Friday, 25 February 2011

Review: Wait for Me by An Na

Dear Blog,
Sorry this review's so short.  And sorry I haven't been reviewing much lately.  But I've been doing a lot of writing lately in my struggle to finish my NaNo novel from last year, so there's been minimal blogging time.

Summary (from Goodreads): Mina is the perfect daughter. Bound for Harvard, she's Honor Society president and a straight-A student, even as she works at her family's dry-cleaning store and helps care for her hearing impaired little sister. On the outside, Mina does everything right. On the inside, Mina knows the truth. Her life is a lie. Then, the summer before her senior year, Mina meets someone to whom she cannot lie. Ysrael, a young migrant worker who dreams of becoming a musician, comes to work for her family, and asks Mina the one question that scares her the most. What does she want?

Review: This is one of those books where before I actually get to the reviewing I have to say: look at the cover.  It's so gorgeous I could eat it. In fact my copy is only upstairs, and I'm still quite peckish.
I've never read any of Na's books before, but the reason I was drawn to Wait for Me was, in fact, the cover.

The story alternates perspectives between Mina and her hearing-impaired little sister Suna. Mina has a lot on her plate; the story's set the summer before her senior year in high school, and when not working in her parents' dry-cleaners she's taking care of Suna and trying to keep up the high expectations that her mother has of her, while hiding the fact that all of it is a lie. More I cannot say on that matter, because that would slightly give things away. Enter Ysrael, a Mexican immigrant who starts working for her parents and changes everything. He was, in truth, a typical mysterious guitar-playing love interest.  

The writing style is probably one of my favourite things about the book.  At a first look seems quite distant, as if the reader isn't feeling what the characters feel so directly, but rather is stood on the other side of the room watching them. But as I sort of got into it, it seemed like quite dream-like prose.   It certainly worked well for Suna's parts of the story; but I think I would have liked to have been able to relate to Mina more than I felt like I did. I certainly wanted for her to be happy, and resolve everything with Johnathon, but I felt like I was wanting that as an observer; almost alienated from her.
 Which isn't to say I didn't dislike the writing. It seems pretty cleverly crafted; Mina writes in the first person past, and Suna in the third person present.  Both of them seem like the perfect ways to tell their stories in relation to the character. 

The plot, however, I wasn't so keen on.  I think that was mostly because it's such a short book; I don't think there was really enough time for the plot to develop realistically or clearly; the Mina/Johnathon thing, for instance. I was entirely confused as to what was going on there, or what was really going on behind it.  They used to be in love, but now they're not?  Yet Johnathon is still helping her keep up her perfect facade?   But there's more to that, surely... The mind boggles.  And, similarly, the Mina/Ysrael relationship seemed pretty rushed.  It seemed like they'd just met when they were already kissing.  It was, I suppose, like the story was entirely in fast-forward mode, but I couldn't slow things down and really identify with the characters.  Suna, for instance.  She wasn't the central character- Mina was- but I think that An Na could have gone into her with more detail, certainly.  Her emotions were never really explored; just her actions.  Being deaf, surely, wouldn't suddenly stop her thinking or feeling anything of her own, not that much? 

Which brings me to the ending.  It's a very open conclusion to the book; with nothing really clearly resolved and leaving the reader to speculate what happens.  It's irritating that I can't really talk about it lest I give something away (but then, if it's an open ending, surely that implies  there's nothing to give away..?)  Nothing is concluded or wrapped up entirely, and though the story had come to a stopping point, it isn't an end.  There's certainly a lot more potential story to it, but alas none of it was tied up.  Maybe, as with some books, that could have been okay.  But I still had so many questions from the rest of the plot, I would have liked to have had some of them answered.

So, it's a nice enough book, but it really could have done with some more filling out and plot development.  I'm not sure if I would read any more of Na's novels, but I suppose I'm glad I read this.

In three words: rushed, poetic, hmmm.
Recommended for: mothers and daughters.
Rating: 2.5

Friday, 18 February 2011

Foreign Language Friday: four manga mini-reviews

Dear blog,

So I'm entirely aware that I've been awful at blogging lately. But for one thing I haven't really had time to sit down and write a review, and for another I think I've only read two YA novels so far this month.
I fail at being a YA reader, even though that's what I am. Most of the time.
Anyway. Here I am.
So for Foreign Language Friday this week I thought I might do something a little different. I've read a lot of manga recently, so I thought that I could sum some of them up in a couple of paragraphs.

