Girl Defective, by Simmone Howell

Girl DefectiveI came upon this book as a “readers also enjoyed” for the cute Life in Outer Space, but I think the only thing connecting these two books is that they’re both set in Australia, so… cool! I like Australia. You can cuddle koalas there (well, only in Queensland).

This book is not about cuddling koalas. Sadly. This book is about a teenager called Sky, doing teenager-y things and thinking teenager-y thoughts and trying to survive teenager-hood as best she can while things are going crazy around her. Her mother’s gone off to be a rock star in Japan, her father’s physically present with her in St. Kilda but is drunk all the time so maybe less emotionally present, and her younger brother has decided to deal with all this by donning a pig snout mask and playing detective. Yay?

Meanwhile, Sky’s BFF is acting weirder than usual and a mysterious new guy comes to town and is quickly hired into Sky’s dad’s record store. Also there’s a brick through the store window and a dead girl and a rising music god who may have slept with half of Melbourne, at least.

There’s not really a plot, exactly, outside of Sky’s brother sort of working on solving the brick-through-the-window mystery and Sky sort of working on solving the existential mystery of the dead girl. But surprisingly, I really got into this story that is essentially just a couple weeks in the life of regular, boring teenager.

I liked seeing the world through Sky’s eyes and that she saw her family and friends as fully dysfunctional human beings. I liked that she had the opportunity to make dumb decisions and smart ones and reap the consequences of both.

There was some weirdness throughout the novel, though, that just didn’t resonate with me, and I’m not sure exactly what it was. Perhaps the strange focus on the dead girl mystery that doesn’t really go anywhere, or the pains taken to make all of the plot threads come together in the end for no apparent reason, or the way questions come up and never quite get answered. None of these are bad, exactly, and probably they’re at least partly intentional, but it just didn’t work for me.

On the plus side, Australia!

Recommendation: For fans of Australia and thinky teenagers and very thin plots.

Rating: 7/10

The Composer is Dead, by Lemony Snicket (18 March)

I haven’t really been in a mood for reading these past couple days, which I suppose is natural when you have nothing to do but read all day. I suppose you could say I read on Sunday, when I read from my Cleveland on Foot guidebook when Scott and I were walking around Bratenahl (fun fact: Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz, was once a schoolteacher there), but mostly we were feeling poor amongst the lakefront summer mansions.

But the books I’ve got stacked up just weren’t interesting me… until today, when I went to the library and collected three new books, all of which I’m excited about. The first one I cracked open was The Composer is Dead, which was quite a bit smaller than I’d envisioned when I didn’t know it was a children’s book. Oops!

All 40 pages are, however, full of awesomeness, as is the accompanying CD. The jacket flap recommends reading the book first, then listening to the audio, and I agree.

The story starts, as you might imagine, with a dead composer. An inspector comes in and asks a few questions of the orchestra to figure out whodunnit. Certain remarks are made about the various instruments which are rather apt. Of my beloved instrument, the inspector asks, “What say you, French Horns? You have a strange accent.” Their response? None. “The French Horns did not understand the question, and began murmuring a story about the Old Country.” Teehee!

So you get to the end of the story and you’re like, okay, that’s cute, what’s this CD all about? And it turns out that this story was actually set to music for the San Francisco Symphony, and that’s what you get to hear! Daniel Handler reads the story, with a few additions (you get to hear the horns’ story; he wonders about getting some food), and the symphony plays some wonderful music in the background. I want to play this piece. I bet the rights are expensive.

Rating: 9/10 (8 for the story itself, 10 for the music!)
(Countdown Challenge: 2009, Support Your Local Library Challenge)