exactly that, and a lot of fun. The book had some dark undertones, dealing with interracial relationship in the 1960s, gambling, alcoholism, drug addiction, and death. But ultimately it was fun. This girl is living the dream — writing songs with a dreamy boy in New York City and solving a murder mystery. Is it a little far-fetched? Yes. But I put myself into the mind of a 14-year-old girl reading this book, and I couldn’t help but think JJ was awesome and living a pretty fabulous life.

What’s impressive about I’m Glad I Did is that it was written by Cynthia Weil, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame songwriter. She helped write classics such as “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” and “On Broadway.” Knowing that, I trusted her take on what happens behind the scenes of the songwriting business in the 1960s. I had to imagine that at least some of the story came from real-life experience, and that only made the story more intriguing and exciting.

MVP: JJ. She’s a teenage badass. She stands up to her parents and works toward the career she wants. She stands up to police, insisting they continue to investigate the murder. For a girl who considers herself to be unconfident, she sure is ballsy. And it’s fun and empowering to see her succeed time and time again.

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Review: In the Company of Educated Men

Recap: When three friends graduate from Harvard, they feel like the world is their oyster. Sort of. In reality, they’re clueless about where they want to go and what they want to do. Lennie comes from a wealthy family and can virtually do whatever he wants. Paul is quite the opposite. Louisa is the beautiful brainiac with all the potential and no particular goals. A few weeks after they leave school, Lennie is on a mission; he wants an adventure. So he enlists Paul and Louisa — whether they like it or not — and sets out on a cross-country road trip.

But things get interesting — and frightening — when the trio is held up at a gas station in the middle of nowhere by a man with a gun. The man turns out to be a teenager who then hops into their car, looking for a ride to California. As they ride along, scared they’ll be shot and killed, the group realizes there’s yet another person in the backseat — a little girl who followed them out of a diner and into the car with plans to run away from her parents.

Lennie, Paul and Louisa all have different plans for what they should do next — what’s the safest and most ethical option? But while Lennie continues looking for adventure, everything falls apart in a tragic, horrifying and life-altering way.

Analysis: When I first started reading In the Company of Educated Men, I thought this would be just your average coming-of-age story. But when the three friends got held up at the gas station, I scratched my head wondering where this was going. Suddenly, the story became completely unpredictable to me.

The best way to describe this novel is to call it an “extreme” coming-of-age novel — one that portrays how how an eclectic group of young adults from different socioeconomic backgrounds handles a bizarre, rare and extreme situation. Along with fighting for their lives, the friends fight amongst themselves, leading to betrayals and changing their friendships forever.

For Lennie, the incident does more than just alter his friendships. It changes the entire course of his life, as he realizes he became more focused on having an adventure than taking caring for others. In an effort to avoid hurting others anymore, he goes on to lead a life of solitude and correct his earlier mistakes. The story is written through a series flashes — jumps between the incident and 10 years after the incident until the reader finally learns at the end of the novel what happened and how Lennie resolved it.

In the Company of Educated Men exemplifies that young people make mistakes, but how you deal with those mistakes is what most affects your life. In the Company is dark and frightening, but full of lessons about growing up, growing apart and learning from your erroneous ways.

MVP: Louisa. She’s the only character that truly stays calm and holds herself together both during and after the “incident.”

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Review: The Age of Miracles

Recap: In a world filled with young adult fiction novels full of post-apocolyptic stories, author Karen Thompson Walker tells the story not of what happens after the world ends, but what happens as it’s ending. The Age of Miracles is told through the eyes of a middle school aged girl, Julia, who lives in California with her parents when one day, the world begins to slow down.

Referred to as “the slowing,” the slow in time lengthens the days from 24 to 26 to 30 and ultimately upwards of 72 hours a day. The longer days mean lengthy periods of sunlight followed by lengthy periods of darkness. All that excessive darkness leads to the death of crops and therefore animals, while the sunlight leads to radiation and deadly sunburns. Ultimately, the world’s population splits into those who operate in “real time” — a 24-hour period — and those who operate by the new hours of light and dark deemed by “the slowing.”

