Series Review: The Magicians by Lev Grossman

TheMagicians

The Magicians by Lev Grossman. Viking. 402 pp. 

I remember when The Magician’s Land came out and what a big deal it was. I kept seeing it everywhere, described as the conclusion to a bestselling trilogy. And here’s where I lose some nerd cred: I couldn’t remember ever even hearing about the series! A friend of mine recommended them when the first book was released, and I must’ve forgotten to write it down or something. (I only realized that he recommended it because of those “On This Day” things on Facebook a few months ago.) So I’m not the best friend. Or the best reader. And yet somehow I managed to find my way back to this series.

I scored a paperback copy of the third book at BEA and set it aside for future reading. Then, a couple of months later, I found a copy of the first book at Now and Then, my third-favorite used bookstore (second only to The Strand, which I feel doesn’t really count because it’s sort of its own category at this point, and Arcadian Books, which has an excellent selection and a kind proprietor and poses the added benefit of being located in the French Quarter). I figured that owning the first and third installments meant it was high time that I gave this series a shot. A hundred pages into The Magicians, I discovered two things: syfy was going to release a series based on the books, and my local library didn’t own a copy of the sequel. I promptly placed a request via interlibrary loan and decided to stay away from the TV series until I’d finished the books. (I’ve since watched the trailer and the pilot, and I’m almost inclined to stay away from the show entirely. It looks like they’re trying to have a hit — making it cutesy and trendy — instead of sticking to the books. However, Hank Green is obsessed with it, so I’ll give it another shot. We tend to like similar stuff.)

Sadly, the interlibrary loan took three weeks to come through, so I did something unthinkable: I stopped reading The Magicians halfway through because I didn’t want to wait if there was a cliffhanger ending. Then I flew through the first two and a half books, slowing down halfway through the third because I didn’t want it to be over.

This series is magic. Pure magic. And I’m not just saying that because it’s quite literally about magicians. I enjoyed the idea of magical ability as a hot commodity, practiced and protected by a select few. (Side note: I want to go to Brakebills! Magical grad school? Yes, please!) Any book about magic is about power struggles, but these books’ portrayal of that war is one of the best I’ve seen. The blend of high fantasy and modernity, the almost-winking references to other popular fantasy works, the way that old characters come back just when you thought you’d never hear from them again…I can’t say enough positive things. I guess the best thing I can say is that I bought a copy of the first book for a friend as a Christmas gift; that’s pretty much the highest endorsement I can give, right?

The world-building is intense. I mean, there are so many different worlds — and they all feel different without overwhelming the reader. None of the characters is terribly likable — except maybe Josh (and Eliot?) — but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. They’ve got a lot going on over the course of the books, and they all grow and develop into entirely new people. It’s not a trilogy that spans six months, either; it takes place over about a dozen years, so there are many happenings and many chances for the characters to “become.”

Before I finish this raving, all-over-the-place review, I want to share my favorite passage with you. It’s from the final ten pages of the final book, but it won’t spoil anything for you. It’s just…well, this is what my life as a reader has been like. These words hit me hard.

“This is a feeling that you had, Quentin,” she said. “Once, a very long time ago. A rare one. This is how you felt when you were eight years old, and you opened one of the Fillory books for the first time, and you felt awe and joy and hope and longing all at once. You felt them very strongly, Quentin. You dreamed of Fillory then, with a power and an innocence that not many people ever experience. That’s where all this began for you. You wanted the world to be better than it was.

“Years later you went to Fillory, and the Fillory you found was a much more difficult, complicated place than you expected. The Fillory you dreamed of as a little boy wasn’t real, but in some ways it was better and purer than the real one. That hopeful little boy you once were was a tremendous dreamer. He was clever, too, but if you ever had a special gift, it was that.”

Quentin nodded — he couldn’t quite talk yet. He felt full of love for that little boy he’d once been, innocent and naive, as yet unscuffed and unmarred by everything that was to come. He was such a ridiculous, vulnerable little person, with so many strenuous disappointments and wonders ahead of him. Quentin hadn’t thought of him in years.

He wasn’t that boy anymore, that boy was lost long ago. He’d become a man instead, one of those crude, weather-beaten, shopworn things, and he’d almost forgotten he’d ever been anything else — he’d had to forget, to survive growing up. But now he wished he could reassure that child and take care of him. He wished he could tell him that none of it was going to turn out anything like the way he hoped, but that everything was going to be all right anyway. It was hard to explain, but he would see.

