Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Six Rules of Maybe by Deb Caletti

The Six Rules of Maybe
Deb Caletti
Simon Pulse
Realistic; Young Adult
April 2010

Scarlet, an introverted high school junior surrounded by outcasts who find her a good listener, learns to break old patterns and reach for help when her pregnant sister moves home with her new husband, with whom Scarlet feels an instant connection. (BWI description)

I always find interesting the official "one-sentence description" with regard to what it says about a book. It's a selling tool, and there's always some truth to it. The book always deals, on some level, with that description. But in this case, the description left out what, to me, the book was more about. Certainly in the end, Scarlet has a better understanding of what her personality patterns have been, and has the courage to break the self-defeating ones. But the book was so much more about falling in love with her sister's husband ... And who knows why S&S didn't highlight that instead.

Scarlet is a type of girl you knew in high school. Everyone likes her, if only because there’s nothing not to like about her. She’s not in the popular crowd, but rather she has the type of personality that attracts others who are decidedly not in the "in" crowd. (Whoa, was that me in high school and throughout many years of my adult life? You bet. Not that there's anything inherently wrong in that.)

She’s too shy to assert her needs, or even to know what she needs or wants. Until her sister Juliet comes home one day, pregnant and married to a guy she’d never even mentioned to the family ... Almost instantly, Scarlet begins to fall in love with Hayden, Juliet's new husband. It's just in her to do that. She bonds with the lonely, the downtrodden, the unloved.

Juliet is Scarlet’s opposite—sexy, outgoing, beautiful, and troublesome. In high school, she was into boys and sex. Fortunately, she took precautionary birth control, and so it’s somewhat of a surprise that she should accidentally get pregnant. But then, maybe not. For someone as flaky, self-centered, and immature as Juliet, probably just about anything is possible. (She's not a 100% unlikeable character, but close. Until the end, when Caletti finally shines a light on Juliet's self-defeating patterns.)

Toward Juliet, Hayden, her husband, is a romantic, besotted puppy of a man. He's really a sweet guy, and most readers will also fall instantly in love with him. He writes her the most romantic love letters to Juliet, which Scarlet secretly reads and swoons over. Unfortunately, it would seem that Juliet finds Hayden so boring, that she meets clandestinely with her ex-boyfriend, a creepy bad boy. It would seem that, near the end, she runs off with him.

As you can imagine, seeing that is heartbreaking for Scarlet, who would give anything for Hayden to have written her the love poems. I felt my own heart breaking for Scarlet throughout this book, for her doomed love, and her personality style that was so like my own in my younger years.

What I like best about Caletti’s writing is her deep insights about human nature. She frequently features characters, girls and their mothers, who fall in love with the wrong man, and it screws up their lives. But overall is a sweet romanticism toward life, which I find delightful.

If you're someone who likes a book heavy on plot, this one will disappoint. Scarlet spends most of her time worrying about other people’s problems, and so much of the book is introspective. But because Caletti  understands human personality and motivation on such a deep level, I loved that. Scarlet loves to read psychology books, which explains why she understands more about psychology than anyone her age normally would.

If I were to review this in terms of character analysis, and use Enneagram personality styles as a blueprint, Scarlet is the classic NINE. It is very difficult to pull off a story about a NINE style (as the protagonist) because they have very little sense of self. They don't cause conflict, because they have no idea who they are, or what they want. Because of that, there is no burning need that would push a plot forward.

But Caletti succeeds at it, and beautifully. The NINE style personality is afraid to hope for anything for their own self. They felt neglected by their parents when young. They felt that one of their siblings, or one of their parents, got all of the attention. Totally true in this novel. They don’t know what they want, and even if, by chance, they do find themselves wanting something, they’re afraid to go after it.

So they cling to hope instead. They're the old fashioned, fairy tale princesses who hope the warty toad they kiss will turn into a prince. Scarlet has the most agonizing, heartbreaking hope that Hayden will decide to love her instead of Juliet.

But it’s a relationship that cannot be. Hayden loves Juliet, and they're having a baby together. So Scarlet must learn, in the end, when it’s appropriate to let go of hope, or to displace it onto a more appropriate object. In this case, it’s Hayden and Juliet’s baby. And, in the case of a NINE style personality, that turns out not to be such a difficult thing to do. She also, of course, learns how to stand up for herself. Feeling her anger, she gets the courage to tell her mom how she always felt neglected. She tells a creep who's been bugging her to stop.

The only thing I take issue with in this book is that the Juliet character should’ve been named Scarlet (because she’s somewhat like spoiled Scarlett O’Hara) and the Scarlet character should’ve been a Molly or a Mary or a Beth. Or maybe a Cathy.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Deer in a Harvest Wheat Field

Hubby and I were taking a stroll and chatting about the ripening grain when we spotted a deer in the wheat field. At first, all we could see were the deer's ears, but then it heard us, and took off leaping across the field.

The wheat will be ripe for cutting in two weeks. The air has taken on the delicious, ripe-grain scent of harvest.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Gimme a Call by Sarah Mlynowski

Gimme a Call
Sarah Mlynowski
Fantasy; Chick lit; Young Adult
April 2010

After accidentally dropping her cell phone into a fountain at the mall, fourteen-year-old Devi Banks starts to get phone calls--and an earful of advice on how to live her life to avoid making disastrous choices--from her seventeen-year-old self. (BWI description)

I love the premise of this book. There are times when I would dearly love for my older self to be able to give my younger self advice. Wouldn't you?

