Monday, August 26, 2013

Rachel Rambles About The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
From Goodreads:
After the grisly murder of his entire family, a toddler wanders into a graveyard where the ghosts and other supernatural residents agree to raise him as one of their own.

Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn't live in a sprawling graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor of the dead. There are dangers and adventures in the graveyard for a boy. But if Bod leaves the graveyard, then he will come under attack from the man Jack—who has already killed Bod's family . . . 

Beloved master storyteller Neil Gaiman returns with a luminous new novel for the audience that embraced his New York Times bestselling modern classic Coraline. Magical, terrifying, and filled with breathtaking adventures, The Graveyard Book is sure to enthrall readers of all ages.

I feel like Neil Gaiman is one of those authors that everyone is familiar with, even if they haven't read any of his books. Neil Gaiman is like a rockstar: everyone knows his name, and loves him just because he's awesome. But I never picked up his books until pretty recently.

I started with Coraline earlier this year, and loved it. Then, when my Creative Writing teacher (aka the biggest Neil Gaiman fan ever to exist ever) found out that I'd never read The Graveyard Book, she shoved a copy into my hands and was like " YOU MUST READ THIS NOW!" So I started reading.

I should add that I read the majority of this book by listening to the audiobook version, which is a totally different experience than just reading it. But more on that later.

For the first half of this novel, I was in a state of...confusion. I was enjoying the storytelling, and the idea of a child being raised in a graveyard was certainly intriguing, but it was like each chapter was even more random and out-of-place than the previous one. I was having a hard time connecting the chapters together and finding any kind of consistent plot. I was still enjoying it, and I knew I would definitely continue reading, but I couldn't help wondering why everyone in the world thought so highly of this book.

And then, once I got a little past the halfway point, I got it. Something just clicked for me, and I thought to myself, "wow, this is brilliant" At that point, I realized how beautiful and unique and meaningful the story was, and I fell in love with this book.

The format of the book is unusual. A lot of the book reads like a collection of short stories about the same characters and setting, but without a real connection between them. But then, later on in the book, there is a connection, and the story flows smoothly from one chapter to the next. I'd never read a book told like this before, so I definitely had a hard time adjusting to the format at first, but by the end of the book, I was able to appreciate the unique format of the story.

The audiobook I listened to is narrated by Neil Gaiman, which made me love the book approximately a million times more. Neil Gaiman has the perfect voice for narrating books, and I could probably listen to him ramble on and on about nothing for hours without getting bored. Since he's the author as well as the narrator, the narration feels a lot smoother than it would if a random actor had narrated it. He knows exactly where to pause or emphasize or stress certain words or sentences or paragraphs, because he wrote them in a specific way. My experience listening to the audiobook was absolutely delightful, and I cannot begin to tell you how much I recommend this audiobook.

As for the book itself, I know I haven't given you much to go on here in this ramble. But the thing about The Graveyard Book is that I don't really have any idea how to describe it or convince you to pick it up. The story It's there, and it's beautiful and strange and creepy and dark and unique and powerful. I can't guarantee that you'll like this book if you read it, of course, but I encourage you to give it a chance, at least. I had an interesting experience reading this book, and it took me a long time to really appreciate it, but now I can't begin to explain to you how brilliant I think it is.

Now that I've read The Graveyard Book and Coraline, I'm definitely ready for some more Neil Gaiman books. If you have any recommendations for me, please leave them in the comments below. I have a feeling that Neil Gaiman is going to become one of my new favorite authors.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Rachel Rambles About Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
From Goodreads:
Set over the course of one school year in 1986, ELEANOR AND PARK is the story of two star-crossed misfits – smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love – and just how hard it pulled you under.

When I picked this book up, I was expecting a light and fun romance. Instead, Eleanor & Park broke my heart in a hundred different ways and made me cry tears of sadness, frustration, and anger. In other words, Eleanor & Park is a beautiful book.

The story alternates between Eleanor's point-of-view and Park's point-of-view. Both characters are what I would call misfits. They're eccentric and quirky and they don't exactly fit in with the other kids at school. They're smart and complex and interesting, and most importantly, they feel real. They were created and developed so thoroughly that I felt as if the two of them were people who actually existed in real life. It was easy to get sucked into the story of their lives, both separately and together.

