[ISBC] June 2012: Looking for Alibrandi, Melina Marchetta

The “Inner Senshi Book Club” is an online book club where five book lovers of different backgrounds and tastes across the world take turns at selecting and hosting a book each month. Individually, we are (in alphabetical order): Aimee, Angel, Meghan, Samantha L, and Samantha R. Together, we present you a whole range of books, complete with our responses to a rotating list of set questions.

A new book is selected on the 15th of each month, and our thoughts are posted roughly four to five weeks later. We hope you can join us in our reading shenanigans! (The book club derives its name from the five soldiers of love and justice from the Japanese manga and anime series, Sailormoon. We are just as kickass, and if all goes to plan, twice as well-read.)

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For as long as Josephine Alibrandi can remember, it’s just been her, her mum, and her grandmother. Now it’s her final year at a wealthy Catholic high school. The nuns couldn’t be any stricter — but that doesn’t seem to stop all kinds of men from coming into her life.

Caught between the old-world values of her Italian grandmother, the no nonsense wisdom of her mum, and the boys who continue to mystify her, Josephine is on the ride of her life. This will be the year she falls in love, the year she discovers the secrets of her family’s past — and the year she sets herself free.

Can I just state from the get-go that I loved this book? Despite growing up on Aussie YA this is actually my first experience with Marchetta’s work. When I was in high school I read very little YA because I was too busy immersing myself in nineteenth-century literature. However, I have had Marchetta on my must read list since I was about fourteen, which is why I knew I had to pick her first novel as my first choice for our book club. Maybe it’s because I can relate so much to the characters in Aussie YA, but I’ve discovered over the years that I tend to adore Aussie YA above all over others because there is something distinctly different about them, something distinctly… well, Australian for lack of a better word. And I loved loved loved Looking for Alibrandi to pieces. (And yes, I can’t wait to finally be able to pick up the rest of her works now – I had been holding myself back until I read this one before reading any others.)

Josie reminded me so much of myself when I was in Year 12 and working towards my HSC. She is smart and spunky and stubborn, but she also whinges and whines, and fights with both her mother and grandmother, and to start with doesn’t really understand that she has responsibilities. As much as she promises herself at the beginning of the year that she’s going to be better, it can be pretty hard for any seventeen year old to really change (I know it was for me) without making some pretty big mistakes first. And I love that Marchetta lets Josie make those mistakes so that Josie can grow as a person. But even past the main character of Josie, all the other characters are so well developed. Josie’s family may be Italian, and Josie might be attending a private school (neither of which I’m familiar with: my dad’s family is Irish, my mum’s come from the bush, and I attended the local public school) but Marchetta writes her characters so well that I feel like I knew them. I could recognise the characters in different people that I’ve met my whole life.

And then there’s Josie’s relationship with both her mother and her grandmother. Marchetta handles the growth and development of these relationships so well. All three Alibrandi women are strong in their own right, and even stronger when they all finally learn to come together. I love that this book is so much about personal strength, and personal understanding, and that there are so many strong women in it, even past Josie, Christina and Katia. But I think I’ve rambled enough already and I haven’t even gotten to the discussion questions yet so I won’t go on any further (though I easily could).

Looking for Alibrandi is just brilliant. If you haven’t read it, then seriously, go find yourself a copy and read it, right now.

Onto the discussion questions! (There will probably be spoilers ahead, so be warned.)

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Reading: It Can Never Be Wrong

Earlier today, I read an interview with debut author Jess Rothenberg over at Mermaid Vision Books, in which she talks about a teacher she had years ago who thought Rothenberg should be reading more “sophisticated” books. Rothenberg states in her interview: “When I was ten or eleven, a teacher saw my summer reading list—packed with things like Sweet Valley High, The Babysitters Club, and plenty of classic stories by writers like Lois Lowry, Jean Craighead George, and Scott O’Dell—and made me promise I’d stop reading “those kinds of books.” I was pretty devastated, but did my best to put them aside in favor of more “sophisticated” (as she put it) reading.” (You can read the full interview here.)

It immediately reminded me of a similar incident from my childhood. When I was ten our class was asked to place on our desks the books that we were reading. I remember proudly pulling out my book to put on the corner of my desk. It didn’t matter to me that the girl who sat next to me had pulled out a book ten times the size of mine. At least, not until our teacher came around and compared the two books for the class. My friend S. was reading the right kind of book. I wasn’t.

Want to know what the books were? S. was reading Watership Down at the time. But mine was The Truth about Stacey, the third book in The Babysitter’s Club series.