I don’t know. Maybe that doesn’t make you cry, but I’ve read it three times and it’s made my eyes tear every time. The hope of magic existing in the world can do wonders for a lonely kid who feels like he (or she) doesn’t fit quite right. And that, in itself, is its own kind of magic.

All in all: Highly recommended. One of the best series I’ve ever read; it finishes just as strong as it starts. Buy it. Now.

Review: Big Gay Ice Cream by Bryan Petroff and Douglas Quint

Big Gay Ice Cream by Bryan Petroff and Douglas Quint. Clarkson Potter. 192 pp.

Big Gay Ice Cream by Bryan Petroff and Douglas Quint. Clarkson Potter. 192 pp.

Been a fan of these guys, their approach to business, and their incomparable product for years, so I had high hopes for this book. And it didn’t disappoint. Not even a little bit.

The kitschiness of formatting the book as a yearbook works brilliantly. The photographs (they’re so good I really want to call them artwork) are mouth-watering. I enjoyed reading the history of the company, and the guest authors were a welcome surprise (especially my personal favorite, one Mr. Neil Gaiman).

And the recipes. Oh, the recipes! From store-bought toppings to make-your-own sauces to shakes/ice cream/sorbet, this book is chock-full of things I’m excited to try. I’ve been wanting to make their bourbon butterscotch sauce since I tried it a couple of years ago (in February, no less…Big Gay is so good we visited in the dead of the New York winter) and cannot wait to give it a go. I have a feeling my ice cream maker will be getting a run for its money this summer.

It’s rare that a cookbook can make you laugh, but this one will (unless you’re of a more stodgy persuasion; then I make no promises). It serves its purpose by providing lots of complimentary flavors and new recipes, but that’s almost an aside to a book that’s full of feistiness and color. There are even mix tape playlists and yearbook photos (I remember when they held the photoshoot at one of their shops and how sad I was that I couldn’t make it into the city that day).

All in all: This works brilliantly as a cookbook, gift, or even coffee table book (though your visitors may begin demanding that you serve them ice cream…). Absolutely worth buying. And you should probably grab one for a friend!

Also, as a side note: if you ever get the chance to visit one of their shops, I hope you seize the opportunity. Their employees are among the friendliest I’ve met, their flavor combinations are surprising in the best possible way, and their overall quirkiness and lust for life are blazingly apparent. This is one of my favorite companies, and I’m thrilled to see them doing so well.

Review: I’ll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios

I'll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios. 379 pp. Henry Holt.

I’ll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios. 379 pp. Henry Holt.

I love summer-after-high-school graduation stories. There’s so much potential for growth and change as the characters try to figure out what they will become in a new setting. But there’s also room to tie up loose ends. It’s closure and the promise of a bright new tomorrow all in one. I won this book in a Fierce Reads giveaway, along with five other books, and so far it’s the only one I enjoyed enough to keep and re-read. It’s so. good.

I’ll Meet You There is about a girl named Skylar, a gifted artist who can’t wait to escape her small town and go to college. But during the summer after graduation, her mom loses her job and falls off the wagon, and Skylar starts to wonder if maybe things aren’t going to go as smoothly as she hopes. Should she stay and support her mother or pursue her dream?

And then there’s Josh Mitchell, a former Creek View resident who’s returned after being enlisted in the military for a couple of years. He’s not unscathed, though; he’s lost a leg and gained a slew of experiences that the people around him just can’t understand.

Josh and Skylar used to work together and reconnect over the course of the summer. They each have their own issues and try to keep them hidden, but eventually (of course) they end up meeting halfway and helping each other through some really tough times. Some love stories can be cheesy, but this one featured a couple that I couldn’t help but root for.

Skylar’s relationship with her mom broke my heart, her constant wonderings of “What if?” with Josh kept me on my toes, and her tendency to hope even in the darkest of times was beautiful. Josh’s flashback scenes hit me harder than I expected them to. I’m fairly anti-violence and don’t usually enjoy war narratives, but this book reminded me of how much more there is to returning soldiers than meets the eye.

All in all: Moving, romantic, and heartbreaking, this is one of the best contemporary YA books I’ve read in a while.

Review: The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak. Alfred A. Knopf. 552 pp.

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak. Alfred A. Knopf. 552 pp.