I've heard people call this book historical fiction, which seems a little weird, since the 80s weren't that long ago, but there is definitely a gap that young adults reading this book today will notice. This book is set ten years before I was born, and so there were moments when I felt the difference between life then and life now. Sometimes I found myself wondering why the characters didn't just use their cell phones/Google/etc, until I remembered that those things weren't an option at the time. But for the most part, 1986 is close enough to 2013 that a teenager's experience isn't all that different. I could relate to Eleanor and Park so easily, because the struggles of any teenager will have similarities regardless of the time period. I think the setting of Eleanor & Park is really interesting and unusual. I've never read any other books like this that blur the lines between historical fiction and contemporary, and I love the format.

Since I went into this book expecting more of a fun and happy romance, I was surprised by how emotional the story of Eleanor and Park is. There are so many things preventing the two of them from being together, and there are so many things preventing each of them from being happy on their own. Eleanor and Park each struggle with vastly different home lives, and it hurt my heart to read about the situations they find themselves in. I found myself wishing that they could just be happy and content and surrounded by people who cared about them, but that is not the case in this book. 

Eleanor & Park tackles some heavy topics, most importantly Eleanor's family situation. Eleanor's mother and younger siblings are treated terribly by Eleanor's stepfather, but they are in a place where they can't do anything to make their lives better. It made my heart ache to read about this broken home, but I was also grateful for the brutal honesty of this book. Rarely do I get so angry and frustrated at novels, but Eleanor & Park had me slamming the book closed at particularly frustrating sections because I couldn't bear to continue. 

Overall, Eleanor & Park is a book that lived up to all the hype, although not in the way I thought it would. I expected a much happier story than what was actually hiding behind such a beautiful cover, but while it might not have been a happy story, it was a powerful one. Eleanor & Park made me cry tears of sadness and anger and frustration, in the best possible way. It was honest in an almost painful way, and it showed that not every story gets to be happy and fun. This book is beautiful and emotional, and it is a story that I know will stay with me for a long time. 

Just a warning: if you do decide to pick this book up, please be aware that it might break your heart. I think it's definitely worth reading, but if you want to read something light and fun, don't choose this book. It deals with some heavy topics, and it was not easy to read at times. It made me really sad, and I know these kinds of books aren't for everyone. But ultimately, I'm glad I read Eleanor & Park, and I'm excited to read more of Rainbow Rowell's books in the future.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Random Ramble: Jonas Brothers Concert (Rachel)

Something you may not know about me is that I am a huge fan of the Jonas Brothers. I mean, not anymore, really, but when I was in fifth and sixth grade, I was OBSESSED. You can't blame me, though, because it's pretty much a rule that all middle-schoolers must be obsessed with whatever boy band is popular at the moment. So when I was eleven, I was totally in love with Kevin, Joe, and Nick. I was doodled their names on my notebooks at school and was convinced that I was going to marry one of them (probably Nick). I had a phase where I loved each of them. I began with a Nick phase, and then I moved on to Joe for about a year, and I even had a short Kevin phase before he announced to the world that he was in a relationship and was getting married blah blah blah, so I of course had to move on to one of the available brothers. But I eventually came back to Nick, because hello, it's Nick Jonas!

Anyway, so when I was eleven, I wanted more than anything to go to a Jonas Brothers concert. I'd never been to a concert before, so I wanted them to be my very first concert. But whenever they came anywhere close to me, I either couldn't afford tickets or I didn't hear about the show in time or the tickets sold out in .02 seconds and I couldn't get one. I remember watching friends and friends-of-friends go off to Jonas Brothers concerts, while I sat home feeling extremely jealous. And then, once I grew up a little and moved on from my Jonas Brothers obsession (I then started obsessing over Twilight, so I'm not sure if that's better or worse) I sort of forgot about how badly I wanted to go to a Jonas Brothers concert. And then they sort of disappeared for three years, and I used that time to actually grow up and start obsessing over what I think are much better things, like books. I still listened to the occasional JoBro song, which was fun because it allowed me to feel all nostalgic and long for my youth and all that, but I was over my initial love of them.

