Tag Archives: Young Adults

BOOK Review: Looking For Alaska – John Green

Looking for AlaskaLooking for Alaska by John Green

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My first John Green was ‘The Fault in Our Stars‘ which I came to reluctantly, assuming it would be soppy and shoddily written. I was wrong. Falling in love with that book led me to rush out and buy ‘Paper Towns‘. And that was a HUGE letdown (with a great title). I also bought ‘Looking for Alaska‘ but after ‘Paper Towns‘, I put it away, my taste for John Green’s neurotic teenagers soured.

I picked it up again this week, meaning to clear my unread shelf and we’re back in love. Just like ‘Paper Towns‘, the heroine of this novel is self-absorbed, flaky, impulsive and just plain bad for you. But unlike in that one, she’s glorified a little less and the protagonists are a bit more self-aware of how destructive she is for them.

The ending (or should I call it the middle, since the book is roughly split into Before, During and After) is a shock in a good way because it makes you realise just how much you care about the characters. The lines are funny and then tragic but always poignant in that teenage way where everything is intense but also true. The plot transitions smoothly too even if it takes awhile to get started.

John Green’s writing is warm and intimate and makes you feel close to the situations and characters even if you don’t like them or relate to them much.

I don’t know what went wrong with ‘Paper Towns‘ but ‘Looking for Alaska‘ gets it right in all the ways that ‘The Fault in Our Stars‘ did. If you liked the latter, you’ll definitely like this one. I’d even go so far to say this is the better book, because it manages to touch you without all the cancer melodrama of TFIOS. Skip ‘Paper Towns‘, move right on to Alaska and the stars.

View all my reviews

Bad Houses: Sara Ryan – Failin Times

Bad HousesBad Houses by Sara Ryan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A mournful story about several defeated folks in a town that’s aptly named ‘Failin’. Cat & Lewis run Matchless Estate Sales, a service that cleans out houses (for people who don’t want to do it themselves) by selling every item in the houses. There is already an undertone of melancholia to a job that essentially cremates old homes, taking care of the messy details that no one else wants to touch. Then there are the estate sales fanatics who will bid on the lottery draw of an unopened storage space and hide objects of value so they can come back on the half-price day to claim them. Anna Cole inhabits these sales, seeking scraps of leftover warmth, for reprieve from her own dysfunctional family. How these two families meet, bruise each others’ lives and finally resolve is the story of Bad Houses. I liked the artwork but the character’s faces got a little confusing, especially since there was a mini storyline from the past, embedded right in the middle. A decent story overall, if only nothing new.

I got this book from NetGalley.

View all my reviews

Sept Shorts03: Mehtavian Maths

Young Adults fiction & Tween fiction are categories I still enjoy. These are the genres that sustained my love of reading and delivered me into the lifelong love affair with books. Here’s my first attempt at a short story for young readers.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

“Nasreen Shaekh!”

Mehta ma’am…no, her voice, ricocheted off the classroom walls, like bricks.

“Yes’m”

Shaniya squealed, in a fake voice, just as another voice rang out clearly,

“Present, teacher!”

The class giggled, holding up their textbooks in front of their faces. Mehta ma’am looked up, suspiciously. Her eyebrows pressed into the bridge of her spectacles, forming an angle as sharp as an arrowhead.

“Nasreen?”

she repeated, her cautious snarl hanging in the air, waiting to settle on its victim.

Nasreen stood up and said her PresentTeacher again. The Mehtavian unibrow reached its pinnacle. Then it flattened as she moved on to Nilesh Shah. Nasreen hissed ‘You idiot!’ in her direction and sat down. Shaniya’s cheeks flushed. She hadn’t even realized that Nasreen had come to class. That’s why she had attempted to give a proxy attendance for the first time in her life. On top of that to risk it in Mehta ma’am’s class….she would only have done that for Nasreen! They were best friends and partners, after all. Why would she call her Idiot?

Her gaze shifted to Nasreen and the group sitting with her. They were smirking while Nasreen muttered something only they could hear. The blood drained from Shaniya’s cheeks. She looked at the friendship band still brightly coloured, on her wrist. She was very fond of it and made sure it didn’t look raggedy the way friendship bands got after awhile. Nasreen had an identical one but Shaniya could see she wasn’t wearing it now. Her eyes prickled but she sucked her breath in and held it till the surge subsided. She wouldn’t let those awful girls get the satisfaction of seeing her cry!!

