Genre: Young Adult, Fiction
10th Ed.: Jan 13, 2015, Penguin Random House
1st Ed.: March 3, 2005, Dutton Children’s Books
Read: November 2018 (first read in 2015)
Rated it: 3.5 stars
What was okay for me:
1. Pudge. I can’t say I particularly too much for the guy. I mean, he’s smart and likable enough, sure. He can be exasperating, I’d kick his ass if I could. Self-centered but not in a conventional or conspicuous way. By the end of the book, however, he rose a few rungs in my esteem, not that he’d give a shit but whatever.
2. Alaska. The muse, the lovely rendition of the manic pixy dream girl. Okay, I should cut her some slack, and I do, but at the time of writing this, I’m not sure how I stand with people who like to play with fire or tempt fate irresponsibly, leaving everybody else hacking in the ashes. I’m sorry for the burden she carried so long it became an inextricable part of who she is. It made her reckless and invariably aloof. It could have been different, and that goes without saying. But really, she’s damn charming when she chooses to be, outspoken and fierce.
And as much as I can appreciate them both, at times they inspire an intermediate sense of disgust and I’m conflicted as to whether if I do like them or not and I don’t remember feeling this way about main characters before. Truthfully, I like that I’m not enamored.
3. That infernal swan.
What I definitely liked:
1. The secondary characters, especially Takumi, Chip, Laura, and the Eagle. They’re in the immediate background but there’s an attention to their details that prevent them from being cardboard cutouts yet not over the top unique, or pretentious. There’s a depth that I can truly appreciate, secondary characters are the support people and it’s essential that they’re solid.
Through Chip (aka the Colonel) class division is vaguely touched on, but while I somewhat understand his position and background I felt he was biased against the Weekday Warriors solely based on their social standing and privilege.
Through Laura, her family’s migration journey to the US.
Takumi, the embodiment of wasted talent but maybe that was by design. He liked music, hip-hop particularly. Pudge wasn’t close enough to him for us to know him better.
The Eagle, mister tough guy enforcer. I found him and his campus mythos endearing, he really does care about those kids.
2. World Religions class, I definitely lingered, and it’s where the book gets much momentum as a portion of Pudge’s development is religiously and philosophically driven and clearly, the Old Man and his lesson plan had much influence on his thought process and outlook.
3. The pranks. Especially Barn Day and Alaska’s prank.
4. John does the atmosphere very well, and it’s what I relished the most. It’s a part of the irony that it isn’t really a great book in some ways; on the whole, it isn’t anything you haven’t seen. You have your smart-assy, itchy and aimless protagonist who chose to get out of his bubble in search of some awaiting destiny.
He meets this gorgeous, witty and tragic chick and a small cast of other new friends and goes about the motions of school and home, and he gradually becomes a different version of himself. He obsesses over this unattainable girl, who may or may not be manipulative, against any better judgment. He comes to harbor a love-hate relationship towards her as a result of her caprice.
A terrible thing happens, existing in the fallout is heart-rending and mentally excruciating. They all come out scarred in the end, in a way scrubbed vigorously clean taking several layers of skin. It ends on a thoughtful and retrospective note.
But the atmosphere, the small pockets of conversation and introspection and stupid-ass fantasies, individually and collectively created this delicate and understated tapestry that left me with fleeting impressions of discovery, camaraderie, uncertainty, betrayal, pain, hurt and forgiveness.
5. Plot-wise it deceptively unremarkable. It was how it came together made me care despite all that, it’s in the little interactions and massive undertakings and the charm it wove when I wasn’t looking. And that’s the kicker like I said before I’ve seen variations of this plotline and this one, this one stands out where the others have blurred from my mind.
It almost feels unambitious, as if it’s perfectly fine with the small magics of mundane adventures and a 3.5-star rating. That can’t be right, though, can it? Every book is a sapling of ambition.
Pudge’s great perhaps remains firmly beyond his horizon, even if he’s a tiny bit closer. Changes were both external and internal, affecting him and every single person at Culver Creek and in the face of all their differences, these people banded together because of their love for a brilliant blaze of a girl.
To me, well, I think it was beautiful.
[reviewed in early 2019]