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Odd, Weird & Little

7 Jan

Today’s book review is for Odd, Weird & Little, by Patrick Jennings, published by Egmont USA. It is scheduled to be released on January 28, 2014. I received a free electronic copy of this book from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Odd, Weird & Little book cover

Woodrow has always been the outcast in the class, but when a new kid shows up from Quebec, there’s a new target. Toulouse isn’t just new–he’s strange. He wears funny clothes, he’s small, he barely talks, and he carries a briefcase. But Woodrow recognizes a bit of a kindred spirit, and possibly a new friend. Even though Toulouse is a skilled artist, musician and volleyball player, he continues to be a target for bullying. Woodrow decides that it’s time to finally take a stand for Toulouse and himself. Odd, Weird & Little is a heartwarming story about finding friendship and self-confidence.

One of the things that I really enjoyed about this novel was how well developed Woodrow, the protagonist, was. He was a kid with a clear and distinct personality. Even though he had a lot of quirks, those quirks weren’t the sole defining characteristics of his personality. We also discovered that he was shy and creative, had a good relationship with his family, and was empathetic. It was easy to see why he might be the target of bullying, and at the same time why he shouldn’t be.

My biggest complaint with the writing was how a lot of the dialogue was handled. When the students in class were all talking, it switched to the format of a play–a name, a colon, and what that person said. It was a strange choice for a middle grade novel. More than that, though, it stripped out any description of other behavioral cues. It also took away opportunities for secondary character development. Worst of all, it actually made it more difficult for me to follow who was saying what, because it became too easy to gloss over the initial tags.

The development of the friendship between Woodrow and Toulouse was nice, though. While it may have initially been motivated by a feeling of sympathy on Woodrow’s side, it quickly found a foundation of shared interests. The only aspect that felt a bit unrealistic was how quickly it happened. It felt almost like insta-friend. I understand Woodrow being desperate for friendship, but inviting someone to your house within a few hours of meeting them seemed a little surprising.

Overall I give the book 3 stars. It was a good story with a great message for middle graders. Learning how to be comfortable with yourself can be challenging, so reading about someone truly different might be reassuring. I also liked that Toulouse really was odd–much more so than people suspect.

You can find more information on this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.

Contaminated

21 Nov

Today’s book review is for Contaminated by Em Garner, published by Egmont USA. I received an electronic copy of this text from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Contaminated book cover

Contaminated is a novel for young adults and teens, set in a dystopian near-future. When a trendy diet drink started to turn people into shambling, murderous creatures unable to control their impulses, society starts to crumble. Luckily the government is able to step in to round up those who have been contaminated and neutralize the problem–the first step to getting back on track. Since the contamination, 17-year old Velvet Ellis has been juggling school, work, and parenting her little sister, Opal. Then, after months of searching, Velvet finally finds her mother at one of the “kennels” for the contaminated, and her life is turned upside down again. She’s told that her mom will never recover from what happened, but it’s not long before Velvet starts to question that assertion. Is it just foolish hope, or can the contaminated improve? And will she be able to hold her family together when the world seems to be doing everything in its power to tear them apart once more?

I have to say, Garner has come up with an incredibly compelling plot. As soon as I read the book synopsis I was eager to request a review copy. Not only was it an interesting twist on the zombie trope, it also pulled in the moral questions of dystopia. Heck, there was even a little jab at diet culture and consumerism. What’s not to love? Unfortunately, quite a lot.

First, the pace was ploddingly slow. From the description, it sounds like the sort of book that would have a lot of action and intrigue–but it doesn’t. Very little actually happens. I was halfway through the book when I had the realization that nothing really significant had happened. Then, I realized that all of the cool-sounding plot stuff wasn’t the primary story. The primary story was the story of an adolescent, Velvet, having to grow up before she was ready–learning how to navigate the world of adulthood. She spends most of her time worrying about laundry, the food budget, keeping her sister in school, how to support her family, all while caring for a mother who has essentially the same problems as a patient recovering from a major stroke. It wasn’t a bad story–it just wasn’t the one that was advertised.

Then there was the problem of Velvet. The entire story is told in first person from her point of view. The problem with this is that Velvet isn’t all that interesting or likable as far as narrators go. She’s too flat, too catty, too irritating. Fortunately I liked Opal and I was interested to discover what would happen with their mother. Otherwise, I’m not sure I could have tolerated the narrative voice. Velvet’s inner monologue is incredibly redundant and exceedingly boring. That’s because, as mentioned earlier, she spends a lot of time thinking about mundane things. She’s also so judgmental and catty that when other characters are hostile toward her it’s hard to feel much sympathy. I think it’s supposed to be an indication that she’s hardened by the trauma of her experiences, but it read as mere pettiness.

Here’s the thing, though. In the last hundred pages or so, stuff started to get interesting. New cases of contamination started to appear. The media started to shut down. Soldiers and police started asserting more control. And even though Velvet was still focused on her family, it raised a lot of questions for the reader. Then, it ended before any of those questions were answered.

So, even though there were some problems with this book, I’m hoping that there will be a sequel. I don’t really care about what happens to Velvet, but I do want to know more about the world she’s living in. Which means I’m giving Contaminated 3 out of 5 star rating. Because, for all that I didn’t like about it, I still liked it enough to want to read more.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.