Thursday, December 3

Love is Hell - Melissa Marr, Scott Westerfeld, Justine Larbalestier, Gabrielle Zevin and Laurie Faria Stolarz

This collection of five novellas is linked by the twin themes of adolescent romance and paranormal//supernatural elements.

"Sleeping with the Spirit" - Laurie Faria Stolarz
As soon as they moved into the new house, Brenda began strange dreams and waking with mysterious bruises and marks. She hears a male voice calling her name and becomes afraid to sleep, and then she starts seeing an attractive boy about her age - he says his name's Tyler and that he's been waiting for her. It doesn't take Brenda long to discover that her home was the site of a grisly murder - Travis was slaughtered and his mother bashed by her boyfriend, now serving time, twenty years ago. Brenda knows about sadness and death - her parents never talk about Emma - and she and Travis find common ground. But Travis is still here because he's left something undone, and to help him means Brenda will lose him.I found "Sleeping with the Spirit" mildly interesting but not particularly memorable. Equal parts mystery and romance, it somehow failed to fully be either.

"Stupid Perfect World" - Scott Westerfeld
Kieran's happy with his life as it is - he's got a project in Antarctica, building a snow hut, and he's doing well in school. except for Scarcity class, that is - it's bad enough having to turn off all the overlays and only seeing things that are there. But suddenly his final project proposal's due and Kieran's given the concept no thought at all. When swotty Maria Borsotti suggests he try sleep, Kieran jumps at the chance - it's not as good as the common cold, physical transport or any of those other old time inconveniences, but how hard can it be?
The most enjoyable of the collection for me, Westerfeld brings his gift for character, humour and self-discovery to a fascinating new future, and provides all the Scarcity students with a wholly new way to look at their world.

"Thinner than Water" - Justine Labarlestier
Jean lives in a quaint town, visited by tourists who marvel at their traditional ways and their belief in the fairy folk, the green men. The old ways are far less appealing when actually lived, however, and Jean longs to leave. She wants to go to university and be a doctor, not marry young and bear children, her whole life the size of the village. She has a plan, too – she’ll leave at Lammas, when she has the whole day off from the family bakery. Her parents expect her to handfast, and Lammas is the traditional time for arranging these trial marriages. They’ll never suspect her of getting a lift out of town with the non-traditional family of her best friend. But then she meets Robbie, the orphan boy found in a cradle boat and rumoured to be sent by the green men, and she finds they have more in common than she dreamed.
This is a powerful and far darker story than the two that precede it, and I found myself thinking about it for days afterward. The strength and violence of emotion, the depth of despair and longings for freedom were beautifully expressed, and I particularly liked the job Larbalestier did of combining traditional Gaelic tales with a contemporary world.

“Fan Fictions” – Gabrielle Zevin
Neither dark nor light, fat nor thin, smart nor stupid, beautiful nor ugly, Paige is nondescript and ignored. She likes to read, and retreats to the library when she has nowhere else to go. The new librarian recommends a book, The Immortals, which sounds uninteresting, but while looking at the new releases she becomes aware of someone watching her. Aaron’s eyes are violet with grey and silver flecks, he is somehow old-fashioned but glossy, and he seems interested in her. Aaron encourages her to think for herself, work out who she is at her core, and not always follow the rules. Except for one – she can never tell anyone his secret, or he will leave, forever.
“Fan Fictions” is not only an interesting story in itself, with a heroine identifiable on some level to many readers, but is also a fascinating portrayal of conflict between image and prestige on one hand and integrity and devotion on the other. There’s a line blurring that discussion here would ruin, but that adds a really interesting base note of uncertainty about truth and perception – though very different in tone, subject and style, I was reminded of We Have to Talk About Kevin. I am definitely interested in reading more of Zevin’s work.

“Love Struck” - Melissa Marr
Alanna has always loved the sea. When a strange boy approaches her at a party on the beach one evening, something in her senses an offness, and it’s not just his strange remarks about someone or something called Murrin. He feels predatory and makes her feel trapped, and she runs. But Vic is not done with her yet, and the fact that Murrin wants her for his own is enough to mark Alanna as a target.
Like Larbalestier, Marr combines ancient lore with a contemporary setting. The story is interesting enough, but I was distracted form it by terminology - having known them always as selkies, I was thrown every time I read ‘selchie’ but have since found either term is appropriate for this kind of fairy folk. I did enjoy “Love Struck” but was more impressed by the three central stories than the bookend novellas. - Alex

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