Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Booklog: 13 Little Blue Envelopes, The Silent Room, Midnighters #1

13 Little Blue Envelopes
, by Maureen Johnson

Ginny's Aunt Peg was free-spirited and whimsical and magical and unpredictable and wonderful - and then, as suddenly and unpredictably as she had lived, without giving her family any warning at all, she died. A few months later, Ginny recieved a package in the mail from Aunt Peg - a package containing a letter. Contained in the letter was $1000 and instructions to buy a plane ticket to London and visit Aunt Peg's favorite restuarant. At the restuarant, Ginny found the rest of Aunt Peg's package - a packet of thirteen little blue envelopes, with instructions to open each one only after she had completed the task in the previous one. And so off Ginny went to London, to follow Aunt Peg's legacy.

This book is one of those rare, nearly perfect teen novels. It is just. so. good. Ginny is an immensely likeable protagonist, and while her adventures backpacking across Europe ought to be fictionally glamorous, they alternate between being wonderful and unglamorously lonely - ie, realistic. There is romance, but not too much of it - enough to keep things interesting, but not the focus of the book by any means. No, this book is about Ginny's journey of discovery - both about herself and about the aunt she's always idolized. It reads poignant and funny and painful and true, with a couple of twists that I didn't expect, but that made perfect sense. I really loved this book.


The Silent Room
, by Walter Sorrells

This is another of my Wicked Parent books. I know, it's cliche, I still can't help but be grabbed by it, every time. In this book, written as a series of letters from Oz to his deceased father, Oz's mother remarries Don, a cruel man who sets out to sneakily destroy Oz's life. He is brutal and mean to Oz, and his mother turns a blind eye, but the worst comes when Don sets Oz up for drug possession, and Oz is sent off to Briarwood, a school for the rehabilitation of juvenile delinquants. Even though Oz knows that it's all a mistake, he is unprepared for the brutality of Briarwood - until he begins to realize that there's something more than a simple rehab school going on. There's something bigger and far more dangerous, and if he and the other kids can't work together to figure it out, he - and his mother - may not survive it.

It's an intriguing premise, but if it sounds familiar, that's because it is remeniscent of Louis Sachar's Holes. It feels like the same premise too, if more violent and harsh. It starts strong - so strong that at times, it turned my stomach - but it got weaker as the book went on. Oz's voice was strong and steady throughout, but all the rest of the supporting cast - from the villainous teachers to Oz's fellow students - felt one-dimensional and shallow. It was a dramatic, thrilling It was an okay read, but nothing to write home about.


Midnighters #1: The Secret Hour, by Scott Westerfeld

At exactly midnight, the world as we know it stops - for one hour. This is the time when the ancient creatures of primal human nightmare prowl, the only time that they exist in the world. During the secret hour, all humans are frozen - except for the Midnighters. Born on exactly the stroke of midnight, the Midnighters are awake and active during the secret hours. Each of them has a gift that helps them navigate the secret hour and protect them from the darklings. And during the secret hour, they and the darklings exist in a sort of uneasy truce - until Jessica Day comes to town. And then, everything changes.

On the scale of Scott Westerfeld books, these are better than the Uglies books, but not as good as the Peeps books. They're fairly good, but they read far more like a series with an unpredicted number of volumes than a finite trilogy (or duology,) and as such, they move a little bit slower. The characters take longer to become interesting, or likeable, and the secrets are doled out slower. One of the things I liked so much about the Peeps books was how quickly things happened, how things actually happened instead of dragging on, and that's missing in these books. That said, it's an engaging start. The secret hour is intriguing - as several reviewers have already said, who hasn't wanted an extra hour in the day? - and the different skills of the Midnighters are interesting. I look forward to reading the next book in this series.

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