The Hunger Games and Girl V. Boy

For my vacation I got two books to read from the library–one I’d been wanting to read for a while (The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins), and one I’d grabbed on a whim (Girl V. Boy by Yvonne Collins and Sandy Rideout).

First, summaries:

The Hunger Games:

“In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

“Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister’s place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before–and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.”

Girl V. Boy:

“Fifteen-year-old Luisa Perez is not looking to win any awards for school spirit. In fact, she and her friends make it a point to avoid all activities considered ‘extracurricular.’ So when her English teacher volunteers her to be an anonymous columnist for the school paper, Luisa’s first impulse is to run. But, unlike her high-school dropout sister, Luisa does want to go to college–it may be her only ticket out of a life spent working at the cowboy-themed diner where she waitresses part-time–and it would be nice to have something to put on her applications.

“Her first assignment is to cover her high school’s latest fund-raiser, which pits the girls against the boys. Luisa will cover the events from the female point of view while another anonymous writer provides the male perspective–or, at least that’s how it begins. The two columnists soon find themselves engaged in an epic battle of the sexes–a battle that Luisa is determined to win, even if it means risking the best relationship she’s ever had.”

So, obviously, these two books are very different, but they were both very good in their own ways. Both had characters I liked and a story that moved along at a nice fast pace.

The Hunger Games is a serious book–it’s exciting and about real life and death for Katniss. It was pretty impossible for me to put down, and I easily finished it on the plane ride to Jamaica, with time to spare.

Girl V. Boy, on the other hand, is very light-hearted, about a girl who wants a boyfriend, and contains nothing more life-threatening than school-wide embarrassment. It was also hard to put down, though, and I finished it after about 2 days of lying in the sun (and lying in the hotel room as it rained).

It’s tempting to say that The Hunger Games is the better book because it is so serious and dramatic, but really the books are as different from each other as sci-fi and a Victorian romance novel, and not comparable. The Hunger Games is wonderful–the only bad thing I can say about it was that I didn’t realize that it was part 1 (but luckily part 2 is out now and part 3 comes out next month), so the end left me hanging. Girl V. Boy, though, was the perfect vacation book. I could just sit back and enjoy it instead of having to think too hard about world issues or anything like that.

I think I can pull inspiration from both of these books for my own writing. I hope whatever kind of book I write, it is as absorbing my two vacation books.

Vacation Time!

I’ll be on vacation starting tomorrow, and on vacation I don’t use the phone or computer. I’ll have my notebook and notes for my book and a couple books to read. The only real contact I’ll miss will be hearing about my Cincinnati Reds, but I’m sure I’ll at least find the scores on TV somewhere.

I’ll be in Jamaica, and I will be both relaxing and adventuring (within the confines of a tour group). If I finish any of the books I’m reading I’ll post a review when I get back, otherwise my next post will be on or around July 31. See you then!

How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford

I loved this book!

I read a lot, but it’s been awhile since I’ve found a story I love with characters I love as much as this one. It’s called How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford. I’ve stayed up late reading it the past four nights, last night being the night I finished it. From just seeing the cover blurb I knew immediately it was up my alley:

New to town, Bea is expecting her new best friend to be one of the girls she meets on the first day. You know the type: very cheery, very friendly, very average. But instead, the alphabet conspires to seat her next to Jonah, aka Ghost Boy, a quiet observer who hasn’t made a new friend since third grade. He’s not a big fan of people in general…but he’s willing to make an exception for her. Maybe.

Bea and Jonah are not going to have a friendship like other people have a friendship, where it’s all based on gossip and parties and what everybody else thinks. Instead, their friendship comes from truth-bound conversations, shared secrets, daring stunts, and late-night calls to the same old-timer radio show. They help each other, push away and hold close. It’s not romance, exactly–but it’s definitely love. And it means more to them than either one can ever really know…

It didn’t let me down.

Bea is finally a female narrator I love. She has an attitude but she’s also funny and kind. She’s independent but not distancing. If I were still a teenager I’d want her for a friend. Jonas, also, is a great, likable character, even if he doesn’t like anyone but Bea.

