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Rev: “The Only Boy” (2013) Loses Rhythm in POV Transitions

In Books/Authors, Pop Culture! on May 8, 2014 at 5:00 pm

Writing itself is a practiced craft, and we only we expand our skills through trial, error and critique.  Still, stories are incredibly personal to the writer. It took me so long to write this post because, honestly, I hate giving negative reviews.  Few things in this world are worse than disliking a book, and one of them is receiving a negative feedback.  Criticism stings.

“The Only Boy” by Jordan Locke is a story that could have been good but never got the chance.  Set an indeterminate time after disease wipes out the world’s male population, it’s a strange place where doctors genetically create children but still rely on scavenged food rations to eat.

The novel follows two teens – Mary, a curious girl with authority issues, and Taylor, the lanky boy hiding in a world of women – as they defy authority and fall in love.

Except the romance doesn’t convince. Their relationship seems to stem from the idea that Taylor is a boy rather than from their chemistry. In fact, Mary and Taylor’s interactions lack depth.  They spend most of the book bickering, storming off and pining for each other rather than, you know, actually communicating.

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“Why do I love you?” “I don’t know. We literally just met.”

Some of the problem lies with the perspective and narrative structure.  One of the perks of writing in first person is that the author can get inside the characters’ heads, building world views and a depth of feeling necessary for the story.  Readers get access to character motives in a way third person doesn’t allow.

Proper use of first person is especially important if the plot is driven by a character’s interior motives or if the overall premise is weak.  “Divergent” by Veronica Roth is a memorable YA novel because Roth uses first person storytelling to capture Tris’s thoughts and character development, not because the overall premise makes sense.

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Locke wrote the novel in multiple first person, a tricky but manageable POV.  However, rather than using viewpoint to explore the main characters’ interior lives and motives over the course of events, Locke transitioned POV when tension within the scene built.  The effect throws Mary and Taylor into an unfortunate action-before-motive loop, making their decisions seem impulsive and childish (until the halfway point, I guessed their ages at 11-13 instead of 16-17).  Consequently, the reader has trouble following the story and a harder time suspending disbelief.

A plot revolving around deadly disease requires considerate world-building, which begs the question why I found myself halfway through the novel before learning important details such as the ages of the main characters.  As the facts continued to elude me, I was left without a clear understanding of the setting or history.  How does the disease work?  How long ago was the outbreak?  What are the Sections?  Where is the story set? And, seriously, why can they design children in tubes but not grow their own vegetables?

The actual impetus for overthrowing the Matriarch’s authority comes too late and too lightly for me to get on board.  Why would I justify a regime change because a couple rebellious teens disagreed with the rules, especially after I spent most of the book questioning their judgment and rash behavior?

Rating:  2 Stars

Favorite Character:  The old lady in the rocking chair

Top Reasons to Read:  It helps you understand first person narrative structure and scene transitions

Review: The Maze Runner (2009)

In Books/Authors on March 13, 2014 at 7:45 pm

Thomas awakes alone, frightened and clueless in a dark elevator.  When it reaches its summit, he is hauled out of darkness and finds himself in a large courtyard at the center of a maze along with 40 other boys.

None of the boys know how or why they entered the Maze.  They receive regular shipments from the dark elevator and live on a regimented schedule.  In the Maze, the world runs like clockwork. Then, the day after Thomas arrives the elevator sends up another person – a girl named Teresa – and the boys realize that everything’s about to change.

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James Dashner’s fast-paced style draws the reader in with the first sentence: He began his new life standing up, surrounded by cold darkness and stale, dusty air.

At first glance, the world-building is intriguing because we arrive as innocent as Thomas and learn alongside him.  We are meant to ask his questions, Where are we? Why are we here? What is here?  At first, the questions are fun.

Here’s the problem with maintaining that perspective for an entire novel:  it’s irritating to be clueless. The novel itself provides no back story until almost the final chapter, and we never get an idea of who the Creators are – or how the Maze works.  Without this information, it’s impossible to tell where to invest your emotions.

Obviously, we sympathize with Thomas because he’s the narrator and he’s special somehow.  We largely sympathize with the other boys because they are trapped in a giant Maze under constant threat of attack.   But we have no reason to care about the world beyond the Maze because we don’t experience it until the end of the book.  The suspense falls flat.

