The Problem with Adults

Several years ago when Harry Potter was rearing the publication of its third book and the movies were drawing all sorts of wizard and witch wannabes, I read an article about versions with “adult” covers. Businessmen and women alike could read these middle grade novels in public without shame or fear of insult because naturally everyone’s inclination is to mock others for their choice in literature, like they wore horn-rimmed glasses with a huge piece of white tape over the bridge of the nose, and we call them four-eyes (which doesn’t even make sense because having four eyes would mean epic vision, almost on par with a superhero). We’re not in middle school anymore, and juvenile tactics are tacky.

So I ask: why do we need adult book covers for children’s books? Are we really that shallow/vain, whatever? You want to read a children’s book? Then read it. You want to read a romance novel? Read it. You want to read The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire? Fine, read it. I don’t read books based on what other people will think. I don’t hide the book behind a newspaper or against a table. I don’t flaunt it either. I may have written a character who likes to troll bookstores for a husband and hopes that holding Proust’s tome In Search of Lost Time so the title is in clear view would be like catnip for the intellectual man, but I don’t do it.

I read what I want, when I want. Sometimes a conversation goes like this:

Judgmental Person: “What are you reading?”

Me: “Twilight Robbery.”

J.P.: “It looks like a children’s book.”

Me: “That’s because it is! Hardy har har. It’s really good.”

J.P.: *stares bemused”

Me: *stares back even more bemused because their eyebrows are judging me strongly*

What is wrong with wanting to be swept up in an imaginary world where faeries and goblins exist, or where squirrels talk and people steal clocks that changes time forever? Nothing. If you want to go biblical, there are several verses that tell us to have “faith like a child.” Now, you may not be religious or believe in God, but I say that if it’s good enough for God, it’s good enough for me. My views on children and the imagination are an entire blog post of their own. I’ll leave you with this: For the love of every author, JUST READ.

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Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book

As promised, here is a book review long in the waiting. I wanted to write this up for Halloween because it would have been à propos. I also wanted to do a series of Halloween-related books in October, one for each week, but it turns out a CELTA takes up your entire life. Better late than never?

I’ve read this book twice now. The first time I read it I set the book down after the first four pages in order to digest how wonderful it is. Then I devoured it in a few hours. The second time wasn’t much different. I don’t know what it is about Neil Gaiman that I love so much, or why his books make me want to cry (from jealousy), but I do. Unfortunately for you all, that means this review isn’t going to be much more than sheer praise for The Graveyard Book.

The Graveyard Book is a MG novel that delights readers, especially me, with ghosts and graveyards and mystery and suspense and…you get the picture. It follows our hero, Nobody Owens, from his infant years to his teenage years. While for an unskilled writer that could be too much information and story to get across, Gaiman manages to do so without info dumping or creating a whopper of a book. It’s masterly crafted so all the little clues and plot points come together in the end, and the reader can sit back and sigh, “Ah…it all makes sense.” To me, The Graveyard Book is a coming-of-age story about a boy who grows up in an unconventional family and household, but that doesn’t stop him from longing for and pursuing basic human desires friendship and knowledge. Perhaps we all long for these to differing agrees, but we all still do want them. Nobody Owens isn’t any different even if his parents aren’t normal.

When all I can complain about is that I want it to go on forever, then I can’t really complain. So read it for the masterful language that incorporates all of Gaiman’s work if you’re an adult, and for the spell-binding story if you’re a child. Or both if you’re like me.

If parents are looking for an enriching book for their child to read, then The Graveyard Book should be on the top of the list. With a character who questions everything and desires to learn (there should be more of this in the world!), and rich, well-written prose, this book will surely open both children and adults up to a world of imagination. 10/10*

*See explanation of rating system

Kelly Barnhill’s Iron Hearted Violet

I don’t remember finding this book, so I have no anecdote for you today, but I can say that I got it for $1, which is all you really need to know. It was at Half Price Books, as usual. Speaking of which, I made out like a bandit at the Labor Day sale this year. I got 19 books for $24, not too shabby. Here’s a conversation that passed between me and Smarty Pants.

Me: I got 19 books!

Smarty Pants: 19? Really? Was that necessary?

Me: Um, well, I guess I only needed one of them, so no?

Of course, at the end of it, I wouldn’t have put back any of the ones I bought. He should just be happy that I managed to tear 10 other books out of my clutches and place back, reluctantly, on the shelf. See? Discipline.

In Iron Hearted Violet, Princess Violet and her best friend, a livery boy by the name of Demetrius, are in for a world of trouble after they decide to explore the castle. If I had a castle, I’d explore it too, but the interesting thing about this castle is that it changes. Hallways are replaced by rooms, and staircases are no longer there. It reminds me of Hogwarts, obviously. At the end, there’s a twist to why the castle moves about, but I won’t tell you what it is. As with every adventure that two mischievous kids go on, mayhem and the end of the world are inevitable results. Violet, Demetrius, and an ancient dragon have to defeat the evil that awakens after they find a secret passage.

Iron Hearted Violet is one of the more lyrical MG books I’ve ever read. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the author is a poet, although I don’t believe that lyrical writing can only come from poets or that all poets are lyrical. Barnhill whisks you away into this world with sentences that flow together, kind of like you’re floating down a lazy river at a waterpark. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the story and not notice the sun setting and that your eyes are straining to read the print in the dim light of dusk. With a novel that places a lot of emphasis on storytelling and stories being living beings, it only makes sense that the writing for Iron Hearted Violet would beat with a hypnotic rhythm to lull us into that part of our minds that devour books and tales.