I bought The Book Thief when it first came out. And — horror of all horrors — I let it sit on my shelf for years. When I was packing for the move to our new house, I set aside a just-in-case stack of books. You see, I packed my library first and couldn’t bear for all of my books to be inaccessible for a couple of months, so I started a random pile of books that I would pack the week of the move. That way, if I had any time — you know, between packing the rest of the apartment, raising a toddler, getting the housework done, and driving 45 minutes each way to strip wallpaper and paint the walls of the new house before we moved in — I could read a previously-unread book. You can guess how well that went. But because it was the last box I packed and I had set it aside, it was one of the first boxes unpacked in the new place. My other books weren’t unpacked yet, so I spent a month and a half dipping into that just-in-case box. And it was wonderful, for the most part. (I struggled with A.S. Byatt’s Possession and still haven’t gotten around to finishing it.)

When I finished The Book Thief, I sat sobbing in a bath that had gone cold while I had been utterly immersed in Liesel’s world. Here’s what I can say without giving too much of the plot away: this book wrecked me emotionally in a way that few books have. Why? Because things like this ACTUALLY HAPPENED. I adore fantasy, but there’s something about realistic fiction — especially historical fiction — that hits me in a way nothing else can. Watching families send their sons off to war, watching adolescents struggle to understand the world of Nazi Germany in which they’re coming of age, hearing the fears of a young Jewish man during Hitler’s reign of terror, and gaining a new — and heartbreaking — understanding of the power of words made this a tough read for me. I kept putting it down and coming back to it later, because it was a lot to process all at once. But it was so, so worth it.

All in all: I’d recommend this book to anyone and everyone. It’s a brilliant examination of what it means to be human, at its best and at its absolute worst, and the writing is beautiful, too.

Review: It’s a BUSLOAD of Pigeon Books! by Mo Willems

It's a Busload of Pigeon Books! by Mo Willems. Disney-Hyperion. 120 pp.

It’s a Busload of Pigeon Books! by Mo Willems. Disney-Hyperion. 120 pp.

A family friend gave my son a Barnes and Noble gift card for his birthday. She explained in the card that it was really a gift for me, because she knew how excited I was to share my love for reading with my little boy. And that gift card has proved to be the gift that keeps on giving, because it’s been almost a year and not only do we still have a little bit of money left to spend, but one of the selections has become a family favorite.

My son requests these books constantly; he loves The Pigeon. (That should be capitalized, right? He’s an institution!) My husband and I enjoy these books as well; they’re funny and easy to read aloud. The lines are simple and super-fun to add inflection to, like

Can you believe this guy?!

or

First of all, I’m not even tired.

It’s great fun to witness The Pigeon’s antics, and my son looooves being in charge of whether or not The Pigeon gets to drive the bus. (For once, he’s not the one begging for a privilege!)

These books are much smaller than the regular hardcover editions, which was disappointing at first, but I should have guessed because they’re also much cheaper. As I’ve gotten used to them, they don’t feel overly miniature any more; they’re actually a better size for my almost-two-year-old. The set also comes with an activity poster (one side activities, one side pop-art Pigeon poster) which is small but cute.

All in all: A fun addition to a child’s library. Also great for a gift; the box set nature makes it feel gift-y to me.

Review: Aimless Love by Billy Collins

Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems by Billy Collins. Random House. 288 pp.

Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems by Billy Collins. Random House. 288 pp.

From the two-term Poet Laureate of the United States Billy Collins comes his first compilation of new and selected poems in twelve years. Aimless Love combines new poems with selections from four previous books—Nine Horses, The Trouble with Poetry, Ballistics, and Horoscopes for the Dead. Collins’s unmistakable voice, which brings together plain speech with imaginative surprise, is clearly heard with every word, reminding us how he has managed to enrich the tapestry of contemporary poetry and greatly expand its audience. His work is featured in top literary magazines such as The New Yorker, Poetry, and The Atlantic, and he sells out reading venues all across the country. Appearing regularly in The Best American Poetry series, his poems appeal to readers and live audiences far and wide and have been translated into more than a dozen languages. By turns playful, ironic, and serious, Collins’s poetry captures the nuances of everyday life while leading the reader into zones of inspired wonder. In the poet’s own words, he hopes that his poems “begin in Kansas and end in Oz.” Touching on the themes of love, loss, joy, and poetry itself, these poems showcase the best work of this “poet of plenitude, irony, and Augustan grace” (The New Yorker).


