Monday, December 31, 2012

Cheerio, 2012!

Plunging into the adult world is no easy feat, and 2012 is the year that officially let me feel that. As they say, life comes with no guidebook; we young crops have to be careful with all the baby steps we're taking into the real world. We shook off our training wheels, soldiered on, and thought: “Yes. This is it, this is what I’ve always waited for. I can do it.” Everything  about Adulthood: Stage One is an uphill struggle, but hey—it didn’t mean we can’t have fun!

I will never forget 2012 for all the memories it etched in my heart, both the good ones and the bad ones. I felt so much stronger right now, after going through the wild jungle of problems and troubles...which is apparently just the start of it all. I stumbled and got back right up. I got misunderstood and I forgive. I misunderstood and was forgiven. I encountered new people that I came to love, friends who have the same “wavelength of quirkiness” as me, friends that entered my life in astonishingly unexpected ways, friends that I know I can rely on. I got to keep old friends who would back me up as I do the same to them.  I turned 365 days older. I got to try new things; I got to let new dreams bloom inside me.

Sure, there are times when I feel like crying and encasing myself with a cocoon of despair; there are times when I feel like I’m on the brink of giving up. Lots of times. But for all its worth, the last 12 months were full of happier moments than I could ask for. The brighter scenes thawed the darker ones to the point of vanishing. I'm thankful for everything.

Here are some of the photos I found collected in a random folder on my desktop. I’m sure there are tons of more snapshots out there on the info superhighway—and there are a thousand more memories that are captured only by my heart’s built-in shutter—but I guess I’d post this handful. They would already tell a lot…

I’ve been in a wild roller coaster of emotions, lessons, and indelible memories. In all honesty, these photos just pale in comparison! I’m raising my metaphorical glass to whoever is reading this: let’s welcome the new year with hopes for a more blessed year! Expect the challenges and the blues, but never forget to look up to see the silver lining that's always there for anyone who looks for it. Cheerio to 2012 and cheers to 2013! :)

Happy new year!

Review: Every Day

Title: Every Day
Author: David Levithan
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Young Adult
My Rating: ★★★★ (4/5 stars)

Every Day

Admit it: at one point in your life—that specific point when you find yourself scooped up by the gigantic hurricane of all the mess you’ve made in your existence so far—you’ve wondered what it would be like to wake up as another person. You’ve longed to restart. You’ve longed to get the chance to draw your life once again on a clean slate because you can’t handle this trouble-jumble anymore. You’ve longed for an escape.

David Levithan toys with this idea and throws in a poignantly ironic spin on it for his latest novel, Every Day. Blurbs say that this is Levithan’s most ambitious work yet, and I can see where they are coming.

While we accept the old dogma “life doesn’t come with an instruction manual” as true with bittersweet acknowledgment, sixteen-year-old A sort of wishes it to be true, literally. After all, a concrete compilation of precise instructions on life would be a big help to someone like A…that is, someone who wakes up in a different body, in a different life every morning.

There’s never any warning about where the “transfer” will occur or who the next “host” will be. A doesn't have an idea why or how it happens; he doesn’t even know what he actually is! For almost two decades, he eventually learns to make peace with this fact. He even established his own rules: don’t get too attached, don’t get noticed, and don’t interfere. But everything changed when he opens his eyes one day and finds himself in the body of Justine, Rhiannon’s boyfriend. He falls in love with Rhiannon in a flash, and he knows he has to dismantle the guidelines he set for himself. But is love really possible in this strange setup?

Even if it’s been a while since I last read something written by Levithan, I was a tad astonished to find how he deftly builds one intricate inkscape of a story with the simplest of words. His prose here is very much reminiscent of The Lover’s Dictionary: straight and to-the-point, yet with hem that is swaying with subtlest hints of romantic poetry. I read somewhere before that music is love in search of words. Upon reading this book, I know that it somehow contains that music. His sentences sing, and anyone who doesn’t mind having loads of saccharine in their read would have a good time with this book. Every Day, however, is not all cheese.