The attendance taken, Mehta ma’am picked up the textbook. Shaniya opened her exercise book. Seeing her homework ready and correct (she knew it was!), made her feel a little better. Maths was her strongest subject. So she had never had to endure the Mehtavian unibrow, which routinely pointed at weaker students and tore into them like a giant claw.

“Children, have you done your homework?”

Mehta ma’am demanded.

class room

class room (Photo credit: yewenyi)

Shaniya turned the pages of her book, waiting. She wanted to smile smugly at the group that had laughed. She would have all the right to!! No doubt, most of them wouldn’t have done the homework. And those who had, would have gotten most of them wrong. But she kept her eyes on her book. The unibrow jutted towards the third row. Ravi, its intended victim, shriveled under the force of Mehtavianism. While he was under fire, Shaniya felt the desk shift and turned to find Nasreen back in her seat. What was this now?? She stared but she didn’t dare ask, while the unibrow was still on fire.

They did the rest of their sums in silence as Mehta ma’am raked the rows, poking holes into their classmates, left, right and center. The neighboring row all got a unibrow attack. By the time she reached the group that Nasreen had left behind, it had turned into the Terminator.

Mehta ma’am was even more diabolical than Shastry sir who exploded even more often than the chemicals in his laboratory! BOOM! PACHAK!! Chemistry was always like that. But Maths was unpredictable. You could never tell what Mehta ma’am would do. Today was extra horrible. Three students (all of those who smirked when Nasreen glared at Shaniya) were sent to the princi’s office. Two were made to stand next to the blackboard on one foot (Each student on a foot, not two people on one foot).

Shaniya sneaked a look at Nasreen’s book, while Nasreen’s back was turned, watching the explosion in horror. Nasreen had many of her sums wrong!! But Shaniya had no time to warn her, before Mehta ma’am turned into their row. The unibrow was much flatter and the Mehtavian breathing smoother as she approached.

Nasreen was sitting next to the aisle so it was her turn first. She stood up and began to read her answers out. Shaniya could see the unibrow getting pointier and pointier. By sum 4, Nasreen panicked and paused. Shaniya knew she was trying to look into her book. But instead of moving it slowly her way, she looked up. Nasreen caught the full blast of the Shaniya scowl (as it would come to be known). She stammered and lost her place. Still, Mehta ma’am didn’t say anything (Shaniya had been expecting a punishment by this time). She suddenly realized that the teacher wasn’t paying attention. So Shaniya began mumbling the answers instead. Nasreen started to repeat those answers instead of the ones in her own book (everyone knew Shaniya’s would be the right ones).

“270 degrees….Angle a and Angle b….7 cm…”

At sum 10, Shaniya closed her book. Nasreen, repeating the prompted answers continued,

“Corresponding angles…..45 degrees…Line YouIdiot.”

The unibrow turned into a dragon (no, it didn’t really). But Mehta ma’am’s screaming voice was heard for the first time in that class. And Nasreen Shaekh got to be sent to the princi’s office. As Mehta ma’am said, no one had ever dared to call a teacher an idiot before!! Shaniya smiled to herself as she shut her exercise book (with all correct answers). Mehtavian Maths was her best subject.

The 3 Investigators and the Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot: The Perfect Mystery!

The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot (Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators, #2)The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot by Robert Arthur
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Three Investigators, for the uninitiated are a trio of teenage boys who solve mysteries. This series addresses the same audience as that of The Hardy Boys & Nancy Drew but I’d like to think the 3 Investigators books are a lot smarter and more about the brainpower than the action sequences of the other two. Their cases contain are more code-breaking and puzzle-solving than car chases and following suspects.

This is my favorite book in the entire series (already a great one – I never met a 3 Investigators book that I didn’t like). The boys are sent to track down a missing parrot called Billy Shakespeare. This innocuous case leads into a much bigger puzzle. For starters, why would anybody deliberately teach a parrot to stutter? What is with the fancy names (Little Bo-Peep, Blackbeard, Long John Silver to name a few of the other birds in the trail)? And what do these have to do with the notorious French art thief, Hugenay?

