Daily Archives: 08/26/2012

#32: The Seas by Samantha Hunt

I have no clue what I read, but I liked it.

The description from Goodreads:

The narrator of The Seas lives in a tiny, remote, alcoholic, cruel seaside town. An occasional chambermaid, granddaughter to a typesetter, and daughter to a dead man, awkward and brave, wayward and willful, she is in love (unrequited) with an Iraq War veteran thirteen years her senior. She is convinced that she is a mermaid. What she does to ease the pain of growing up lands her in prison. What she does to get out is the stuff of legend. In the words of writer Michelle Tea, The Seas is “creepy and poetic, subversive and strangely funny, [and] a phenomenal piece of literature.”

I like settings near the ocean.  Not tropical, warm water oceans.  Icy cold, grey water, you’re-going-to-die oceans.  Settings where the sea itself becomes a character and changes the people that live nearby.  I like the violence, the way the water affects the weather and how the weather changes the waves.  There is power in the sea and characters can’t change it if they fight it.  You either let the water change you or you leave.

Our nameless narrator is nineteen years old and she’s convinced she’s a mermaid.  He father was lost to the sea years ago, yet she and her mother have hope that he will return.  They both know this is a false hope, yet to acknowledge the helplessness of it will confirm that he is gone.  Forever.  Dead. 

Our narrator knows she is a mermaid and that her father had to return to the sea and is waiting for her.  He must have grown legs to be with her mother, and she will someday lose hers so she can return to the sea and be with him.

But our narrator is in love with Jude.  A mortal.  Thirteen years older than she is.  Nineteen years 0against thirty two.  Her love for Jude is making her sick, blind, crazy.  They spend hours and days together, but he will not love her.  He sees the lovesick in every molecule of her body, but he will not love her back.  He keeps her close, but it doesn’t feel cruel.

So she waits and wonders.  She knows the tales of mermaids and mortals.  She waits for her father to return, wondering if she will sacrifice herself or Jude.  What will make her tail appear?  What will make Jude love her?  Someone must die, for that’s what the tales have taught us.

She waits.  She gets sicker.  Her mother aches for her, not knowing what to do.  Her mother knows she’s not a mermaid and begs her to leave Jude, to leave the island, to leave this small life that is slowly drowning her.

But our narrator cannot leave.  She is held tight.  She is tethered to Jude and the sea.  Her father will come.  Jude will love her.  Her tail will appear.

***

This all sounds like a wonderful folktale, yes?  Only it’s not written that way and I was confused and delighted by it.  Hunt writes this as straight up realistic fiction.  As the book starts, I thought our narrator was just hoping she’s a mermaid.  The town hates her.  She’s an outcast and has been tormented since she was a child.  Just as we wish we were all adopted children and some day our rich parents will show up to claim us, to tell us we are princesses and princes, to show us all that we have, our narrator waits for the sea.  She knows who her parents are, but she also knows she is a mermaid.

I was fascinated by the narrator.  I was startled to find out she was nineteen because she sounds much younger when the book starts.  Throughout the book I wondered if she was cognitively impaired.  The things she says and does don’t make any sense, and yet Hunt is so consistent that I found myself agreeing with our narrator throughout.  She must be a mermaid.  It doesn’t make sense if she’s not.  The sea will destroy everyone.  She is going blind.  Jude must love her or die.

None of this should have worked, yet I gave into it.  I let Hunt and her sea pull me in and I didn’t fight it.  Our narrator wasn’t impaired or broken or crazy or wrong.

I knew something had to happen, but I didn’t know what.  Was she crazy?  Would she be forced to deal with reality?  Was it all a metaphor?  Was she a mermaid?  Was I reading a fairy tale?  What was going on?

I was confused and dizzy and I enjoyed every moment.

#31: Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey

NPR recently published a list of the 100 Best-Ever Teen Novels as nominated by their listeners.  After arguing on FB about what makes a book YA (an ongoing discussion almost everywhere people talk about books) and screaming about the reasons why certian books were deemed not YA (A Tree Grows In Brooklyn.  A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN!!!) I happily went through the list and added a ton to my To Be Read list over on Goodreads.  I was thrilled that they listed all the books that had been nominated and added even more titles.  I then hit the inter-library loan website and filled my greedy little mitts with new books.

