We the Animals by Justin Torres

I finished another book!  At this point, I’m patting myself on the back for every 50 pages I read.  We the Animals was a perfect book choice for me at this stage of my slump because it was over and done with in 125 pages.  Excellent.

We the Animals chronicles the upbringing of three brothers born to teenage parents.  The boys struggle to come of age among poverty, a dad who slaps around his wife and children, and a mother who works the graveyard shift to keep everyone alive.  Our narrator begins as the collective ‘We’ of brotherhood and eventually evolves into the nameless ‘I’ of the youngest brother against the ‘They’ of his family.

The language is stark, poetic, and packs a punch with no superfluous language.  I love writing that can add layer after layer in 125 pages worth of concision.  To me, that takes natural talent.  This novella reads like sharp, poignant vignettes of the author’s childhood.  Bits and pieces of his memory, images of his youth, told through the short stories of each chapter.  While this technique may turn away some readers, I think this style  remains true to the nature of memory.  Our earliest memories are often just brief images at best with almost no true sense of linear progression whatsoever.  You just get glimpses that tell a story when all placed together.

Language aside, the first 3/4 of this story was wonderful.  Each character is fully realized.  Within just a few pages, I found myself emotionally invested.  Even the abusive father managed to garner my sympathy at times which muddies the water of good vs evil smartly.  He might act like a monster at times, but deep down you know he loves his family – after all, he’s stuck by them – but at the same time, love can never be an excuse for violence.  The family, especially the boys, battle with cultural and racial identity issues.  But gender identity is foremost in this novel, which is a favorite theme of mine.  The father is often unable to hold a job, struggles with traditional male roles made more difficult by being Puerto Rican in an American world.  His wife, for all intents and purposes, is the family breadwinner.  The boys see a weak father who beats them and a strong woman who lets him.

Despite these beautifully complicated themes, the last 25 pages or so let me down in a HUGE way.  The novel shifts abruptly, time jumps around without reason, and I just ended up feeling confused and lost.  The concreteness I was so fond of initially transforms into abstract metaphorical language that honestly left me wondering what the hell was going on.  The clunky ending did not work and that’s sad because Torres could have had a near perfect debut.  Despite this pitfall, the book is definitely worth the read and I can see nothing but bright things in the future for Torres.  And if you have read it, what did you make of the end?

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Warning – I don’t have the power or patience to be objective about this book.  I can only rant.  On Goodreads, I rated this 2 stars – one for attempting original mythology and the other for a pretty cover.  When I’m in a reading slump and read something atrocious, I get bitchy.  Let the bitchfest commence.  And there might be spoilers.

Beautiful Creatures attempts to tell a Southern Gothic story about witches (I mean, Castors…sorry) from a teenage male perspective.  Ethan is 15 or 16 (who really knows or cares?), never been away from his small hometown of Gatlin, South Carolina, dreams of escape, hides the fact that he reads literature (he’d be shunned in the South for reading…how did I ever survive?), and doesn’t ever have a single solitary sexual thought about his beyond gorgeous, mysterious girlfriend.  He’s super popular, a star basketball player, and tortured over the death of his mother.  Oh…and he’s the most boring teenager I’ve ever met in fiction…or real life.

Lena, the mysteriously beautiful new girl in town is a witch (eh, Castor…forgot again).  She’s got really huge green eyes, a woe is me attitude, no fight, and likes poetry.  She also prefers sexless mannequin boyfriends who struggle with saying “I love you” and aren’t the least bit freaked out that they can telepathically communicate with her.  On her 16th birthday she’s doomed to be claimed – either by light or darkness – can these star-crossed lovers save themselves from the inevitable darkness swooping in to consume her?  No, but a cloudy sky comes to the rescue and leaves our nearly 600 page snooze inducer with a sequel that’s sure to send you off to the land of nod all over again.  Don’t you just love plot recycling?