I was hurt. And angry. Really, really angry. I can remember thinking, hey, at least I read. Which was more than I could say for a lot of the kids in my class at the time. And what really made me angry, though there was no way that I could have articulated the feeling at the time, was that I was being judged for what I chose to read, instead of being praised and encouraged for reading at all, outside of what I had to for school. My teacher wasn’t taking into account what else I may or may not be reading at home (which was a wide variety of things which included, but was not limited to, the Anne of Green Gables series, and the Goosebumps series). The assumption was that I should be reading something “better”.

But I refused to let Mr R.’s opinion sway me. I continued to read whatever I wanted to read, whether it was long or short, and regardless of whether it was considered to be “better” than other books. Less than two years later I jumped straight from The Babysitter’s Club to Jane Austen, not because Austen’s novels were considered to be “sophisticated” or “real literature”, but because I simply saw a book in a bookshop with a story in it that appealed to me as a reader.

In many ways I feel like I’m still facing the same issues now. I love YA. It’s probably my favourite area (at the moment anyway) to play around in. But being almost twenty-four years old, and an English major to boot, people in general think I should be reading something more “high-brow” than YA. Children’s fiction in general, and YA in particular, aren’t seen as being good enough. If you’re not a teenager anymore it’s expected that you should have moved onto books that are “better” and “more worthy”, simply because they’re written for adults. And this doesn’t just apply to YA either. The same can be said for people that enjoy romance novels and chick lit. If you’re not reading “proper literature”, then you’re not good enough.

But personally, I think it’s all just bull. Just like when I was ten, I still refuse to let other people’s opinions sway me when it comes to my reading choices.

So go ahead and read what you want to read, whether that be Middle Grade and Young Adult fiction as an adult, or tackling nineteenth-century literature at the age of twelve. Because reading, no matter what it is you’re reading, will never be wrong. And if someone tells you otherwise? Ignore them.

 

What about you? Have you ever been judged by what you chose to read, or experienced something similar? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

Book 10: City of Fallen Angels, Cassandra Clare

The Mortal War is over, and Clary Fray is back home in New York, excited about all the possibilities before her. She’s training to become a Shadowhunter and to use her unique power. Her mother is getting married to the love of her life. Downworlders and Shadowhunters are at peace at last. And—most important of all—Clary can finally call Jace her boyfriend.

But nothing comes without a price.

Someone is murdering the Shadowhunters who used to be in Valentine’s Circle, provoking tensions between Downworlders and Shadowhunters that could lead to a second bloody war. Clary’s best friend, Simon, can’t help her. His mother just found out he’s a vampire and now he’s homeless. Everywhere he turns, someone wants him on their side—along with the power of the curse wrecking his life. And they’re willing to do anything to get what they want. At the same time he’s dating two beautiful, dangerous girls—neither of whom knows about the other.

When Jace begins to pull away from Clary without explaining why, she is forced to delve into the heart of a mystery whose solution reveals her worst nightmare: She herself has set in motion a terrible chain of events that could lead to her losing everything she loves. Even Jace.

 

I loved the first three books in The Mortal Instruments series when I first read them – back when it was just a trilogy. So when I first heard that there would be a fourth book, I wasn’t really sure what to think. After all, the trilogy had come to end and, in my opinion at least, it was wrapped up really well. Everything had come together, and there weren’t really any loose ends. I was intrigued, and definitely wanted to read City of Fallen Angels, but I had no idea what to expect… except that I expected it to be brilliant.

Sadly, it wasn’t brilliant. I enjoyed it sure, but I didn’t love it. The main problem with it, I think, was that it felt like it didn’t need to be written. It felt more like continuing the story just for the sake of continuing, and not because there was more of the story left to be told.

Plus, there were the characters themselves. Is it wrong to say that all the characters seemed to be pale versions of themselves? None of them really seemed to live up to the dynamic, vibrant personalities that they had in the first three books. Except maybe Izzy. And Magnum. And then there was Simon’s love triangle which just felt wrong on so many levels – the main issue being that I found it hard to imagine Simon dating both girls at once, it seemed so unlike him. I wanted to constantly hit him over the head for stringing them both along the way he was.

Of course, Cassandra Clare still knows how to write a page-turner, as evidenced by the fact that I read the whole thing in one night. And I’ll continue to read the series because unfortunately Clare leaves City of Fallen Angels on a cliffhanger that I now need to know how it ends. So while I was left feeling dissatisfied with the book, I didn’t totally hate it, and I’m sure most Clare fans will enjoy it as well.

I simply question whether it was really necessary to continue Clary and Jace’s story at all.

 

Check out Cassandra Clare’s website or follow her on Twitter: @cassieclare. Or you can like her on Facebook.

You can check out City of Fallen Angels for yourself on Goodreads, or you can order it from Booktopia and Amazon.

