We take a look at four books this week from Rick Riordan’s third book in The Trials of Apollo series: The Burning Maze, to Julie Buxbaum’s What to Say Next, Colleen Hoover’s crazy story Without Merit, to comedian Steve Hofstetter’ personal essay Ginger Kid.
The Burning Maze
Rick Riordan, Disney-Hyperion 2018
Geek rate: Thief worthy (2 out of 5 stars)
“Yet Southward must the sun now trace it’s course, through mazes dark to lands of scorching death.”
This is the third book in The Trials of Apollo series of Rick Riordan, the third series featuring the Greek gods, which started on the story of Percy Jackson. So quick flashback on what this series is all about, after the defeat of the Titans at the end of the Heroes of Olympus series (the second series after the Percy Jackson books), Apollo was turned into a mortal (again) by Zeus for allegedly starting the war with the Titans in the first place. Apollo denies this but really it’s his fault. So as a punishment, he became a teenage mortal named Lester Papadopoulos who needs to free up the oracles from the grasp of these evil Roman emperors.
In the third book, Lester faced the Roman emperor Caligula who wanted to be the new sun god so, in order to do that, he imprisoned Helios in the maze and wanted to slay Lester to collect the god’s essence. Helios in the maze resulted in a burning maze and apparently hot temperatures on earth plus the wildfires.
Compared to the two earlier books, The Burning Maze has a much clearer narrative as we felt overwhelmed and dizzy on the adventures of Lester and his demigod master Meg on the last two books. So we came back to the maze of Daedalus but this one is not like our all-time favorite Riordan book The Battle of the Labyrinth, the challenges Lester faced in that maze seemed to be subpar compared to the challenges of Percy and other demigods (sorry Lester). But Riordan’s knack of introducing us to the Greek mythology characters is still there, as well as, the humor and the Arrow of Dodona. Readers will find themselves laughing real hard.
The character development is apparent and a must in this book as Apollo grew up from being a bratty god (former god) to a one resembling a good human (being a human is not that bad Apollo). The manner of Jason Grace’s death (which is necessary for Apollo to grow up emotionally) is not that grand (sorry again) but evoked a heartbreak that you could really feel as you read through. Riordan will introduce all the seven protagonists in the Heroes of Olympus we get it now, as well as other characters, but in the end, Lester, or Apollo, must stand on his own to live up with the same excellence we came to know from the first two book series.
What to Say Next
Julie Buxbaum. Delacorte Press, 2017
Geek rate: Sun god worthy (4 out of 5 stars)
“Good weird is what I’ve been telling myself I am for years, when being just plain weird was too much of a burden to carry.”
When you read a book that you can relate to, heck when you read a book that seemed to be talking to you or a book that makes it seem that you’re the one speaking, then you know that it is special. David Drucker here is socially isolated, he did not want to be bothered by anyone and people did not care anyway. He did not know the word lonely but he was lonely. What to Say Next relates the story of David and Kit Lowell, a popular girl who one day after her father died, sat with David on his lonely corner table at the cafeteria and started a conversation, a conversation which led her into the lonely world of David, and for David, it will unknowingly lead him in uncovering the truth about the death of Kit’s father.
The alternating point of views of David and Kit is not new but the contrast of their characters is cool so that readers will get to know what David think about Kit and vice versa. As with other introverts, we get to know David and sympathized with him. There is something comforting about reading the experiences of introverts in a book; somehow, we don’t feel alone because we’re listening to someone who is like us, making our loneliness less profound. The author Julie Buxbaum says in her acknowledgment page: “I wanted to write a story…about the wonder of finding an honest and true friend when you feel at your most alone.” And by reading this book, we felt that we found a friend too.
But as with other YA novels, Buxbaum need to make David desirable something that is a bummer because it made him less real. Making David good looking once he had a makeover is not really necessary as his character is already perfect without turning him into your typical handsome YA guy character. Kit, on the other hand, is a convincing character; her grief on the chapters could be felt in her words.
The setting of the story is very YA with bullies and bitch high school students, rich and poor parents, all living in a very American city as a background. Despite this, the relationship between David and Kit seemed to be authentic. The building of the climax of the two plots (of David and of Kit’s) borders on being too dramatic. We think David’s plot, the whole drama of his journal being exposed online is okay, but Kit’s story, the revelations about her parents is a bit too much, bordering on a TV drama. However, the meeting of the climax of the two plots, the twist about the death of Kit’s father, about how David discovered it, are cool, as well as, David’s romantic move to get Kit’s forgiveness.
