Guy In Real Life by Steve Brezenoff

What happens when real life and gaming culture collide blurring the lines between what’s real, what’s fantasy, what’s friendship and what’s obsession? When the many roles we’re forced to play only confuse and confound? Those are some of the questions … Continue reading

Book Review: Until You

Author: Penelope Douglas until you
Publisher: Penelope Douglas
Format: Ebook
Date Published: December 4, 2013
Number of Pages: 368
Series: Fall Away (1.5)

Until You is the follow up story to Penelope Douglas’ self published Bully (you can check out my original review here.) A re-telling of the story but from Jared’s point of view, Until You is an entertaining companion piece for anyone who enjoyed the original story. (Or anyone who swoons over dark, brooding types.)

In Bully we followed Tatum “Tate” Brandt as she begins to fight back against Jared Trent – her next door neighbour, once best friend and current high school tormentor. Despite making her a social pariah Tatum finds it hard to fight the feelings she’s always harboured for Jared. As the story unfolds the reasons behind Jared’s bullying are unveiled, leading eventually to a reconciliation between the two.

At first the idea of a companion piece seemed a little gimmicky to me but Until You is actually worthwhile. Why? Because Douglas doesn’t just rehash the same story but with a different POV – she gives fans of the original new anecdotes, stories and more insight into the life of the guy who nearly allowed his anger and pain to destroy his own happiness. And yes the dark, brooding male archetype is perhaps a bit of an overdone staple in romance and NA literature but Jared is a compelling and sympathetic character. As arrogant as the character can be there’s great moments of vulnerability revealed throughout the story. Moments that really humanize him. He’s conflicted not because he loves Tate but because of things from his past that have nothing to do with her. She’s just a scapegoat. There’s an actual story in Until You. Not only is there a real story but Douglas has an uncanny ability to make you like Jared. Even though he’s a jerk. (Something even he acknowledges.)

In my review of Bully I commented on Jared engaging in a rebound relationship with Tate’s best friend KC (after he sets her up to learn that her longterm boyfriend has been cheating on her.) That part of the story really burned me up. For Jared’s character it made total sense, but I was outraged that Tate’s best friend could be so callous. I love that in Until You that relationship is further explored and even more I love that it turns out it was never what it appeared to be. It’s little things like that that (for fans of the series at least) make Until You worth reading.

Douglas gives her characters strong voices, it’s obvious she knows who they are and makes a great effort to ensure her readers know too. I’d say her writing style is fairly simple, first person narrative but it works for the story. I found the little asides to be a bit tacky – unspoken thoughts italicized to emphasize, I don’t know, the sincerity of the feelings. It’s a bit like in a movie when a character physically indicates the object or person they’re discussing. It’s unnecessary, and really a little frustrating because all you can think is “why don’t you just say it out loud?” and avoid all the drama. But then I suppose there would be no story.

Though I still find it hard to believe anyone could easily forgive someone who spent three years tormenting them and willingly enter into a relationship with that person I can’t help but like this story. Both Tate and Jared are charismatic characters who’s chemistry is explosive and perfectly developed by Douglas.

Until You is part of Penelope Douglas’ Fall Away series, the next story Rival focuses on Jared’s best friend, partner in crime and lackey Madoc – who, incidentally, is an interesting character in that he’s the polar opposite to Jared. Where Jared is dark, brooding, quiet and menacing, Madoc is sarcastic, funny, easy-going and from a life of privilege. It will be interesting to see the story arc Douglas develops for this new story.

Until You though part of a series does work as a standalone novel, however I would suggest reading Bully first if only to get a better understanding of why fans of the novel were so excited for this new take. If you’re looking for a romance story that’s not all hearts and flowers and over-the-top declarations of love, a story about flawed characters who are desperate to rectify their mistakes, or a story with a smokin’ hot lead than Until You is probably the right choice.

