the wolf road (beth lewis)

The Wolf Road
Genre: Dystopian Literature, Fiction

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Image via: Amazon

To be honest, I didn’t plan on reading The Wolf Road. I mean for starters, I didn’t fully appreciate how much reading I’d really be doing in grad school, but once I learned (and trust me, I had no choice but learn it quickly), I felt guilty wasting any of my precious free time with “fun” reading. For the sake of my sanity, though, I decided to treat myself to some pleasure reading over Thanksgiving break, which was all fine and dandy except I never bothered to pack a novel. Luckily, my husband is possibly even more of a book nerd than I am (which is saying something, as I am exclusively studying literature in grad school), and he had already checked out not one, not two, but three books from our city’s library and was gracious enough to loan one to me. So long story short, that’s how I ended up falling in love with this book. By accident. The best kind of accident.

I mean it’s obvious, then, that this book is a major “lit” for me. To be fair, though, I wasn’t initially sure. Within the first few pages, I realized a) I was dependent upon a first-person narrator with a very distinct voice (I’m not always a fan of that type of storytelling) and b) I already knew the ending. I mean that’s not because I’m a book-reading genius or because the book recycled a stale, overused plot, but rather because the novel opens with the closing scene. Granted, not the closing scene, but a scene that is rehashed in the last few chapters. And it was good. Super weird, definitely dark, but good. Oh, and it’s totally a dystopian novel, and if you can’t tell, I’m super into that genre.

So I kept reading. And the more I read, the more I became a bit obsessed with Elka, the story’s protagonist. At first, it was an unstable trust, a dependency on Elka to tell her story from her (obviously one-sided) point of view. But as I continued reading, I realized how necessary it was that Beth Lewis choose a first-person narration. The story itself is pretty crazy and out there, but Elka might be unlike any other character I’ve ever read in literature, and I wanted to know what she was thinking. Sure, we’ve seen a few young, independent, knife-throwing, bad-ass female protagonists in a number of dystopian novels (including my current read, Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven), but Elka is something special. She’s openly flawed, openly biased, and completely unwilling to really examine her past in fear of what it contains. The climactic scenes are physical confrontations with the “bad guys,” sure, but also moments when Elka finally rediscovers  aspects of her childhood relationship to Trapper (“Bad Guy #1”). In a sense, the reader has no choice but to accept her shifting, unreliable versions of events until Elka herself learns the truth. So as I read, I had the pleasure of joining Elka in her revelations, her journeys but also her discoveries inward. Plus, there’s the added bonus of reading a post-apocalyptic novel from the first-person perspective of someone who finds certain bizarre features of the world entirely normal.

I mean, there are definitely some fantastical elements aside from the novel’s dystopian setting. Elka strikes up a relationship with a wolf pup, for example, and conveniently saves the day in multiple crazy situations, and on occasion, she seems perhaps a little too badass, a little too capable. But with Beth Lewis’s writing, you can’t help but accept the unbelievable moments without question, because you recognize that it’s a worthwhile sacrifice to follow Elka through her story.

I’m beginning to realize how, assuming they have writing talent and a creative idea to work with, literary agents might be the best authors (Jandy Nelson is another fave). They know what readers like, and they know how to shape and edit their writing accordingly. Oh, and they have access to the publishing world, which must be quite convenient. At the very least, I’ll keep an eye out for other agents-turned-authors, as they haven’t disappointed me yet!

So essentially what I’m saying is this: If you’re struggling to find a good novel and you’re willing to tough it out with a totally bizarre narrative voice, give this one a chance. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

Verdict: Lit

the wolf road (beth lewis)

i’ll give you the sun (jandy nelson)


I’ll Give You the Sun
Genre: Young Adult Fiction


Image via: Amazon

I had high hopes for I’ll Give You the Sun. In part, it’s because I received the book (a delicious hardcover with a spectacular cover design—I mean seriously, just look at it) as a Christmas present, courtesy of my husband. And he has a pretty impeccable track record for gifting me with Young Adult novels written by authors previously unknown to me. (Thank you, Billy, for exposing me to the likes of Rainbow Rowell and Sabaa Tahir.)

So when I ripped the paper from I’ll Give You the Sun, I was relatively confident that I was in for a treat. It doesn’t hurt that the book is a Printz award winner and New York Times bestseller, among its other accolades. Back in 2010, author Jandy Nelson, a former literary agent, published The Sky Is Everywhere, another Young Adult novel that garnered its fair share of attention.

But considering that I’m saving The Sky is Everywhere for a rainy day (after which point I’ll probably cry because I won’t have another new Jandy Nelson brainchild waiting on my nightstand, at least for the foreseeable future), I’ll Give You the Sun is currently my favorite Young Adult novel. Like, ever.

And yes, I have read John Green’s greatest hits (I’ve been a loyal fan ever since I inhaled the excellence that is An Abundance of Katherines back in 2008. And yes, I remember when I read it. I even remember the high school class in which I claimed a back row seat and partially hid the book under my desk, unable to tear my eyes away). And Rainbow Rowell’s. And Laurie Halse Anderson’s. And the works of J.K. Rowling and Lois Lowry and Christopher Paolini and Jay Asher and Lauren Oliver and all of the other mindbogglingly talented kings and queens of YA fiction. It’s seriously that good.

For starters, we have one of my favorite things ever: teenage angst, with a side of that deliciously complex rivalry that you find with almost every pair of siblings—but in this case, it’s an amplified twin version. Coupled with a family tragedy and a sprinkling of the supernatural, and this one was a guaranteed winner in my book (pun very much intended).

But then Jandy Nelson had to take it a step further. In voicing the story from both Jude and Noah’s perspectives (you guessed it, they’re the twin protagonists) and temporarily disorienting the reader with the whole chronological storytelling thing (Noah’s stories occur before the family tragedy, Jude’s are after, but the story jumps between years and voices, building to a powerful climax), Jandy flexes her storytelling muscles and simultaneously offers a unique reading experience.

I was also impressed with the LGBT current that runs throughout the book. In today’s world, it’s a treat to read a book that carefully explores (read: is not cartoonish or unrealistic about) the complex challenge of discovering your sexuality—and especially, homosexuality—and determining how it fits into life as you know it.

The entire novel also offers some serious lessons in the artistic process. Seriously. Though I won’t pretend to be an art expert by any means, I feel like I now can recognize and appreciate art terminology (not to mention the overwhelming complexity of sculpting, if I weren’t totally intimidated by that in the first place) a little more than I did when I started the book.

In case you can’t tell, this book has me fangirling. Hard. I texted people when I finished it, begging them to visit their local library and snap it up. I volunteered to send my precious copy to my best friend, so she could read it and we could jointly analyze each of Jandy Nelson’s perfectly crafted, absolutely breathtaking sentences. It’s my greatest hope that I can share its excellence with the world, so that friends and random internet strangers alike can bask in its sunlight. Ms. Nelson, thank you. Your novel was a work of art, a gift I definitely didn’t deserve, but I’ll take it all the same.

Verdict: Lit (obviously)

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i’ll give you the sun (jandy nelson)