Team Human: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Team Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees BrennanMel Duan is nothing if not a realist. She appreciates that vampires are a part of her town’s heritage. She understands that living with vampires nearby is a  fact of life in New Whitby. She even admits that some people do actually choose, for reasons beyond all comprehension, to willingly become vampires and give up everything (like chocolate!) for the tedium of, well, forever. When forced to, Mel can even grudgingly accept that her best friend Cathy is fascinated by vampires.

None of that means that Mel has to actually like vampires.

It certainly doesn’t mean she has to watch quietly when a vampire tromps into her school and catches Cathy’s attention. It most definitely does not mean that Mel is going to let her best friend date a vampire (named Francis of all things) when it could prove lethal on so many levels.

The only problem is Mel seems to be the only one solidly avoiding Team Vampire. Worse, Mel has a lot more to worry about than just keeping Cathy and Francis apart. Mel is used to having a lot on her plate as a high-achieving, athletic senior trying to figure out her life, but even she is going to have a hard time thwarting this romance, investigating a disappearance, working with a curt vampire cop, and trying to understand a most unusual boy in Team Human (2012) by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan.

Team Human is the first book Larbalestier and Rees Brennan have co-written. It features one consistent narrative voice.

Given the title of the story, it’s no surprise that Mel is not a vampire fan. At. All. Mel is funny, and maybe a bit snarky, but as she expounds the many, many faults with vampires* she is often just mean–a hard quality to sell in any heroine but especially in a first-person narrator.

Mel’s personality flaws, such as they are, are only magnified by the structure of Team Human. The book follows a logical progression with action, banter, jokes, and of course vampires. At the same time, there is not a lot of plot. While Mel is often shocked during the story, readers will be harder to surprise with plot elements that are sometimes more transparent than mysterious.

But for most readers all of that will be irrelevant.

Team Human was written in secret by the authors after they began wondering what it would be like if their best friend was dating a vampire. Team Human was written as the antidote to every book where the heroine runs blindly into the arms of a bloodsucking fiend and not one friend stops her to ask if she has lost her mind. In other words Team Human was written for fun. To celebrate good friends. Though she might sometimes be misguided, Mel is always good to her friends–even when it might not seem that way to them (or her).

Team Human is very funny. Readers of Larbalestier or Rees Brennan’s solo books would expect nothing less. The story gracefully walks the fine line between gravity and levity with smoothly written jokes and touching moments.

While Mel’s view of vampires is narrow at the beginning of the story, her outlook expands along with the plot and the world of the book. Team Human is a fresh take on the old vampire conventions sure to appeal to anyone who prefers their vampires with a complement of sarcasm and comedy instead of bats and shadows. A must-read for anyone who is pro-vampire, Team Human will have just as much appeal to anyone who is anti-vampire.

*Such as being cold, not funny, unable to eat chocolate.

Possible Pairings: Every Other Day by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, Drink, Slay, Love by Sarah Beth Durst, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel, Generation Dead by Daniel Waters, Peeps by Scott Westerfeld, Zombies Vs. Unicorns by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier (eds.)

How to Ditch Your Fairy: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

How to Ditch Your Fairy by Justine LarbalestierWelcome to New Avalon, the best city in the world–just ask any of its residents. New Avalon has the most important celebrities, the tallest buildings, and the best slang. It also has the best sports school in the country, but you probably already knew that since it has a reputation for training future famous athletes by the truckload.

As far as fourteen-year-old Charlie is concerned life in New Avalon is just about perfect, especially now that she’s getting to know here totally pulchy and crush-worthy new neighbor Stefan. The only real problem is Charlie’s parking fairy.

It’s not that fairies are uncommon, far from it. Many New Avaloners have fairies that help with everything from finding loose change to finding the perfect clothes. Some fairies make people charming and famous, some keep them from ever getting cold or losing their grip. Charlie’s fairy helps her find a perfect parking space anywhere, any time.

Charlie can’t drive. Charlie hates cars. Charlie is tired of always smelling vaguely of  gasoline. And Charlie is sick of being passed around to her all of her neighbors going to the doctor or some other important appointment where they need to find good parking.

Charlie is desperate to get rid of her fairy through any means necessary. And sometimes desperate people do stupid things like refusing to help one of the most important people in school and teaming up with their archenemy (and even a few other, more dangerous, things). Only time will tell if it will all be enough to solve Charlie’s parking problem in How to Ditch Your Fairy (2008) by Justine Larbalestier.

Larbalestier splits her time between Australia and the United States (specifically New York City) and has written books set in both countries. How to Ditch Your Fairy is set in neither. Instead, Larbalestier has created an imaginary country; an amalgam of the two. The effect is rather like being thrown into the deep end of the pool to learn to swim. The setting, the slang, and the culture are utterly alien and initially quite confusing. (The book includes a character as clueless as some readers will feel about the ways of New Avalon as well as several helpful glossaries at the end of the book.)

While the total immersion is a little daunting at first, it helps get right to the action of the story. Larbalestier introduces a fascinating and foreign city readers will love learning about throughout the story. Even though New Avalon doesn’t exist outside of this story, it feels like it does thanks to Larbalestier’s expert depiction.

