Tag Archives: critique

Just a Normal Tuesday, an SCBWI Book Review

Just a Normal Tuesday

Click image to go to Amazon page

I did not mean to do two books on incredibly sensitive topics in a row.  It just worked out that way.  Next time I’m definitely going to have to do Caraval, because The Impossible Knife of Memory is about PTSD.  Gotta break up the heavy topics a little.  So…

TRIGGER WARNING: SUICIDE

Book: Just a Normal Tuesday by Kim Turrisi

Genre: Young Adult, Realistic Fiction

Recommendation: I think you can tell that this is not something you pick up for a bit of light reading.  That being said, I recommend it to anyone who is interested in the topic of psychology, has experienced suicidal thoughts, or knows someone who has taken his or her own life.  This book might be the companion you need if you’re feeling all alone or trapped inside your own head.

Run-on Sentence Synopsis: Kai comes home and checks the mail to find a letter from her older sister, Jen, informing Kai and their parents that she is going to kill herself, and Kai rushes to her sister’s apartment only to find out that she is too late and what follows is Kai’s descent into depression followed by a trip to grief camp where she learns that she can find a way to live through the tragedy that struck her.

(Necessarily) Long Review: This book is a little different.  I feel that something that touches on such an important and sensitive topic merits a very careful analysis and critique.  Therefore I won’t be separating out positive and negative comments this time.

At this point I’d like to note that it is extremely difficult for me to critique Turrisi here, as this story is semi-autobiographical; when she was fifteen, her sister killed herself.  But, to be fair, I am offering critique, not criticism (slight difference in connotation there).

Firstly, if you read this book, you are going to cry.  If you have a heart at all, you will end up bawling your eyes out at some point.  This could end up being a very necessary catharsis for you.  If you have experience with suicide or suicidal thoughts, you might not even make it all the way through the book.  That being said, I feel that Turrisi laid it on a little thick at times.  Suicide is already such an emotionally impactful event that I feel you don’t really need to push to convey that impact to readers.  The times when Turrisi shined brightest were when she let genuine emotions do the talking, rather than trying to emphasize the emotional weight with repetition and figurative language.

The biggest faults are the repetition and the occasional clunky piece of dialogue.  It sometimes borders on cheesy, and there’s a bit of a pacing issue.  The cursing sometimes feels gratuitous, the title is referenced multiple times with different wording (one crazy Tuesday, just another Monday, etc.), and the words “tingle,” “tingly,” and “tingling,” were used just a few times too many for my liking.

Another thing I have to say is that the book starts out with Kai finding her sister’s suicide letter, so we don’t get to see any characterization of the sister, Jen, except through brief little snapshots that barely warrant the term “flashback.”  Similarly, we don’t really know who Kai is as a person.  Towards the end of the book she starts to realize that she’s defining herself through her relationship with her sister, and I would have liked to see the character take steps to learn more about who she is as an individual.  I appreciate beginning in medias res, but a jump backward in time after the suicide note could have helped to establish Kai and Jen as characters.  Jen’s death would have meant more to me if that had happened.  As it was, and again I hate to say this, the first half of the novel started to drag after a while.  Because the book begins with Kai at an all-time low, we don’t get to see a downward spiral.  Instead, she starts out at rock bottom, and she slowly creeps a little farther downward over numerous pages.

The grief camp part of the book, on the other hand, picks up considerably.  Possibly because Turrisi relied a little more on fabrication – since she herself never attended such a camp  – we see a slew of interesting characters, a burgeoning romance, and some truly heartfelt and gut-wrenching stories of loss and suffering.

Overall, it’s not the perfect novel, but I genuinely believe it might be helpful to those out there who are suffering from a similar loss, or who are plagued by suicidal thoughts themselves.  I think what Turrisi created is commendable to say the least, and I would recommend picking it up as long as you are prepared to be hit where it hurts.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

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The Art of Criticism?

Since my last post, I think I figured out what inspired me to want to talk about criticism.  But I’m only 90% sure.  However, since the post has to do with a book that has “tiger” in the title, and I just so happen to have finished a tiger painting, I figured I might as well go for it.  It’s nice to get a cohesive theme going every once in a while.

If you are unfamiliar with my latest hobby, you can click back to the post before this one.  A couple people have suggested I open an Etsy shop, but I’m not sure yet.  My last Etsy shop didn’t go over so well, but maybe this time it’ll be different?  My father requested a tiger, so I did one up for him.  Here’s the progression of the tiger from start to finish:

Tiger 1 Tiger 2 Tiger 3 Tiger 4

And now the book I want to talk about

I will admit that the cover art was a big part of the reason why I bought this book.  Don't you go telling me that thing about judging books and covers.  Covers are meant to be judged.  That's the whole point of them.  You shouldn't judge people by their appearance, but books aren't going to get their feelings hurt.

