Sinners, Filters, and the Apocalypse
First comes the pain, then the disappointment, and finally . . . salvation? I’ve been on a reading roller coaster since the beginning of 2018. I’ve been left disappointed and unsatisfied more than I’ve been left thrilled and delighted. What is happening? Why am experiencing these reading woes? Is it because 2017 was a unicorn in the middle grade and YA book world? Is it because I won’t bow down to the overlords of YA fantasy? Is it because I’m a grumpy pants? Is it because ... It’s because I’m not liking or loving most of the books I’m reading because I’m just not. Truthfully, if I kept waiting and waiting for a book I loved or liked or just whelmed me, I was never going to write another book review because lately I didn’t have a lot of nice things to say. Then I stopped and thought to myself, “Self! When have I ever shied away from saying I don’t like a book? There is clear evidence on this blog of my not liking some books.” To which Self responded, “Well, not all of the books you don't like. For instance, you didn’t review Turtles All the Way Down.“ To which I replied, “That’s because I hated it super a lot and couldn’t trust myself not to insult the people who put it on their best of 2017 list because it just wasn’t that good. Saying it was the best of anything seems like a lie and definitely a joke. It’s clear John Green’s absence from the literary landscape made people’s brains go . . . See what just happened. I was about to be mean. Good job, Self! I told you.” Then Self said, “Well, you also didn’t review A List of . . .” At this point I’m going to have to stop this inner dialogue because there are books of which we do not speak. Where am I going? Where am I taking you? Well, I just want you to know that I tried. I really really really tried to finish Nice Try, Jane Sinner. The first time I put it down I swore I would pick it up again, and I did. The second time I put it down I swore I would pick it up again, and I did. The third time I put it down . . . You get where this is going. It was the eight or ninth time that I knew I wouldn’t be picking it up again. It would become that rare book that I would silently shelve in my classroom library before my students arrived. Before the sun had fully risen. Before anyone could ask me about it. I tried everything. I changed where I read it - car, bed, salon, rugby game, school, table, sofa, comfy chair - until I finally had to admit defeat. I do not like Jane Sinner anywhere. But why? Why don’t I like Jane Sinner? We have things in common—icy cold logic that crumbles mere mortals, a sick pleasure in subverting idioms, and cleverness for miles and miles. She’s almost like my Slytherin soul sister. Emphasis on the almost like. Jane Sinner is aloof. She’s too aloof. In fact, I briefly considered that she might be dead and wasn’t actually interacting with other people. A sort of Sixth Sense in book form. Does that need a spoiler alert? Jane is neither likable nor unlikeable. She occupies the space between. I believe the kids call it meh. Her first person narration felt plodding because emotionally it was a single note. I didn’t get it. I didn’t get her. Then I didn’t care to get her. Then I didn’t care that the cat had a fight with the book. Then I was mad that the cat lost. I’m bummed I couldn’t finish because now I’ll never know what event caused Jane to become both a pariah and almost loner. What did she do that made returning to the halls of her high school not an option? I know I could flip through and find the answer, but I haven’t earned the right. Fair is fair. I didn’t do the time, so I don’t get her secrets. I want to turn to Jane Sinner and say, “it’s me, not you.” I want to say it, but it would be a lie. Fast forward a few weeks and a few handfuls of books . . . I wanted to love Samira Ahmed’s Love, Hate, and Other Filters because she was an incredibly passionate speaker at ALAN. A passionate speaker with views reflecting my own. I didn’t love Love, Hate, and Other Filters. I liked Love, Hate, and Other Filters. It was a perfectly acceptable way to spend a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon, and I certainly don’t regret the read, but it felt like biting into a stale macaron. All of the flavor is still there, but something just doesn’t feel completely right. Honestly, it’s one of those books where I wonder what type of adolescence the author experienced because some of the stuff was far-fetched. You know it’s far-fetched because suddenly dialogue that initially rang true makes you think “teenager say what.” I also just don’t getting wanting something for years and years and years and then letting it go so easily, as if there were no other option in a world where iPhones have replaced the Pony Express and planes, trains, and automobiles have replaced the covered wagon. If it only took three months to go from breathless to undefined it was never as good as you thought it was. True story, the falling is easy, it’s the staying that’s good, great, and worth the hard work. Sometimes no matter what things fall apart, but to not even try after all that you said and did and thought-what’s a reader supposed to do with that? I’m all for imperfect endings. I’m even down for endings that involve a postcard and three mysterious words. I am not down for shrug. It felt so apathetic. Boooooooooooo! The biggest issue of them all? I was more interested in the brief italicized morsels between chapters than in the chapters themselves. I wanted to read that story. It would have been heartbreaking and confusing and angering and sobering, but it wouldn’t have left me apathetic, and it would have been relevant and authentic. Gosh! This doesn’t sound like I liked the book, but I did. It was just more of a shrug that a twinkle. I’ve literally Oscar the Grouched all over this post, but in my defense my reading life of late has been like being forced to watch a Caillou marathon-so painful you start crying, apologizing for things you didn’t do, and wondering how terribly unhappy someone has to be to even create Caillou, his sister Rosie, and his strange zombie parents. This is where I should insert a few sighing emojis, but I won’t.
Is there hope for my life as a reader?Is there a light at the end of this dark Starbucks drive-thru. Yes, of course there is. At the moment it seems like a dim light, but definitely a light. A light that’s a tall Chai Creme Frappuccino without whipped cream instead of the venti with extra whipped cream that you ordered and anticipated on the drive home from the National Zoo with two possibly possessed children in the backseat - one with attitude for days because they didn’t want to leave and the other with attitude for days because they’re overtired. What I’m saying is it that it’s still cool and yummy, but not as yummy as it should have been. Then I found yummy. The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza is layered. It’s straightforward. It’s real. It’s not real. It’s a mystery. It’s not a mystery. It’s everything, and I loved it. All it took was a virgin birth, inanimate objects who speak, a girl who smiled in the face of death, the mean girl of the My Little Pony universe, a fierce treatise on free will and choice, a Virgin Mary statue singing the Spice Girls, and the possibly maybe Apocalypse. Now we’re getting somewhere. Or are we? I loved The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza until I didn’t. It was so close. It was so yummy for so many chapters. For so many pages. Then we hit a wall of “noooooooooooo.” We hit the bottom of the Chai Creme Frappuccino that is just mushed ice and the dregs of watered down whipped cream that you keep sucking up in hopes that there might remain some of that sweet, icy goodness, but nope. The abrupt departure from yummy to yuck came in the homestretch. From promising to perfect to pat to perfunctory. This might be my reading apocalypse. Until next time.