The puzzle-in-parrots format stayed with me through the years since I read this book as a child. Of course, regular 3 Investigator features like hidden passages to Headquarters (“Red Rover, come over”), the Ghost-to-Ghost hookup and colourful question marks pop up all over the place in this book. Read it even if you’re an adult and love puzzles, mysteries and code-breaking.

View all my reviews

Friends Of Books 1: 10 Great Vacation Reads For Children

Remember the Bournvita Quiz contest with Derek O’ Brien with its jingle that went ‘Ba-ba-luba-ba-ba-books-books-BOOKS!’?

Much of a person’s attitude to reading depends on the books they’ve experienced, especially early in life. I was fortunate enough to meet a number of stories, early in my childhood. I think the best thing my parents ever did for me was to surround me with a lot of books. They opened up my mind, shaped my thinking and in general, made me a
better person.

I’m sharing ten of my most cherished memories from childhood reading in my first post over at Friends of Books. If you’ve loved books too or have a child who does, leave a comment telling me about your favorite books too!

Click here to read ‘10 Great Vacation Reads For Children’ at Friends of Books.

————————————————————————————————————————————

1. One Thousand And One Nights:

A Sultan believing that all women are unfaithful, takes a new wife each night and has her executed the following morning. One of these wives, is Scheherazade, the daughter of his Vazir, who offers to entertain him by telling him a story. Her tale intrigues him enough to pardon her for another night,provided she has another story to tell. And thus begins a ritual where each story buys Scheherazade another day of life. When she finally runs out of stories, nearly three years later, the Sultan pardons her and installs her as his queen. Scheherazade’s stories are compiled as Alif Laila, more popularly known as the Arabian Nights. The collection includes classics like Ali Baba, Aladdin and Sindbad. I was also intrigued by stories of the wise Caliph of Baghdad, simple-minded Abu Sir and his greedy friend Abu Kir and several others. Any child really should be introduced to the colourful, exotic world of the Arabian Nights.

2. The Just So stories – Rudyard Kipling

I received this short story collection as a gift and I assumed that it had been given to me as ‘meaningful reading’. So I was pleasantly surprised to find it full of nuggets like ‘How the leopard got his spots’, ‘How the camel got his hump’, ‘How the alphabet was made’ and ‘The butterfly that stamped’. What’s more, the book was interspersed with beautiful illustrations of the stories. Each picture was accompanied by a caption, half a page long, which described the picture but also a conspiratorial note from the author on why he drew it in a certain way, what he was thinking and where the pencil slipped, causing mistakes. This last will tickle children who are constantly dodging the perfect world of adult admonitions to ‘stay within the lines’.

3. Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne – Upendrakishore Roychoudhury

Upendrakishore Roychoudhury created the tale of two struggling musicians, ostracized because their music annoys everyone else to distraction. Goopy Gyne and Bagha Byne, have since crept into contemporary folklore through songs and dramatic enactments of their stories. Roychoudhury’s vibrant story was later made into a film by his grandson, the noted film-maker, Satyajit Ray. I found an English translation of this book, well into my adult years but I immensely enjoyed
meeting Goopy and Bagha.

4. Swami and Friends – R K Narayan

R K Narayan’s tales of a quaint, fictitious little town called Malgudi situated on the banks of the Cauvery river have charmed Indian audiences for many years. Those who grew up in the 80s will remember the television series based on Malgudi Days (featuring Anant Nag). Swami, one of the most popular characters of R K Narayan’s quaint universe, is a 10-year-old boy growing up in British Raj India. He dodges bullies in the school playground, leaves a special offering to God before his examinations, listens to his grandmother’s stories and tries to avoid school and his father’s scolding. Even with the historical setting, Swami’s endearing antics make his stories relatable and thoroughly enjoyable.

5. The Wind In The Willows – Kenneth Grahame

A serious Badger, an earnest Mole, a laidback Rat and a troublesome but lovable Toad are the four characters that make up this funny story of friends. Toad is the richest of the four and most inclined to fall into problems but never learn from them. The other three embark on a quest, led by Badger, to reform Toad of his bratty ways. It’s usually a young children’s book that uses animals as key characters. However the characters, their relationships, conversations and the episodes in their lives are so human that this story is extremely relatable, not to mention entertaining for much older readers.