I’m ashamed to say that I hadn’t had much experience with Billy Collins’s work before starting this collection. (I’m not very well versed in poetry, especially that of the twenty-first century. But I’m working on it.) I’d come across a poem of his here and there in anthologies but hadn’t picked up a collection of his work yet. And — like many books I’ve been reading lately — I’m disappointed in myself for taking so long to read this one. Aimless Love is a great place to start because it includes Collins’s old poems as well as new. It was a great sampler for me, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

Collins’s poetry reminds me of the time I stood in St. Paul’s Cathedral: the world seemed so big, and as a result I felt small and insignificant, but it was overwhelming in the best possible way. I felt connected to the world around me, a small cog in a complex mechanism. (And I’m not Catholic. This may have been a sort of architectural revelation.) There are things that we all experience, and there are aspects of life unique to each of us, and good poetry (good writing of any kind, really) finds a way to bridge the gap between people until we remember that we are all part of the same underlying human experience.

All in all: Collins writes poems that are easily accessible to the reluctant reader but well-crafted enough to be admired by lovers of the written word. An excellent collection, one that would make a great gift. (I received a digital review copy but plan to purchase a print edition so I can underline my favorite lines and pencil in some marginalia.)

Review: Poems That Make Grown Men Cry, edited by Anthony and Ben Holden

PoemsThatMakeGrownMenCry

Poems That Make Grown Men Cry, edited by Anthony & Ben Holden. Simon & Schuster. 336 pp.

Grown men don’t cry.

But in this fascinating anthology, one hundred men—distinguished in literature and film, science and architecture, theater and human rights—confess to being moved to tears by poems that continue to haunt them. Representing twenty nationalities and ranging in age from their early 20s to their late 80s, the majority are public figures not prone to crying. Here they admit to breaking down when ambushed by great art, often in words as powerful as the poems themselves.

Their selections include classics by visionaries such as Walt Whitman, W.H Auden, and Philip Larkin, as well as contemporary works by masters including Billy Collins, Seamus Heaney, Derek Walcott, and poets who span the globe from Pablo Neruda to Rabindranath Tagore.

Seventy-five percent of the selected poems were written in the twentieth century, with more than a dozen by women including Mary Oliver, Elizabeth Bishop, and Gwendolyn Brooks. Their themes range from love in its many guises, through mortality and loss, to the beauty and variety of nature. Three men have suffered the pain of losing a child; others are moved to tears by the exquisite way a poet captures, in Alexander Pope’s famous phrase, “what oft was thought, but ne’er so well express’d.

From J.J. Abrams to John le Carré, Salman Rushdie to Jonathan Franzen, Daniel Radcliffe to Nick Cave, Billy Collins to Stephen Fry, Stanley Tucci to Colin Firth, and Seamus Heaney to Christopher Hitchens, this collection delivers private insight into the souls of men whose writing, acting, and thinking are admired around the world.


You don’t have to say it: I am fully aware that I am not a man. Also, I’m an embarrassingly easy crier and will shed a tear at the drop of a hat. (I’ve recently taken to speed-reading through sad scenes in books because otherwise I’d have to tag far too many reviews with “Made Me Cry.”) So what made me request this one from Edelweiss? Basically, I figured that this had to be a collection of damn good poems in order to move so many eminent men so deeply. Also, the range of contributors seemed pretty broad, and it included a lot of my favorites. I’m always interested in finding out if my tastes match the tastes of the writers/performers/etc. I admire.

The editors allowed each contributor to include a brief piece explaining why he chose his particular poem. I found it particularly interesting when two men chose the same poem for different reasons, which happened more than once. After the poem, there’s a brief bio on the selector. Although I recognized most of the names, there were a few I didn’t, and I found this feature helpful.

The poetry itself comes from various time periods and languages, though most were written in English in the last 100-150 years. Some are beautiful but not particularly emotional, some seemed chosen for strictly personal reasons (and therefore felt a bit distant for me), and some left me pacing the floors of my home while sobbing.

Some of the poems didn’t make me cry, but they opened my eyes to a new poet and a style that I admired (I’ve included links when I could find them): Abioseh Nicol’s “The Meaning of Africa,” chosen by James Earl Jones, with its sweeping descriptions; Elizabeth Bishop’s powerfully evocative “Crusoe in England,” chosen by Andrew Solomon; Philip Larkin’s terrifying “Aubade,” chosen by William Sieghart; and — one I’d read previously and forgotten about — Bukowski’s “Eulogy to a Hell of a Dame,” chosen by Mike Leigh.

Other poems’ messages moved me: Consantine P. Cavafy’s “Ithaka,” chosen by Walter Salles, and Derek Walcott’s “Love After Love,” chosen by Tom Hiddleston.

