What’s better than just plain loving a book? How about loving a book written by someone who has other books you’ve not yet read? It’s like having savored a box of yummy chocolate caramels and being told, “Don’t worry, there’s plenty more where that came from!” I love that. This is how it is for me with Penny Dreadful, by Laurel Snyder. Finally, finally this book came into the library for me and I settled into reading it this snowy weekend and I was charmed, utterly, from beginning to end. First thing I did when I finished (after hugging it… it’s that kind of book), is order all the rest of Laurel’s books from the library. I’m telling you, this book is delicious.
First, allow me to judge book according to cover alone. Easy! Love. It. Sweet, quirky, warm, a little bit off-kilter, slightly old-fashioned looking. Abigail Halpin nailed the cover art because Penny Dreadful is all these things. It’s always satisfying when the cover and what’s inside make a perfect match.
I love the story for all of the reasons I love the cover. Penny is an old-fashioned sort of heroine. She’s bookish. She’s bored. She’s brainy. She’s a little lonely. Her life has a serious lack of adventure. She’s distanced from her parents. And then… (oooh, the delightfulness of “and then…”) Penny makes a wish: “I wish something interesting would happen when I least expect it, just like in a book.” It happens. Her dad quits his job. Financial woes ensue. The Grey family is forced to leave the city and move to a ramshackle home in Thrush Junction Tennessee. That’s when Penny’s world opens up. She meets a host of odd-ball, full-of-heart characters. She gains freedom. She reconnects with her parents. She finds out that wishes, particularly wishes-come-true, have a way of getting complicated.
This is a rags-to-riches story, but I like that the riches aren’t what you’d expect. Penny learns about how friendship feels, how it’s hard and wonderful and a risk. She learns the world is full of all sorts of people, with different pasts, stories, challenges, and talents. The diversity in this book is a wonderful element. It’s not forced. It’s not preachy in any way. It feels true. It’s old-fashioned and modern all at once and it seems like the sort of story that kids will be reading years from now, and loving every bit as much as kids will love it right now.
Finally, I even loved the blurb from Rebecca Stead on the back: “I wanted to climb inside this book and pull it over my head!” Well, that’s what I did this weekend, and I recommend you try it for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.
I think it’s really hard to write a love story that feels different from all those love stories that have already been written. How to make your love story offer something unusual to readers? Well, some authors solve that problem by making one of their falling-in-love characters a sparkly vampire hottie. That is not what Pete Hautman did. He did something cooler. He made his characters normal. Very normal.
I love this idea.
I love this idea because it is true. Normal people fall in love. Their stories deserve to be told every bit as much as the stories of sparkly vampire hotties. The awesome miracle of love is in no way enhanced by characters’ sparkly-ness. Love is awesome no matter what. I promise that when you read The Big Crunch, you will be convinced that normal, non-sparkly love, is wonderful, and not in a cheesy way.
(Just in case you can’t tell, I’m kind of in love with this book).
June moves around a lot because of her dad’s work. When she ends up in Minnesota, she’s less than thrilled (“it’s the frozen asshole of the universe”). She loathes the place, but the people are okay, just like everywhere else she’s ever lived. June doesn’t plan on making too many connections because she figures she’s just going to have to leave again soon, so why go through the hassle of getting close to anybody. Then along comes Wes. It is not love at first sight. It just works it way towards happening, and when it does, it’s intense. As June predicted, it isn’t long before it looks like she’ll be moving again. June and Wes aren’t sure what’s going to happen next. (And I’m not telling. You have to read it to find out).
The Big Crunch is perfect and funny and charming in the way that a great indie movie love story is perfect and funny and charming. It reminded me of 500 Days of Summer, another “this is not a love story” love story. It’ll make you remember that love doesn’t have to be sparkly to be interesting. Highly recommended.
The Big Crunch is published by Scholastic. Perfect for your Valentine, I’d say.
One more thing – I think this is the first time I’ve noticed anything like this, but there seems to be an error on the jacket of the book. On my copy, it refers to “Jen and Wes” but the characters inside the book and June and Wes. Weird.
Why not start 2011 with a little romance? How ’bout a little Paris? I promise you if you pick up Stephanie Perkins‘ debut, Anna and the French Kiss, you’ll get romance, Paris, and more (wait a sec… what else is there?).
