Dear S.E. Hinton,

January 15, 2010

Some of Tim’s Stories – S.E. Hinton – 160 pages

“…a profound and wry compilation of fourteen short stories. Terry and Mike are cousins whose families are almost seamlessly intertwined. Raised as close as brothers and living happy childhoods, neither one thinks of what can go wrong. But the unexpected deaths of both their fathers catapult their lives in two very different directions. Terry finds trouble with the law, while Mike lives his life racked with guilt and sadness. In her first book in four years… S. E. Hinton gives readers a gritty view of how one incident, one tragedy, affects two boys very differently, and changes their lives forever.”  –from US.PenguinGroup.com

I’ve always loved The Outsiders, and in fact I treasure a distinct memory of reading the whole book in one sitting for school in 6th grade, even though we’d been strenuously instructed not to read ahead of the single chapter we were assigned.  I did that a lot, but I was pretty good at playing dumb about the content of the rest of the books.  Anyway, though The Outsiders is dear to me, I’ve never read any of your other work.  Out of the blue I decided to change that, and picked up Some of Tim’s Stories.  I’m extremely glad I did.

What a captivating little book!  I’m a sucker for connected-but-separate short stories, like the ones in this collection, and was drawn in at once by your plain, stark prose and by Mike and Terry’s personalities.  I mean, talk about craftsmanship. You really know how to spin a tale, weaving all the threads together and making it look easy, while still keeping it so blessedly simple.  Though the subject matter was sometimes poignant or saddening, these stories were really a treat.  You have a deft touch, and reading your work now was just as satisfying as when I read rebelliously ahead in The Outsiders some fifteen years ago.  Five stars.

Love,

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Dear Derek Kirk Kim,

July 17, 2009

Same Difference and Other StoriesSame Difference and Other Stories – Derek Kirk Kim

In a series of short graphic stories, Kim takes on young adulthood, morality and racism with some autobiography mixed in.  “Same Difference,” the longest story of the collection, follows two friends as they try to figure out what to do about a host of mis-delivered (and possibly stalker-ish) love letters.

After reading The Eternal Smile and really enjoying it, I thought I’d give Same Difference and Other Stories a try.  I was really into it at the start–“Same Difference” was a great story, and I also really liked “Hurdles” and “Pulling.”  Your art in this book has a fluid yet solid quality to it that I really enjoy.  After “Pulling,” though, it seemed like the stories took a turn.  They got much shorter, more angry, looser–not to mention more vulgar–and though I could have enjoyed them on their own, I was thrown off by the dissimilarity of that angry tone compared with the earlier stories.  The thematic shift was a little too drastic to make the whole thing cohere as a collection–the shorter first-person stories felt like they were just tossed on to add page length.

That said, I do appreciate the honesty, and sometimes brutality, of those first-person stories.  Racial discrimination and young adulthood confusion aren’t always pretty or poetic or comfortable, and you certainly captured that (along with an almost disturbing lack of self-worth).  Still, I wish the collection had flowed as a whole.  Four stars!

Love,

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Dear Gene Luen Yang and Derek Kirk Kim,

June 22, 2009

The Eternal SmileThe Eternal Smile – Gene Luen Yang and Derek Kirk Kim

Three stories collected in one volume, this collaboration spans knights with swords, frog cartoon shows, and internet scams–but they’re all connected by the common thread of illusion.  Things aren’t always what they seem, and seeing through the illusion will change everything.

I completely loved American Born Chinese, so it seemed like a logical next step to pick up The Eternal Smile–and I’m really glad I did!  It’s a totally odd assortment of stories, but after a while I started to see that they went really well together, thematically.  The first story was actually a little bit Kelly Link-esque, dropping the reader in the middle of a fairly odd fantasy setting that had the appearance of depth without being particularly lengthy, pagewise.  I think that’s what I liked best about it–the assumption that I would, and could, just go with the flow until the big twist at the end.  The second story might actually be my favorite, though at first I wasn’t sure I’d like it at all, but I’m enough of a Disney fan and have enough good humor to appreciate a clever and kind of freaky satire.  I also liked the art best in the middle story, bright and cute to offset the bizarre.  The third story was a total departure, even from stardard white to off-white paper, but I really enjoyed it.  The blurring of lines between reality and fantasy, the sweetness of the art style and the clever story were all fantastic.  It made me want to check out Same Difference and Other Stories, too!  Overall, this is the kind of graphic work that I like best–it’s more than what it seems to be.  Well done, you guys, five stars.

