On “The Bermudez Triangle” by Maureen Johnson

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So I finally got around to making a dent in the YA books I told you about. Several Maureen Johnson books are tucked in there, and I’ve really been looking forward to reading them. I got turned onto her books by a colleague at my college newspaper who interviewed her for an article; fun fact: she’s an alumna of the University of Delaware. (Go Hens!)

I wanted to start near the beginning of her canon, which is quite a lot bigger than I thought it was; I pulled as many as I could from my local library, and decided to begin with The Bermudez Triangle, which has since been renamed On the Count of Three.

The story follows three friends who have been inseparable since they were children. During the summer before their senior year, Nina attends a leadership camp at Stanford where she falls in love with an eco-warrior named Steve who seems perfect in every way. Meanwhile, her best friends, Avery, the witty, musically talented firebrand of the group, and Mel, the shy one, fall in love. When Nina returns and discovers the newly formed romance, it seems that the Bermudez triangle might not last through senior year.

For the most part, I enjoyed this book. Johnson is the type of writer who makes the story seem effortless, I think, in part, because of her humor. She makes her characters’ personalities and situations genuinely relatable, and I found myself rooting for and disapproving of each character in cycles as the novel progressed.

According to Johnson’s website (see link above), this book has been challenged in Oklahoma and Florida for its positive portrayal of a homosexual relationship. All the more reason to read it, no? It was published in 2004, a few years before gay marriage was legalized and reemerged as a popular topic of discussion in popular culture.

Since Johnson’s book predates this massive discussion and diffusion into mainstream culture, I was impressed with the way she developed Mel and Avery’s relationship. It’s an interesting, if cursory, study of how deep friendship between two people of the same sex can turn into romance. I loved that the sexuality of both characters was not cut and dry; Mel is a lesbian, and Avery simply falls in love with her friend.

I also appreciated the other romantic dynamics that developed over the course of the novel. The thing with Nina and Steve was spot on, but I HATED that she was even considering the idea of getting back with him at the end. If you readers haven’t seen/read He’s Just Not That Into You

, do it ASAP. She needed to kick him to the curb because at the age of 17/18, sorry isn’t good enough. Find someone better. Or don’t. Just don’t go back to the hippie-boy who couldn’t make time to call or write and ended up cheating on you.

You could say I have some personal experience on that front. Don’t we all?

ANYWAY, I’ll get off my soap box now.

I would recommend this for people interested in reading more LGBTQ fiction because, as I said, I think it does a great job of exploring fluid sexuality and coming out to one’s family. In all other aspects of the YA arena, The Bermudez Triangle didn’t break the mold. But it’s enjoyable. I knocked it out in a couple days.

Happy reading!

On Rick Riordan’s “The Lightning Thief”

Photo courtesy of Goodreads.com

You could say I’m a little late to the game when it comes to reading Rick Riordan‘s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. What can I say? I was all about the A Series of Unfortunate Events books back in my day. Alas, the only reason I’m reading them now is because a friend and I have started a snail mail book club. The book she’s sent me is related to the Percy Jackson books, and she insists that I read the original series first.

To be clear, I love children’s and young adult literature. I believe both Maurice Sendak and John Green have, at different points and under different circumstances, asserted that a good book is a good book no matter the intended age demographic. But I never thought I would be interested in Riordan’s books. If they didn’t appeal to me as a kid, I was certain I wouldn’t like them now.

Turns out, they are so worth reading no matter how old you are.

The Percy Jackson series is considered classic children’s literature now; it’s in a canon that includes Harry Potter, His Dark Materials, and Judy Blume’s books. All these novels have stood the test of time, and a place on the list for these books is well deserved. I honestly expected to have a hard time getting through the book, though. But I found no hint of juvenilia.