As you might expect, however, younger Devi isn't, at first, about to take any advice from anyone, especially the "Crazy Stalker Girl" on her phone. It takes a number of attempts by older Devi before younger Devi actually gets that it's her older self who is magically/mysteriously on the other end of the line.

How does it happen in the first place? Older Devi drops her cell phone into a magical fountain at the same time as she is wishing she could turn back the clock. Why? Devi's boyfriend, Bryan, has just broken up with her--right before the senior prom. But that's not the worst of it by far: for the past four years, she's been devoting her life to him. She's neglected her friends and her studies, and now she doesn't have any girlfriends, and she's being accepted only into mediocre colleges.

It's a fun premise. I loved seeing the differences between younger Devi and older Devi's attitudes, and how things in her life change during the four-year time span. When older Devi convinces younger Devi to change a single, small thing, it often changes older Devi's life in big ways. In the end, both Devis decide that the hassle of cleaning up a mess made as a result of changing fate isn't worth it. Each learns to live in a more balanced way.

I'd recommend this book to teens who are looking for a light, fun read. Bryan may be the cause of all of Devi's troubles, but their "cute meet" at a party is one of the most delightful scenes in the book.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

More Views of the River Ranch

If you drove around our River Ranch, you would take some dips and turns over several miles of non-paved road. In fact, just getting there would take you across four miles of gravel road. Even before you get to the property line, the road changes from gravel to dirt. In the case of the picture at the left, it's puffy dirt, with rocks beneath it. It's not something you would take your car on, unless you don't mind getting dust in your trunk (as well as all over your car).

Yes, Virginia, there are still non-paved roads in this country. A writer friend of mine's NY editor once asked her to remove a reference to a gravel road from her manuscript. The editor said "there aren't gravel roads in America anymore."

There are probably more non-paved roads in my county (Whitman, Washington) than paved. They say Alaska is the last frontier. Well, the west is still quite "wild." When I was a girl, I fell in love with the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. I grew up outside of Seattle, but I knew, after reading the Little House books, that I would love to live on a farm. The interest grew when I looked in World Book Encyclopedia when I was about 10, and saw a most welcoming picture of a farm, complete with red barn and grain silos.

The road (above) is at the top of the ridgeline (picture below) that separates our wheat field from our scrub ground, which goes down to the river. You can hear hawks fly overhead, and the sounds of the Palouse River below. Wildlife abounds: deer, a resident moose. You would find rattlesnakes under the rocks. The air smells heavenly; it is so clean and pure. I grew up watching "Bonanza." This is our Ponderosa, except it's not as isolated (or big!). 

If you stood on the ridgeline and looked out, away from the wheat field, you would see, across the canyon, a fingerlike projection of land, and the meandering river below it. A railroad line once went through this area. I zoomed my camera, and took a picture of the tunnel that cuts through the fingerlike projection.

My husband and two of our kids once walked through the tunnel. He said it was the scariest thing he'd ever done. (And that man has done many scary things. He's a pilot. 'Nuf said.) [What made it scary was that our kids were with him, and their possible lack of safety worried him. Otherwise, the man is fearless.] The railroad apparently blasted out the tunnel. The blast left a pit in the center of the tunnel. My husband said it was so dark that you couldn't see a thing, thus he had no idea how deep the pit was. He and the kids worked their way along the edge--hugging the rocks--and finally made their way through to the open air and sunshine.

Below: A picture of the fingerlike projection. This is the side the hubby and kids came out, and where I was waiting with our younger child. Because the county now owns the land where the tracks used to be, and because the views are beautiful in this area, the county turned it into a popular bike trail.

However in order to get to the tunnel, you have to cross the river, which isn't (easily) possible anymore. There used to be a bridge, but during the fall firestorm of 1990, a field fire destroyed it.

Steptoe Butte in the background.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Tell Me a Secret by Holly Cupala

Tell Me a Secret
Holly Cupala
July 1, 2010
Realistic Fiction
Review copy provided by the publisher
Debut Author

Bad Girl sister, Xandra, who younger Good Girl sister, Rand, idolized, died five years ago. Since then, no one in the family wants to talk about it. Certainly not her snobby Socialite mother, who feels she married beneath her station, and who blames her husband for introducing Xandra to Andre, the no-good boyfriend who killed their daughter. (Note to reader: My bald description does a disservice to Ms. Cupala's more subtle and literary writing style. The book is emotional, but it doesn't read like melodrama, though my summary does.)

Now Rand is trying to BE Xandra, and to come to terms with what happened by living Xandra’s life for her, instead of her own. She chooses a boyfriend, Kamran who, like Andre, is unacceptable to her mother. She chooses Delaney, a girl who is like Xandra, to be her new best friend. Rand is hoping that together they will replace what’s now missing in her life: dearly beloved Xandra. Rand also had a crush on Andre when she was twelve years old.

A bunch of unexpected things happen: Rand loses her former best friends, Chloe and Essence. Delaney steals Kamran from her. Worst, or perhaps best, depending on your view, Rand discovers she’s pregnant. From that point, this already dark story gets ever darker and rockier, but the ending is hopeful and realistic.

The story is about uncovering secrets. It’s about accepting responsibility for one’s actions and relinquishing blame. It’s about learning to forgive, and to have faith that a bad situation could be a blessing in disguise.

Ms. Cupala is a wonderful writer. Sometimes when I read a debut novel, I have doubts about whether the writer will continue to be published. I have no doubts about Ms. Cupala's talent and future as a writer.

Holly is currently undertaking a massive, six-week blog tour. If you want to follow it, check out the itinerary. Giveaways are also involved. Thank you, Holly Cupala, for your efforts in having HarperCollins send me the book.
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