Want more snark?  Cool beans.  I have lived in the South my ENTIRE life, including South Carolina, and have never visited a town that resembles Gatlin.  Everyone I know refers to the Civil War as the Civil War, maybe occasionally the War Between the States, but every character in Beautiful Creatures calls it the War of Northern Aggression – you might even fail your history class for not obeying this rule.  And, yes, Civil War reenactments do exist, but I don’t think they often use live artillery, especially if such live ammo has already killed a resident.  Just sayin’.  Oh, look there…see how I dropped that ‘g’.  We do love to drop our ‘g’s sometimes.  And I’ll admit to replacing the preposition ‘of’ with ‘a’ every now and again – but to have every Southern character in your novel do this on every page, all the time, like ‘g’s and ‘of’ don’t exist is RIDICULOUS and OFFENSIVE.  For instance, I have never dropped the ‘g’ on the word boring and if the title of a book is The Book of Moons then I’ll use ‘of’ every time.  Because I know how to read.  Don’t get me started on how poorly the slang ‘fixin’ was butchered.

Guess what?  Southerners also have these things called television, the internet, radio, and many other news outlets.  We even know how to use them!  So we’d know when a hurricane was coming long before it got to our shores.  We wouldn’t think every single thunderstorm was a hurricane just waiting to destroy us.  Know what else?  People visit hurricane alley all the time during hurricane season.  In fact, most of our visits occur during those months.  BECAUSE WE HAVE THIS MODERN THING CALLED THE WEATHER CHANNEL.  They keep the Hurricane Ninjas from sneaking up on us.

Let’s see…can I get really picky for a moment?  No self-respecting Southern high school gives a crap about basketball.  Football is our king.

I can’t stop now – Garcia and Stohl get downright cruel in bullying a popular ‘fat girl’.  They constantly harp on how she’s not skinny, has a butt the size of Texas, and must like to eat pie all the time.  Disgusting.  I felt like really boring invisible high school girls who wanted to be mean girls wrote this book.  And that was not a good thing.

The number one reason to not read this book?  It is boring as hell.  Nothing happens.  Nothing is resolved.  The characters are flat and dull.  The Ravenwood mansion was the most alive, honest, intriguing character.  When I relate to a house more than the humans, something is wrong.  If you like a book where professors can’t possibly have southern accents, black people don’t exist – or really any people other than rich, white, ‘Old Money’ Southerners, and 400 of the 563 pages are plot-less, poorly paced filler, then you’ll love Beautiful Creatures.

This book made me mad.  I think I need to stay away from books set in the South, paranormal romance, star-crossed lovers/insta-love romances, and most YA literature.  I can’t believe the amazing cast of actors that have signed on for this movie.  The screenplay must be compelling and completely retooled.  Viola Davis deserves so much better than this trite, shallow crapfest.

TSS: So Long, Cable!

Yep – I’m ditching cable television.  For good.  I’ve gone without cable many times over the years and never actually missed it.  I mean, the couple of shows I’m loyal to are available for free on their respective websites.  For other shows, such as Mad Men and True Blood, buying a season pass online is so much cheaper than the $100 cable bill every month.

I’ve just found myself very disheartened with the lack of substance in television these days.  I loathe and despise reality tv.  And I’ve even ditched half the shows I used to be loyal to because they’ve grown ridiculous and should have been cancelled YEARS ago.  I miss the days of Gilmore Girls and Veronica Mars.

Nothing much else going on this fabulous Sunday morning.  The dogs wouldn’t let me sleep in which is nothing new.  The HUBS is still snoring away.  I bought my tickets to The Hunger Games – not the midnight showing, but rather a Saturday evening viewing that many fellow Litwits will be attending as well.

As for my reading, I’m definitely in a slump.  I don’t think I finished a single book last week.  I’m halfway through Beautiful Creatures and have started a couple of others, but nothing is compelling me to keep reading.  I don’t blame the books; I blame myself.  Just haven’t been in the mood to read lately.  Burned out.  This always happens to me when the weather starts to turn warm!

Anywhoosie – have a fabulous Sunday!