Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Eyes Like Stars

Eyes Like Stars - Lisa Mantchev

So I read this the other day and was pleased with the funny, engaging story. So we've got Beatrice Shakespeare Smith, called Bertie, a seventeen year old girl who lives in the Theatre Illuminata, right? Yeah, in this theatre, the characters from the play are alive, able to hang out and interact with Bertie, and her best friends include four mischievous fairies and Nate, a pirate character. It's a pretty fun life, but Bertie is always getting into trouble because of her antics. Then one day it's the last straw, and the Theater Manager says that she'll have to leave unless she can find a way to make herself invaluable to the theatre. Bertie manages to figure out a plan, but the hard part comes in the execution, and that doesn't even take into account the sabotage and secrets that she comes up against.

So, yeah, it's a book about the theatre. So y'all know I like it, 'cause I totally dig the theatre. Plenty of references to theatre (and I swear I saw a reference to getting eaten by a grue, what) which made for some very nice moments of recognition when I picked them up. That's always fun. And the inclusion of familiar Shakespearean characters and seeing the interpretations of them gave another dimension to the book. Hm, well, we never actually leave the theatre in this story, and the Theatre Illuminata is such a magical place, I could never place the time period, which I thought was great because it just added to the magic and mystery of the story. And I quite liked Bertie herself. She's a familiar character type, the spunky girl who causes chaos but who has a good heart. She's smart, offbeat, somewhat girly instead of overwhelmingly tomboyish, and very creative. So when she decides on her plan on how to remain at the theatre, we buy that she's able to pull it off. Also nice is that her actions do have consequences, and even though things are mostly okay at the end, there's still a big burden of guilt regarding her one slip-up that she'll need to fix in the next book. Oh, and I do like that the story was mostly self-contained even while setting up for a sequel. I don't like reading one story stretched over multiple books. Give me story arcs that are as self-contained as possible but which contribute to a larger whole.

Anyway, Eyes Like Stars was a very enjoyable read. It's fairly substantial, but if you're like me, you'll blaze through it because it keeps your interest the whole way through.

Oh, and since I forgot to mention this in the last post, thanks to everyone who commented on the discussion post from earlier in the month. We came up with some great thoughts. ^_^


Avalanche by Arthur Roth is a book I remember reading in grade school. I recently found it again after a post on the LiveJournal community whatwasthatbook. Very useful comm, that one. I had good memories of the book, so I requested it from the library to read again.

So anyway, in Avalanche, fourteen year old Chris Palmer is trapped in an avalanche. What it says on the tin, basically. And what follows is a narrative that tracks Chris's time trapped beneath the snow as he tries to stay alive long enough to be rescued. There's not a lot of action, but the book is full of surprisingly interesting introspection and character development. In his mind, through memories and dreams, Chris untangles the troubled relationships he has with his mother, father, and his brother Terry. Chris, with a weak heart and scarlet fever as a child, has never felt good enough when compared to his athlete brother, and he feels that his father resents him for not being like Terry. In between flashbacks to the past, we see Chris struggle to deal with hunger, cold, and fear as the days go by.

One thing I liked about this book was that, despite it being for a younger age group, it didn't gloss over any of the darker aspects of the story. You get every carefully considered detail of what Chris does as he works to survive in the snow, and Chris even entertains the thought of taking his own life when he gets too overwhelmed. I mean, that's not something you usually see in a book that middle school kids might read. But, yeah, I liked this book. A clean, simple style, plenty going on, and Chris is a well-rounded character, with flaws and talents both, realistic, basically. Well, this is a short book, but it's very engaging and a quick read.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Whose story?

A short note before getting to the meat of this post. As you can see, updates have been scarce as of late. I've been reading, to be sure, but I simply had no motivation to post reviews. I'm going to try some different things, more musings on fiction and more casual reviews where I'll mainly just discuss the book instead of keeping to a format. So, to start that off, let's talk about characters.


In Directing I a couple years back, my director told our class something important about play analysis that has stuck with me ever since: when you're going to be directing a show, you need to decide which character the show belongs to. That means you have to decide who has the journey of character development that you want to follow. Even in an ensemble piece, my director stressed, you need to decide whose play it really is. Now, this advice has been stuck in my mind ever since, as I've always wondered if it applied to novels as it did to plays. It gives me an interesting perspective from which to analyse stories. Whose story, I ask myself, is this?

Sometimes it's obvious who the main character is. In A Doll's House, Ibsen's tense drama that gave rise to naturalism in drama, you would have to be very creative in order to justify the play being anyone else's besides Nora's. This play is all about Nora's inner struggle. Similarly, plenty of books have obvious main characters. Who is The Goose Girl about but Anidori? Her journey from a weak-willed girl to a strong-minded woman with the courage to take her destiny in her own hands in the whole point of the novel. No one else gets nearly as much focus as Ani does.

However, there are cases where it's trickier to decide whose story is the most important one. Taking another stage example, look at Wicked. Knee-jerk reaction is to characterize this as Elphaba's play; after all, she's the Wicked Witch of the West, the one who is "wicked". But some, myself included, might argue that Galinda has at least as big a journey of character development, possibly even a bigger one than Elphie. After all, we see Galinda go from a mean-spirited rich girl to a well-meaning ditz in just the first act, and from then she has to make choices about her future and her friendship with Elphaba. There's a real human struggle in her path, choosing between what's right and what's easy, and she doesn't always make the right choice either. In my book, that's certainly fuel for the possibility of making Wicked Galinda's show. And what about in books? Well, let's take another of my favorite series and look at The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Haruhi's the title character, Kyon's the narrator. Again, Kyon seems the obvious choice since we're inside his head, but it's Haruhi's development as a character that we're following, watching as she goes from a frankly terrifying amoral hellion into a determined but good-hearted girl who's always looking for more fun and adventure. She learns the value of her friendships with the members of the SOS Brigade and calms down and learns to enjoy life instead of moping about how it's not exciting enough. So again, whose story is this?

However, what about books like The Ask and the Answer? Two points of view in that one. Sure, Todd was the sole POV character in The Knife of Never Letting Go, but it made complete sense for there to be only one viewpoint in that book. At first we're not supposed to know that there's even a girl in the picture, and then we're following Todd's complete confusion as he tries to figure out this person with no Noise and who doesn't even seem to be able to sleep. Viola would lose a lot of her mystery if we were in her head, and consequently the reader wouldn't be able to identify with Todd quite as well. A large, large part of the novel's success as a moving story rides on seeing the relationship between Todd and Viola develop as Todd comes to understand her better. But then we come to The Ask and the Answer, where both characters get viewpoints. So is it still just Todd's story? Seems to shortchange Viola quite a bit that way, since we suddenly understand her so much better than we did in the first book just by being inside her head.

So, is this problem of whose story negated in novels by the author's ability to utilize multiple viewpoints? I actually don't have an answer. Can you say that just because each character gets a viewpoint section that one's not more important than the other? Especially with books series that have tons of viewpoints, like Green Rider or A Song of Ice and Fire, it becomes harder to weigh the characters equally. So is it a necessity that even in novels there can only be one truly main character in a work? I'm not at all sure, but I'm certainly going to continue to keep this in mind when writing my own stories and when reading the works of others. If nothing else, it continues to provide me with an excellent perspective from which to analyze media.


Well, I'm interested in people's thoughts on this issue, so if you have anything to say, please leave a comment! I'd like to know if other people have ever thought like this as well, or if this has given you a new way to look at stories. Also, expect either a book ramble or another discussion post within the next few days. I have an idea for a top ten female protagonists post that I've been working on for a while. Still need a few more girls for my list, though.