Julia and Jason are on a high school class trip in London. Julia is type ‘A’; Jason is type ‘F’. She considers herself too sophisticated for his antics, and he appears to get a kick out of rubbing her the wrong way. One evening, they find themselves at a soiree-turned- debacle; cell phones are mixed up, and confusion ensues for the remainder of the trip.
Julia’s cell phone is percolating with text messages from a secret admirer, and she’s beside herself with flattery and conflict -- she has a secret crush on a boy named Mark. And she believes that she and Mark are meant to be. Nevertheless, the text messages keep buzzing, and she keeps buzzing back, trying desperately to track down her mystery lover. Jason agrees to help her, and she reluctantly accepts his assistance since he is her class trip partner, and they have to hang out together. Much to Julia’s dismay, Jason seems to be more of a liability than an asset.
The misadventures of Julia and Jason are reminiscent of a Doris Day and Rock Hudson movie -- at times cute yet most of the time, terribly annoying. Morill tries to use witty banter between the two nemeses to drive the story. But her teenage language is banal as it boils over with colloquialisms and forced metaphors. “‘I absolutely did not,’ Jason replies with way more courage than he should have when talking to this human mountain.” I suppose that’s the tricky part of writing a first person narrative in a teenager’s voice: sustaining an authentic yet compelling voice.
I did appreciate the Beatles’ soundtrack and the Shakespearean history and references. Morill does a decent job of merging London’s pop culture and literary history with present-day teenage culture. “‘What’s your favorite Beatles song?’...’Imagine.’... I bit my lip. I didn’t want to correct him, but I have to. ‘Um, that’s not a Beatles song,’ I say, working hard to keep my voice even so as not to sound like the know-it-all I am.’”
If you enjoy cute, farcical YA novels, you might enjoy this book. If you’re looking for something profound and riveting, this probably won’t rock your world. Borrow it.
Meant To Be
By Lauren Morrill
304 pp. Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Redrum. It’s time to take your medicine. Last week I read The Shining. There are a few significant points here. This summer I moved to an apartment building that used to be a hotel in the early nineteen-hundreds. The units are lofts with classic fixtures, cement walls and ceilings, and radiator heaters that are powered by a boiler located in the basement. This is reminiscent of The Shining’s setting -- an old hotel with a monstrous boiler residing in the estate’s ominous underbelly. I must admit that since moving in, I’ve been a bit spooked. The basement is creepy, and my loft is right above it. One day I was standing in my office, and the light fixture crashed down from the ceiling within one foot of me.
Reading the Shining in my creepy loft didn’t help me feel comfortable. I suppose that’s a testament to Stephen King’s story-telling prowess. The Torrance’s bloody misfortunes mingled with the dark history, and supernatural forces of the Stanley Hotel made my skin crawl. Witnessing Danny, their five-year-old, telepathic son, battle the evil spirits who sought to destroy his family disturbed me, yet I couldn’t stop reading the book. Call me a masochist.
My selection for this edition of Book Soundtrack is Roland Orzabal’s Mad World, made popular by Gary Jules, and even more popular by Adam Lambert. The eeriness of the minor key with the whispering background vocals and sparse piano arrangement conjure ghostly images of the Stanley Hotel. The bleak lyric referencing deadly dreams, sorrowful children, and crazy adults is the perfect backdrop for the Torrance family. After all, they truly live in a mad world.
Had I answered this question five years ago, I probably would have had a litany of major and minor blunders, all sprawled out on a sacred scroll. Now that I’ve been around the block a few times, I understand that there truly aren’t any mistakes, and that sacred scroll is a minor character hogging the spotlight on my stage. Perhaps the biggest mistake I’ve ever made was to believe that I had ever made a mistake.
Five years ago, I might have presented you with a list of men that I’ve dated, their names names arranged in foul-up order. I might have whispered in your ear the names of secret crushes that I spent too much time secretly crushing; a list of college classes in which I performed deplorably; or the story of when I was fired from a clerical job at my university. The slipups are endless like a floor covered with banana peels.
Now I see that every time I slipped, there was someone nearby to help me back on my feet. And when that person helped me, I was somehow helping them. I forged many friendships via those banana peels; those mistakes were the gateways to opportunities. I’m reminded of the Kelly Clarkson song, Beautiful Disaster. That’s exactly how I feel about my mistakes -- they were disasters, yet they worked out beautifully.
Visceral. Gripping. Heart-wrenching. Solomon Northup withholds no punches in his knee-jerking memoir.
"Having been born a freeman, and for more than thirty years enjoyed the blessings of liberty in a free State - and having at the end of that time been kidnapped and sold into Slavery, where I remained, until happily rescued in the month of January, 1853, after a bondage of twelve years -- it has been suggested than an account of my life and fortunes would not be uninteresting to the public."
His narrative is anything but uninteresting as he retraces those twelve years of bondage. Before Northup was kidnapped, he led a comfortable life in Saratoga, New York. He was happily married, had three healthy children, and he enjoyed the amenities that slaves only dreamed of: a nice home, beautiful horses, and money. He was a Jack of all trades; employment came to him easily. Northup also played the violin masterfully and freelanced his talent around town.
In the spring of 1841, Solomon Northup was approached by two men who proposed a musical opportunity. They worked for a traveling circus and needed musical entertainment for their shows. If Northup agreed to travel with them to New York City, he would earn one dollar a day plus three dollars for additional evening performances. He obliged. Little did he know, that seemingly lucrative gig would cost him twelve years of his freedom and sanity.
The narrative that ensues his kidnapping is a hot whirlwind of fear, violence, and bigotry interspersed with oases of camaraderie and hope. I was awestruck by his mettle and fortitude. When his captors insist he deny his legal standing as a freeman, Northup refuses. “Again and again I asserted I was no man’s slave, and insisted upon his taking my chains off at once.” His captors’ response -- beat him. “With the paddle, Burch commenced to beating me. Blow after blow was inflicted upon my naked body.” The friendships with fellow captives helped sustain him. Shortly after his beating, one of them advises him to “be silent henceforth on the subject of my freedom for, knowing the character of Burch, he assured me that it would only be attended with renewed whipping.”
Northup doesn’t point fingers and blame anyone for his unjust treatment. Neither does he whine or complain or curse his oppressors. He simply documents the history with an unfettered pen. His book doesn’t testify the monstrosities of slavery as much as it does the resilience of the human spirit. Buy it.