The Lightning Thief shows that the best books for children do not contain language and themes specifically designed for children. They contain the same language and themes that are true and realistic for people in all walks of life. Like Harry Potter and Lyra Belacqua, Percy Jackson knows much more of life than he should at the age of twelve. And I haven’t read another children’s book that deals with ADHD and dyslexia in a constructive and creative way. (Though I’m sure there other novels out there that do.)

The thing that compels me the most about children’s books is the depiction of rage in young children. Many books I read when I was the same age as these protagonists did nothing to reflect the burning anger that built inside me because of issues in my family. I found an outlet in music. So it was refreshing to encounter a book that I know many children at that age will relate to. Nevertheless, Riordan manages to characterize this angst with a great sense of humor, which is one of the book’s greatest assets; it never takes itself too seriously.

I’m happy to say that I get to spend my evenings reading books at home, and I have a huge stack to get through, but I plan to make room for Percy’s next adventure in The Sea of Monsters.

Happy Reading!

On “The Guineveres” by Sarah Domet

Photo courtesy of Amazon.com

This review appears on paperbackparis.com:

I don’t want to mince words when it comes to this book; The Guineveres was beautifully written. Sarah Domet possesses the envious ability to produce pristine and controlled prose that—at many points in this story—turn the mundane beautiful.

It was the story itself that left me feeling lukewarm throughout the book. That’s not to say it was bad. In fact, it was sturdy and competent; Domet’s writing served it well. But it did nothing to grasp my attention in the ways I thought it might.

I decided to read The Guineveres because one reviewer compared it to Jeffrey EugenidesThe Virgin Suicidesone of my favorite books. Here’s an important lesson: Don’t put faith in those comparisons. I would say the only similarities between the latter and Domet’s novel is the fact that four girls stand at the center of each their narratives; and that various religious elements are present in both. As a coming-of-age story, though, The Guineveres is decidedly better than most.

Domet does an excellent job of developing each girl’s personality. Vere, the novel’s narrator, Win, Ginny, and Gwen complement each other and influence the group’s actions in distinct ways. As the novel reaches its climax, the reader understands almost instinctively how things will start to fall apart once the girls start going their separate ways.

However, there were a few elements of the story that prevented me from connecting with it the way the author probably intended. The four comatose soldiers become an integral part of the plot—a way for the Guineveres to escape the convent. This plot convention rests on the naivete of these 15-year-old girls, something that I grew impatient with. The girls believe the soldiers will wake up, and then they will be allowed to go home with them.

Their hope and faith (of course, the main theme since they’re in a convent) is equal parts touching and repellent. It’s upsetting that they see this as their only way out, but I couldn’t help but think that if they could just wait until they turned eighteen, the world would be their oyster. It’s also fairly obvious what’s going to happen later in the story when Vere and Gwen realize that one of the boys can still be sexually aroused.

Which leads to a clumsy ending. I was surprised when Vere decides to stay at the convent and raise Gwen’s baby, but it is disappointing nonetheless. Of all the Guineveres, Vere and Win were the ones I wanted to make a successful life for themselves the most, outside the convent. Vere isn’t unhappy. She seems satisfied with her decision, and she knows young Guinevere will leave and discover the world. But it still seems Vere got trapped in the convent, forever in love with a comatose soldier.

Though I appreciated Vere as the story’s narrator, I think it could have been interesting to tell the story from each girl’s perspective. It could have given the story some extra dimension when things start to unravel. Of course, the reader does get four chapters interspersed throughout the book, which explains how each girl ended up at the convent—each story as heartbreaking as the other. I can’t help but think if all the Guineveres had a hand in telling the story, I might not have hated Gwen and Ginny as much as I did. But here we are.

When it comes down to it, the detail with which Domet renders life in the convent redeemed many of the story’s pitfalls for me. In fact, I got a few flashbacks while reading; I thought I would go my entire life without seeing detentions called JUGs again, which is a Christian school’s form of after school detention. It made me laugh out loud! Everything from the daily catechism lessons to the uniforms to the short descriptions of the lives of certain saints throughout the book made me keep reading, and in the end, they made it worthwhile.