Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

All The Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater (review)

30025336Here is a thing everyone wants: a miracle.
Here is a thing everyone fears: what it takes to get one.

Any visitor to Bicho Raro, Colorado is likely to find a landscape of dark saints, forbidden love, scientific dreams, miracle-mad owls, estranged affections, one or two orphans, and a sky full of watchful desert stars.

At the heart of this place you will find the Soria family, who all have the ability to perform unusual miracles. And at the heart of this family are three cousins longing to change its future: Beatriz, the girl without feelings, who wants only to be free to examine her thoughts; Daniel, the Saint of Bicho Raro, who performs miracles for everyone but himself; and Joaquin, who spends his nights running a renegade radio station under the name Diablo Diablo.

They are all looking for a miracle. But the miracles of Bicho Raro are never quite what you expect.

Stiefvater never fails to surprise me with her imaginative, atmospheric, fleshed-out novels. All The Crooked Saints is in all aspects, a very strange and unique story that seems to differ from most YA magical realism books in the writing, plotting, and introduction of characters. Stiefvater’s trademark style might run off the rails in the hands of another author, but the many elements of this novel that make it different, actually WORK. Not all the time, but often enough to make it one of the most intriguing stories I’ve ever read.

To start off, Stiefvater does do a few things differently in this novel when she introduces a setting, character, or certain situation. The beginnings of each chapter are usually characterized by a viewpoint of an abstract idea that is later connected to something important in the chapter. It could be a description of an area, an exploration of a theme, or simply a process of how something works. I will admit that this took some time to get used to and it was probably the only element that hindered me from enjoying this book to the maximum. Some of these musings turn into ramblings that take us nowhere, and by then it’s easy to lose interest. I could attribute this to the reason why this book felt so short yet so long, as it took me nearly 5 days to read when it should have been barely 3. However, I could also attribute it to my everlasting homework and duties to reading Pride And Prejudice for AP Lit. Side note: Screw you, AP Lit.

However, the prose in general was excellent, as expected. I’ve always adored Stiefvater’s writing, the way she can concoct a tangible atmosphere by infusing her magic into the most mundane features of a desert is amazing. Atmospheric writing is my favorite thing, and I would consider Stiefvater to be the queen of it. The exploration of themes such as love, fear, family, identity, and much more blend in perfectly with the aesthetic that is consistently kept up, and I love how whole and full every aspect of the story feels. The composition gives us a feeling of looking at this setting and set of characters from a birds-eye view, but everything can still be seen so clearly. Does that make sense? It’s probably one of those things you must experience to understand it.

The fantasy aspect of the novel was classic magical realism with its own twists and turns. The theories behind the miracles, pilgrims, Saints, and the Soria family legacy were all carefully unfolded throughout the course of the novel, and I loved how the tone was simultaneously dark and light while talking of the events that have taken place in Bicho Raro. The story still keeps the natural whimsical, weird, and magical feel that every magical realism novel has while adding its own unique touches.

Unsurprisingly, Stiefvater tackles a large ensemble cast and happens to tell their individual stories in a third person omniscient viewpoint. It’s a grand idea that is difficult to execute, but Stiefvater manages to nail it. Our main three characters, Beatriz, Daniel, and Joaquin are all equally developed but Beatriz definitely stuck out to me the most. I understood and related to her struggle to express herself and break out of the ‘no feelings’ shell that she has been comfortable in for so long. While those three are mainly highlighted, every single character has equal page time and equal characterization. Pete, Tony, Marisita, Jennie and the entire Soria family are all so well-developed and layered, Stiefvater manages to tell each one of their stories with such emotion and purpose.

All The Crooked Saints is a magical, bizarre, warm, dark, atmospheric exploration of the deepest parts of human nature and self. It’s truly one of a kind and I would urge to all to hop on the hype train before it’s too late and read it as soon as you can. You won’t be disappointed.

Rating: 4 stars

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Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Still Life With Tornado, by A.S King


4 stars

“I am sixteen years old. I am a human being.”

Actually Sarah is several human beings. At once. And only one of them is sixteen. Her parents insist she’s a gifted artist with a bright future, but now she can’t draw a thing, not even her own hand. Meanwhile, there’s a ten-year-old Sarah with a filthy mouth, a bad sunburn, and a clear memory of the family vacation in Mexico that ruined everything. She’s a ray of sunshine compared to twenty-three-year-old Sarah, who has snazzy highlights and a bad attitude. And then there’s forty-year-old Sarah (makes good queso dip, doesn’t wear a bra, really wants sixteen-year-old Sarah to tell the truth about her art teacher). They’re all wandering Philadelphia—along with a homeless artist allegedly named Earl—and they’re all worried about Sarah’s future.

