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Summary: (via Goodreads) Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it, Charlie is navigating through the strange worlds of love, drugs, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”, and dealing with the loss of a good friend and his favorite aunt.

Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower is the unique creation of author Stephen Chbosky. This book, which takes the format of an epistolary novel, describes the life of a fourteen year old boy in his first year of high school. Every few days the main character, Charlie, writes a new letter in which he updates an unnamed recipient about the events of his life. Sometimes a lot happens, other times the letter are more personal and reflective. Regardless, we continue to follow his steps into that intimately familiar territory of adolescence.

After completing the book, two distinct feeling emerge: a feeling of compassion toward the great amount of drama and trauma in Charlie’s life, and an unsettling feeling toward the strangeness of Charlie’s behavior. This eeriness is cause by the fact that he only exhibits two distinct emotional states: incredible emotional hyperactivity and complete emotional inactivity. The mystery behind his anonymity (Charlie is the pen-name he creates for himself while addressing the letters) combined with the fact that we never learn where he is from or who he is writing to also contribute to this sensation. And it’s not until we realize the strategic purpose behind his behavior and anonymity that we truly start to understand the book. It seems Chbosky envisioned his hero as the fictional representation of all of us. The author manages to give Charlie this universality by making him a perfect chameleon: Charlie is both reclusive and outgoing, both your best friend and a complete oddity, both emotionally stable and a complete wreck. The reason Charlie needs to be all these things is because he is facing the quintessential life dilemma of choosing whether he should try and satisfy others or try and satisfy himself. What complicates the matter is that he repeatedly fails to do either, which lead him into modes of depression, disorientation, and indifference.

The only times he does get some respite from himself is when he reads books and spends time with Sam, the girl that he loves. Charlie finds comfort in the books that he reads (e.g., The Stranger, The Catcher in the Rye, The Fountainhead), and you can see a 1991 version of Holden Caulfield and Meursault in him. His friendship with Sam is another thing altogether. He is in awe of her bluntness and honesty and beauty. She gives him a strange sort of comfort and he craves her on a purely emotional basis, something quite contradictory to what he is: a hormonally driven teenage boy.

Perhaps because it’s been so many years since we’ve been fourteen or maybe it’s because we never really had the time to analyze life at that age, but reading Charlie’s narrative is a revelation. The honesty in his words is stirring, packed with innocent notions about things like acceptance, self image, and the emotions of parents and sibling. His account is both wondrous and difficult to read. In many ways, what he reveals isn’t new at all but more like an old memory we’ve forgotten.

Lit Snit Verdict: B

Summary: (via Goodreads) With a summer job at Bob & Bob Records in Berkeley, California, teen music junkie Allie is ready for anything. She’s poised to fall in love, catch a thief, and make a mix that’ll break your heart. And when she blogs as The Vinyl Princess, Allie is the sort of mystery girl you can’t resist tuning into. Get ready for the vinyl revolution!

Review: In the novel The Vinyl Princess Yvonne Prinz recreates the life of a 16 year old vinyl record collector, Allie, who spends a lazy summer working in a small California record store (Bob & Bob’s). Allie’s life is consumed by a singular passion: vinyl records. She lives for the crackle produced by the turntable’s needle as it dances its way to the right place, and nothing—not her mother’s miserable online dating fiasco, her best friend’s cheating boyfriend, or the thieving ways of her crush—can distract her from this obsession, which she actively rants about in a blog entitled thevinylprincess.

The unfortunate part of Al’s situation is that she was born about half a century late. Vinyl is almost extinct and the mp3-addicted, iPod listening generation that she belongs to could care less about album track arrangements or cover art. Her outdated music interest relegates her to a small group of oddballs that either work or shop at Bob & Bob’s. As mundane as it sounds working retail in a musty, hole-in-the-wall record store, Allie’s narrative manage to bring out its charms. She an eloquent observer that can give a romantic feel to everything and everyone around her, from the misanthropic co-worker lurking in the store’s stack collection, to the petty and homeless cross-dressers that practically live on the store’s premises, to the mom-and-pop eateries of Telegraph Avenue where she eats lunch.

Even those of us who could never understand the charms of clunky vinyl records can appreciate Allie’s music addiction as she includes all sort of interesting music-related tidbits throughout her narrative. After throwing us a plethora of music information and tracks to listen to, Prinz delivers a music-pinnacle of sorts in the form of a mixtape (ahem, “the mating call of the romantically challenged”) that Allie receives from Zach, a fellow vinyl purist. This is perhaps the most interactive part of the book and should the reader be invested in the story enough—like I was—they’ll assuredly listen to all the tracks listed (in their correct order) to discover Zach’s message.

The story’s actual pinnacle isn’t very dramatic. Allie was never created with some moral, personal or familial issue to resolve but is a rather content character trying to amicably deal with the issues stirred up by those around her. In a rather false-autobiography type of way, Allie was probably conceived to simulate the author, who herself works at a record store and is the active brain behind the thevinylprincess blog (which does exists in real-life and is filled with all kinds of purchasing suggestions for vinyl enthusiasts).

I liked this book; it made me happy to know that passions can bring such contentment to life, even to a teenager’s life.

