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Oh hi! Here we are again.

Thanks to everyone who voted in yesterday's poll.

To clarify, I know I don't have to blog every day. And trust me, I'll never do this again! But I was curious about whether or not I could actually manage it ... and I wanted to join Stephanie Perkins in her attempt to Blog Every Day In The Second Half Of August. I still don't know if I'll complete the challenge. :-0

It looks like Tim Gunn stopping by my head for a visit was the poll winner - great! I'm looking forward to hearing what he has to say. He'll show up sometime soon. (And I'll probably end up doing most, if not all, of the options listed in the poll.)

In the meantime, here are some book reviews. I decided to focus on contemporary realistic novels, in honor of The Contemps. Have you checked out their challenge yet? I'm going to talk about two YAs and an adult novel.

For me, really great contemporary realistic novels all have one thing in common:

VOICE.

Of course, all the other elements that make up a great book should be there, too – memorable characters, compelling plot, mounting suspense – but if your narrator doesn’t have a strong voice, the reader may not remember your book well enough to distinguish it from other realistic novels. After all, there are no lovelorn vampires or fierce faeries or shudder-inducing Undead to jog the reader’s memory in realistic fiction.

I’m willing to overlook the absence of a voice-y narrator in fantasy and science fiction, as long as the plot ticks right along, the action keeps me turning pages, and the climax is thrilling. A strong voice in these genres is pure CAKE, for me.

Here are some great contemporary realistic novels with strong voice I’ve read recently:


HARMONIC FEEDBACK, by Tara Kelly

Sixteen-year-old Drea is more comfortable with her music and her computer than with other people. They exist as wallpaper to her until she gets to know them. Her mom is quick to inform people that Drea has ADHD and a mild form of Asperger’s, which certainly doesn’t help when it comes to forming friendships. Drea’s “issues” are not the primary focus of the story; she may be lacking in social awareness, but she’s not unhappy. All I know is I make sense to me – it’s other people who seem complicated.

At the start of the book, Drea is “the new girl,” a familiar role for her, since she and her mom move around a lot. This time they’ve landed in Bellingham, Washington to live with Drea’s grandmother. Despite her initial wariness, Drea bonds with a free-spirited girl named Naomi and a nice guy named Justin who loves music as much as she does. The three of them decide to form a band … and Drea slowly begins to grasp that Justin likes her as more than a friend.

Drea’s matter-of-fact voice carries the story. Early on she answers her cranky grandma with customary bluntness:

I got up to put my plate in the sink, but Grandma snatched it before I could. “It’s terrible the way you waste food. Just terrible.”

“Then make better food,” I said.


The book gains momentum as Naomi becomes more and more self-destructive; perplexed, Drea tries to help. But her attempts at being a good friend may put her in danger. Justin, too, seems to be struggling with secrets.

By the time you reach the climax of this book, I predict you will read it with your breath held and your heart pounding … just as I did.


SORTA LIKE A ROCK STAR, by Matthew Quick

Lying down, shivering on the last seat of school bus 161, pinned by his teensy doggie gaze, which is completely 100% cute – I’m such a girl, I know – I say, “You won’t believe the bull I had to endure today.”

Amber Appleton’s voice grabbed me from page one, and I was completely smitten. Despite being homeless – she and her mom are reduced to secretly living on the school bus Mom drives each day – Amber is not only resilient but full of hope and optimism. She spreads this hope around liberally – from her “freak” friends to a local nursing home – she’s “sorta like a rock star to these people.”

Then a horrific tragedy douses even Amber’s bright light. At this point in the novel, Amber’s voice goes nearly silent. Chapters are short and painful … contrasting harshly with the chatty, cheery flow of the earlier chapters. Brilliant work, author Quick!

The book received a starred review from School Library Journal, which called it “hugely enjoyable.”

This is one I will re-read.


BACKSEAT SAINTS, by Joshilyn Jackson

“It was an airport gypsy that told me I had to kill my husband.”

After a first line like that, would you be able to stop reading?

Not likely.

Jackson writes from the perspective of Rose Mae Lolley, a minor character in one of her previous novels (GODS IN ALABAMA). Rose Mae, a girl abandoned by her mother and battered by her father, has grown into Ro Grandee, a woman stuck in a stifling marriage to an abusive control-freak. After a chance encounter with a woman in an airport who reads Ro’s future in her Tarot cards – her husband will kill her unless she kills him first – Ro discovers that fierce Rose Mae is very much alive inside her. And Rose Mae is unwilling to succumb.

Tom Grandee, Ro’s violent husband, is truly monstrous … but Jackson doesn’t depict him as a flat, predictable character. In an early scene he does something so selfless that I almost cried. He’s horrible … but surprising. He spent the rest of the book more than making up for that one act with his vicious, paranoid behavior.

I listened to this on audiobook, so Rose Mae’s first person voice was literally in my ear, not just traveling from the page to my eyes to my brain. She’s sly and self-destructive and damaged and determined. She is the essence of a Survivor … but she is married to a man who is the essence of Brutality. Who will get to live?

Okay, that's it for today ... see you tomorrow.

Comments

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robinellen
Aug. 24th, 2010 03:09 pm (UTC)
Great book reviews :) I'm already on the lookout for Tara's, of course, but I'll have to look for the others, as well.
wordsrmylife
Aug. 24th, 2010 11:33 pm (UTC)
I so agree that voice is what makes a contemporary. In part I suspect it's because so often these novels are in first person. If it doesn't hook you, the book won't. But in the case of these three, it sounds like the hooks are solid. I'll be adding these to my tbr list.
sbennettwealer
Aug. 25th, 2010 03:35 am (UTC)
Great point, re: voice in contemporary realistic fiction!
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