Poems that hit me the hardest — the ones that made me out-and-out cry — were the ones about family, whether having/losing a parent (Tony Harrison’s “Long Distance II,” chosen by Daniel Radcliffe) or being one (John N. Morris’s “For Julia, In the Deep Water,” chosen by Tobias Wolff; Victoria Redel’s “Bedecked,” chosen by Billy Collins; and Rabindranath Tagore’s “Those Who Are Near Me Do Not Know,” chosen by Chris Cooper).

All in all: There’s something for everyone in here. Buy a stack of copies and gift them!

Creepiest Alice Story Yet…And I Loved It! Splintered by A.G. Howard

Splintered by A.G. Howard. Amulet Books. 371 pp.

Splintered by A.G. Howard. Amulet Books. 371 pp.

Splintered has been out since January, but I didn’t hear about it until last week. (I know, I know. As a Wonderland-lover, I’m ashamed of myself.) Somebody tweeted about it and I saw the gorgeous cover and had to know more. Then I learned that it was an Alice spinoff and decided that I had to buy it. This is rare, because my decision to become a stay at home mom meant that my book budget had to be severely decreased. But this looked good, and I still had a little bit of money on a Barnes and Noble gift card, so soon enough, Splintered was on its way.

It’s about a girl named Alyssa, a descendant of Alice Liddell, and her family’s struggle with madness. Desperate not to end up like her institutionalized mother, Alyssa travels down the rabbit hole to reverse the curse that’s been laid on her family ever since Alice first entered (and allegedly screwed up) Wonderland.

This isn’t Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland, though. It’s darker, more devious, and much more dangerous. Alyssa is inadvertently followed by Jeb, her best-friend-slash-crush, who loyally believes the unbelievable and agrees to aid her on her quest. There’s a love triangle between the two of them and Morpheus, Alyssa’s guide through Wonderland. (Please allow me just a brief fangirly moment: Morpheus’s smoldering wickedness was far more appealing than I expected to find it. What is it about bad boys??) Anyway. The characters from Wonderland are all here: the Walrus and the Carpenter, the mad tea party attendees, kings and queens, etc. It was a delight to see them so gothically reimagined.

The writing is clean and descriptive, the plot is so fast-moving that I couldn’t believe the author could fit so many events into so few pages, and it was simply a pleasure to read. It gets creepy, too: I’m rarely frightened by the books I read, but at one point the hairs on my arm were literally standing on end. (Please note that I’m not the type of girl to use “literally” figuratively. I actually did had goosebumps.)

The only thing I didn’t like about this book was remedied in the end: Alyssa just seemed so passive. The only way she was getting by was by being rescued, time and time again, by one of the guys. And as much as it’s good for friends to save one another, she was always the one getting saved and never the one doing the saving. But it was all for a character development purpose, and I enjoyed watching her grow stronger and more sure of herself as the book progressed.

I read this in less than a day. I tried to slow myself down because I knew the next book in the series hadn’t been released yet, but it was just too good. Because he knows me so well, my husband asked if it was good enough for me to purchase the next book in the series. I replied with a wholehearted, “Absolutely.” Splintered is a great start to the series, and the book is just gorgeous. I mean, look at that cover art. And it’s printed in purple ink. It’s like a dream come true. A really dark, creepy, twisted dream come true, but still.

All in all: Excellent. This is the best Alice spinoff I’ve read so far. (Keep in mind, though, that this is YA fantasy. If you don’t like fantasy, or love triangles, this probably isn’t for you. But it was sure for me!)

Don’t judge a book boy by its cover his face: Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Wonder by R.J. Palacio. Alfred A. Knopf. 310 pp.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio. Alfred A. Knopf. 310 pp.

Houston, we have a problem: I’ve been reading so many good books lately that I want to describe them all as “one of the best books I’ve read.” I’m afraid that if I do that, you won’t take me seriously, because I mean, really: who says that about every book she reads? Someone with a short attention span who raves about everything. But that’s not me. (Okay, maybe the short attention span part is…) I’ve just been fortunate enough to read, say, four amazing books in a row. (Before that: I refused to finish one and dragged my way through a few slow others.)

I first heard about Wonder when Jojo Moyes recommended it on her blog. If you’ve been reading my blog for the past month or two, you know how much I’ve been enjoying Moyes’s stuff lately, and she made this book sound so appealing that I headed to the library specifically to pick it up. 

