Book Review: The Unnoticeables

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The Unnoticeables

by Robert Brockway

 

This is a badass book.

First, I mean that quite literally: it’s a punk book, with a punk character, written by a guy who wrote in his dedication that this should show all those people who said he was wasting his time going to all those punk rock shows – so I’m guessing he’s a punk author.

It reads like it. Carey, one of the main characters (There are two, as the book has two settings about 25 years apart) sounds spot on to what I imagine a punk in 70’s New York City to be: angry when he’s not indifferent, violent when he’s not wasted, wasted when he’s not broke. Always going to shows, always spending time with his friends, and criticizing and attacking every single element of his life and world, always trying to peel away the artifice and reveal the truth beneath, even when – especially when – that truth is ugly. As Carey himself often is. But he’s also a hell of a lot of fun to read.

The other main character, Kaitlyn, is also a badass, because she’s a stuntwoman, with the attendant skills, interests, and adrenaline addiction. Her story is set in 2010-ish, in LA, of course. Her story has a strong feel of peeking behind the curtain, as she is not, and does not want to be, an actress: she’s one of those rare people who really wants to be behind the scenes, essentially, at least not with her name in lights. She wants thrills, not celebrity; for the most part she’d be happy with steady work so she can quit waitressing.

The second reason this is a badass book is because Brockway has created a set of supernatural creatures that are thoroughly badass, in more than one way. Mainly, they are absurdly difficult to fight, because they are essentially unbeatable, unbreakable, and entirely deadly; you can win a fight against them, but they’ll just come right back the next day. And since they can make more of themselves, there’s really not much hope for humanity.

They’re also badass because they aren’t anything I’ve ever read before: Brockway created them. He calls them angels, because one of their forms is a geometric shape made of light; but they’re neither heavenly nor beneficent. Another of their forms is a human, but only on the outside; on the inside is –something else. Something deeply disturbing. Their third form is made by these disturbing creatures: it is a human, but one without a soul; at least, that’s the easiest way to describe it. That’s not how Brockway describes it. His way of talking about this group of enemies is interesting: they are forgettable. When you see them, your instinct is to look away, to forget you ever saw that person. These are the namesakes of the book, as there is something about these people that makes them impossible to remember; you can meet one, touch it, talk to it, even think it’s hot – but you can’t describe it. It is Unnoticeable.

Their final form? (Unintentional reference. Also, I have gone down in power, not up. The angels are the most dangerous and the hardest to deal with. But still, these are rough.) A giant man-sized mound of goo, which dissolves anything human it touches, like a walking (Well, oozing) acid bath. Those are the ones that Carey figures out how to kill, actually. The other ones he can’t kill, or at least so it seems. Doesn’t stop him from fighting them, though. And maybe – maybe – he can win. Sometimes. A little.

The absolute best part of this book, for me, was the motivation of the creatures, their reason for doing what they do. It’s just so goddamn clever, and poetic, and beautifully chilling. It’s one of those ideas I wish I had had, but since I didn’t, I will gladly go on reading Brockway’s story about them, and also, anything else of his I can find.

Because this is a badass book.

Highly recommended.

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Book Review: The Female of the Species

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The Female of the Species

by Mindy McGinnis

 

It is probably best, in reviewing books, to stay away from comparisons; no two authors are the same, no two books are the same, no two readers are the same, and so any attempt to compare experiences will inevitably come up short.

On the other hand, if you can’t compare two reading experiences, there’s not much point in book reviews and recommendations in the first place. So let me give this a shot.

I have two comparisons I want to make with this book. The first is to another book, probably more famous, called Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. That book is about teenagers, as this one is; it is about grief and heartbreak and mental illness, among other things, as this one is; it is an indictment of rape culture, as this one is. So there are enough points of comparison for me to say something valid, I think. Now here’s the difference: that book, compared to this one, is crap. Absolute shlock. The characters are unrealistic, the events are underwhelming and overdramatized, the ending and the book’s overall message were just obnoxious, in my opinion.

This book is none of those things. These characters are some of the most fully-realized and relatable that I have ever read. My favorite thing about this book is that none of the characters – not even the static characters, the foils for the protagonists, the minor characters who only pop into a chapter or two – none of them are permitted to be one-dimensional. The bitchy cheerleader has depths, and real kindness. The golden boy is not all golden: he has flaws, and shortcomings, and he fails, more than once. The villains are recognized as not being that different from the heroes.

