Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future

Glory

I told you I had a review in the works!  Here it is: Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future.  I’ve not been shy in the past about proclaiming my love for A.S. King’s work and I’m not about to start now.  What I have come to find is that you are guaranteed a well-written and interesting read when you pick up one of King’s novels. She writes from unique perspectives, which serve as reminders that the world is a varied and complex place, as are the people who reside there.  Her new novel, Glory O’Brien, is no exception.

Days before her high school graduation, Glory O’Brien and her best–and only–friend Ellie mix a mind-altering cocktail of beer and powdered bat (yes, the animal) and are bestowed with the ability to see the past and future of living creatures, from birds to humans.  Sometimes these visions pertain directly to the person caught in their sights, but often it is their ancestor’s or progeny’s life that is revealed.  Interestingly, the girls never see the same things, and Glory consistently gets glimpses of a future war, which she begins writing down: her history of the future.

Couched within this wonderfully bizarre premise, are the inner struggles of Glory, herself.  Glory is an individual.  She doesn’t care what others think and generally steers clear of interacting with people.  As a photographer, she is an observer of the world, seeing things on a lighting scale of max white to max black and wondering what her place in it will be.  Early on we learn that her mother was a talented photographer who committed suicide when Glory was in preschool.  Her death haunts the O’Brien house in the photographs adorning its walls, in Glory’s father’s inability to move forward with his life, in never talking about what happened.  In her mother’s old dark room, Glory finds a book of her notes and pictures, which supplies as many questions about this woman as it does answers.  Glory’s head grows increasingly full as she fills in her personal history from her dark room discoveries and watches snippets of an as-yet undeclared war play out in the faces of those around her.

Garnering comparisons to The Handmaid’s TaleGlory O’Brien tackles women’s rights in Glory’s visions and the implications of what could happen if they are eradicated.  It is a sobering future.  King manages to raise readers’ consciousness to feminist issues without being preachy, and the subject couldn’t be more timely, considering today’s political climate.  However, unlike Handmaid’s Tale, this is not the dominant story of the book; it shadows a more intimate plot that is devoted to identity and a strained friendship.  I appreciate that King takes on politics and other important relationships in Glory’s life, rather than defaulting to teenage romance.  Sex, relationships, crabs–these all feature, but a romantic plot (or sub-plot) does not, making me a happy camper.  Another nice aspect to the novel is the way King’s own photography background is unitlized.  She studied photography as an undergrad, so the language she uses to capture Glory’s way of viewing the world as a photographer comes across as entirely authentic.

One of the most enjoyable parts of reading Glory O’Brien is that it offers so many insights from so many unexpected places.  It is thought provoking.  It is a book of surprises.  A.S. King has delivered once again, as she always does, and I am not the only person who thinks so.  I am happy to report that Glory O’Brien has made its way onto School Library Journal‘s and Publishers Weekly‘s, Best Young Adult Books of 2014 lists.  Kirkus will release its teen picks on December 1, so keep your fingers crossed that we see Glory there, as well!

 

Excited for Fall

I can’t believe I’m writing about fall already, but I also can’t wait for it to get here because there are so many great writers putting out books.  Here are the ones I am most excited for!

Adult Books

MitchellThe Bone Clocks by David Mitchell, Release: Sept. 2, 2014

My favorite author!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  I’m ignoring all reviews until I have this book in my hands.  It’s a big one and he can be dense, so it will probably be a couple of months before I’m ready to write a review of my own.  I can’t wait, though!

 

 

WolfWolf in White Van by John Darnielle, Release: Sept. 19, 2014

John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats, one of my all-time favorite bands, has written his first ever novel.  Eee!  Here’s a nice little write-up by his editor.

“John Darnielle’s novel moves through the mind like a dark-windowed car through a sleepy neighborhood: quiet, mysterious, menacing, taking you places you will never, never get out of your head.” —Daniel Handler

YA Books

A.S. KingGlory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King, Release: Oct. 14, 2014

The incredible A.S. King’s latest has garnered a starred review from Kirkuswhich describes it as “An indictment of our times with a soupçon of magical realism,” and School Library Journal describes it as “Handmaid’s Tale-esque” and “beautifully strange.” I’ll read anything King writes and suggest you do, too.  Just a note: Reality Boy sees its paperback release Sept. 23, 2014.

500500 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith

Smith is fast-gaining a reputation as an amazing and original writer of YA, though he remains slightly under the radar of the reading public at large.  Author of titles such as The Marbury Lens, Winger, and Grasshopper JungleSmith is sure to create a story you’ve never read the likes of before.