August Pullman is a shoo-in for my list of Most Memorable Characters of All Time. (I just made that list up, but now I think I’ll have to work on it. Future blog entry!) He is honest and straightforward; he doesn’t hide his pride or his pain. And he makes me want to give him a hug (which he would hate, because ten-year-old boys tend to protest mightily against physical displays of affection unless they involve throwing a ball at someone’s head or something.)

Let me tell you a little bit about Auggie: He was born with a severe facial deformity. Due to years of surgeries and hospitalizations to get his face to function at its best (which is still pretty bad), he’s been homeschooled for his entire life. Now he’s about to go into fifth grade, and his parents want him to give school a shot. Auggie refuses at first, but finally agrees to try.

Wonder follows Auggie through his first year at Beecher Prep. He learns a lot about kids, cruelty, and ultimately, acceptance. But the acceptance takes a lot of time, and I can guarantee you that your heart will break for Auggie over and over again as he struggles through the year. Kids can be horrible to each other, and even though the things that happen in this book are really no surprise, they’re still disappointing. The human race is both inspiring and prone to demolition, and this book provides a healthy serving of each.

The book isn’t told entirely by Auggie, though: there are sections written by Auggie’s friends from school as well as his older sister Via, her friend Miranda, and her boyfriend Justin. The characters are honest in their reactions to Auggie’s face as well as his personality, and overall, it’s a truthful, touching examination of what it means to be — and to be affected by — August Pullman. 

All in all: Everyone should read this book: kids, to understand how bullying affects people; parents, to remember to raise kind children; and the rest of you, to remember just how fortunate you are and how much of a difference a little kindness can make. 

I Enjoy Being a Girl: Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray. Scholastic. 390 pp.

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray. Scholastic. 390 pp.

I’ve been meaning to read Beauty Queens for a couple of years. The cover is amazing, it’s edited by David Levithan, and it sounded right up my alley. I mean, a plane full of teen beauty queens crashes on a deserted island on their way to the Miss Teen Dream pageant. Sounds like a brilliant satirical setup, right? And it is; this book pokes fun at ditziness, glitziness, and consumerism left and right. But it’s also deep, exploring many issues of femininity, gender, sexuality, and confidence that society often avoids like the plague. “If something’s not broken,” people reason, “why fix it?” But the way women are viewed is broken, and although it’s on the road to repair, it still needs adjusting. And this book points that out in an fast-paced yet deeply moving way. Plus, it’s funny. I laughed so hard at this book that I was afraid of waking my husband. (I often read in bed after he’s fallen asleep, and I laughed so bed-shakingly often that it’s a wonder he didn’t wake up.)

The girls on the island work their butts off to survive in an inhospitable environment, and they create a village that the folks on Lost would be proud of. All of their pageant extracurriculars come in handy, and they work together as a team to build homes, find food, and send messages for help. The Corporation, the pageant’s…well…corporate sponsor, claims to be looking for the girls with all the resources available to them. But is the girls’ rescue really in their best financial interests? You’ll see.

Most of the book’s scenes take place on the island, but there are commercial breaks as well, which are over-the-top ridiculous (and hilariously funny!), yet sadly close to the commercials we see aired today. This book is a reflection of our society that’s exaggerated just enough for the reader to feel comfortable reading it and finding flaws in it while not feeling directly attacked. (Although, as I mentioned earlier, maybe there are a couple of things that could use to be attacked…)

Some of my favorite parts of this book were the girls’ bonding, chatting and laughing together and growing into a community of support. (Tiara was probably my favorite; she was funny and sweet and deeper than you’d expect.) But I also loved the girls’ side conversations about…well…just being a girl. Like this discussion of Lord of the Flies:

“You know how you said it wasn’t a true measure of humanity because there were no girls and you wondered how it would be different if there had been girls? … Maybe girls need an island to find themselves. Maybe they need a place where no one’s watching them so they can be who they really are.”

There was something about the island that made the girls forget who they had been. All those rules and shalt nots. They were no longer waiting for some arbitrary grade. They were no longer performing. Waiting. Hoping.

They were becoming.

They were.

Passages like this are rare in today’s books. And, to be honest, a lot of times the cynic in me thinks “empowerment” is a silly notion, because you shouldn’t really need affirmations from other people to feel good about yourself. But this book made me feel good about being a girl — a smart, capable girl at that — in a way that literature doesn’t usually do.

All in all: One of the best books I’ve ever read. Seriously.

I’ll leave you with this heartbreaking lesson from one of the girls, revealing what she learned from her time on the island:

I love myself. They make it so hard for us to love ourselves.

Maybe we all need to drown out society’s noise and love ourselves a little bit more.