Colleen Hoover. Atria Books, 2017
Geek rate: Thief worthy (2 out of 5 stars)
“I open the door to my bedroom, but it’s lonely. Depressing. It reminds me of me.”
This is a weird story. At the start of the first chapter, we meet Merit and Sagan, the stranger who suddenly kissed her in front of a fountain. Very YA we know. Then we were introduced to the plot, or so it seems: Merit has a twin sister and she thought Sagan is her sister’s boyfriend. Sagan, of course, thought Merit to be her twin sister. Ouch. But then it gets weirder. We found out that Merit’s family was living in a former church-turned-house, with a life-size Jesus on a crucifix. This was after her atheist father evicted the pastor of their town. And there’s more. His father was living with his former wife AND his new wife at the said house. Also, did we mention that her twin is addicted to having relationships with dying guys? And that Merit’s older brother was in a relationship with his uncle? Okay, this is getting sicker by the minute. Lastly, you need to know that Merit was into collecting trophies of other people if it wasn’t weird enough.
It’s all sick when you take it that way but the beauty of this story is telling readers not to look at the external set-up of things like their neighbors in their town but to dig deeper and get to know more the characters to understand their story. Sagan is your very definition of a YA guy as defined by Brooding YA Hero in Twitter. He’s appealing with a bad boy image to make him interesting, okay not so bad, but the guy has tattoos all over his body. He’s got a Syrian blood so that’s something new, not your typical White guy with a European mix. He’s 19 but in some ways, we thought that he’s too young when you read his dialogue. He’s definitely more handsome and unique than other YA leading guys but for some reason, he didn’t stand out on this story. But this is all about Merit so maybe that’s why.
It tackles depression but not that deep which is a bummer. Without Merit focused on how one’s environment affects depression, in this case, the on-going drama on their house, his brother’s relationship with his Uncle, his father’s complicated arrangement with his two wives, plus some other stuff. It discussed how to cope with depression but it just feels bland.
We admit that we’re disappointed with this book which had a promising plot but was drowned with too much drama in the story and a half-hearted attempt to delve into the matter that it wanted to discuss. The good thing about this book is that although the situation is heavy with drama, the atmosphere all throughout its pages is light, bringing the good side of the characters, like his dad digging the grave of his enemy, the pastor, to bury the latter’s dog beside him.
Steve Hofstetter. Harry N. Abrams, 2018
Geek rate: Sky god worthy (5 out of 5 stars)
“Making people laugh didn’t make them my friends. That made them my audience.”
This is a nice read with lessons from an obnoxious author. The sound that you will hear while reading the passages of the book is mixed with some level of obnoxiousness but pass that, this is a really must read. In Ginger Kid, comedian Steve Hofstetter tells about his experience in high school from being at the bottom of the chain to dating, to finding your calling early on in life. Plus some family drama and chaos. It was a story of a bully and the lessons he learned along the way.
On the first page, Hofstetter says “my story comes out okay in the end. I’m hoping that yours does, too.” It made us smile. He said that he hopes that we can see his story as his own, and for most parts, we did.
As any nerd or geek, Hofstetter leaned into his smart-kid persona but he’s not that gifted academically. Most books have heroes who are smart bullied kids but the beauty of this book is that it says to you that you don’t need to be smart academically to be successful, you just need to find what you want to do, what makes you happy, and embrace it.
Hofstetter discussed bullies in length, with categories to boot, and the world of those unpopular kids in the sidelines. The drama of family which affects you growing up (and your school experience) was also in this book, reminding everyone that all students have dysfunctional families, one way or another. But what was inspiring in this book was the lesson Hofstetter learned: be strong amid the bullies, amid the chaos in your family and enjoy life. There’s no optimistic bullshit here that gives false hopes about dreaming about your future and it will come true. Hofstetter here was real and honest and brutal as demonstrated during the chapter about his dream of becoming a baseball pro or becoming a comic artist, or a guitarist. But it has some romantic relationship tips to make it light.
Hofstetter’s experience was somehow everybody’s experience, one way or another. From not being poor but being hungry from time to time, to having small successes in school, to experiencing many firsts (going to a faraway house of a friend, to dating). This is somehow a comedian’s guide to his profession, but in a way, it is everyone’s guide to life because, really, we need a laugh once in a while.