As Julia’s family follows real time, the inconsistency in the length of days parallels the inconsistencies in her life. She’s coming of age in a time when everyone and everything is changing. It seems as though “the slowing” shifts something — affecting her parents’ marriage and Julia’s friendships at school. Julia’s best friend, Hanna, decides she’s too cool for Julia after Hanna temporarily moves with her family to try to escape “the slowing.” Seth Moreno, the cutest boy in school, befriends Julia. And as scientists work to determine what caused “the slowing,” Julia and everyone else keep trying to live what used to be a normal life.

AnalysisThe Age of Miracles is a tragic sci-fi coming-of-age story that makes the reader recognize that middle school is nowhere near as difficult as it could have been, had middle school also coincided with the end of the world. Julia’s feelings throughout the novel are strikingly similar that of any real-life 12-year-old, but “the slowing” adds another layer of strangeness and unfamiliarity.

The concept is unique, and the writing well-done, but I’ll admit the novel was a little too depressing for me. I commend author Karen Thompson Walker for braving the difficulty of not telling a post-apolocolyptic story, but rather, a pre-apocolyptic one. But the feelings of despair at the end of the novel are almost too dark to bear. Unless your plan is to then read The Hunger Games and assume that those novels pick up where this one left off.

MVP: Julia. With a title like The Age of Miracles, I have to admit it is quite a miracle that Julia makes it through adolescence and grows up to be a relatively normal adult. With so much uncertainty worldwide, the added difficulties of growing up, and pretty much everything going awry, it takes one tough, smart 12-year-old to get through it okay.

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Review: Tick to the Tock

Recap: Picture this: you’re 22-years-old and you learn you only have a few months left to live. What would you do? Where would you go? Who would you see? These are the questions Dante King must answer. After suffering from headaches for months, he sees his doctor only to learn he has a rare, inoperable brain tumor. As it would happen to anyone, the news comes as a complete shock. But at such a young age, Dante is overwhelmed by the decisions he has to make. Ultimately, he decides it’s not worth fighting the tumor. Doctor appointment after appointment after appointment make it clear that his chances of survival are minimal.

So he decides to live life to the fullest — taking a trip around the world, visiting the places he’s never seen but has always wanted to. Neglecting to ask his friends to join him doesn’t keep them from coming, and suddenly he and his three closest friends — Wil, Ethan, and girlfriend Danii — are seeing the world together. But for Dante, this is not just a journey to foreign cities; it’s a journey to come to peace with what’s happening to him.

Analysis: This is one of the rare novels that’s not read to find out how the story ends. We know from the onset that it will result in Dante succumbing to his deadly tumor. This is a story worth reading for the journey, both external and internal. As someone in her mid-twenties, I couldn’t help but ask myself what would I do if this happened to me? Though rare, Dante’s health issue is one that could happen to anyone. The realness of this plot is chilling and just as dreadful for the reader as it is for Dante.

Author Matthew Turner does a great job using his words to paint pictures of the cities Dante visits. Dante watching the sunrise in the desert. The warm Christmas in Australia. His breathtaking skydiving jump. But along the way, there’s a lot of dialogue between Dante and his girlfriend and close friends. None of them knows how to deal with the situation. Turner uses these conversations to show how each character is feeling. The dialogue certainly helps to move the book along. The novel would drag if it solely consisted of descriptions of cities and thoughts. That said, there are times where it feels like everyone is overly sentimental, constantly talking about their feelings. But placing myself in any of the characters’ positions, I found myself thinking, wouldn’t I do the same?

MVP: Dante’s friends — Wil, Ethan, and Danii. It’s hard to do what any of these characters did. To leave their lives and travel with their sick friend for months is a serious undertaking, especially when it also means caring for their friend. But to do it at such a young age is commendable and shows a lot of maturity.

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