50 Rules for Teenagers, volume 1
written by: Na-Ye Ri
original language: Korean
Rating: four
50 Rules For Teenagers is in a lot of ways a very ordinary sort of book. Mi-Roo, the main character, is like pretty much any other fifteen-year-old. Among other things she deals with her irritating twin brother, taking care of the house with her mother almost always away on business, assisting her crazy manga-ka sister, starting high school, and the required catty classmates. Mi-Roo is also the perfect protagonist. She's quite snarky and such, but so hardworking and thoughtful you can't help but be instantly on her side.
Maybe that's why it's such a great read; it's so familiar and, I guess, kind of comforting in that sense. Minimal intelligent thinking is required, and you can just sit back and go along with the story in all its quiet, everyday awesome.
One small, persnickety thing, because I myself am small and persnickety: I'm not so keen on the cover. That's her brother that Mi-Roo looks like she wants to eat.

Fruits Basket, volume 5
written by: Natsuki Takaya
original language: Japanese
Rating: 5
Fruits Basket never fails to rock the shojo manga world. Things are really getting going now, in the fifth volume following Tohru Honda's life staying with the cursed Sohma family, who transform into an animal of the Chinese zodiac when hugged by a member of the opposite sex. Kisa appears on the scene, though mute and troubled by her past, and there are some mysterious connections made between Kisa and Yuki's past; apparently he knows what she's going through. The plot thickens.
I am one of the multitude of fangirls of this series. With reason, I might say. With sufficient romance, three-dimensional, complex characters with interesting pasts, humorous best friends, what's not to like? The fact that the volumes aren't longer, I guess. Anyway, Natsuki Takaya seems to really hit the nail on the head when it comes to writing about people, and emotions, and the past and the present. She has all aspects of humanity covered, including- and maybe most importantly- their flaws.
In the latter part of the book, there's an interesting subplot involving Hanajima and Yuki's fan club, which I thought was highly amusing seeing as Hanajima and Arisa are among my favourite characters, and some sufficient comic relief seeing as parts of the rest of the story were so dark.
So. Bring it on, volume 6.

Hinadori Girl, volume 1
written by: Mari Matsuzawa
original language: Japanese
rating: 3
Yoshiki's father is away working all the time, mostly on the moon. Back at home, living with his little sister Akira, Yoshiki is repairing one of his long-dormant projects; Sally 001, a robot maid. But when brought to life, Sally seems entirely incapable of doing any work, and her main skill in live is being cute and naïve to the world, including the villains who continuously try and snatch Sally away. However, despite the fact that Sally is in peril, Akira gets increasingly jealous because Sally is taking up so much of her brother's time.
The whole concept is like something from Tomorrow's World. You know; "By the year 2000 we'll be taking frequent trips to the moon and robots will be doing all our work for us."
Alas, although the plot line was entirely charming, I didn't like Hinadori Girl as much as I would have if, say, it had been longer. The whole thing felt very rushed; no sooner had Sally been brought to life than she was being stolen, so it seemed, so I never felt like I could really really relate to the characters, or really warm to them in general. Sally herself wasn't in fact as much of a central character as I thought she was going to be; the story mostly focused on Yoshiki and Akira and their strange sibling rivalry/love.
Well, I've got a copy of volume 2 from the library, so we'll see if things improve, and I'm interested to see where things are going to go.

Strawberry Marshmallow, Volume 5
written by: Barasui
original language: Japanese
Rating: 5
After volume 3, which was a little "eh", (But then "eh" in Strawberry Marshmallow terms is actually "hey, it's pretty good I suppose" in other-literature terms) with volumes four and five Strawberry Marshmallow is back on top form, with more escapades from the most kawaii posse known to mankind. Nobue, Chika, Miu, Matsuri and Ana are back for more hilarity. Among other things, Matsuri's kitten hat makes a comeback, Miu and Chika wonder how close they really are, and their everyday lives are narrated through Japanese proverbs, all with the humour, characteristics and artwork that make me love this series so much (volume 6 is out in Japan, but my best friend Google tells me it may be a while before it's released in English). Be warned: as with the other Strawberry Marshmallow volumes, there are a lot of jokes that involve the Japanese language, pop culture and such, particularly in this volume, in which the girls study English and discover the meanings of their names. Thankfully here and there there are little notes that explain some of the jokes and references, which makes things a little easier and less "awkward for the American reader." Yeah, I know I quote that a lot nowadays. But it' relevant. I can't resist. /sarcasm/ I'm not mocking anyone. Well, perhaps I am, but I can't even remember who now.

So. There you go. Signing off.