Levithan deliberately uses the novel’s narrative force as a tool to explore issues regarding sexuality. The main protagonist fully accepts whatever the gender of his host is; A himself is fluid, and more than once he (thinks he) falls in love with people regardless of their sexuality. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual…he knows these are all just trappings around our true selves, and he gets passed through them to see the core. As he uses this to make some pseudo-commentaries, you’ll know that Levithan obviously still leans on some hope of an LGBTQ utopia, one that we took a glimpse of in his other novel Boy Meets Boy.

It’s hard to make a verdict when it comes to the characters, though. I can’t consider A fully fleshed out—and this has very little to do with his actually not having flesh. To be fair, not having a permanent body affects one’s identity as a character. A’s nature requires him to adapt; he holds nothing but his ideals and self-imposed laws that define him as a dignified entity. But I noticed that while his voice effectively exudes the biting tang of adolescence—being witty one minute and being heart-meltingly romantic the next—there are a few parts where he lacks the solidity of a strong narrator. It’s like, he’s already had his hooks on the reader’s interest, and then the hooks would slip out of their grip without any warning. But I guess it’s understandable, since it mostly happens when A’s doing his transient transfer to unremarkable people (with appearances ranging from three paragraphs to two pages, obvious unnecessary slice-of-life fillers). As for Rhiannon, I think it’s safe to say she’s a clear case of Mary Sue. It will stay the same even if we see her through an alternative POV, even without A’s love-struck goggles of perception.

The plot is twisted in a sense that it’s practically a labyrinthine bulk of little detours and turns—sans losing the main point, of course. Levithan managed to make the main storyline magnified. He didn’t exactly paint a portrait of ideal love. In a way, I think that A’s feelings for Rhiannon for the most part of the book are self-destructive. When I say self, I mean both A’s self and the body he’s occupying. The moment he disregarded all the rules, he has also disturbed the “harmony” of the owners of the bodies he wore. He managed to save one life, yes, but compared to the others he used as tools so he could follow Rhiannon around? For the record, I’m not one of those girls who consider stalking as romantic.

But hey, it’s young love. For A, the world is practically a fleeting concept—we can’t blame him if for once, he found something that he wanted so badly to hold on to for more than 24 hours. Or forever. A soon realizes that what he’s doing is selfish (and sort of “evil”), but even with this little epiphany he didn’t seem that well-developed. The novel’s ending wrapped up nicely, though: knotted with a heart-wrenching bittersweetness of letting go, and the silhouettes of hopes and possibilities looming beneath the last sentence.

Despite its flaws, I still consider this book one of David Levithan’s bests.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Bookwormism Update (sort of)

If RL wasn’t always pulling me away from the lappy every time a light bulb of blog idea pops into my head, my online havens wouldn’t seem as empty as they are right now. Apologies for my little case of negligence! You know the drill, magazine work and all that jazz. 

But since Gala is now slowly being wrapped in the Christmas spirit, workload pressure isn't as heavy as compared to last month's. I guess I'll be able to blog regularly soon! I’ll be posting reviews for David Levithan’s Every Day and Antonia Michaelis’ The Storyteller (+ a couple of doodles) in the coming days, so stay tuned.

In other news, I went to three different branches of Book Sale last week. I wasn’t so lucky with my initial tries, but check out the pre-loved books I got from the SM Manila branch on my last book-hunt day:

new stack

I got all these babies for just Php 315.00. Can you believe that? If I remember correctly, Gregory Maguire’s Mirror, Mirror costs around Php 600.00 when brand new, like Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister and Lost. Reading Lolita in Tehran and The Secret Life of Bees are at around Php400.00 each in National Book Store, while The Hangman’s Daughter is perhaps at Php 600.00 (the whole packaging looks a tad like Penguin Deluxe editions). Even though it’s the only hardbound tome in the stack, Tender Morsels is priced the lowest. I was able to get it at only 35 bucks! Yeah, talk about luck.

In addition to that stack, I also bought David Levithan's Love is the Higher Law and Gregory Maguire's Matchless (largely discounted—originally priced at 520 but I acquired it for only a hundred bucks).

fairyland - Copy

I'm currently reading Catherynne M. Valente's The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. I'm liking it so far, but I have to admit I still haven't gotten over Michaelis' The Storyteller. It's gotta been one of my favorite books ever. In fact, I only picked up Valente's novel because it sounds like Abel's fairytale for Micha, the one with the little queen and her green ship. I want to reread it so badly, although I know I'll undergo another severe literary heartache the second time around. Which, of course, I'm more than willing to endure.