But then, after their little disappearance, they came back. I'm sixteen now, and I haven't truly loved the Jonas Brothers in about four years, but when they announced a New Jersey tour date, I was so excited. When I was eleven and I wanted the Jonas Brothers to be my first concert, I assumed that I would then go to a bunch of concerts, and by the time I was sixteen, I would have been to countless concerts. Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way, and so there I was, sixteen years old, and I had yet to go to a concert.

So I bought tickets to the Jonas Brothers concert, expecting to be able to sort of relive my childhood and fulfill that dream I had at eleven years old of seeing the Jonas Brothers perform live. I went with my mom and sisters and two friends, all former JoBro fangirls, and I think it's safe to say that we had a pretty awesome time.
our friends Bronia and Katie, me, my sister Lauren
We got to the venue and it was insanely crowded with teenage girls, all the people who'd been obsessed with the JoBros when they were in middle school. My friends and I all started getting super excited, and it felt like we had transformed into a bunch of twelve-year-olds again. We paid way too much money for t-shirts that we don't actually need, but they have the Jonas Brothers' faces on it so IT'S TOTALLY WORTH IT.

me and my sister Sara
We waited for like two hours for them to come out and start playing and we saw the band Karmin perform the opening act, and then the Jonas Brothers finally came out and I couldn't even handle how excited I was. I kind of started freaking out a little, and I sang screamed along to every song (except the new ones that I didn't know--although I gotta be honest, they were really good). I started getting super emotional at a few different times, and I cried a little. (I mean, this isn't that impressive considering everything makes me cry--books, tv shows, movies, commercials, songs, Mondays, everything!)

It was such a surreal experience for me. Here I was, years after I'd given up on my dreams of seeing the Jonas Brothers in concert, finally at a Jonas Brothers concert. It didn't feel like I was sixteen anymore. It felt like I was in fifth grade again, rocking out in my room to their first album.

I think it's amazing that music can do that, you know? I don't think any other form of media can really have that effect on people. A single song can take me back to a specific moment in time, and a concert can take me back to a whole period of my life. And that period of my life wasn't exactly something I wanted to relive. In a lot of ways, being eleven sucked. I was spending time with "friends" that I would end up never talking to again after sixth grade, my parents were going through a rough divorce, I cared way too much about what others thought of me and I cared way too much about being popular and getting people to like me. Also, I let those "friends" convince me that reading was not cool, so it was clearly a bit of a dark time in my life.

But being eleven was also better than being sixteen in a lot of ways. The world seemed simpler and smaller and I was an innocent kid, blah blah blah. I mean, everyone longs for their childhood, right? Being at that concert made me feel like a kid again, and it was an amazing feeling. I've changed a lot since the days I used to sleep in a room covered in Jonas Brothers posters, and mostly those changes have been good, but it was nice to get a reminder of what I was like back then. I think a good dose of nostalgia is necessary every so often.

The thing that surprised me the most about the concert is that I wasn't there just because I'd loved the Jonas Brothers as a child. You know what? I still think they're good! I love their old music that I used to listen to, and I also really enjoyed what I heard of their new stuff that will be released on their new album. They're really talented performers, in my opinion, and they make good music. Also they're SOO CUTE OMG OMG. Like, wow. I was surprised at how attractive I think they are. They've grown up so much since I used to be obsessed with them, and they've only gotten cuter! Especially Nick. I walked out of that concert giggling like an idiot because I think I've fallen in love with Nick Jonas all over again. Even my mom was like "HOLY CRAP THAT BOY IS SUPER ATTRACTIVE." So yes. That was fun.

I've spent the last few days listening to Jonas Brothers songs and feeling nostalgic and it's been great. I'm so glad I finally got the opportunity to experience them in concert.

As for you guys, I'm curious about what bands/artists/musicians YOU were obsessed with when you were in middle school! Was it just a phase or do you still love them? And do you have any fun concert memories? Let me know in the comments! We can all reminisce together. :)

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Camp NaNoWriMo Results (Rachel)

Some of you guys might remember how pumped up and determined I was in the beginning of July when I made the decision to participate in Camp NaNoWriMo. My goal was not to hit a certain word count, but to finish the draft I'd been working on since the last NaNoWriMo in November. This was a good goal, I think, because when I started writing the draft again, I found myself really loving the story and characters again. I was so excited to continue writing this book that had been floating around in my head for ages.