Lit Snit Verdict: A

PS-Click here to listen to one of the songs Prinz raves about in her book.

Summary: (via Goodreads) Punk rock is in Emily Black’s blood. Her mother, Louisa, hit the road to follow the incendiary music scene when Emily was four months old and never came back. Now Emily’s all grown up with a punk band of her own, determined to find the tune that will bring her mother home. Because if Louisa really is following the music, shouldn’t it lead her right back to Emily?

Review: I wanna be your Joey Ramone is the debut novel of Stephanie Kuehnert. At its foundation, it is a coming of age story that highlights the aspects of life that help propel us toward adulthood and the things we must figure out before we can cross that bridge. For Emily, these things are music and her runaway mother, Luisa. She has a strong affinity for both and has decided that the best way to fill the void left by the departure of her mother is by immersing herself in all things punk rock.

With this in mind, Emily manages to create the quintessential pre-rock’n’roll-stardom adolescence for herself. She is brilliant but flawed by her youth, which compels her to try all sorts of destructive habits in abundance: sex, drugs, alcohol. Emily’s reckless lifestyle is shockingly addictive, believable and justifiable. Nobody we know grew up like this—or would have wanted to—yet Emily’s narrative makes it seem possible—attractive even! Kuehnert makes us want to be in Emily’s skin, feeling all the teenage angst, reliving those music-induced highs, and rocking it out with her band (She Laughs). Without having to hear a single note, we become the She Laugh’s first audience, and their first fans.

No matter what happens Emily constantly keeps one thing in mind—Luisa, her idol. In Emily’s head, Luisa is likened to a rock god: she is surrounded by mystery and myth, she is unreachable, and her life is guided solely by music. To help the reader understand more about Luisa, Kuehnert intercuts Emily’s first person narrative with brief third-person narrations describing Luisa’s life. This technique has the interesting effect of supplying information about Luisa while still keeping her estranged. In essence, Luisa’s true feelings are concealed and remain a mystery to us; much like her whole life is a mystery to Emily. But unlike Emily, the reader finds it impossible to idolize Luisa. Instead of living the music-driven life of Emily’s imagination, Luisa is nothing more than a hallow vagabond chased by the ghosts of her violent past. This leads her through her own run of reckless promiscuity and drug abuse, but youth can no longer be an excuse—not after 21 years on the run.

As the story concludes, a reflective look over the lives of Emily and Luisa shows two generations of women whose lives have been ravaged by events beyond their control. By creating such similarities in the lives for both her heroines, Kuehnert seems want to analyze the different healing powers of running away vs. running after one’s problems. Her conclusion is unclear as neither method seems perfectly ideal. What is clear is Kuehnert’s emphasis on the power of family and friends. Ultimately, it’s the longevity of her relationships that allow Emily to find the strength to let go of the past.

Lit Snit Verdict: A

Click here to read the review that inspired me to read this book.

Summary: [if i had written the back cover blurb]

This book is about Clare, a girl on the brink of womanhood, whose life is unexpectedly transformed over a single summer as she discovers both who she is and who she is meant to become. Moving with her mother from London to a hidden village (Ravensmere) in rural Britain, she is faced with a familial past she had never been told about, but whose existence is pivotal to everything in her future. It is here that she also meets Mark, a boy rebel, whose fate is just as firmly bound to the Ravensmere estate as it is to Clare’s. Together, they try to uncover the secrets of the estate past before its curse dooms their future.

Review: Overall, The China Garden is a satisfying if slightly mundane. Meeting contemporary YA standards, the story has a little bit of everything it in: mystery, romance, and fantasy. Compared to recent over-hyped-on-the-supernatural publications, this work can be classified as nothing more than a conservative fantasy. Our heroine (Clare) is simply endowed with brief visions and random moments of telepathy, freeing her character from excessively thinking about her ‘gift’ so that she can spend more time exploring the mysteries of the Revensmere estate, a land both lovely and cursed. The descriptions of Clare’s lonely ventures in this magical landscape are where the author truly shines; Berry clearly has much love for old and decrepit estates on the English mores.

Clare is maintained as the story’s sole focus for the first 100 pages of the book, which allow her to emerge as someone very relatable: Clare is a smart, college-bound, middle-class, restless with her youth, and confused about her future. Her plump character development gives the reader hope for more of the same from Mark, her romantic counterpart. Alas, when he finally makes his introduction, Berry overwhelms us with his physical description (a muscular biker boy with long hair and light eyes) and not much else. The relationship that develops between the teens is rather speedy. Trying to tie the magic of the estate to their romance, Berry makes Clare and Mark innately connected to each other in a way that turns them from strangers to lovers in the instant it takes their eyes to meet. A very non-epic romance follows and the reader quickly understands that the only intrigue remaining in the plot is uncovering Revensmere’s secret.

It seems that Berry’s goal in The China Garden was to make her teen heroine embrace adulthood and womanhood by being confronted with a past once hidden. It’s hard to assess Clare’s success; the more she discovers, the more she oscillates between mature and childish feelings. In the end, there is sense that both Clare and Mark are too young to properly handle the circumstances Berry dreams up for them. For me, this would have been a better story had it been set in the past with older characters.

Lit Snit Verdict: F