The Highest Tide

I learned early on that if you tell people what you see at low tide they’ll think you’re exaggerating or lying when you’re actually just explaining strange and wonderful things as clearly as you can.

This book in one word: heartfelt.

Sometimes it’s too obvious that the author wants you to know how odd its main character is, how special in its weirdness. Jim Lynch manages to show Miles in all his different ways, but never turns him into a caricature, in something that you will only experience in fictional stories. But this teen, although experiencing some weird things, could definitely exist.

Miles lives in a small town near a bay and loves everything the ocean and maritime nature can offer. This, combined with his lack of length, makes him the odd duck. Finding strange things and becoming a (local) media star, turns (pun intended) the tides for him. Suddenly his being different is amazing, he’s viewed as an expert on every subject related to the ocean, while his (social) life starts falling apart.

Is finding an oarfish really so amazing if your crush is in trouble and can you care about clams if your parents might be divorcing? Miles’ story meanders through a teen’s life with amazing details on ocean life. A pleasure to read.

The Highest Tide, Jim Lynch, Bloomsbury 2005

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The Boy Next Door

Two days after I turned fourteen the son of our neighbor set his stepmother alight.

A love story between black and white against the back drop of the rise and fall of Zimbabwe. Four hundred pages and a few decades to show that wishes and dreams aren’t enough to uphold reality.

Zimbabwe was the African country that was going to be a great success. They had the resources, they had a sane government, and in comparison to neighbor South Africa, changes went pretty swimmingly. Until they didn’t.

That Zimbabwe went from great to a corrupted, dangerous mess isn’t news (or so I hope). In how many ways it went wrong might be. The Boy Next Door shows the very human story of being judged by your history, your skin color and your gender. And even when you do share those treats with your family, loved ones or neighbors, it doesn’t mean that your life will be easier for it. That – even when outsiders (in this case a lot of French people) – try to help, it doesn’t necessarily has to give good, or even any, results.

It’s easy to forget that the majority of people in such countries are the ordinary ones that just want to live their lives with an education, a job, a family of their own. This book shows it without shoving it into your face.

The Boy Next Door, Irene Sabatini, Sceptre 2010

A Cruel Bird Came to the Nest and Looked In

As the clock struck ten, Smew opened the register.

I didn’t see the ‘Comedy Genre’ sticker. Readers know that I’m always careful when it comes to having someone else decide for me what I’m going to find funny and/or laugh about. On the other hand, maybe comedy is more than that, but that comes to close to the philosophical side of things. I guess I just got distracted by the cover and the title.

A Cruel Bird Came to the Nest and Looked In starts out as funny and pretty absurd. There’s a country with a missing empire, the people of state can’t spend their money and there’s no such thing as efficiency or productivity. The main character and reader are in the same state of bewilderment, and possibly after a few chapters starting off the same way, wondering if any kind of plot is even around.

With a train come changes and the absurd does a 90 to turn into something that could be recognized as satire. Is every kind of process good, does a human being not need anything else but employment and there is definitely no need for a state-figure as long as there is (small/local) authority.

And like that the reader shuffles through this book with a question mark on their forehead and a smile around their lips. Yes, maybe this is comedy.

A Cruel Bird Came to the Nest and Looked In, Magnus Mills, Bloomsbury 2011

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

By 1899, we had learned to tame the darkness but not the Texas heat.

Feminism in shape of an eleven-year-old girl in the nineteenth century. Calpurnia is a smart little girl who doesn’t understand why “because it has always been like this” is a valid excuse for pushing gender restrictions on anyone.

Because Calpurnia Virginia (Callie Vee) is on the edge of womanhood and it’s time for her to learn different things than her brothers, so she can one day not that far away, get herself a nice husband. But Callie is more interested in the strange things her grandfather keeps up with, like nature and the origin of species. Why care about a straight seam when you could discover a completely new plant species?