The Maze Runner leaves other questions unanswered, too.  I mean, what is Teresa’s purpose if not to do a task Thomas himself could have done a day previously? At another point in the novel Thomas struggles with returning memories that tell him he helped design the Maze.  His guilt is shrugged off because “it doesn’t matter.”  It might not matter as a moral point to the boys in the Maze, but it matters from a conflict-resolution point of view.  The action conflict in The Maze Runner is engaging, but the resolution is loosely written or ignored altogether.

I felt misled by the title.  The Maze Runner evokes mythic imagery of Theseus venturing into the labyrinth.  The reality is less impressive and misleading.  It implies that, like Theseus, Thomas will solve the Maze, but while his job as a Maze Runner influences his relationships, it has little bearing on the plot.

Rating: 2.5 Stars

Should I buy it?  I’ll send you my copy for free if you pay shipping

Favorite Character: Newt

Favorite Quote:  “But there was something about the largest object in the solar system vanishing that tended to disrupt normal schedules.”

Cool News:  The Maze Runner is being adapted into a movie starring Dylan O’Brien, who plays Stiles Stilinski in the MTV show Teen Wolf.  O’Brien is a talented actor, and if the ensemble cast comes together with the same cooperative attitude as Dashner evoked in the book, it’s going to be quality.  The movie is expected to release Aug. 13, 2014.

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Review: Brother Odd (2006)

In Books/Authors, Pop Culture! on February 28, 2014 at 9:25 am

The forces of pride and humility clash in Dean Koontz’s third Odd Thomas novel.

brother odd review, dean koontz odd thomas, odd thomas books, odd thomas monastery, brother odd thomas,On retreat at St. Bartholomew’s Abbey high in the Sierra Mountains, Odd Thomas’s gift won’t allow him to escape his problems for long. On the eve of a snowstorm, Odd spots a bodach slinking through the night. With a sense of impending doom, he rushes to investigate the bodach’s destination and prevent the disaster its presence implies.

Within minutes of the bodach sighting, Odd trips over a body in the snow and is attacked from behind. Later, he sees an unnatural bone-creature and learns the destructive monsters are somehow attracted to Jacob, a boy with Down’s Syndrome living at the Abbey’s orphanage. With bodachs gathering by the minute, Odd races to protect the children at the orphanage and find a connection between the boy and the bone-creatures who want him dead.

Koontz uses Odd Thomas to point out the unassuming nature of humility while he explores pride’s insidious influence over otherwise good people. From the bone-creatures, which are literally the poisonous product of pride, to the Abbey itself, Koontz crafted plot and setting to highlight the humility’s struggle to overcome the destructive nature of pride.

“The world is beautiful and glorious. Humanity can be mean, and turn away from what’s good.”

 Brother Odd shows a view of religious life that emphasizes how the power of true humility conquers pride. Despite varying backgrounds, the monks and nuns at St. Bartholomew’s Abbey received the same calling to sacrifice themselves in order to help others. One of the most prominent characters of the book, Brother “Knuckles”, was an enforcer for a crime family before a children’s book humbled him.

People from all walks of life are called to God. While “Knuckles” is proof that anyone can change if their heart is sincere, every character in Brother Odd has a conversion story. Including this aspect, which is a real part of consecrated and non-consecrated religious life, grounds the characters. Showing a realistic portrayal of the faith life, the monks and nuns of Brother Odd are not placed on pedestals; they are flawed humans who strive to be saints.

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Brother Odd is almost a rest stop in Odd’s psychic journey that was established in Odd Thomas and expanded upon in Forever Odd. The third novel removes the protagonist from his comfort zone and introduces him to an entirely new experience. With new scenery, new friends and new ghostly companions introduced throughout, Brother Odd builds toward the next book in the series, Odd Hours, with promises of greater adventures and a higher purpose.

Rating: 5 Stars

Favorite Character: Brother Knuckles

Favorite Quote: “When we hope, we usually hope for the wrong thing.”

Most Chilling Quote:  “Loop me in, odd one.”

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