How about you guys? What are you currently reading?

PS: To those waiting for replies and emails, I may be able to get to you tonight or tomorrow morning. Sorry for the delay!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Tannatek and Leemann

The StorytellerLady Luck seemed to like smiling at me when I’m in a book-hunting mood.

Through some kind of bookstore serendipity, I stumbled upon a copy of Antonia Michaelis’ The Storyteller. There was something about its synopsis that drew me in; I think I was initially curious as to how the author will make reality and fairytale stand cheek by jowl, and if she can weave both into one sleek patchwork of literature. What I encountered inside was nothing I expected. Most YA books today—bittersweet or otherwise—have a certain 'candy' feel to it that screams, "I'm written for you young peeps!" This novel is not one of those.

The Storyteller is part-mystery, part-romance, and part-thriller. You'll be surprised how Michaelis evenly divides the novel into those three. I was only twenty pages in when I found myself muttering, "This book is probably going to rival The Solitude of Prime Numbers (Paolo Giordano) in my heart." And that’s saying a lot—Prime is an unsurpassed lit royalty for me when it comes to coming-of-age love stories. 

For some peculiar reason, I get easily magnetized by depressing stories. Nestling into my system with no apparent effort are tales that are twisted, un-sugarcoated, and chock-full of brutal truth, yet peppered  sparingly with sparks of hope across its storyline. These sparks may or may not bloom in the end. I’m not a happy-ever-after junkie, but when I start caring for the characters so much, I often feel like melting into a pool of crying mess when they don’t get a fairytale ending. It happened in Prime.

The Storyteller is very bleak and dark that the fairytale and romantic angle it flaunts in blurbs are barely existent. Well, they are there, but they’re wrapped up in a cloud of grim and grit, and there are only a handful of times when you can see a little glint of hope. School drug dealer aka “Polish peddler” Abel Tannatek and good-girl-in-a-bubble Anna Leemann are the main characters. I’m  currently 170 pages in (I put down the book a few minutes ago) and I can already foresee what I’ll be by the end of the book if they don’t get a blissful conclusion. If they won’t, well, at least I wish the author gave them a well-written ending. I’ll tell more about this book in my review.

The images above are from the book trailer, which you can watch here.

Deeper into Life

Deeper into Life

Review: Juliet, Naked

Title: Juliet, Naked
Author: Nick Hornby
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
My Rating: ★★★★ (3.5/5 stars)

Juliet, Naked
Musical fandom is no strange land to many of us. No matter what genre we strike a chord with, we are meshed together by the fact that we take a string of linked notes as some form of medicine for the soul, taken through the ears and channeled straight to our very cores. No matter how occupied our hearts seem to be, there’s always a slice that we save for music. It’s just sometimes, some people’s slices are far bigger than the others’… so much bigger to a point that the chunks reserved for something else were devoured by this slice, too.

Nick Hornby’s Juliet, Naked touches on this subject. It starts in an old toilet, which happens to be an important stop in a fan’s pilgrimage in honor of the purportedly legendary American musician Tucker Crowe. The said fan is the self-proclaimed “Crowologist” Duncan, and he has dragged his partner Annie to the trip. The old toilet is said to have been the last place Crowe went to before he left the music industry and disappeared into god knows where for more than two decades. For diehards like Duncan, the toilet has some kind of historic importance and a mystery waiting to be unveiled.

While Annie likes Juliet—Tucker Crowe’s last album before the commencement of his era of ‘reclusion’— she doesn’t share the same fanaticism Duncan has for the musician. In their 15 years of being tied down by a marriage of convenience, Annie has long accepted this quirk in Duncan’s personality. They’re living in some sort of bleak peace in some sort of bleak town called Gooleness, until this little bubble of strange serenity was burst by a break in Crowe’s 20 years of silence. An acoustic, barebones compilation of the songs in Juliet is released as a record called Juliet, Naked. Needless to say, it causes a fan racket in the Crowe community. What Annie and Duncan didn’t see coming is the stir it will also cause in their relationship. Duncan pens a rather hyperbolic appraisal for the release; Annie then offers the Info Superhighway her honestly lukewarm review, which in turn catches the attention of Tucker Crowe himself.