6. Heidi – Johanna Spyri

From the Swiss Alps, comes the story of Heidi, a five-year-old girl left in the care of her gruff grandfather. The early chapters of Heidi depict rural life as seen through the eyes of a child. Later, Heidi is taken to Frankfurt to be a companion to a rich, crippled girl called Klara. Heidi grows to love Klara but struggles with the city life, so different from her past. Eventually she returns to her home, her grandfather and her shepherd friend, Peter. Heidi is a simple tale of childhood, of friendship, of fear and loss. The beautiful descriptions of the mountains of Switzerland and the bustle of European cities leave the reader spellbound.

7. Tom Sawyer – Mark Twain

Whether you read this in original or an abridged pocket book (like I did), Tom Sawyer’s antics will appeal to the little rascal in every one of us. The most famous anecdote in this young scamp’s story involves Tom convincing other boys to pay him (in sweets, marbles, knobs, dead insects and other objects of strange curiosity to the boy-child) for the honor of doing his chores – painting the house fence. Tom is constantly in trouble with his strict (and harried) aunt, resents his good-boy brother, falls in love with the new girl in town, defies the town convention by befriending social outcast Huckleberry Finn (who has a book of his own), fakes his death and does everything and anything that a naughty boy possibly could.

8. Tales Of A Fourth Grade Nothing – Judy Blume

Judy Blume writes some of the most popular books for young people today. Her stories are set in urban/suburban America but have a certain universal appeal because the stories are about sibling rivalry, playground bullies, school problems and adolescent friendships. Peter Warren is the narrator of all the ‘Fudge’ books. In Tales Of A Fourth Grade Nothing, we meet nine-year-old Peter who lives in New York City with his parents and his younger brother ‘Fudge’ (who Peter says is his biggest problem). Fudge swallows Peter’s turtle, ruins his school project, misbehaves in public and embarrasses Peter. Anybody who has ever had a sibling will relate to Peter’s troubles and love how he approaches life.

9. Pippi Longstocking – Astrid Lindgren

I met Pippi in an excerpt in the Childcraft books. I must have been roughly nine (Pippi’s age) and my mind was instantly filled with visions of living in a mansion by myself and having a horse on the back porch just like the young heroine herself. Pippi loses her mother at birth and then her father, a ship captain is lost at sea. He leaves her a suitcase full of gold coins, a monkey named Mr.Nelson and shoes twice her size, for her to grow into. Pippi is also the strongest girl in the world so she can lift her horse into the dining room when she feels like company, defeat the strong man in the circus and do many other wonderful things. But Pippi having spent most of her life at sea, is unfamiliar with local norms and social customs. A comedy of errors ensues; her adventures followed by her neighbors Tommy and Anika. The high-spirited Pippi is part super heroine and part comic relief in her own story which will appeal to young readers of both sexes.

10. The Little Prince – Antonie St.Exupery

My sole saving grace about the start of school, was a new English textbook. Among the many memorable stories, I was captivated by a young artist who drew a picture of a elephant inside a boa constrictor, which was mistaken for a hat by the adults. Years later, I worked with the college magazine. Its editor, the Literature professor gifted me this book for my efforts. When I turned the page, sure enough there was the picture of the elephant within a boa constrictor. In the story, the child artist becomes a pilot who, on crashing into a desert, meets a solemn lad who demands that he draw him a sheep. The Little Prince goes on to regale the author with stories of his own life on a tiny planet with three volcanoes (which he cleans out meticulously every day), baobab trees and a single rose. The Little Prince is a class fairytale, layered with many meanings. Read it as a child and enjoy the sunset world of the Prince. Or read it as an adult when you need a little perspective on life, love and inspiration.

Annie-Mal & A Girl Called Chris

While every day brings new books, every visit to the bookstore results in a fresh wave of delight, I’m drawn to my memories of certain books that once possessed me. Every book has a story and is also part of another story, its relationship with the reader. How can I possibly express what I feel about a book, unless I tell you how and why it happened to me?
I picked up Marg Nelson’s A Girl Called Chris at the raddiwalla. (I refrain from preceding that with ‘friendly neighborhood’ owing to the fact that he once hit on me). It had a plain white cover with an image on the bottom-left corner which on scrutiny revealed itself to be a sort of modern artsy rendition of a girl in colourful slacks slouching as if in a corner.

