Friday, October 17, 2008

A Northern Light: A Gentle, Inspirational Murder Mystery (Really!)

I just finished Jennifer Donnelly's A Northern Light, which is a Printz medal winner and is also on this year's Abraham Lincoln Illinois High School Book Award list. After the Taken debacle (see previous post), I needed to read another Abe Lincoln nominee and have my faith in the list restored. I would describe A Northern Light as Anne of Green Gables meets Little House on the Prairie, set in the Adirondacks, with a murder thrown in to add an air of mystery and to help the main character develop her sense of destiny. It is actually based on a real murder case from the early twentieth century, in which a young woman becomes pregnant and is drowned in a lake by her lover so that she does not get in the way of the life he had hoped to have. Their letters to each other survived, however, and ultimately helped convict him of her murder. A Northern Light is set in the Adirondacks and is the story of Mattie, a teenage girl who hopes to go to college in the city and become an author, until she draws the romantic attention of the handsome son of a wealthy local farmer. She also takes a job at a local resort, where she meets Grace Brown (the woman who is eventually murdered). After the murder, and after Mattie reads the sad letters Grace had written to the man who ultimately kills her, Mattie must decide what direction her own life should take. Should she forego her dreams of independence and education to marry a man who may not love her truly? 3 out of 4 Bananas

Monday, October 6, 2008

Taken (I hate to do it, but I've got to.)

Here it is, my first negative review. As the title of my post indicates, I do hate to do it, but in the interest of honesty, I've got to. After all, it's impossible to love every book you read, right? And I have had quite a string of awesome reads, so it was probaby time for something not-so-great. Another reason that I'm hemming and hawing so much is that Taken, by Chris Jordan, is on this year's Abraham Lincoln High School Book Award nominee list, which is why I chose it in the first place. I fully expected to enjoy the book because I like suspense-thriller fiction, plus it is on this award list, I actually kind of loathed it.
The plot centers around Kate Bickford, a suburban widowed mother of an adopted child named Tommy. Tommy is abducted in the novel's first few pages by the "man in the mask", who later appears in Kate's home and warns her to follow his "method" if she ever wants to see her son again. A local sheriff winds up dead, and Kate is arrested for his murder, which complicates her efforts to find her son. She is eventually released on bail and takes it upon herself to find the "man in the mask" and, ultimately, rescue her son.
The main problem I had with the novel is that it is sloppily written. I enjoy novels written for children and young adults, so it's not that I don't appreciate writing at a different level: I do, as long as it's good writing. There is a difference, and this difference is evident in Taken. The plot is also inconsistent, and several loose ends are never tied up. Also, the main character, Kate, never seems quite as worried or as devastated as you would probably be if it was likely that your child had been killed by an abductor. That really bugged me. Also, his portrayal of the lone African American character in the book is rife with stereotypes. Jordan even writes this character's dialogue using his conception of African American speech patterns and vocabulary choices, which, to me, is obnoxious and inappropriate. Finally, the climax and conclusion of the novel fell flat and left me with a bad taste in my mouth, plus it made me mad because it ultimately wasted time I could have spent reading something amazing! I keep a reading journal where I write down every book that I read, and, for the first time ever, next to the book's title I drew a little arrow pointing down to remind myself of how much I disliked this book! So, for all of these reasons I grudgingly give Chris Jordan's Taken
1/2 out of 4 Bananas.