But then, about two weeks into the month, I sort of, kind of...gave up on Camp NaNo. It started with the BookTube-a-thon (which was basically just a week-long reading marathon for BookTubers) when I was too busy reading to find time to write, but after the BookTube-a-thon was over and I found myself a little sick of reading, I still didn't seem to have much interest in writing.

So I didn't write. I had hit a bad place in my book, and I didn't know how to continue, and to be honest, I didn't really want to continue. Everything I tried to write just felt like I was digging myself a deeper and deeper hole that would be impossible to get out of later on. So I decided to put the book down and not look at it for a few days, and spend some quality time on the couch with Sherlock and the Doctor and the Ponds instead.

I ended up only writing a little over 1800 words for Camp NaNoWriMo. Since I hadn't set a specific word count, it's hard to tell exactly how much I failed, but I was estimating that another 50,000 words would need to be written during July. Clearly, that didn't happen.

But I'm actually not that upset about it. Going into Camp NaNoWriMo, I knew I wasn't going to take it completely seriously. It's summer and I'm supposed to be enjoying my break from school, so motivating myself to write isn't the easiest thing. All I want to do is be a lazy teenager and watch TV and waste my entire summer scrolling through Tumblr. And I don't feel bad about doing any of those things, because I am sixteen and it is summer and it is my right as a sixteen-year-old to be lazy during the summer. :D 

I'm a little disappointed in myself, of course, because if things had worked out, I could have totally found myself finishing my first draft this month. But at the beginning, I decided to look at anything I ended up writing as progress, since I originally hadn't planned on writing anything specific at all this summer. So those 1800 words I wrote? I consider that to be a decent amount of progress. Those are 1800 words that I didn't have before Camp NaNoWriMo, so I'm proud of myself for being even the littlest bit productive.

Again, I'm not too torn up about my failure at Camp NaNoWriMo. In fact, just a few days ago, an amazing idea for a new book seemed to just fall out of the sky and into my head. Seriously, it just came from nowhere, and I knew right away that I needed to write it. So I've been writing a little bit at a time over the past few days, completely for fun, without setting any word count goals or deadlines for myself, just to see how things go. I'm not naive enough to think that this will be the story I finish, or that I won't abandon this story when the next new idea comes along, or that I won't get sick of writing this story after awhile. But I'm a writer, and it's been a long time since I've focused my writing energy on something other than Red (the draft I was working on during Camp NaNo), and I almost forgot what it was like to start a story and watch the characters come to life for the first time. Maybe abandoning my current project for a new shiny idea isn't the best strategy for finishing things, but oh well. I'm having fun with this new story, and writing it doesn't feel like a chore, like it was starting to feel like during Camp NaNo.

And I might be getting a little ahead of myself here, but I have a lot of confidence in my ability to actually write this new story. For one thing: I've been working on it just for fun, my only motivation being that I want to see how it all works out when I transfer it from my head to the page. Also, it's a contemporary romance, which is my favorite genre to read, and the genre that I see myself writing (and publishing?!) in the future. Some of my favorite authors are Sarah Dessen, Maureen Johnson, and Stephanie Perkins, and I always wanted to write books sort of like theirs in the future, but it occurred to me that I hadn't actually tried to write that kind of book...ever. I'd been writing a bunch of other genres, trying them out and seeing what I liked or didn't like about them, but I had yet to try out my favorite genre, and the one that I was likely to have the most success with. So, as of right now, I have high hopes for this story. But I'm also a little annoyed with myself for never even trying to write a book like this before. Like, hello? Rachel, why didn't you think of that before?!

To sum it all up: I failed Camp NaNoWriMo, which wasn't that surprising, and I'm totally okay with it. While I wish I'd done better, I'm still proud of the progress I made. Also, I'm completely in looooove with the new draft I started working on the other day, so fingers crossed this story works out for me, I guess.

If you participated in Camp NaNoWriMo, I'd love to hear your success/failure stories in the comments! Or if you have any stories about writing in general, feel free to share those in the comments as well. :)

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Rachel Rambles About Rereading That Summer

That Summer by Sarah Dessen
From Goodreads:
For fifteen-year-old Haven, life is changing too quickly. She's nearly six feet tall, her father is getting remarried, and her sister—the always perfect Ashley—is planning a wedding of her own. Haven wishes things could just go back to the way they were. Then an old boyfriend of Ashley's reenters the picture, and through him, Haven sees the past for what it really was, and comes to grips with the future.