I will admit that the cover art was a big part of the reason why I bought this book. Don’t you go telling me that thing about judging books and covers. Covers are meant to be judged. That’s the whole point of them. You shouldn’t judge people by their appearance, but books aren’t going to get their feelings hurt.

Tiger’s Curse by Colleen Houck.  This is an unusual review because I have to admit I only read the prologue and the first two chapters, so I’m not going to be talking about the book as a whole.  What I want to talk about (and what I think I wanted to talk about back when I started reading this book) is the importance of first impressions.

In my opinion, the first thing that a reader is going to ask when they start a book is something along the lines of “Why should I care?”  It’s been my experience as a reader that if I don’t have that question answered by the end of the first paragraph, I lose interest very quickly.  Now, that doesn’t mean that I instantly care about the characters of the books I do like, but the book offers me something in return.  It says, “You might not know why you should care yet, but I am going to give you a reason to keep reading.  I’m going to make you feel like you’re willing to find out why you should care.”  That’s why those first few paragraphs are so important.  They have to be compelling.  And Tiger’s Curse just didn’t compel me.  I was bored.

First of all, the book starts with the poem, The Tiger, by William Blake.  Not only is that ridiculously predictable, but this is not the only book that has used that poem in some way or another.  That poem is overused, in my opinion.  But that’s me nitpicking.  Let’s look at the opening paragraph, found in the prologue, which is titled “The Curse.”

The prisoner stood with his hands tied in front of him, tired, beaten, and filthy but with a proud back befitting his royal Indian heritage.  His captor, Lokesh, looked on haughtily from a lavishly carved, gilded throne.  Tall, white pillars stood like sentinels around the room.  Not a whisper of a jungle breeze moved across the sheer draperies.  All the prisoner could hear was the steady clinking of Lokesh’s jeweled rings against the side of the golden chair.  Lokesh looked down, eyes narrowed into contemptuous, triumphant slits.

So here’s my impression: I’m clearly supposed to care about the prisoner, but I don’t get his name.  Instead I get his captor’s name.  I don’t care about his captor’s name.  If the prisoner’s name is meant to be kept a mystery, that’s fine.  Don’t even give me the captor’s name then.  It’s not like that name means anything to me at this point in the story.

Second, look at all that excessive description!  I don’t care at all about the room they’re standing in.  I want to care about the prisoner, but I’m too distracted by the decor surrounding him to be able to.  The opening line alone is weighed down with globs of exposition that serve to inform, but not intrigue.  Don’t inform me about stuff until you’ve given me a reason to care about said stuff, okay?  There are way too many adjectives and adverbs.  Pillars tend to be tall.  You don’t have to point that out.  And I challenge you to narrow your eyes in a way that is both contemptuous and triumphant.  In my imagination, those two expressions are vastly different.  Plus we already know that he’s looking down “haughtily” so it makes “contemptuous” redundant.  And the fact that the throne is gold is mentioned twice!

Here’s how I would write it:

The prisoner stood with his hands tied in front of him, his stance proud despite his fatigue and the beatings he’d taken.  His captor looked on from a lavish, gilded throne, his eyes narrowed into contemptuous slits.  Immense pillars stood like sentinels around the room.  Not even a whisper of a jungle breeze interrupted the pervasive stillness.  All the prisoner could hear were his captor’s rings clinking steadily against the side of the throne.

So when do we find out the prisoner’s name?  That he has “royal Indian heritage”?  What his captor’s name is?  What his relationship to his captor is?  Well, this book is 403 pages long, so take your pick.  That information can come out anywhere, anytime.  In fact, the very next paragraph starts with “The prisoner was the prince of an Indian kingdom called Mujulaain.”  So why was it necessary for the first sentence to include any of that information?

In conclusion: What is the art of criticism?  Criticism should not be used to put someone down.  “Criticize” and “Insult” should not be used synonymously.  The former should be used for a purpose.  Critical analysis should lead to the betterment of the work.  And I guess I wanted to make that clear because I think a lot of people take and/or give criticism personally, myself included sometimes.  I’m not immune.

From as objective a standpoint as I can offer, this book starts out poorly.  And it is for that reason that I stopped after two chapters, and probably why I will not try to finish it.  It’s apparent that this book needed some more editing.  As you can see from this lengthy blog post, I’m not one to keep things brief.  But this is a more casual setting.  In novels every word must count, and you must make sure you do not overstuff your book with excess fluff.  Start out with “Why should my readers care?” and work your way out from there.

Books are meant to be about imagination.  It’s okay to use some description, but you shouldn’t be leading your reader around by the nose either.  “The pillow was small, soft, and pink, and it was hand-embroidered with an image of two koi fish by an elderly Japanese woman back in 1972.”  It’s too much!  Let your reader decide what a soft, hand-embroidered pillow would look like, okay?

I acknowledge that there are more factors that go into enticing and captivating a reader, but I think what I have just addressed is one of the biggest pieces of the puzzle.

That’s all for now!

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