Love,

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Dear Karen Russell,

November 10, 2008

St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by WolvesSt. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves was a great pick for my book club this month!  It’s getting four stars, though, instead of five, because I found it similar to Kelly Link’s Pretty Monsters, but I enjoyed Pretty Monsters more.  This collection was pretty amazing, in spite of that.  I enjoyed the very calm surreality of it, the way crazy things happened as though they were entirely normal.  It’s an effect that I sometimes try to achieve in my own writing and don’t often succeed.  Also, the vocabulary of these stories is so precise and sophisticated! I mean, really, who’d ever expect to find the word “hoary” in a book more than once?  I noticed it at least three times. 🙂  Well done!

Love,

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Dear Jennifer Weiner,

November 5, 2008

The Guy Not TakenOk.  I had trouble with The Guy Not Taken.  It’s not the sort of book I normally read.  In fact, it’s the sort of book that I feel a little embarrassed to be seen with on the subway.  SO GIRLY, UGH.

I read it anyway.  And I did read the whole thing.  In fact, the writing itself, objectively, was extremely good.  You do have a literary talent, in spite of the chick lit thing you’ve got going on.

Your take on women, though, was not something I could handle.  All of your female characters were hopelessly insecure, waiting for their Prince Charming, and acting as though these things were totally normal.  Finally, toward the end of the book, there were some short stories that were a bit more interesting, had more depth, and showed more perspectives.  And, I guess, what else should I have expected from a book called “The Guy Not Taken”?  But I wish that, first, the stories were organized in a more interesting way, and second, that they weren’t ALL about women losing men, finding men, and generally revolving around men.  I’m giving it three stars.

I dunno.  Maybe I’m just not cut out for grown-up hetero love-gone-wrong stories.

Love,

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Dear Kelly Link and Shaun Tan,

October 13, 2008

Pretty Monsters OH. MY. GOD. I’ve just found my new goddess. Kelly, you are like…Neil Gaiman, only (gods of nerd-dom forgive me) BETTER. And also female, which makes me so happy, because too many of my personal speculative fiction deities are male.

Each story in Pretty Monsters is so compelling, so totally absorbing, that I felt like I was reading a whole bunch of novels, really fast. They don’t feel short at all, and they create a huge variety of really detailed, vibrant worlds in which the action takes place. Every protagonist is different from every other, and every story has a moment of utter weirdness, or spookiness, or heart-rendingness, that I couldn’t resist.  FIVE STARS, for sure.  I’m reading your other collections as soon as I can get my hands on them. And to think, I met you at NEIBA, and had no idea how much I would love your writing! I hope I get the chance to meet you again.

PS to Shaun–the illustrations you did to open each story are the perfect addition, and beautiful to boot.

Love,

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Dear Neil Gaiman,

May 30, 2008

Fragile ThingsI adore you. I adore your work.  I adore your blog, and the awesome video of you singing Creepy Doll with JoCo.  So, clearly I was predisposed to like Fragile Things, your multiple-award-winning short story collection.  Except something went wrong–though there were some stories that I thought were true gems, and nothing less than I expected of one of the gods of my personal geek universe, there were one or two stories that left me bored.  I put your book down in the middle of that one about the gastronomists for a month or two before picking it up again.  What happened?

It’s okay, though.  I still adore your work.  You rock.  Also, I can’t wait to get my hands on the graphic adaptation of my fave story in the collection, The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch.  You+Michael Zulli=wonderfulness.
You get three stars from me this time, but I’m sure The Graveyard Book will up your average.

Love,

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