You might be able to tell from the title that it may not be the happiest of books. I thought the ending was pretty inconclusive, but I can deal with an open-ending. YA books don’t have to be wrapped up nicely. It still had a climax and resolution, so it still feels complete–there’s just room left for some imagining on the reader’s part.

Another plus–this book has some similarities to the one I’m working on. Deep friendship between two teens the rest of the school doesn’t understand, a conflict with family (on both characters’ sides) they work together to solve. Luckily, Standiford names her agent in the acknowledgments, so I’ll definitely be querying her when I’m ready.

The book is more complex than following a relationship between two friends, though that is definitely the main focus of the story. I enjoyed the side plots of Jonah’s brother and Bea’s mom–they enhanced the book–but I probably would have enjoyed the book without them as well. It’s just that good.

Patriotism by Kyle Singleton

Today I’ve decided to let Kyle Singleton take the stage again. Before giving him his moment, though, I thought I’d introduce you to the part of me that Kyle comes from.

Sometimes a crazy idea pops into my head–like, “whoa–what if Match.com took over the world and arranged everyone’s marriages with their compatibility system?” I think everyone thinks these sorts of things to some degree–crazy, extreme fixes to problems in our society.

Part of me (more than part of me, actually) realizes that these ideas are pretty impractical and flat-out horrible plans, but my mind will latch onto the idea for a while anyway and run with it, expanding on the idea, creating scenarios and stories about it. I usually don’t love the idea enough to actually put anything down on paper, and I certainly don’t think it is a viable solution to any world problem, but it serves as a nice way to entertain my mind, which demands to be entertained constantly.

When I was writing Kyle’s Magnificent Scheme, Kyle became the mouthpiece of some of my crazier ideas. I don’t believe in them, but I made a character who does, and who loves to share them with anyone who will listen.

So here is Kyle, sharing his ideas about patriotism in honor of the 4th of July. (This is an excerpt from my manuscript, Kyle’s Magnificent Scheme.)

He leaned against a wall under a neon “Budweiser” sign, contemplating the American flag displayed in a window across the street.

“What are they trying to prove with that? Is it security to keep the Patriotism Police away? ‘Ooh, look at my window. I’m a real American here.’” He smiled to himself when heads of departing drunks turned his way.

“Why are we supposed to love our country?” he continued. “It protects us? If that’s what you’d like to believe I won’t dash that dream. Maybe some other time. What else? It gives us ‘Freedoms’ we wouldn’t get anywhere else? Obviously we’d have even more freedoms without any countries telling us what to do.

“This is what you get for loving your country: you get blinded and controlled. When people love their country they allow it to do whatever it likes—they even cheer it on. They have parties with fireworks to get worked into a frenzy. Explosions—beautiful sounds of war!

“When something bad happens—‘Oh no, our beloved country has done something terrible!’—we can’t disown or divorce it. We can’t excommunicate it. We have to forgive it because we love it. We have to believe its weak explanations and promises, and we don’t even demand an apology. All we need to return to that frenzy, that patriotic buzz, is another big celebration.”

“You talkin’ ‘bout America, freak?” An especially-drunk drunk wobbled in front of him, squinting as if trying to decide where in the blur Kyle was actually standing.

Kyle gleefully turned the target of his speech from the general sidewalk traffic to this slurring man. “You know what the best part about patriotism is? No, I can see you don’t have a clue about anything I’m talking about. But don’t worry—I’ll tell you. The best part of patriotism is that it puts you in a great big loving group. Everyone in the group loves you because you are a part of the country, and you, in return, love them. You have a place to belong and lots of friends just like yourself. You’ll do anything just to stay in that group; you’ll do whatever the big boss-man says. To make your group tighter, you attack everyone outside of it—push them far away so you and your buddies can get even closer. Of course, it doesn’t stop there—”

“You prick! You little traitor!” The drunk aimed a punch at him, but Kyle joyfully dodged it.

He laughed in the man’s face.

The man charged him suddenly and took him to the ground. Kyle scratched and struggled his way free. He managed to get on his feet first and gave the attacker a huge kick in the side. Then he ran, and none too soon, because the man’s buddies were teaming up to come after him.

Kyle knew the streets well and quickly got away from his pursuers; his only problem was keeping his laughter stifled as he went.

“A good confrontation—the one thing guaranteed to lift a man’s spirits,” he said to himself.