It was The Cay meets Lord of the Flies written for grown-ups by a great philosophical writer. I loved thinking about the book; I loved talking about the book. I just didn’t look forward to reading the book – Saramago’s characteristic lack of hard stops or quotation marks made me struggle a bit. Wasn’t bad in the theoretical, but really slowed down my reading – and not always in a good way. So let’s say 3 1/2 of 5 stars.
I like to think that I’m not a book snob. Or, at least, not too much of one. If a book can grab my attention and hold it, I’m game. I’ve read the Twilight series (not that I’m above mocking it). I read bodice-rippers when I’m feeling flu-ish. I think Stephen King is brilliant, especially when it comes to describing human relationships and the dynamics of a small town. What I’m saying it, it doesn’t have to be Toni Morrison and F. Scott Fitzgerald for me to say something was a good read.
Sarah Jio’s Violets of March was like that for me. It must have been: I gulped the book down in a single weekend; if I wasn’t reading the book, I found myself thinking about it and looking forward to my next helping. I cared about the characters (some more than others), I wanted to untangle the mystery and see if I had interpreted the clues that were both sprinkled at our feet and chucked at our heads. It was this “both/and” uneven application that baffled me most, I suppose. Jio’s writing had the same issues: when writing the story-within-the-story contained within the diary our protag finds, Jio’s writing is strong, sure of itself and well-controlled. When speaking as the protag, however, or describing our main story, Jio’s writing was at times cringe-worthy and trite. As cliché as the “divorcee-runs-away-to-remote-childhood-home-to-recover” plotline. I didn’t mind the oft-used plotline as much as other readers; I thought the characters were charming enough to make me want to see how this version played out.
For me, it was a good read. Not a great read, but a good one. It could have been great, if Jio had focused more on the story of the mysterious Esther-of-the-diary, or figured out what allowed her to more effectively write those sections (distance? lack of dialogue?) and applied a healthy coat of it over the rest of her story. But for me, it still worked. I wanted to know how much diary-land coincided with current-day Bainbridge Island. It worked enough that I will certainly pick up another Jio book, and enough that I would recommend Violets of March. IF, that is, you’re someone who can go to a B-rate movie and enjoy it for a few hours of entertainment. But if you’re the kind who would nitpick it to death and be disappointed that it wasn’t Oscar-worthy, this might not be the right book for you. 3 1/2 of 5 stars.
My sister sent me a link to this, but I’d like to think I would have found it on my own eventually. My favorite used book store (seriously – the staff all know me at my local), Half-Price Books, is sponsoring a Tournament of Heroes: Sci-Fi vs. Fantasy book bracket. Want to play along? Of course you do. First, here’s the bracket. Go download it and fill it out.
Okay, so is everyone set? Ready to play? Okay, let’s do Science Fiction first.
SCIENCE FICTION, ROUND 1. First battle: Captain Kirk vs. Captain Sheridan. Anyone who knows me knows I am not a Trekkie. Ergo, Captain Kirk dies, right? Um, except I have no idea who Captain Sheridan is. Hmm…Google tells me he’s from Babylon 5. He’s so much cuter than Kirk it’s not even funny. But since I knew who Kirk was without The Google, we’ll give him the win. Optimus Prime vs. Commander Adama. Commander who??? Gee, are you getting the feeling that Sci-Fi isn’t my thing? Oh hells no – Battlestar Gallactica? That was just an excuse for my geeky Ex to monopolize the TV with more Trekkie-type stuff. Optimus Prime all the way, baby. Rick Deckard vs. Korben Dallas. Deckard, Deckard…sounds maybe vaguely familiar? Oh, hey, Google says he’s in a book (points!) and, wow, kinda hott. Korben Dallas is…hmm…Bruce Willis is a Sci-Fi taxi driver in a movie that doesn’t look alluring even the tiniest bit. We’ll go with hott Mr. Deckard. Neo vs. Paul Atreides. Hey, isn’t Neo the guy from The Matrix? The Google says yes! And it says that the Atreides person is…someone from Dune? Uh-uh, no way. Dune loses because no way, not my thing. Marty McFly vs. Philip J. Fry. Marty McFly! McFly, McFly! I don’t even need to know who the other guy is. (But it turns out he’s the young cartoon dude from Futurama.) The Doctor vs. Arthur Dent. Even I know who The Doctor is. Arthur is…from Hitchhiker’s apparently. I’m going with The Doctor, if only so my sister won’t hit me. Fox Mulder vs. Captain Reynolds. Pfft. Let’s at least go through the exercise of looking up the captain person. He’s…from Firefly. Hey! Some people really liked that show! Isn’t that the space Western that was tragically canceled? I had weekly X-Files parties in college. There was no way anyone was beating him. At least not yet… Han Solo vs. Goku. Versus who? Goku is…apparently anime. Blech. But let’s be honest: Han Solo was going to win anyway.
