Looking for Alaska, by John Green (13 December — 16 December)

I’d been pondering purchasing a John Green novel for a certain friend of a certain name, but I didn’t want to do that if the book turned out to suck. So I was going to read the book first, but then I found out that it was Green’s second book, and you know how much I dislike reading things out of order (lest I read the best things first, Jodi Picoult, cough).

So, even though Looking for Alaska has sod-all to do with that certain other book (okay, whatever, it’s called An Abundance of Katherines, like you didn’t Google it already), I popped in a request to the library and found out that it’s somehow quicker to get books from places two counties to the west of me than from my own friggin’ library. A complaint for another time.

Back to the book! The titular Alaska is a girl called Alaska Young, who befriends our hero, Miles Halter (whose name I had to look up because he is called “Pudge” pretty much everywhere else in the novel), who has just arrived at boarding school to seek his “Great Perhaps.” Pudge falls in love with this girl, who is kind of bipolar but also super awesome. SOMETHING BIG HAPPENS in the middle of the novel, which you know is coming because the little chapter sections are all labelled, like, “one hundred thirty-six days before” and “the last day” and “one hundred thirty-six days after” (see the symmetry!), but you have (or I, at least, had) no idea what that’s going to be until it does happen.

This is definitely one of those bildungsroman novels, and it has one of those overarching morals based on death and dying (Pudge is obsessed with people’s last words), and it is really quite good. The book is funny at times, sad at times, and definitely reminded me of coming to college and having to meet all new people and fit in. I just wished I’d pulled a prank or two like these guys. 🙂

Also, there’s a preview of that other book at the end of this one, and I totally have to read that, too.

Also also, John Green has worked for mental_floss and NPR, so really, you know he can’t be all bad.

Rating: 8/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2005)

Afterlife, by Douglas Clegg (13 October — 15 October)

I found this book on one of my local library’s blogs and I thought it would make a good RIP read — it’s a horror novel and it’s available free online. Brilliant!

Or not so.

The novel opens with a few brief glimpses of its themes: a scene at a government school called Project Daylight, a woman suffocating, a man being killed by someone reading his thoughts.

Then we meet the main character, Julie Hutchinson, a woman with some marital problems but an undying love for her kids. We soon find out that the dead man is Julie’s husband, “Hut” Hutchinson, which sucks for her. She goes through some depression about his death, seeing a shrink and trying to make sense of life without her husband. She also wants answers about his life — Was he cheating on her? To what lock do a strange set of keys belong? What really happened in the childhood he avoided talking about?

As Julie searches for answers she learns more about psychics, Project Daylight, and the weird things her husband can do, even after death.

This all sounds good, I guess, but I found it poorly executed. Clegg could have used an editor or three to clean up his sentences and check for continuity errors that can be glaring throughout the novel. I would have stopped reading it, but I really wanted to understand what was going on — but I still don’t know. Sigh.

Rating: 3/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2004, RIP Challenge)

Special Topics in Calamity Physics, by Marisha Pessl (18 August − 3 September)

Ugh. This book. I can’t really decide whether I liked it or not, because I’m not entirely clear on what actually happened in the book.

Basically, you’ve got your protagonist, Blue Van Meer, an extremely smart and overly educated 16-year-old who travels around the country with her professor father, never living anywhere for more than a semester at a time as he moves on to bigger and better professorships. For her senior year, her dad gives her a gift − they settle down in Stockton, North Carolina for the whole year. She gets reluctantly adopted into a group of friends by request of the teacher they hang out with, Hannah Schneider, and she proceeds to have a really really weird year culminating in the death of Hannah and Blue’s investigation into it.

I can tell you that with no reservation because Blue tells us on the first page that Hannah dies… but the woman doesn’t actually croak until page 335 out of 514. Lovely. There’s certainly some interesting character development in those three hundred pages, and a lot of really good clues that build up for when we get to the mystery part, but oh. my. god. I really was just waiting for Hannah to die the entire time.

The story really drags up to page 335, and then all of a sudden it’s riveting, and then as soon as Blue figures out the mystery we jump ahead a couple of months and learn about those months through poorly exposited backstory. Sigh.

I’m not upset about having read the book, but I’m not thrilled about it either.

Rating: 5/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2006)