Tuesday, February 22, 2011

In Cold Blood: A True Crime Pioneer

I have always wanted to read In Cold Blood because it has become a modern classic; I also enjoy murder mystery novels and was interested to read the original true crime story and one of the first examples of literary non-fiction. My friend and I were talking about it this weekend and she observed that it's a time capsule of the late 1950s Midwest. It is fascinating to hear how people spoke and the different turns-of-phrases that peppered common speech. The story of the murder itself is a chilling reminder that brutal, cold-blooded murder has always existed-- even in the "Leave it to Beaver" era of the whitebread 1950s. The life stories of the two criminals themselves are depressing examples of what effect cruelty and neglect early in life can have on social and emotional development. The book lagged a bit for me in the end as the courtroom scenes played out, but as a whole it was an original and fascinating addition to the modern literary canon. 3.5 out of 4 Bananas!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

What If You Only Had One Year to Live?

Chris Crutcher is a prolific young adult author adored by fans all over the world for his coming-of-age novels, of which *Deadline* is a fine example. I was intrigued by the premise, which is that Ben Wolf, an 18 year old senior in high school, finds out at the beginning of the school year that he has an aggressive form of blood cancer, and has, at most, one year to live. The kicker is that he decides not to tell anyone-- not even his parents-- and not to undergo any sort of treatment. He wants to spend his last year living life to its fullest instead of living it weak and sick from chemotherapy. He is visited in his dreams by "Hey-Soos", a sort of spiritual guide who helps him process his thoughts about the time he has left on earth. Ben decides not to live life according to his own fears or societal expectations, so he goes out for the football team (he had previously been a cross-country superstar), asks his long-held crush out for dinner, and challenges a particularly conservative, hard-headed civics teacher on a variety of social issues. This, for me, was a huge detractor from the novel. The civics teacher reads like a caricature of some sort of Bill O'Reilly ultra-conservative numbskull who actually argues that Japanese internment camps were acceptable and that book burning can be okay. I have a really hard time believing that any civics teacher would actually act like this to the degree that this guy does, and I also was irritated by his staunch refusal to allow Ben to do his senior project on Malcolm X due to his own conservative political beliefs (Ben wants to campaign to have a street in their small Idaho town named after Malcolm X). Another issue I had with the book is Ben's miraculous healing of the town alcoholic by giving him food and supplements. Really? Is that all it takes? A final element that I found hugely disturbing and out of place in the novel is the TWO parallel storylines involving incest. If Crutcher had stuck with the main dilemma of Ben's one year to live and avoided these odd sidetracks, I would have given this novel at least one additional banana. 2.5 out of 4 Bananas!

Friday, February 4, 2011

A Window Into Teen Depression

I liked this YA title because it is a non-depressing book about depression. Anyone who has ever struggled with depression, knows anyone who has had depression, or who would like to understand teen depression might want to consider reading this book. The author, Ned Vizzini, actually wrote It's Kind of a Funny Story in a little less than a month after his own stint in a psychiatric hospital. In the beginning of the novel we are introduced to Craig Gilner, a suicidal teenager who checks himself into a mental hospital after planning to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge. Due to renovations in the teenage ward, Craig is placed into the adult wing of the hospital. It's an unlikely scenario, true, but the relationships that Craig builds with the other patients help him to find his own balance and, ultimately, give him hope for a healthier and happier future. It has also been made into a movie starring Zach Galifianakis, Lauren Graham, Emma Roberts and Zoe Kravitz. 4 out of 4 Bananas!