Tuesday, June 21, 2011

An update on ... books (naturally)

I've been meaning to talk about this book I've read recently: Stolen by Lucy Christopher. I picked it up because of the blurb written by the publisher, who described it as a love story between a girl and a broken boy. And those who know me would understand I'm a sucker for this type of stories.

As the title suggests, it's about a girl, Gemma, who was stolen by a boy, Ty, at the airport, after she had a fallout with her parents. To escape the tension between her and her parents, she decided to accept Ty's offer of a drink, which he'd spiked. After that, he dragged her to Australia - he as though on a righteous crusade and she in a drug-induced haze - where he had set up a living quarters in the middle of the Australian desert.

The beginning was rather slow, and I wished she could have reduced the description of the abduction. It's good to know the details, but I wanted to get to the good stuff, the deeper stuff in Ty's psyche. Some - most - people would label him as crazy, but he kept saying he was 'saving' Gemma from her life, the one he knew she was miserable with, that I could tell there had to be more to Ty than just a crazy abductor/stalker.

The story chronicles Gemma and Ty's lives in the desert, Gemma constantly plotting to escape whenever she wasn't throwing a fit or crying in fear while Ty looks after her and tries to acclimatise her to living in the desert.

To cut the story short, Gemma eventually grows to not fear Ty after he saves her life countless times and reveals his past to her, in which he had been abandoned by his parents and was searching for his mother when he found Gemma and fell in love with her.

Towards the end of the novel, when Gemma and Ty were in love with each other, I couldn't put the book down. The imagery Christopher had created was intense - rich, beautiful and burns into your mind - and the emotions weighed on you so that you really felt like you were Gemma, in love with Ty, knowing that he had committed a crime but able to understand his motivations for abducting her. Call it Stockholm Syndrome or whatever you want, until you've read this book, you wouldn't understand the confusion Gemma goes through right to the very end.

What I love about this book is the imagery. Christopher paints a very vivid image of the Australian desert, its stillness at night, though it is never quite asleep, and in the day its lack of restrain, its life. I guess unless you belong to the land down under (and Christopher is), you wouldn't be able to write a story with this sort of setting.

Which reminds me of what Huzir said: "You have to connect with your own reality before you can start conjuring up other realms worth visiting."

I'm currently in a rut with The Dreamcatchers. Sent it to Joanna for some feedback and she gave really a awesome one (BIG, BIG THANK YOU TO YOU, DEAR!) and after some discussion I realised this isn't working - for me and for her - precisely because it doesn't seem authentic. Joanna said some of the expression and words I used weren't the sort that were common in our everyday lives. It's a problem a literary agent had with Lambs for Dinner too. She said the characters didn't feel authentic enough, didn't give her the sense of the place.

So my decision now is to tentatively stash The Dreamcatchers away bear this advice in mind while I work on my next novel.

Yes. My next novel. I originally planned to just stick out the last fifty pages or so I have left to write The Dreamcatchers. Problem is, I keep procrastinating because I can't seem to pick up where I left off and get into it again. I can blame the circumstances, I can blame the saturation of Young Adult urban fantasy market, but truth is, I'm probably just not ready - or steady enough - to create an urban fantasy novel that is good enough, for my own standards and for others'.

But I'm not going to wallow in misery about it. This is, after all, my first valiant (if I do say so myself) attempt at writing urban fantasy, so I'm going to cut myself some slack that it doesn't work out. Besides, I'm not going to abandon it forever, just lay it aside until I have the guts to face it again, weed out everything that isn't working and start over.

I'm excited about my Shiny New Idea, but it's still in its infancy, and I need to do some elaborate planning before I take the plunge. Goodness knows how many times I've dove into a new project without enough planning, only to get stuck midway and tear out my hair in despair.

Moving on.

I'm now reading Sarah Dessen's latest novel, What Happened to Goodbye. If her preceding novel, Along for the Ride, had seen my support for her waning, then What Happened to Goodbye is picking it right up again. It has the trademarks of Sarah Dessen books: new girl, new town, new life, and a past that is just waiting to seize you from behind when you think you've shaken it off. But what's amazing about Dessen is that you can tell every scene she crafts is carefully thought through, even though it may seem effortless. The characters don't ramble on without a point, they don't move across the page for the sake of moving, and each of them has a purpose in the story, and they deliver their lines smoothly. Dessen's dialogue flows, and every piece makes sense, every action has a motivation. Her characters are average people, and nothing really dramatic or glamourous happens in her stories to her characters, but the characters alone are enough to sustain the story (no mean feat, considering each novel averages three hundred pages - trust me, I would know) and create the drama and tension needed to keep readers turning the page.

Like in What Happened to Goodbye, I feel like the protagonist, McLean, is someone I can totally relate to. Her parents are divorced and she feels guilt, she feels anger, she feels hate, and she keeps certain things from her father regarding her mother, and the constant reaching out of McLean's mother, countered with her backing away, feels like a familiar dance-step that my mother and I are engaged in. Dessen is totally in tune with the emotions of a single child living with her father, but she doesn't ramble on and on such that McLean seems whiny, but helpless and doing the best she can. Dessen can always create characters we can all relate to, on some level or other.

All I can say is: Sarah Dessen does it again.

And I don't know why, but reading her books always make me feel like writing, even if I've been running a dry spell for goodness knows how long. Nothing like a good book to pump up your writing juices again, I suppose.

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