 

 

In the meantime

MurakamiI’m finishing up the new Haruki Murakami, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of PilgrimageI’m enjoying it so far.  My mood of late has been a bit sullen, so this book has complemented it perfectly.  It’s a quiet and reflective story of a man searching for answers about an event in his past.  He travels and talks to people along the way, hearing their stories as he pursues his own.  It hasn’t taken a bizarre turn yet, but you never can tell where Murakami will take things.

 

CarsickAnd if you aren’t quite ready to embrace fall, one of the best books I read this summer was John Waters’ Carsick.  It’s fast, fun, funny, and occasionally crude; in short, a perfect summer read.  Part fiction, part personal essay, Carsick is the story of Waters’ endeavor to hitchhike across the country from his home in Baltimore to his apartment in San Francisco.  The book is divided into three sections that are essentially novellas: the first, his imagined best case scenario for this trip; the second, the worst case scenario; and the third, the trip as it actually happened.  You don’t have to be a die-hard Waters fan to enjoy this book, though fans of his films will pounce on the myriad references throughout.  He even provides readers with a soundtrack, because what road trip would be complete without a mix tape?  I followed up Carsick with the I Am Divine documentary on Netflix, which was great and a pairing I wholeheartedly recommend.

Review: Reality Boy by A.S. King

collage“[Nanny] repeated, ‘Does that sound fair?’

I ask you: Imagine any five-year-old who’s surrounded by cameras.  Imagine he lives in the postal area UF [unfair].  Consider that he has so little giveashit that he has started crapping on the kitchen table in front of video cameras.  Then ask this question.  He will not know how to answer.

So I freaked out.”

How do you live down being “The Crapper?”  When Gerald Faust was 5, his family was part of a reality TV show called Network Nanny, on which he expressed his frustration over his family’s dysfunction by pooping in unconventional places–his mother’s shoes, the kitchen room table.  His “dirty” habit made him an instant TV celebrity, yet the “reality” show failed to capture the reality of his situation: that it was a plea for help, a request that his parents take notice of him, that his older sister Tasha stop hurting him.  Already emotional, the presence of TV cameras and a fake nanny in his home served to compound his anger.  Eleven years later, Gerald is still grappling with his rage, an unhealthy home environment, and the stigma of his childhood claim-to-fame.

“I just want a chance to start over and have a real life.  One that wasn’t fucked up from the beginning and broadcast on international TV like a freak show.”

The chapters switch between first person accounts of his life as a 16-year-old and recollections of filming Network Nanny.  Gerald’s narrative voice is arresting in its authenticity.  He gives his environments/emotional states postal abbreviations (UF: unfair, FS: furious state) and invents an extra day of the week, “Gersday,” where he can eat ice cream and not be tortured by Tasha. He tries to control himself with exercises from his anger management coach.  He takes on the speed bag at the boxing ring after school.

All these things reveal a troubled, lonely teen struggling to achieve a normal life, and you want him to succeed more than anything.  As toxic as his family life is, past and present, Gerald does not wallow in his misfortune.  He gets mad. Gerald’s realizations about his life may be infuriating but they also are empowering and give him the drive he needs to change his situation.  The idea of escape runs throughout the novel.  He longs to follow the example of his sister Lisi, who goes to college in Scotland.  He dreams his way out of reality by going off into Gersday.  He contemplates running away with the circus, willingly performing before the crowd this time.  He imagines a new life with the cute girl from register #1.  The dreams run counterpoint to reality, yet the more he understands about his family, the more he is able to bring the two into alignment and stand up for himself.

Reality Boy is the first book I’ve read by A.S. King, but it made me want to get my hands on everything else she has written.  A quick look at all the honors her writing has garnered makes me believe this task will be nothing short of pleasurable.  A recent article in the L.A. Times says, “Over the course of five books, A.S. King has established herself as a singular voice in today’s young adult literature….King never writes the same book twice…”  There is a definite ease to her writing.  Both her story and characters take shape without ever feeling forced or contrived, yet they still achieve the distinction of being truly original.

It feels like blasphemy to admit, but I know I’d love all of John Green’s books if they were written by A.S. King.  As I’ve said before, the biggest barrier between Green’s works and myself is that I can’t connect with his characters.  They aren’t realistic.  They are too idealized.  King on the other hand, has written characters that I believe could exist in this world–some may be extreme or unconventional–but they are still believable.  For this reason, I was invested in her story in a way I never was with A Fault in Our Stars. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Green’s book isn’t good–it is, but it has the feel of window shopping for lovely, unattainable things, where a pane of glass is always between you and their sequined glow.  Reality Boy, on the other hand, is the perfect sweater you wear out of the store.

In addition to being a wonderful writer and storyteller, King is a big supporter of libraries and independent bookstores, which makes me love her all the more.  Definitely visit one of these locations and take one of her books home with you or get it for someone on your gift list this holiday season.

Unknown Shop Local.