The ending was quite different from other MG books in that there wasn’t a big resolution. It resolved the problem at hand, but threw in a twist that left things open. Like I said for my review of Transfixion, not everything needs to be wrapped up in a bow. While Barnhill did a little more of that, there was still a sense of life moving on, going forward to a new adventure. If you watched Psych and saw the ending, you’d see what I mean in visual form. The ending for Psych was spectacular. I was satisfied beyond my wildest dreams, which helped diminish my grief for its ending.

Another part of Iron Hearted Violet I liked was Demetrius. He’s the best friend everyone should have. I constantly found myself saying, “Oh Demetrius, you’re so cool!” And I don’t mean “cool” in the “I’m Danny Zucko sense,” but he was just amazing. He was always there for Violet, recognizing her when no one else did, and believing in her. Who doesn’t want a best friend who’s there for you, who takes your verbal beatings because you’re hurt? I’m not saying you should yell at people, but sometimes you need to vent, and if your friend understands that it’s not him, it’s something else, then that’s great. He can listen. You can vent, and then be happy again. Demetrius was probably my favorite character. Violet was great, too, but I think what he brought to the other characters was deserving of applause.

This book did have its faults, and the most frustrating one for me was the overuse of “beloved” and “my darling.” I understand the point of it. It is polite for the society in which the characters live, but when I read it about every other page, I started to get annoyed. Similar to other terms of endearment and phrases from other books. There’s this one author, whose books I read during college, and she said a variation of “His heart ached in the region of his chest” in every book of hers, at least once, usually multiple times. It became a running joke with me when it’d show up for the first time in a new one. I was reading late at night, probably 2AM once, when I saw it. I thrust my fist into the air and yelled, “YES!” and most likely irritated my roommate. Anyway, it’s easy to slip into a habit and repeat yourself without knowing because we write in bursts. We don’t sit and write an entire novel at once. When repeating a sentence or phrase to foreshadow or for effect, it’s very easy to cross that line where it becomes a hindrance to the story because the reader doesn’t like it. That happened to me with Iron Hearted Violet, but I was able to just skip them, or let them pass with a roll of my eyes.

A moving tale that shows you how to live and love without patronizing the reader makes Iron Hearted Violet a must-read. 9/9*

*See explanation of rating system

Linda Buckley-Archer’s The Time Travelers

The first time I came across The Time Travelers was in a Barnes and Noble with, you guessed it, Smarty Pants. We were perusing the middle grade shelves, doing my quarterly research into the popular titles and not-so-popular ones. I have a habit of judging books by their spines, not their covers. My eyes scanned the shelves and stopped on The Time Travelers and then its sequel, The Time Thief. I love the spine on both, but what really caught my attention was The Time Thief. I had just started writing my MG novel about time thieves, and here was an already published MG novel with a similar name. Naturally, I whined to Smarty Pants. Had I known any Korean at the time, I probably would have yelled, “Andwae!” which roughly translates into “No way!” It was crisis time. Do I abandon my novel before I even have a chance to start it? Do I forge ahead and hope I’m not plagiarizing? It’s hard to plagiarize when you haven’t read the other book, but what if some ideas are similar? How do you prove that you had didn’t know, that you were just using your own imagination? Smarty Pants told me to read it and see how similar they were, but I wasn’t ready.

I’m ready now. I’ve finished my first draft of Mina vs. The Time Thieves (MVTT) and now have a solid idea of where I’m going with it even if I’m nowhere near achieving it. I read The Time Travelers by Linda Buckley-Archer and loved it. Peter and Kate accidentally get sucked back in time to 1763 England due to a freak accident with an antigravity machine. Did you notice that they get sent back to the eighteenth century? I’m intrigued already. They have to adjust to all the foreign mannerisms and obey societal rules of status, which, as expected, leave them open to scrutiny and possible danger. They spend the whole novel trying to get home, but in the mean time, make friends with the people they meet, find themselves watching a hanging, participate in a horse race, and more. At this point, I would normally complain about stereotypes if this were a YA novel, but I didn’t find myself suffering from that issue for this book. Maybe MG is different? Maybe it’s because the main characters aren’t focused on the opposite sex and can have adventures as imaginable as possible because children’s imaginations are crazy big?

I have to say that it did take me a while to adjust to the writing style, not because it was third person but because the narrator dipped into a lot of characters’ heads. It confused me because I thought, at first, it would follow Peter. It does but with license to occasionally tell us what another one is thinking. Much like Jane Austen’s free indirect speech but not as well executed perhaps. Once I moved past that difficulty, I had no trouble enjoying this book. What it does do really well is switching between time periods without hindering the narrative. It’s not choppy. It doesn’t make you stop and think, “Wait, which century are we in now?” I’ve read some books that switched time periods so often and poorly that I had no idea where we were unless the author gave me the date. I applaud Bukley-Archer for implementing that stylistic element almost effortlessly.

Something I liked and didn’t like was the use of famous people from the eighteenth century and Britishisms. I knew who these people were and what the Britishisms meant, but I question whether American children would also know these things. I don’t believe that she should have changed it. I think that when they published it in the US maybe they should have changed a few words here and there as long as it didn’t detract from the meaning of the story. If someone even begins to say that means American children are stupid because they wouldn’t understand, I’ll have to argue with you. We use different words here: French fries vs chips; potato chips vs crisps. That’s simply how it is. That doesn’t make one country more right than another. It’s like soda vs pop vs coke in the US. I’d like to think that because they kept the original British words, American children would ask what it means. But I know that that wouldn’t always be the case. Not everyone is that curious of a reader. So maybe if they didn’t want to change it, they could have added a glossary in the back. This is not necessarily a complaint of the author but rather a suggestion on how to reach a greater amount of children so that they understand.

Steeped in history with a fast-moving plot that was sometimes overly complicated with discussion of time travel, The Time Travelers is a must-read for its use of somewhat unusual fantasy elements (not magic!) while still being grounded in a very realistic society. 9/8*

*See explanation of rating system