Paths begin to converge, diverge, and crisscross messily until they end up in a tangle of roads that lead into a better or worse life, depending on which one you choose. This literary piece may end up looking half like a huge nod to the lives of musical snobs, but a closer inspection at the bigger picture may unveil to you something so familiar. What you’ll see is a portrait of life as we often make it: a multiplex of twists and turns that exist not only so we can prove ourselves that we can’t stay trapped in a place where we’re not happy, but also to add to life’s no-nonsense beauty.

I was told that Nick Hornby’s roots are a combo of ‘music and messy relationships’, and it’s ever apparent in Juliet, Naked. It doesn’t take me too long to ease to the sound of Hornby’s storytelling voice, even if he shifts every so often between the three main characters. Maybe it’s because my bookshelf has been saturated with too many YA lit lately, but his writing style seems to be a breath of fresh air. I’m totally scribbling down Hornby’s complete oeuvre in my Christmas wish list.

The characters are astonishingly human and well-rounded. Their thought processes give them the mold of their personalities, with their doubts and fears acting as fingers that knead on their very being until they are as palpable as a person sitting next to the reader. Hornby knows how to extract the precise words we need to let out from the otherwise wordless complexity of aloneness and loneliness. Why do some people stay in an ‘okay’ situation rather than venturing forth to find a ‘great’ one? How can too much caution cause so many regrets that it can rival ones created because of carelessness? These questions are answered in the book.

We see details of Crowe’s daily life as he unwittingly pushes his third marriage into the brink of failure; we see how Annie clings not-so-tightly to a live-in setup she’s enduring for fifteen years. It’s safe to say that banality takes the forefront in most chapters. This could have triggered a negative reaction from anyone who wants to read something extraordinary, but only if not handled deftly. Hornby purposely uses this facileness to encapsulate the feeling of being trapped and hopeless in the cage you built yourself.

I couldn’t say it’s excellent plot-wise, though. It makes me a tad sad when a narrative has such good characters that don’t fit well with the rather middle-of-the-road storyline. And it has nothing to do with the abovementioned banalities; it’s all about the plot that’s too easy to recognize (if not actually predict). I’ve seen it from miles away, even before halfway through the novel—a fact that didn’t stop me from finishing it.

If anything, this book is the literary equivalent of a peculiar symphony that gives us a déjà vu whenever we listen to it—or jamais vu in my case, because I think I’m too young to feel like it’s too late for my life to have some kind of redemption after taking the wrong path. Not only is this a story that severs the line dividing musical evangelism and beastlike fanaticism. It’s also a story of managing to find the right moment to restart, which is often construed in three letters: NOW. It’s an overwrought power balladry of passion and hope, one that you know could have stuck to its G-Clef cleanliness but instead plunged an octave lower to poke with the deeper undercurrents of its chosen theme.

3.5 stars for an unforgettable read.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Doodles on tees

Juliet Elizze is a book buddy I met through Tumblr. She’s one of the many bookworms I converse with about my latest reads, particularly ones falling under the YA genre (our latest fangirl session is about Kendare Blake’s Anna Dressed in Blood).

One time, she asked me for permission to use a couple of my doodles to be printed on her shirts. What else would my reaction be? I was flattered. I mean, who wouldn’t be? I’m just a nobody who scribble colored squiggles on paper until they form shapes and words. I’m just an ordinary literary geek like her!  Today, she DM’d me copious of apologies because she said she hasn’t included credits in the drawing. I assured her that I don’t mind, that her printing my work on her shirts is credit enough. :)

These are the shirts:


They’re my doodles from Paper Towns and The Sandman: The Kindly Ones! If anything, this was an early Christmas gift from an online friend. I haven’t even met her in person. If she’s reading this right now, I want her to know that she practically made my week. Thank you so much for this!