 

Books left: 140

Days left: 401

Book 5: Darkness, Be My Friend, John Marsden

Ellie and her friends had been rescued. Airlifted out of their own country to the safe haven of New Zealand, they’d arrived burnt and injured and shocked, with broken bones, and scars inside and out. They did not want to go back. But five months later the war is not over, the nightmares continue, and there are two compelling reasons for them to return: a planned sabotage of the air base in Wirrawee and, most important, the families they left behind. In this most recent episode of the tale begun in Tomorrow, When the War Began and continued in The Dead of Night and A Killing Frost, John Marsden takes us back to Hell, the outpost for a group of teens in a war-ravaged country.

 

YA novels are termed that because that’s exactly who they’re aimed at – teenagers, young adults. But when I actually was a teenager I didn’t actually read that much YA. I can pretty much name them all on one hand: aside from what we had to read in English class, pretty much the only YA I was reading was Harry Potter, The Obernewtyn Chronicles, Jaclyn Moriarty’s books, and everything I could get my hands on by John Marsden. I’m sure there were others as well but I know there weren’t many. I was too busy reading big tomes from the 19th and early 20th centuries. I had pretty much jumped straight from still loving The Babysitters Club at age eleven to tackling Pride and Prejudice at age twelve. But one of the YA series that I did read religiously during my teen years was the Tomorrow series by John Marsden.

Darkness, Be My Friend is the fourth book in the series. Last year, the first book in the series, Tomorrow, When the War Began, was released as a movie and after seeing it, my love for this series was reignited. I came home and immediately started reading them again for the first time since I’d finished high school. 🙂 And I fell in love with the characters all over again.

In Darkness, Be My Friend the war has been going on for months, but for the last few Ellie and her friends have been recuperating and trying to regain some semblance of a normal life in New Zealand. But then they’re asked to go back into Australia, and that’s when all the dangers they had previously faced during this war come right back to their doorstep again. The characters are seriously the absolute best part of this series for me, and especially during this book, after they are (in reality, even if they don’t see it as such, since they’re not really given much choice) forced back to their hometown of Wirrawee.

Every character is very real to me, Ellie, Homer, Lee, Kevin, Fi, all of them. Every one of them have their strengths and their weaknesses. Where Ellie is strong and driven and brave, she can also be harsh and short-tempered and stubborn.

I just love everything about this book, and the series as a whole. John Marsden is a fantastic writer. I cannot urge people enough to read this novel (though I would suggest reading the three previous novels first ;)). I would recommend it to anyone and everyone. 😀

 

You can find out more about John Marsden and his books on his website.

Check out Darkness, Be My Friend on Goodreads, or you can order it from Booktopia and Amazon.

 

Books left: 145

Days left: 555

Book 3: Matched, Ally Condie

In the Society, Officials decide. Who you love. Where you work. When you die.

Cassia has always trusted their choices. It’s hardly any price to pay for a long life, the perfect job, the ideal mate. So when her best friend appears on the Matching screen, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is the one… until she sees another face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black. Now Cassia is faced with impossible choices: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she’s known and a path no one else has ever dared follow — between perfection and passion.

 

I’m going to start this by saying that I love dystopian novels. Some of my favourite books are the old, classic sci-fi dystopias: Brave New World, Farenheit 451 and 1984. As a result of this I tend to be hesitant when it comes to this new sort of wave of YA Dystopia that seems to have sprung up over the last couple of years. I almost feel like I want to be assured that any I try will be fantastic. I didn’t try The Hunger Games series until the third book had been released. Of course, as soon as I started those I read all three books in one weekend.

So yeah, you can say I was hesitant about Matched. But that was only until I cracked open my copy and read the first page. Then I was hooked. Completely hooked.

There is so much about this story that grabbed me. The Society. Cassia. Her family. All of these were major highlights for the novel. Most especially the Society. The way the Society keeps control of everyone and every aspect of their lives really freaked me out. Which is how I know a dystopian novel is truly fantastic, if the idea of the world truly turning out this way scares me.

The only downside I really saw to it was the love triangle. Although granted I’m not sure if it’s even meant to be a love traingle at all, I’m not quite sure. But maybe that’s just because I felt like Xander was kind of sidelined for the most part. I don’t know, maybe that’s just me…

The last thing I need to mention is the cover. The design is beautiful. I know the old adage is that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but as a girl who studied Fine Arts before deciding to transfer to English, a well-designed cover will always get me in. The girl in the green dress trapped inside her bubble beautifully represents everything in the novel itself. It’s just, so perfect. 🙂

Am very much looking forward to the sequel, Crossed, being released in November. 🙂

 

You can check out Ally Condie’s website and the official Matched website, or you can follow her on Twitter: @allycondie

Check out Matched on Goodreads, or you can order it from Booktopia and Amazon.

 

Books left: 147

Days left: 561