reviewed by Elvira Sanchez Kisser, Woodburn Public Library
A story told in a form of a college personal essay about the journey of “Harry,” Harbinger Robert Francis Jones, the kid who was almost struck by lighting, his struggles to live with his scars, his trouble finding friendship, and eventually learning to find solace in music. Harry navigates through school being bullied because of his scars and lives a life of solitude. Until the day comes when he is befriended by Johnny, the good looking athlete, who becomes his first friend and teaches him about friendship, betrayal, and acceptance. Even though the idea of starting a band wasn’t his, Harry learns to find salvation and confidence through creating and performing music which changes him forever.
Harry’s story is told through a series of short chapters with song headings providing a theme and a great soundtrack for those who know the music. The story is set in the 1980’s so the music will probably not be familiar to most teens of this generation, given that many are fairly obscure songs to begin with. Those that are interested in music may take the time to look up the music online, but I fear for many they will ignore the references. Though the story has many musical references, the story is about Harry living with his physical and emotional scars from being burned as a child and learning how others react to him, such as his dad calling him a “toaster”. Vlahos peppers his writing with geeky references to Star Wars and Star Trek, decision making lists, and fantasy scenarios that bring a lightheartedness to some of the more serious scenes, such as getting bullied or getting over a broken heart. Overall an engaging story for teens and adults alike that will provide a glimpse of why people form bands and what music can mean for these people.
I have set myself a Reading Challenge for 2012 in GoodReads for 100 books. I know I can accomplish this since I read 105 books last year and I do read a lot of variety including young adult, graphic novels, fiction of all genres, some non-fiction, and listen to fair amount of audiobooks. Yes, I include audiobooks, though I have gone back many a time and read the book after listening to them in order to take a bit more time in enjoying the words. A few that I have done this with have been Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series and Shades of Grey and I already want to read Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam Trilogy. Both of these series use the page and text formatting and play on words in their stories, which are lost in the audio version.
I’m currently reading The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield for my monthly book club and have been boggled by my unenthusiastic response to reading a book I had suggested. From the description of the story about a amateur biographer being unexpectedly asked to write the biography of a famous popular author, Vida Winter and in return you find out about dark family secrets of her life growing up on a family estate. This was one of the suggestions for our Halloween read, for a group with a member who easily frights from more scary readings, which I thought would be atmospheric in the telling. Unfortunately, the atmosphere is lacking and in it’s place are clinical descriptions of places, people, and feelings, if you can call it feelings, rather than just questions to suggest feelings.
I have noticed that instead of getting sucked into the telling of this story, I am able to casually skim the contents and still get the full idea of the story. I am a very visual reader and I enjoy allowing the writing of a story to engulf my senses and carry me off on a journey that doesn’t end after I set the book down. I enjoy mulling over the plot, characters, and scenarios crafted in the story long after I have finished reading the book pondering the ‘What ifs…”, alternative endings, or extended scenes that may have been left out. For me, reading and watching movies is a very similar experience when done well. So, when a book is technically descriptive rather than using words to evoke atmosphere, mood, feeling, and place; I feel insulted that the author doesn’t allow me some part of the reading experience and am regulated to a passive reading experience.
What I wonder at, is a passive reading experience what most people want? This book has been not only on the NY Bestseller list (which I know doesn’t really mean much anymore), but has been recommended by several libraries and booksellers as a “Bookclub Choice” book. I haven’t had my bookclub meeting yet, but it will be interesting to hear their take on the book and if they were aware of the writing as much as me.
The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith is the latest in the a new posting series on examples of product placement in young adult novels. It’s my way of creating a running tally of incidents as I come across them while reading young adult novels.
I found Starbucks making their first appearance on page 9 used by Connor making a request to Jack, “Bring me a Starbucks.” I do wonder what Jack brought back, not a Double Mocha Frapp with no whip or a Double non-fat vanilla soy latte? Such a blatant misuse of the word SCREAMS product placement. To use the term in such a way isn’t even a slang term referring to the chain, like Buckies.
The second incidence in on page 32, when Jack notices two large (not Grande??) cups of black coffee from Starbucks. Though in both instances the removal of the chains lovely name would change nothing from the overall description or plotting of the story. So why is in necessary, to encourage teens to stop by their place and not any other of the myriad of coffee shops for their caffeinated bliss?
As for the rest of the book, I gave up on the read after it having to endure the forced advertisement and the feeling that the story was going to be trip down the Cuckoo Nest (think Buffy the Vampire Slayer “Normal Again” episode)