Charlie is also a refreshing addition to the already rich cadre of young adult heroines. She eats, drinks and breathes sports (like most of her fellow students). Charlie’s passion for sports is embedded in every part of How to Ditch Your Fairy but there is more to the story, and the heroine, than sports. Some readers will fully identify with Charlie and her enthusiasm for all things sports. Others will appreciate her eagerness because it so clearly reflects the fierce commitment needed to follow a dream.

How to Ditch Your Fairy starts with a familiar girl, a character you could have met anywhere, but by the end of the story it will be clear that this book is completely original and completely entertaining.

Possible Pairings: Alice, I Think by Susan Juby, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, Jungle Crossing by Sydney Salter

Exclusive Bonus Content: I had the very, very, very good fortune of talking to Justine Larbalestier at a signing event at Books of Wonder a few weeks ago (right before making a fool of myself in front of Scott Westerfeld, but that’s a different story) and mentioned to her my appreciation of her frank discussion of the problems surrounding the cover for her latest book, Liar. (Sound unfamiliar? I talk about it my review of the book and here as well.) Anyway, we got to talking and Larbalestier said she favored the Australian version of the cover.

Before talking to her I’d had my own dilemma deciding whether to get a hardcover or paperback version of How to Ditch Your Fairy. I tend to prefer hardcovers in my personal collection and I ultimately bought that one because I decided I preferred that cover art (the top photo here). I still do, but after reading the book I’m torn because I think the paperback version (bottom photo) is more true the story even though both capture the “spirit” or the book in some sense. I also like that both version keep the same attractive color scheme. I’m happy with my choice (and that Ms. Larbalestier applauded the power of blogs in my copy!) but I decided I’d present you with both covers here to get a fuller sense of the overall package.

Liar: A Chick Lit Wednesday review

Liar by Justine Larbalestier (revised cover)I’m not even sure where to start this review there’s so much going on with this book. The plot in Justine Larbelestier‘s Liar (2009) is so intricate and crazy awesome that the author has asked readers to please not post spoilers in their reviews (I wouldn’t know how to explain the spoilers even if I did want to post them). Aside from that, the book has gone through three different covers and created a bit of controversy on the way. It doesn’t relate to the story, but I think if you want to understand this book you really need to know about all the covers.

In Australia, Liar features a pretty straightforward and rather eerie cover with the title written in what, I think, is blood. In the United States, the advanced copies of the book were sent out with a cover featuring a white girl with long hair draped across her face so that only her eyes and nose are visible. Which is fine. The cover is pretty intense and kind of true to the story.

Liar by Justine Larbalestier (initial US version)Except it’s completely wrong as a representation of Micah, the main character in Liar. Micah is a black girl who wears her naturally nappy hair short and who could easily pass as a boy. Larbalestier has also said she imagined Micah looking like Alana Beard from the WNBA. The girl on the cover looks more like Maureen Johnson. And that’s sad because, as I will mention later, Micah is one hell of a strong character and she does not deserve to be “white-washed” on her cover (which on top of everything else also invalidates some of the fundamental truths Larbalestier intended to exist in the novel).

On her blog, which I have been crazily linking to throughout this post, Larbalestier has written a thorough and eloquent post about what happened to the American cover of Liar as well as the general difficulty in finding a book with a black face getting mainstream support from publishers. There is an often unchallenged belief, as Larbalestier mentions, that “black books Liar by Justine Larbalestier (Australian cover)don’t sell” which resulted in the rather inaccurate cover of Liar. Since then, when the controversy peaked, a call for change was heard. And answered. Now Liar has a new cover that better captures Micah (exactly as I imagined her actually) which will be available on the hardcover edition in the USA.

And now you are ready to hear about the rest of the book.

One of the only true things Micah will tell you about herself is that she’s a liar. She has always been a liar. She comes from a long line of expert liars. But Micah doesn’t want to lie anymore. Especially not to you–the one person she hasn’t lied to. Yet.

Lies are easy. Micah is quickly learning that the truth is a harder thing to manage. When her secret boyfriend dies, Micah’s carefully crafted lies begin to peel away. One by one. Until all Micah is left with is the cold, hard truth. Or is she?

The author (and the back flap) describe Liar as a thriller. Strangely I never used the word to describe it myself, but now it seems so obvious. The story is rife with tension and Micah’s intricate narration add another level of suspense to the story.

Larbalestier’s writing is amazing. She (and Micah) had me convinced I was reading one kind of book right until they told me I was reading something else. Then the story changed on me again. At this point, I’m not really sure what I read. I think I know. But maybe I’m lying about that. All I know for sure is that Liar is an amazing ride that will leave you breathless.

(I can’t wait for this book to hit the shelves though because when it does I might start a book discussion group for it.)

Possible Pairings: What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell, The Graces by Laure Eve, Everybody See the Ants by A. S. King, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga, Madapple by Christina Meldrum, The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by Kate Hattemer, Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith, Wherever Nina Lies by Lynn Weingarten, The Space Between Trees by Katie Williams