Adam Johnson. Penguin Books, 2003.
Geek rate: Sky god worthy (5 out of 5 stars)
“There’s the boxy loop of youth, a decade that leaves your ears ringing with television and loneliness.”
This collection of nine stories from Pulitzer Prize winning author Adam Johnson has been around for some time but it was only recently just been published in a book. The stories have previously appeared in American literary journals and magazines and are told from a point of view of different teenagers about growing up and taking risks while learning from our experiences.
I don’t particularly enjoy books with a sense of dread in it, a sadness in its words. I have plenty of reasons to be sad without delving into the sad stories of other people. But there is something familiar with Johnson’s stories that I could relate to, and somehow eases my sadness. One of the stories, “The Canadanaut”, about a group of scientists tasked to stop Russia from invading space, left me with a sense of emptiness but a pride for the surviving character. “The Jughead of Berlin” is another sad story of a drunk pilot but the odd familiarity of the setting made me think of home in some way. My favorite by far is the “Cliff Gods of Acapulco” about a boy who was searching for his father despite the fact that he knew he could never see him again.
The sadness and emptiness of the stories are apparent in each of the pages, as well as, the quirky humor of the author. I didn’t like science fiction books and this is not one of them, but in this world Johnson created, it seems like it: the imaginary places, the odd jobs of teenagers, the technology. Johnson writes in a style that is friendly, day-to-day conversations type, making the readers feel that the characters really are talking to them, the narrative of the stories easy to digest despite the heavy sadness of the words and the world it has created.
David Levithan. Alfred A. Knopf, 2018.
Geek rate: Mortal worthy (3 out of 5 stars)
“I always wondered if, when my time came, all their lives would be shown to me again–if all those people I’ve been would somehow return to me, if I would see how all of these single days have added up to a single life.”
“Someday” is David Levithan’s third book about A, a soul without a body and who has flitted from a different person’s body, every day. If the first book is about A and the second one is Rhianon’s perspective, the third one introduces us in the world beyond A and Rhianon, to the other souls like A, whose existence and stories we came to know. The third book veered away from the focus on self-identity and gender to morality tale of right and wrong and its link to responsibility. I like how Levithan interchanges the perspective from A to Rhianon and to the other new characters, most of which are like A themselves. In this way, readers get to know their stories, and experience their pain and loneliness.
While the reflections about morality is good, I found the book dragging. Rhianon’s search for A was exciting, as well as, her relationship with Alexander and her friends now that A was gone. I felt the loneliness there, being alone with no one you can tell about what you’ve been through, and being forced to a boyfriend even though you’re thinking of someone else. I was curious about this life of Rhianon ever since the first book, when A was inside Alexander’s body and decided that Rhianon is much better off with this guy with a body and soul. How was she doing now that A’s gone. Is she looking for A? Or did she move on with Alexander? All those are satisfyingly answered in this book.
A’s perspective becomes subpar compared to the first book. Without A’s focus on Rhianon, the excitement on how A would deal with introducing the situation to her and being together everyday, was gone. It was replaced by this longing to see Rhianon which is sad but a little bit of annoying to read to be honest. His subsequent search for X, a person like A, we’re not that special, but the series of events leading to the climax was great.
The book is a good answer to the questions left by the first book, but I’m not sure that it was necessary to extend the tale of A to another book. In any case, “Someday” left me with a sense of, “is that it?”
I Was Born for This
Alice Oseman. Harper Collins Children’s Books , 2018.
Geek rate: Mortal worthy (3 out of 5 stars)
“ And when he gets to heaven,’ he sings….’to Saint Peter he will tell: One more soldier reporting, sir. I’ve served my time in hell.”
There are many fan fiction books out there about singers, bands, actors, players and other stars, but “I Was Born for This,” is not one of them. At first I thought it was one. The book tells the story of the members of The Ark band, specifically the lead vocalist Jimmy Kaga-Ricci, and a fan named Angel who meet in this unusual circumstance that only an avid fan could write about.
The book is many things. It delves on issues like sexual orientation, friendship and anxiety but the central theme is about pressure of being famous on one hand, and on the other, the good and the bad side of being a band fan. Jimmy Kaga-Ricci is the lead vocalist of The Ark. I imagined this band to be 5 Seconds of Summer, who started in a garage recording cover songs. But Jimmy is certainly not Luke Hemmings. He is a mixed-race trans guy. I salute the effort of the author Alice Oseman for diversity but the trans part it is too much, no offense. It’s bordering on being condescending. But in any case, it was fun to read the behind the scenes on the life of a famous band, something you don’t see on Instagram stories. Whether what the author wrote is close to reality is beside the point. The pressure, the “reality” of being a star was discussed, as well as, how they handle the most ridiculous rumors. I just hope the part about stars hating their fans is not true. It’s just a bit unfair for the fans.
Speaking of fans, enter Angel. I love how Oseman showed us the good and the bad side of being a fan through Angel. She’s a Muslim girl who seemed not to care for her future and is focused entirely to her beloved boy band. But it also shows the good side of being a fan, the friendships it creates and the hope and inspiration it brings, if used on the right things: “In an otherwise mediocre existence, we chose to feel passion.”
Even if you don’t like music that much, like me, “I Was Born for This” will make you appreciate music, the lyrics presented in its pages were turned into these beautiful pieces of poetry which in some way related to the life of Jimmy. The events in the book are not the ones you read in fan fiction, some of the portions feels like legit. It is a page turner as YA novels go and addicting but will not make your IQ any lesser. I particularly like how Angel and Jimmy met and the subsequent events which put them closer. This is not a love story to be clear, and by making it so, by focusing on the issues on both sides of the aisle, the band and the fans, Oseman made her book special. This book is a nod to teenagers, and to young adults: “I am not afraid… I was born to do this.”