City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
2007. Simon Pulse. Paperback. 485 pages.
Divergent by Veronica Roth
2011. Katherine Tegen Books. 487 pages.
I once read more YA than I do now, back when I read the Hunger Games trilogy, and the Uglies trilogy, and Shannon Hale’s Books of Bayern. When I’ve read a young adult novel lately, it’s been at the encouragement of my co-worker, Kim: we’ve been picking YA novels that have upcoming film adaptations. Neither of us have high expectations for the novels we read, but it’s fun to compare notes on what we thought worked and what we thought was ridiculous.
City of Bones was . . . mostly ridiculous. I thought the writing was flat-out bad, especially the dialogue. The banter and jokes between the teens felt clunky and forced, and every now and then, one character would pull out some ten-dollar word, and the other character would (sincerely) be like, “whoa, I had no idea you were so smart.” I will say that Clare has some interesting ideas for the world she has built in City of Bones, and one of the adults, a werewolf, had some real promise as a character. Also, kudos for taking the love triangle in an unexpected place (I sort of saw it coming, but didn’t know if she’d actually commit to it.) But I will not be reading other books by Clare. The screenwriter for the film looks to be a newbie, at least in her IMDB profile, and the director’s past films don’t impress me either, so I’m not holding out hope for the film to suss out the good bits of the plot and overlay some decent dialogue.
I heard about Divergent last year or the year before when my cousin swore that it was better than Hunger Games, a claim I greeted with skepticism. I have very good memories of reading the Hunger Games. I thought that Divergent‘s cover looked like a pretty blatant reference to Collins’ books and I marked it as a wannabe. And the plot – where society is organized by people’s predominant virtue (honesty, intelligence, bravery, selflessness, peacefulness) – seemed outlandish. I mean, it’s intriguing but not at all believable as far as human nature is concerned. The protagonist is ‘special’ because she tests out as being capable in several of these virtues. That’s kind of insulting to humanity in general. Anyway, suspension of disbelief, yada yada. I finally did read it in March of this year. As my co-worker promised, the book is fast-paced. And I really liked that it was set in a dystopian Chicago, as I am fond of that city. That was my favorite part. The romantic storyline was fine. The body count was higher than I expected, but the carnage was not really given a lot of weight, which kind of put me off in the end. I won’t be reading the other books, but it was a more enjoyable reading experience than, say, City of Bones.
Just One of the Guys by Kristan Higgins
2007. Harlequin. Mass Market Paperback. 384 pages.
This one was lent to me by a different co-worker, who reads a lot of romance novels, and I was in the mood for trying Kristan Higgins, whose books I’d seen around. First I tried Higgins’ book All I Ever Wanted, but the main character was being insufferable, so I abandoned it. Just One of the Guys was much better. The main character was a heroine I could get behind. Chastity O’Neill is a Lord of the Rings nerd and a newspaper editor, and is the sister to a bunch of firefighter brothers and daughter to the fire chief of their upstate NY town. I loved that O’Neill had a good career and that her singleness was in no way connected to this fact. The book acknowledges the challenges of print journalism, which was a nice dose of realism. The romance is between her and a guy who has been a longtime friend of the family, and they had good chemistry, but they also had lives apart from each other. Chastity’s interactions with other characters are just as interesting as those with the guy she loves. She makes new friends, works to get certified as an EMT, and sorts through various family catastrophes. I had such a nice warm feeling when I was done reading this book. I was game to try another Higgins – this time Too Good to be True, but it employed a trope that I hate, which is the character making up a fake boyfriend, so I dumped that one. But I’m glad I gave Just One of the Guys a shot, because it was truly a fun light read.