And the hero is a psychopath. An entirely sympathetic and fascinating psychopath. I know there are other books that have taken that approach – Dexter, American Psycho, I Am Not a Serial Killer – but this one is by far the best, in my opinion. (Since I’ve been talking about comparisons, let’s be clear: Dexter and American Psycho are entirely different books, different stories, different characters. I Am Not a Serial Killer has some similarities in that it is also a YA book with a teenaged hero; but that book is about self-doubt, and this book is not. At least not from the psychopath’s point of view.) This psychopath, you cheer for. She’s a badass, which was a lot of fun to read. And she volunteers at an animal shelter, and is good to the dogs. I got more than a little upset with the other characters for not being able to relate to her at times, when she’s so clearly right.

But at the same time, because she’s not one-dimensional, the psychopath is not only right. Some of the things she does are terribly wrong, and we know it. This is part of the advantage of McGinnis’s use of multiple point-of-view characters: we get to see all of the major characters from multiple perspectives, both inside and outside themselves, which is part of what makes the characters, and the book (which is entirely character-driven) so good.

And that brings me to the second comparison: the writing. I am a writer. I’ve written for young adults, and I’ve written about violent, mentally ill protagonists. So though I know I shouldn’t, when I encounter a book that is in some small way similar to something that I’ve written, I tend to compare the writing to my own; particularly when it is the first time I’ve read something by a particular author. I don’t do it all the time; when I’m reading something by Steinbeck or Khaled Hosseini or something similar, I don’t even try. But I do think, “I would have done that differently,” or, “I could have written that better.”

I couldn’t have written this book better. I wouldn’t have done it differently, but: there’s no way I could write this well. I actually got a little sad for a while when I was reading it, because this book was so good, so well-written, the characters so genuine and interesting, the action so arresting, that I thought, “Well, what could I add to the literary world when it already has something like this?” I got over myself, of course, but the point is this: this is one of the best pieces of young adult fiction I’ve read. This is one of the better novels I’ve read, period.

So here’s one last comparison: me, to you. I’ve read this book. You haven’t. Which means I’m happier than you. You should fix that. Go get it.

I’m going to go try to learn to write better. And read another book by Mindy McGinnis.

Malala

I Am Malala
by Malala Yousafzai and Patricia McCormick

 

I saw Malala on The Daily Show, after hearing about her, of course, when the shooting happened and she became the international cause celebre; I was impressed by her poise and her humility, as well as her courage and her dedication to her cause.

I had no idea.

After reading this book, I am more than impressed: I am amazed. Because she just doesn’t make that much of it. She talks mostly about her family and her homeland and her childhood: about fighting with her brothers, about gossiping with her best friends at school, about how disappointed she was when she didn’t win first place in her class. She talks about how close her relationship is with her parents, and her parents’ different roles in the family: her father, the idealist, pushing for change, trying to do what he thought was right; her mother the steady one, the rock that the family held onto and held itself together. She herself comes of as very much an ordinary girl: when the Taliban began invading her homeland, the Swat River valley in Pakistan, she doesn’t even mention at first when she began giving interviews and talking to community leaders about the importance of education; at one point she just says, “I had already appeared on television a few times talking about these matters.” This when she was eleven.

The shooting itself, she doesn’t remember. Understandable, considering that she got shot in the left temple, and bone splinters stabbed into her brain, and an infection led to emergency surgery that removed part of her skull, which was eventually replaced with a titanium plate. But still: her main concern when she awakes several days later in a hospital in Birmingham, England, is: How is my family going to pay for this?

It’s remarkable, really, how this young woman manages to be so incredibly courageous and dedicated, and yet see herself as nothing special. She’s just doing what she feels she has to do, what she believes God requires of us all: to speak the truth and let falsehoods wither in the face of it.

It’s an interesting story, because it shows the slow progression of the Taliban’s invasion of the Swat valley, how it began with a radio show that called for the rejection of Westernization and “modern” ideas like allowing girls to be educated. Malala’s father had founded a school, which taught both boys and girls from primary through secondary grades; so he, of course, held on to his passion for education and tried to bring attention to the plight of the area as the Taliban grew more and more powerful, first through influence and propaganda, and then through violence and terrorism. Meanwhile, beginning about age eleven, Malala took up her father’s cause, as well, keeping a diary for the BBC that showed the daily life of a Pakistani schoolgirl under the Taliban’s rule, and then giving more and more interviews and speeches fighting for the right to an education for everyone, especially young women. Until, of course, she gained the attention of the Taliban, and they tried to silence her.

Boy, did that not work.

I would highly recommend this book for everyone, but most especially for young people — of course for young women. It’s a lot like Anne Frank’s diary in that Malala really does seem like a regular school girl; she worries about her appearance, she constantly fights and makes up with her best friend; and — oh yeah, incidentally, she fights for her right to learn against violent madmen. She is both relatable and a wonderful role model, and her story should be an inspiration to all of us to focus on what is actually important, in this violent world we are all trying to live in.

Excellent book. Read it, and give it to your daughters, and your sons.