The story was simple but rather extraordinary. A young girl who has just finished school and doesn’t have money for the college she wants after losing her father. In search of employment, she lands up – in all places – a cannery. And amidst stuffing tuna fish into cans, she finds friendship, resolution, love, confidence and some life lessons. It was a sweet coming-of-age story and it was perfect because I was about the same age as the protagonist (a girl called Chris) when I read it.

The year I turned seventeen, my mother was hospitalized after a long illness. She was under care for nearly three weeks and then recuperating for another two months. Caring for her was more than a fulltime job and we struggled to handle it. Tempers were short and I was at the depth of my own adolescent angst. It was a dark, heavy period in my life. The monsoons were particularly heavy that year, our phone line kept going down and we didn’t have household help. In sum, while my father ran from doctor to lab to hospital, I struggled to manage housework, groceries and cooking, the biggest bane of them all. I think my fear of the kitchen came from that time since my early experiences are tinged irrevocably with a sense of dread, fear and worry.

I’d have my lunch at college and then get to the hospital to wait till 4pm for visiting hours. Patients were only allowed one accompanying person and my father or grandmother would be by her side. I remember one particular day when I got to the hospital a half-hour early. I sat down on a bench in the little patch of grass facing the building. And then it started to rain. I had forgotten my windcheater in class that day. There was nowhere else to shelter. So I sat under the tree, not flinching from the water, almost grateful for the cold drops that covered me from head to toe. It was one of the few times I felt something and something that didn’t hurt.

Once inside, I would sit with my mother for about an hour. Then when she had other visitors, I’d walk around the hospital, especially the pediatrics ward, hoping the freshness of that place would lift my mood. Most days it did. Except when, after days of watching an incubator baby, I found it empty and the child’s mother, an omnipresent feature next to it, gone as well. One dead and the other, who knows where?

I turned my footsteps in the opposite direction for the rest of my mother’s stay in the hospital. One day a young girl dressed like a patient in hospital white entered mum’s room and backed out immediately with a worried expression on her face. I saw her sitting at the nurses station often after that and even the surly nurses would be smiling as they spoke to her. One day I smiled at her and thereafter we’d chat everyday.

Annie was from London, she said. She was two years older than I was. She had had several boyfriends though ‘none lasted beyond a week or two’, she admitted with a rueful grin. Her parents called her ‘Anne-molle’ (Malayalam for little girl) and her brother called her Annie-mal. Sometimes I’d see her pirouetting or turning circles with a solemn expression, in front of the wall mirror in the nurses station. She said she had taken ballet lessons and was practicing.

I was clutching A Girl Called Chris one evening, having finished the last pages as I sat in the visitors lobby waiting for her. She came and sat down next to me and took it from my hands without a word and turned it over. When we finished our chat and got up, she took it with her.

Mum and grandmother who saw her through most of the day hours thought she was slightly ‘off’ in the head. Nurses’ gossip later brought in the news that she had been assaulted by her father and had run away from home.

The day my mother was discharged, I took a round tour of the hospital again, with even a shuddering glance at the pediatric ward. And at the end of it, as a special occasion, I went to Annie’s room. She was sitting on the bed, talking to one of the nurses as she nodded in my direction. I waited for a pause in the conversation then told her that I was leaving. She got up, came over and hugged me, an action that surprised me since I wasn’t used to physical affection with my friends. Then I asked her for the book. She looked puzzled and then she seemed to remember. She looked under her bed and on the table and then told me blankly that she couldn’t find it. No problem, I shrugged and told her to take care of herself.

I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me to ask her for her contact details. Or to visit her in the hospital later. I liked her. Perhaps I was a little scared of what I had heard about her past, even though she had never discussed it with me. But most likely I was just frozen into a suspended state of being and couldn’t feel anything human for a long time after that.

I never forgot Annie though. I miss my book also but I can’t think of it without also remembering Annie. And for what little it is worth, perhaps the spark of joy that the story brings is worth more to her than to me.

~O~O~O~O~O~

Marg Nelson’s A Girl Called Chris doesn’t seem to be well-known as its one Amazon entry doesn’t even have an accompanying image of the cover. I did find an entry on GoodReads with an image though it’s not the one that was on my book. I’d really love to read this book again so if any of you knows where I can find a copy, please do get in touch.

%d bloggers like this: