family

Beware the cleverly packaged book…

It always comes back to haunt you.

ghostgirl

I picked up Ghostgirl by Tonya Hurley  and thought, wow this looks great and I love the tagline “Rest in Popularity.”  The Edward Gorey goth girl on the cover, the gothy typeface, the coffin-shape of the book were all very attractive.  A funny satire on popularity was promised.   Unpopular Charlotte attempts to become popular but her plans are ruined when she dies.  Sounded promising.

I was disappointed.   Very.

First off, it wasn’t funny.  The jokes were pointed out with lines like “she said jokingly.”  That is the laugh track of books and usually signifies someone is kidding/being sarcastic, not actually telling a joke. 

Second was another problematic line.  After our heroine dies and wakes up in her high school, she finds she needs to graduate from Dead Ed to move on. There is mention of no desire to see her family because teens are too self-involved.  Excuse me?  Huh?  Seriously?  If your average teen died and was a ghost they wouldn’t take a peek back home?  Just for the satisfaction of seeing them cry, knowing you were missed, especially considering at this point of the story the main character’s obsession is attention.  No, I’m sorry, I’m calling BS.  That’s lazy writing.  “I don’t want to write about the family because they won’t have a large role so I’ll put this throw-away line in and be done with it.”  This is how we should find out and care about Charlotte.   How does she talk to people in her life, like family?  How important are they to her?  Do they know of her obsessive desire to be popular?  It frustrating as a reader because there is a giant hole in the main character by page 52 and there is no way to fill it.

And lastly, characters.  Even secondary ones need to be rounded and distiguishable.  All the dead kids blended into one and with the shifting view points and human possession so that one character was acting through another…confusing, flat, and for just great potential, boring.

Why am I nitpicking this book apart?  Why can’t I move on?  Am I that bitter?  Probably yes to the bitter but mostly I wanted this book to be better.  I wanted to love it and have it be my new “you gotta read this.”  I also resent that it panders to the worst stereotypes of teen girls.  If you’re not popular than you’re either an outcast trying to break in or a rebel trying to break out.  Is this true anymore?  After the Queen Bees and Mean Girls stories does this trope really work or has it become a cliche?  Maybe if it was funnier, maybe if it was shorter…something, this whole thing needed something.

Then I had a revelation while viewing Ghostgirl’s well-designed website, and wanted inexplicably to like this book.  Ghostgirl should have totally been a graphic novel.  I could have forgiven the flat characters and unaminated plot.  And after viewing the website it seems the whole set-up from book design to the “Rest in Popularity” tagline to the Gorey-esque cover dead girl are a marketing package for the Hot Topic/Torrid crowd.  The merchandising is fantastic.  Really, if I was back in my jeans/teeshirt high school uniform I would covet the “Rest in Popularity” tee.   And then, thank you Wikipedia, I found all the answers.  Of course Ghostgirl started out as website character.  Of course it makes sense all the cross over merch was in place.  I just wish the story lived up to design.   Or that I wasn’t so critical.  Or bitter.  Same thing right.  Going with Lame on this.

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It’s a strange condition…

Double Down!! It’s a review for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz and Jesus Land by Julian Scheeres.

So I do this crazy thing where I’ll be listening to an audio book that will in someway echo the book I’m reading at the same time.  Like when I was listening to The Ghost Map, a nonfiction account of the cholera epidemic in London and YA gothic lite The Sweet Far Thing.  Both mentioned the muckrackers of Victorian London and how they eked out their life on the garbage and filth of others.  It was kinda weird to read two accounts of basically the same period. So is the some phenomenon with these two titles.

On the surface these books have little connection, Oscar Wao about a Dominican immigrant and his nerdy life growing up shunned by girls and friends alike and Julia’s memoirs of her adopted brother and their crazy religious upbringing.  I did start to link these two until Julia is sent to Christian Reform school in the Dominican Republic in the 80’s while Oscar’s story has as much to do with his family’s past under Dominican dictator Trujillo as his own experiences.  Where Oscar Wao’s voice comes from a ghetto and sometimes vulgar world, Jesus Land invokes the anger, fear and disappointment of a rebellious teenager.  But what really connects the two worlds is the underlying theme of families and their legacies.

What makes Oscar Wao such a big, epic, Lord of the Rings story is the included histories of Oscar’s cursed family, his martyred grandfather, his much abused immigrant mother and my favorite, his rebellious sister.  I love Lola’s story, possibly because the performer who read her was awesome, but also her story helped to explain Oscar’s more than the others.  Besides stringing the idea of shared curse the story also shows the legacy parents leave unintentionally to their children.  

Oppositely Julia’s story is more intimate and personal but no less moving.  The book is focused tightly on her and her brother David’s relationship.  As much as it is about their being raised devout Calvinist it is also about their struggles growing up in Indiana and dealing with racism they faced.  I found it amazing, reading this and also Oscar Wao, the damage and violence we can inflict on other people.  All for a cause or a leader or an escape.  The way people can be used and discarded.  It makes for very moving and heartbreaking reading.

An Awesome to both titles.  Wish I would have read Oscar Wao though instead of just listen to it.  I feel it is one of those fiction books that is not just read, but studied.