Wednesday, December 26, 2007


by John van de Ruit

Somewhere on the cover it says this book is "South Africa's Catcher in the Rye." I don't get the comparison. This book is so much better than Catcher. (Disclaimer: I think I waited too long to read CitR; I was nearly 30 by the time I read it, and all I heard was a spoiled brat whining about his rich-kid problems.)

Spud's about a 13-going-on-14-year-old who goes to boarding school on scholarship. (Younger and poorer than Salinger's protagonist; also, this is the story of him actually going to school rather than the story of him getting expelled and/or running away.) This book is funny; I laughed out loud several times. (Still not getting that comparison.)

Since it's set at an all-boys boarding school, you get a bit of implied/suspected homosexual shenanigans (not really involving the main characters), as well as a bit of the homophobia standard among boys of a certain age (not so much as to be offensive or discomfiting).

The story takes place in 1990, the year Nelson Mandela was released from prison and the South African government began the process of repealing apartheid laws. These facts don't affect the plot terribly much, but you get a good sense of how political events were often on people's minds during this time. Without being preachy, it's simply taken for granted that apartheid is wrong and it's days are numbered.

Bottom line, I loved this book and I'm anxious to read the next installment. I may have to ILL it, though — which I can't even do until the new year. It's on the thicker side for a young-adult novel, but the diary format makes it a quick read. I'm not sure how to recommend this one; I almost think girls would like it more than boys would. Well, boys would like it, but they'd be embarassed about it at the same time. And actually, now that I think about it, there's a bunch of stuff that would totally gross out the young ladies.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Book of Lost Things

by John Connolly

From an author who's previously written mysteries and thrillers, we now have this abso-freaking-lutely awesome fairy tale for adults. I loved this book, tore through it in less than three days, and have already verbally recommended it to at least five people.

It's a coming-of-age story with a young boy/man whose mother has died after a long illness and whose father rather swiftly remarried and produced a baby brother. (Step-mom was a nurse at the institution where the dead mum was receiving hospice care, which gives you an idea of the timeline.) The story begins in the suburbs of London during WWII. Boy has conflicts with step-monster, but she's not evil; everyone's having tough times, and once we cross Narnia-style into the alternate reality we'll see that all the characters are imbued with complexity and ambiguity.

The coolest thing about this book is the way it retells the fairy tales you thought you knew. For example, Little Red Riding Hood wasn't a girl who was nearly eaten by a wolf, she was woman who fell in love with and seduced a wolf, giving birth to a race of half-wolf, half-human creatures that embody the struggle between instinct and intellect.

This book also gets bonus points for having a gay knight (disowned prince, in fact) searching for his lost lover, and for managing to encourage acceptance and diversity while acknowledging that those ideals don't mean that people won't sometimes have negative reactions and that those reactions don't necessarily indicate their deeper feelings.

I'm putting this book in my Top 10. (There are actually only two other books that are definitely in my Top 10: The End of Faith, which I've already blogged, and Cloud Atlas, which I haven't yet, although I have written up another of the author's books, Black Swan Green. Building my Top 10 is one of the things I hope to accomplish through writing this blog.)