So that takes care of the Sci-Fi Boys of Round 1. Now let’s tackle the girls. (Or something.) Ellen Ripley vs. Lady Jessica. Sigh. I had to Google both of these ladies. Oh! Hey! Why didn’t they just say Sigourney Weaver?! [Sidenote: why aren’t ANY of the Ghostbusters on here?!] And Lady Jessica is…oh god. Another Dune-y. We’ll go with Sigourney. Dana Scully vs. DoesItReally Matter. I mean, Turanga Lella. Who happens to be the lovely cyclopian lady from Futurama, it turns out. Yeah, sorry, it’s Scully. Katniss Everdeen vs. Tris Pryor. And we have our first real competition! I thought Tris was maybe a little more badass. But Katniss seemed a little more complex and a bit more of the complete package. Also, I liked that Katniss was a bit reluctant to fall for anyone. (I call my bias the Anti-Bella Syndrome.) For that reason, Katniss edged out Tris. Sydney Bristow vs. River Song. Who the hell is River Song and what kind of stupid name is that? Oh. She’s from Dr. Who. I’m going to brace for my sister’s wrath and go for Sydney Bristow. [Sidenote: Hey, Kim – she’s played by JENNIFER GARNER.] Princess Leia vs. Leeloo. Okay, I have no idea who Leeloo is – Google says she’s a redhead from…that Bruce Willis movie? – but Leia could run half the known universe. In her sleep. Lieutenant Starbuck vs. Seven of Nine. Okay, guess what? I know both of these ladies! Not very well, but I could tell you a little about both. I decided to go with Starbuck because I like the idea of a woman stealing a role intended for a man, vs. a character that was hyper-sexualized in costume, even if Seven was supposed to be asexual. (I am thinking of the right character, right?) Trinity vs. Samus Aran. Who-what? Okay, Google says Trinity is that kickass chick from the Matrix. And Samus Aran is a…video game? comic book?…bounty hunter/heroine. She also looks rather badass. But once I put the name with the character, I knew who Trinity was. So she gets the nod. And finally, we have Sarah Connor vs. River Tam. (Who I typed out as River Tame. Probably a very different character.) River Tam, as it turns out, is a Firefly person. And the pic results from her Google Search make her character look very intriguing! Alas, Sarah Connor is a known badass. Familiarity wins.
Something you might not know about me: I have an affinity for basketball stories. I took several classes in college about African-American literature and culture and basketball often featured as a lens through which we analyze the former and a vehicle through which we navigate the latter. Few things punch into my “analyze this” mode quicker than a good b-ball story.
So I was intrigued when I picked up a hardcover of Boy21 at my local used book store. It’s the story of Finley, the only white kid on his small town’s basketball team. Finley’s family is part of the dwindling Irish population in this no-good, can’t-get-ahead town. Gangs – both black and Irish – infiltrate almost every storyline and some mysterious violence in Finley’s family’s past have convinced him to a near permanent silence. The only people Finley talks to, even on his limited scale, are his girlfriend from childhood, Erin (also a star basketball player), his dad, his legless Pop, and his coach.
Enter Boy21. That’s was Russ, a basketball phenom sought after by the NBA, has taken to calling himself since his parents’ brutal murders. Coach wants Finley to help Russ adjust to a new school, a new life on the East Coast, and, oh yeah, help him remember that he likes to play basketball and that he’s not crazy. No biggie, right?
The plot was workable, for the most part. I liked how the first two sections of the book were all about basketball and identity for two kids with incredibly different backgrounds. A white kid trying to stay out of trouble, both protected and hated by the gangs in the town, whose self only becomes clear when he’s training and playing, versus a privileged black kid whose world was turned upside down by random violence and who engages in a very with-and-against struggle with the game that made him who he was. I loved the way identity was wrapped up with their basketball struggles, although I wish Quick had addressed racial identity a little more. It seemed like such a waste to point out that both Boy21 and Finley were the odd-man out on their respective teams, but then never discuss it meaningfully after one sentence. Finley addresses his situation a little when he discusses his teammate’s dubbing him White Rabbit, and his ongoing struggles with the gang on the black side of town. But we never get similar discourse from Boy21, “Black Rabbit”, about his past experiences as the only black man on a predominantly white team, or any observations about how Finley is treated, even by his own teammates. It was a glaring absence for me, especially with all the work Quick put into setting the scene.
The last section of the book was a bit jarring, as well. Having carefully built a friendship between Boy21 and Finley, and then tested their bond with basketball as the conflict, Quick rips basketball away from Finley because of…his girlfriend? And we suddenly hear very little about how Boy21 is doing. I mean, it works in a way because we are learning about our protag now that his identifier – basketball player – is ripped away. But the sudden switch in focus from Boy21 to the girlfriend is dizzying. The fact that Quick occasionally throws in that basketball is healing Boy21 by telling us instead of showing us how or why (as he’s doing to the opposite effect with Finley) is maddening.
Still, even with these faults, Boy21 was a compulsive read. The surface-level exploration kept screaming “YA novel!” to me, and while I hate that distinction, I couldn’t ignore it. More fully explored, this could have been an incredible novel – without the necessary “YA” qualifier. It was a compulsive read downed in a single sitting and a book I’ll keep on my shelves, but not one I’ll necessarily make room for in a care package to my favorite readers. Grab it if you come across it, but unless you’re looking for a good book for a tween boy, don’t break down the book store’s doors to seek it out. 3 1/2 of 5 stars.