Book Review: Eleanor & Park

“I just can’t believe that life would give us to each other,’ he said, ‘and then take it back.’ ‘I can,’ she said. ‘Life’s a bastard.”

“I just can’t believe that life would give us to each other,’ he said, ‘and then take it back.’
‘I can,’ she said. ‘Life’s a bastard.”

Author: Rainbow Rowell
Publisher: St. Martins Press
Date Published: February 26, 2013
Number of Pages: 325

Set over the course of a school year in the mid 1980s Eleanor & Park recounts the story of two teenage outcasts who form an unlikely bond, eventually fall in love and fight to maintain their high school romance despite the numerous adversities in their way.

The story of high school outsiders – redheaded Eleanor and half-Korean Park living in small town Nebraska is both simple and complex. It’s a love story that doesn’t involve supernatural beings, dramatic love triangles, bullying and hate that’s secretly love. It’s not about unrequited love, or love gone sour, it’s simply the story of two lost souls that – surprisingly – find love with each other. It’s beautiful, funny, poignant, insightful and real.

Eleanor & Park is a rare experience as far as young adult novels go in that it’s extremely nuanced, the relationship between the two leads develops slowly and organically – there’s no major catalyst that hits you over the head and says ‘Hey! These two are now madly in love.’ Which is part of what makes the story so enjoyable.

The writing is clean, fluid and straightforward – it’s effortless, which makes reading the story even more enjoyable than it already is.  The fact is this is one of those books you pick up and read and when you look up you realize you’ve lost four hours when it only felt like 4 minutes.

This is also a very multifaceted story – both Park and Eleanor are dealing with the regular elements that being a teenager encompasses – fitting in, popularity, figuring out who they are, not to mention raging hormones (which for the record I really don’t think is exclusive to teenagers but whatevs). To add further complication Eleanor’s home life is beyond a disaster, her mother is blind to their circumstances; her stepfather is a raging, potentially homicidal, lunatic and Eleanor is incapable of saving herself let alone her younger siblings. And when at school she’s mercilessly picked on by the other kids for things she can’t control (her hair, her weight, her clothes) and yet Eleanor has a strong sense of self, she’s pretty tough, and maybe a little snarky.

Though Park’s home life is relatively sane and much more stable than Eleanor’s his struggle with fitting in is heightened by the fact that unlike his father and brother he’s slight and sensitive. Add to that being half-Korean in a sea of white and black and it’s easy to understand Park’s struggle for identity. Despite this Park goes through an intense maturing process – at the beginning of their budding romance Park’s feelings for Eleanor place him on an emotional rollercoaster – though unwilling to admit it outright Eleanor or more specifically how others see her embarrasses him. Possibly one of the best demonstrations of how a good writer can mature a character the way Rowell has Park work through these feelings and his embarrassment only intensifies the strength of his feelings for Eleanor. It’s kind of remarkable.

That their love story begins on a bus and after an act of (unwilling) kindness and develops over comic books and music (The Smiths!) is heartwarming. The relationship progresses slowly – there’s no heart stopping first kiss until nearly halfway through and in fact there’s little touching apart from handholding until nearly the end. In a way it’s all very old fashioned. Both Eleanor and Park are so tentative and shy, slowly gauging the other’s reaction when they touch – it’s nice. There’s an innocence to their story, it’s all about discovery –of each other and themselves.

What really sets this book apart from others is how truly distinct the character voices are, when Eleanor says or thinks God you can hear the exasperation, when she rolls her eyes you can feel her incredulity – and it’s the same with Park, every time he utters Jesus his mood and the intent behind the word are so evident, you would swear they were right in front of you.

There’s a reason everyone’s talking about this book and that’s because it’s a breath of fresh air – a stand alone novel, Eleanor & Park is an engrossing story that will take you back to high school and make you relive the good (and the bad) that comes along with it.

Next up: Night of the Purple Moon (it’s an ARC so we’ll see how that goes) and the monthly re-read Richard Adams’ Watership Down