I'm sure most of you guys are familiar with my love of Sarah Dessen by now. She's one of my favorite authors ever, and I always make it a point to reread at least a few of her books every year, especially in the summer. I've said it a thousand times before, but I'll say it again: it's not summer without Sarah Dessen.

So this year, I decided to pick up That Summer. It had been the only Sarah Dessen book that I hadn't read multiple times, and in the years since I'd read it for the first time, I'd forgotten a lot of the details. So I picked it up again, expecting the short and sweet book I'd remembered from my first experience.

But it was almost like I was reading a completely different book this time around. For some reason, as I was reading this again, I found the story a thousand times more powerful than I'd found it before. Sure, it's short--not even 200 pages--but it has so much to offer in those pages.

My experience rereading That Summer was a personal one. When I'd read it for the first time, I was probably about twelve or thirteen. I was reading about a main character who was older than me, and back then, being fifteen was a totally foreign concept. But when I read it again, I was sixteen, with being fifteen just an image in the rear view mirror. Haven wasn't some older and more mature character I couldn't begin to understand, Haven was a younger character who was a lot like me when I was fifteen. Suddenly, instead of looking forward into what my life might be like when I was a few years older, I was looking back at what my life actually had been like a few years ago.

What amazed me most about That Summer is how accurate it was. I know everyone doesn't have the same experience as a teenager, but I found it incredibly easy to relate to Haven. I knew exactly what she was going through with her friends and family and life in general. And even though it had only been a short period of time since I was her age, I found that I'd forgotten a lot of what it was like to be fifteen. So the fact that Sarah Dessen, an adult, remembered so much of what it was like to be fifteen was amazing. Sarah Dessen perfectly captured what it felt like to be fifteen-years-old, and even though it seems like a simple concept, I thought it was so impressive. That Summer blew my mind with just how accurate it was.

Since That Summer is Sarah Dessen's first book (fun fact: it was published the year I was born), there are a few things different about it from the sort of Sarah Dessen formula everyone loves and is familiar with. First of all, there's no real romantic relationship. But there shouldn't have been, because That Summer was not a story with room for a romance. That Summer was about a normal teenage girl struggling with normal teenage girl things. Haven was dealing with her parent's divorce and her new step mother and her older sister's upcoming wedding and her best friend falling in and out of love for the first time. These are all simple things that a lot of teenagers struggle with at one point, so the plot of That Summer is not all that unique or unusual.

But Sarah Dessen's ability to capture a specific time period in Haven's life--a summer--is the best thing about this book. It doesn't matter that the story isn't anything new. What matters is that it's easy to relate to, and nothing in it seems fake. The story feels real, like Haven is a real girl, or maybe even like Haven is me. Sarah Dessen's portrayal of her life is honest and accurate, and there's something so special about the way she tells the story of a fifteen-year-old so flawlessly. Haven's life is messy, but not in an over-complicated way. It's messy simply because she's a teenager and that's what being a teenager is like.

I was blown away by this book. That Summer is so simple, but I think its simplicity is what makes it beautiful. To be honest, I don't know how many other people will share my feelings about this book. When I first read it, I enjoyed it, but I wasn't all that impressed. My experience rereading it changed everything for me, and a lot of it had to do with where I had been in my life compared to where I am now. I can't tell you that you'll love this book as much as I do, but that's okay. I'm not so much recommending this book to you as I am telling you about this amazing experience I had with it.

That's why I love rereading books so much. You get something different from your experience every single time. Rereading a book can be a beautiful and extraordinary experience, and I'm so glad I decided to reread That Summer. I could never have guessed when I picked it up again that I would feel such a strong connection to this story, and my feelings about this book surprised me so much. Rather than tell you to read That Summer, I want to tell you to reread a book you haven't read in years. Maybe something you haven't even thought about in a long time. Maybe something you haven't read since you were a kid. Whatever it is, I can't tell you that you'll have the same experience as I did with That Summer, but I can tell you that you'll get something different out of your experience the second (or third or fourth or fifth or hundreth) time around.