Enter Jasper Jones.

Our narrator is Charlie Bucktin.  It’s summer break in a small town in Australia and Charlie plans on spending his time off reading piles of books, working on his writing (his secret passion), and hanging out with his equally nerdy, best friend Jeffrey.

And all of this changes with the very first sentence of the book.

Jasper Jones is the town outcast.  He’s fourteen years old, and whenever anything goes wrong in town, you can bet that Jasper is behind it.  Your good kid stays out past curfew?  That Jasper must have put him up to it.  Some money goes missing.  Where was Jasper?  A few loaves of bread stolen?  You know it was Jasper.  The post office burns down?  Who else but Jasper?

He’s become mythical in his badness, yet Charlie is thrilled when Jasper shows up at his window in the middle of the night, begging for help.  Terrified at the thought of sneaking out, but even more scared that Jasper will think he’s a wimp, Charlie crawls out of the window and into the night.

And for the rest of his life he’ll wonder if he would have been better off had he told Jasper to go away and pulled the blankets over his head.

Jasper shows Charlie his secret and nothing can ever be the same.  Not for Charlie, not for Jasper, not for the entire town.  Something horrible has happened and if Charlie doesn’t start to keep secrets, Jasper will be blamed.

I loved the way Charlie was written.  Silvey captured the amazing mixture of a thirteen year old bookish boy.  One sentence shows him struggling with adult ideas and you can see him slowly taking the first few steps into adulthood.  The next sentence shows him still made up of boyhood and giggles.  It’s hilarious and heartbreaking.

The scenes between Charlie and Jeffrey are especially fantastic.  Charlie has to keep his secrets from Jeffrey, and it’s killing him.  He’s walking around feeling like he’s got a brick in his belly.  He is holding on to information that no one should have, let alone a thirteen year old boy.  His relationship with his mother is starting to spin into something dark and dangerous.  He’s worried about Jasper.  And then he gets into a debate with Jeffery about Superman versus Batman.  And then how queer Jeffrey is versus how queer Charlie is.  It’s pitch perfect and wonderful.  There’s a lot in this book that is fantastic, but Silvey should be especially proud of how perfectly he wrote Charlie’s inner dialogue and his conversations with Jeffrey.

Like most thirteen year olds, Charlie really is two different people.  He’s still a boy, which you see with Jeffrey, but he’s also growing  up, and you see that with Jasper and with Charlie’s mom.  He’s still able to ebb and flow between the two worlds. but you know that soon enough he’ll leave all the boyishness behind.

I really enjoyed the layers in this story.  There’s the major plot of Jasper’s crisis that changes Charlie and then there’s his changing relationship with his mother.  I wondered at times if the first caused the second.  However, Charlie’s mother is clearly going through a crisis of her own, and Charlie was going to get dragged down into it even if Jasper hadn’t shown up.  Jasper, simply by being who he is, gives Charlie the strength to question what he sees, to know when to speak up, and to know when to keep his head down.  Charlie’s dad especially helps with that last one.  Their relationship is wonderful to see and his dad tries to explain to him that some battles just aren’t worth it.

I honestly had no clue how this book was going to end.  There is some heavy foreshadowing early on, but it felt way too easy and I refused to believe it.  There are certain characters that I was sure would become important later on, but I couldn’t figure out why.  I wanted to know if Charlie would reveal his secrets to anyone, and what the fallout would be if he did.

It was frustrating and sad and wonderful.  It put me right back in the mindset of being thirteen and starting to see all the inaccuracies and injustices of the world and having no clue how to handle it.  It reminded me of the times when you’re sure you can’t go to any adult for help because even if they think they understand, it’s not going to work out the way you know it should.  You keep your head down and hang on to  your friends.  And you hope you’re doing the right thing and not destroying everything you love in the process.