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate comes from the YA/children section of the library, but Jacqueline Kelly manages to handle these questions (Can you be religious while believing in evolution? Why can’t women work and be married?) in a sane, realistic manner. She combines this with a world-building of an end of century Texas that makes you smell cornbread and sweat straw.

And you’re witness to an evolution.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, Jacqueline Kelly, Henry Holt and Company 2009

Bron/Broen

Scandinaviërs staan bekend om hun talent op het gebied van detectives en thrillers, in boek-, film-, en televisievorm. Bron/Broen (The Bridge) past daar helemaal bij.

Het tweede seizoen was deze zomer op NPO2, elke avond een aflevering van 58 minuten. De twee detectives; de ene uit Noorwegen, de ander uit Denemarken, zijn weer aanwezig en er is weer een grote, vreemde zaak.

bron-broenMeestal ben ik niet van detectives. Elke week wordt even snel een zaak opgerold en als er al een overkoepelend plot is, wordt dat in de finale binnen vijf minuten gefixt. Het personeel weet alles te vinden en begrijpt elke hint en soms is er meer tijd voor privé levens dan de zaak.

Zo niet met Bron/Broen. Ja, vrouwelijke detective Saga weet veel en ziet veel, maar niet zonder het investeren van veel tijd in het aanwezige materiaal. Het mooiste van haar is echter nog wel haar karakter. Is in een man/vrouw combinatie vaak de man de stugge cowboy, hier is het Martin met het gezin en de (overdosis aan) empathie, terwijl zij het maar raar vindt, sociale interactie.

Dat betekent niet dat zij een karikatuur is voor comedic relief, ze is nog steeds menselijk. Iedereen, ook de bad guys en de slachtoffers, hebben meerdere dimensies. De serie neemt ruim de tijd om iedereen te introduceren en stopt daar ook later in de serie niet mee. De kijker moet meedenken en dingen onthouden, in plaats van alles te verwachten op een dienblaadje.

Beide seizoenen hebben tien afleveringen en het is moeilijk er maar één per keer te kijken. Bron/Broen ziet er mooi uit, zit goed in elkaar en laat je waarschijnlijk elke zin verliezen om ooit nog naar Kopenhagen of Malmo te gaan.

Short Girls

After Miles left, Van began checking the security alarm every time she entered the house.

What’s the difference between chick-lit and a story about two sisters and their careers, love-lives and family connections? Okay, there can be big differences when the one genre refuses to act like women are individuals with a multidimensional character, but that’s bad writing, not a genre problem.

Anyway, Short Girls. Two Asian-American sisters who stumble through life, love, family and career while trying to discover why they drifted apart. Their father is the unwelcome thing that binds them, continues to bring them together because of his needs, his inventions, his struggles as a short man and as an immigrant.

Besides the very recognizable (daily) things, Nguyen shows the strange world of being a minority, always knowing that the first judgment will be on your not-of-the-majority looks. Even for the American born sisters there are several extra layers of being different.

Short Girls gives a nice insight into the life of at the same time remarkable and ordinary women.

Short Girls, Bich Minh Nguyen, Viking 2009

Unseen Academicals

It was midnight in Ankh-Morpork’s Royal Art Museum.*

Finally a Discworld novel again. With author Terry Pratchett suffering from Alzheimer’s, it’s unsure how many more he’ll be able to create. But until then; let’s enjoy what’s around.

Unseen Academicals is one of the Discworld novels centered on Ank-Morpork and its Unseen University. Of course the regular suspects are there (The Watch, DEATH, the ruling dictator) but the wizards and their personnel are the main characters this time.

Well, them and soccer. Lord Vetenari, for reasons not particularly clear, wants to clean up the game of soccer and for starters thinks that the wizards should form a team and be the shining beacon that will make the game ready for the next generation. Just some rules, less casualties and something to keep the plebeian mob happy, it should be a walk in the park.

Of course it isn’t, but this road is covered with bad jokes, good jokes and tickling-smart word play. Because that’s what Pratchett does and he does it well.

Unseen Academicals: a Discworld Novel, Terry Pratchett, Doubleday 2009