But Sarah’s future isn’t the problem. The present is where she might be having an existential crisis. Or maybe all those other Sarahs are trying to wake her up before she’s lost forever in the tornado of violence and denial that is her parents’ marriage.

“I am sixteen years old. I am a human being.”

Still Life With Tornado really took me by surprise. I’m down for anything that A.S King writes, and I knew right away (even from the premise) that there would be an underlying mystery and intrigue added to the initial contemporary feel. But, Still Life With Tornado kept me on the edge of my seat towards the very end with it’s magnificent magical realism topic and the reluctant yet determined unveiling of the terrible situation Sarah and her family are put in. While I didn’t love the characters and writing as much as those of Please Ignore Vera Dietz, Still Life With Tornado still remains an important and beautiful novel.

Still Life follows 16-year old artist, Sarah, as she faces an existential crisis in her life, claiming that nothing the world does is truly original. She is lost and unaware of her repressed memories of pain as she hungrily yet cautiously looks to unveil them. The book is actually not only about Sarah, but her parents’ poison-filled relationship, the reason of her brother’s departure from the family, and the mystery that is the Mexico vacation that happened six years ago. As Sarah painstakingly digs into her life and all that is unoriginal, we discover a heartbreaking, moving tale in this situation of lies, violence, hate and love.

It’s truly incredible the amount of light and originality King brings to common topics such as violence and abuse within a family, while keeping it realistic and easy to relate to. If you couldn’t tell already from the premise, there is a hint, a large hint of magical realism inscribed into this story, consisting of Sarah in the past and future. 10-year old Sarah, 23-year old Sarah, and 40-year old Sarah’s purposes are clearly not what they seem to be, and the way this aspect was utilized in such as situation was so prophetic and un-pretentious. The title itself is quite clever; it compares a still life used in art (a work of art depicting commonplace items such as flowers or a bowl of fruits) and an added tornado to Sarah’s stagnant yet chaotic position that her existential crisis poses.

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The Love That Split The World, by Emily Henry


4 Stars

Natalie Cleary must risk her future and leap blindly into a vast unknown for the chance to build a new world with the boy she loves.

Natalie’s last summer in her small Kentucky hometown is off to a magical start… until she starts seeing the “wrong things.” They’re just momentary glimpses at first—her front door is red instead of its usual green, there’s a pre-school where the garden store should be. But then her whole town disappears for hours, fading away into rolling hills and grazing buffalo, and Nat knows something isn’t right.

That’s when she gets a visit from the kind but mysterious apparition she calls “Grandmother,” who tells her: “You have three months to save him.” The next night, under the stadium lights of the high school football field, she meets a beautiful boy named Beau, and it’s as if time just stops and nothing exists. Nothing, except Natalie and Beau.

Emily Henry’s stunning debut novel is Friday Night Lights meets The Time Traveler’s Wife, and perfectly captures those bittersweet months after high school, when we dream not only of the future, but of all the roads and paths we’ve left untaken.

It’s quite hard to review The Love That Split The World, probably because it’s different from anything I’ve read before. It’s even hard to fit into a specific genre, it contains fantasy, sci-fi, and magical realism into it, and it’s done surprisingly well.

It’s hard to juggle so many supernatural and psychological elements, and I would obviously avoid that. But, Henry brings something totally new to the table in this book. Time-travel, dimension-jumping, and psychology (all of my favorite things!) are combined to create something totally original and exciting. You can almost feel the magical energy buzzing through the pages, as you imagine the warm Kentucky setting and the mystical events happening in Natalie’s life. There is a good amount of depth involved in there as well, especially when exploring “Grandmother”, a possible celestial figure that visits Natalie at night to tell her life lessons disguised by short stories.

I enjoyed most of the characters thoroughly. Natalie is a realistic, wise, and likable character. It’s pretty enjoyable to read her narration, as she’s witty, smart, and admirably courageous. She’s not over-the-top or unnecessarily dramatic, all she does is try to understand her complicated-life, where she fits in, and how she can find her true self. She tries to be as honest as possible throughout the book, but she obviously needs help in her situation.  She might seem like a ‘perfect’ character to you in the beginning, but her flaws and growth are explored well throughout the book. Natalie’s insecurities are mostly surrounded by her Native American heritage (Yay Diversity!). Along with her journey to figure out Grandmother and the psychological and supposed supernatural elements she’s been experiencing, she’s learning how to love herself and how she plays a part in the world. Her narration was very easy-going, thoughtful, and entertaining.

Continue reading “The Love That Split The World, by Emily Henry”