You only need to spend about two minutes on Stephanie’s blog to get a sense that this girl has a delicious sense of humor. Read a post or two and you’ll see what I mean. She also feels like this about the upcoming film version of Jane Eyre, so you’ve gotta know she is your soul sister. Oh, and John Green says he thinks Anna is sort of fabulous. Check, check and check.
So I was more than prepped to love Stephanie’s book.
And I did.
When Anna Oliphant gets sent by her parents to a Paris boarding school for her senior year, she is less than thrilled. She would rather stay in Atlanta and hang out with her best friend and get a little closer to the guy at work she’s had a crush on for a while. So Paris has a lot of convincing to do, and it takes many crepes, some great movies, a bunch of cool new friends, and one particularly dreamy guy named St. Clair to win her over. Will she and St. Clair ever be something, or will she have to wait forever for that french kiss?
It is lovely to read a book that is completely, unapologetically romantic, that is starry-eyed and sexy and sweet all at once. It’s also refreshing to have so much of the novel be about the fact that Anna and St. Clair are developing an awesome friendship before anything else. We don’t see enough great guy/girl friendships in YA. Perkins nails the dialogue, and writes characters who are believably complicated. All of the Paris details were jealous-making and satisfying. I wanted to run away and hide in the Latin Quarter in nearly every chapter.
Read it. You’ll see what I mean. Anna and the French Kiss is winning and heart-warming and it will make you antsy for Stephanie Perkins’ next novel, Lola and the Boy Next Door, coming in September 2011.
I give Anna and the French Kiss five macarons out of five! (Oh wait – four and a half out of five… but that’s only because I took a bite of one. 😉 ).
I always feel like the first post of the New Year should be Important.
That is kind of intimidating (particularly when you were up very late the night before Celebrating).
Never fear Elflings, I have a few important things to share, all of them lovely, and I think Important.
1) The picture above is from the Musée D’Orsay. This is important because this year I get to go to Paris for the second time, but for the first time as a married lady. Ooh la la!
2) Today, the Cybils 2010 Finalists have been announced. Prepare yourself for a feast of loveliness. These titles represent many of the most wonderful books you could hope for from the past year. May I call your attention in particular to:
With four other judging pals, I will have the lovely/very challenging job of choosing the winning Middle Grade Novel from this outstanding list. The winner, along with all of the winners in the other categories, will be announced February 14, 2011. I would like to send a huge thank you to the first round judges for their hard work, reading so many books and narrowing them down to this list of seven. Thank you to: Ashley Bair and Alysa Stewart, Everead, Jennifer Donovan, 5 Minutes for Books, Sherry Early, Semicolon, Melissa Fox, Book Nut, Kyle Kimmal, The Boy Reader, Sandra Stiles, Musings of a Book Addict, and Cheryl Vanatti, Reading Rumpus. You made an outstanding team.
3) Now, I wish to share Shelf Elf’s List of Loveliest Reads from 2010. Truthfully, I think you could look at my reviews through the past year as my list of Loveliest Reads, because I don’t usually blog about a book if I didn’t find it lovely. If I had to choose the 5 Loveliest (which is really, really hard), this would be the list:
4) Books the Elf is Most Eager to Read in 2011… That’s hard. I think I’ll start with my Xmas books, which include: A Homemade Life and Jane. In YA land, I have to say I’m pretty excited for Maureen Johnson’s new series, beginning with The Name of the Star in October 2011 (more details here). And then there’s this:
5) My holiday was full of lovely discoveries, treats, presents, friends, movies, dog cuddles, stories and more. One of the loveliest discoveries I made was Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s wonderful project, The Beckoning of Lovely. You may already know about it. If you do, you probably love it as much as I do. You probably hope that you can fill up 2011 with a lot more lovely, a lot more of the spirit and hope that Amy’s project represents. If you don’t know about her project, get caught up here:
6) Tiramisu. I think that Amy might be okay with adding “Make Tiramisu” to her list of lovely things people can do to make the most of their time here. I made some yesterday. It was the best tiramisu possible. It was lovely end to 2010, and it left me hoping that this year will bring many more sweet discoveries and contentment. Cue Nigella: