Review – Nerve

A chilling concept with flat characters – a review of Nerve by Jeanne Ryan (2.5/5)

Nerve by Jeanne Ryan was originally released in 2012 – I read the 2016 movie tie-in edition. I have not seen the film yet, but some of my review will include thoughts on the film.

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Nerve is about a girl named Vee who feels like she’s the supporting actress in her own life. Her friend Sydney is the star of the show in their high school, the girl all the boys like, and Vee is fine with being the sidekick most of the time. There’s a crazy reality show called Nerve that gives dares to players in order to win prizes; they aren’t documented by a camera crew but rather by Watchers – people who sign up to film and follow players for the show. In a fit of rebellion, Vee films a dare and it gets a lot of attention. She’s assigned a partner, Ian, and they begin completing dares together. They get into the live rounds that lead to bigger and bigger prizes – it also leads to danger. Is this just a reality show with production and protection, or is Nerve something much more sinister? And who is running the show?

I am really conflicted about this novel.

The concept is fantastic. From reading about Jeanne Ryan’s other novel, Charisma, I can give her a lot of credit for finding unique, super relevant, and thought-provoking plot lines. It’s kind of in the vein of Black Mirror (one of the most fantastic shows ever made) – how far can technology advance us before it also becomes our downfall? Her grip on this sideways reality and how it works is intelligent and deep.

The Nerve game of the book is all about manipulation, disrespect for the privacy of public figures, and our desires to feed on fear and violence. The way the story plays out is strong, and it leaves you on a cliffhanger in regard to the resolution of the big picture. I was a little frustrated by the lack of explanation of the world. The technology seems just slightly beyond our reality (again, very Black Mirror) but I didn’t really understand what kind of access or capability it had, which decreased some of the fear when it came to how they discovered information or how much the Watchers really had access to about the players.

I did not like Vee; and from what I read of Charisma I don’t think I’d like Aislyn either. They were weak – not in terms of character but in terms of characterization. Vee was insecure and it rarely went deeper than that. All of the characters felt very surface level except Ian, which kept me from truly worrying about what happened to them. The characters were sort of enhanced stereotypes. I didn’t care who lived or died, I just wanted to see how the story played out. And maybe that was intentional, to show that I as a consumer was as callous as the Watchers in the book, but considering we are told the story from inside Vee’s head I kind of doubt that.

Just looking at the movie cast and some of the photos really depressed me because I don’t think it expanded on what was so well done in the novel, and I don’t think it added anything deeper to the characters. The races were changed, identities were altered, and I think it was more a vehicle for certain people than an actual adaptation. Obviously in the visual realm they needed to add more dares or change them to make it more appealing, but I think that likely diminished any growing horror that there is no way out and no way to win the game. I will see the film, but for a book I didn’t really like, I’ll probably stand by the belief that the book is better.

This book is worth the read for the concept and plot. Nerve is not that far from our reality and that is chilling. 5/5 for the plot, 1/5 for the characters. I’m going 2.5/5 overall.

Review – Strange Times: The Ghost in the Girl

Get reading, pals. The Strange Times crew is battling ghosts. (4/5)

Strange Times: the Ghost in the Girl by Tom DeLonge and Geoff Herbach was released October 4, 2016 – it’s the prologue to the Strange Times graphic novel, also by DeLonge. I finished it on October 7, 2016 while eating nachos. This was inspired by the tacos in the book, but I didn’t have the stuff to make tacos.

Despite the swearing, this is definitely a mid-level reader book – middle school or early high school. As long as the parents of the reader are chill, and acknowledge that their kids totally talk like this when they aren’t around. If you weren’t swearing in secret in 8th grade you’re a liar.

I should say that I know Geoff personally – he was one of my professors in grad school. I have not been asked to and I am not receiving anything for reviewing this book. I probably would have read it without knowing Geoff because of the nostalgia of my middle school crush on Tom DeLonge, and that he creates some pretty cool stuff. Geoff is an awesome person and a great writer, and if you ever get the chance to hear him read I recommend it. It was hard not to hear some of the passages in his public reading voice.But I digress.

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The Strange Times crew are five teenage boys who get occasional help from an aging hippie named Cortez. Our narrator is Charlie Wilkins. He and the crew – smart guy Wiz, new kid Riley, and skaters Mouse and Mattheson, were thrown together for a science project, discovered the truth about ghosts, shreds, and shadows, and stuck together to take them down. The book follows their initial gathering in school – Charlie’s struggling because his Air Force father has disappeared and they can’t tell anyone, Wiz is being threatened with military school if he doesn’t get “normal friends,” Riley is the new kid in town living with grandparents who don’t love him, and Mouse and Mattheson have the first encounter with the Ghost Girl herself, Paula. It’s actually really hard to provide a summary of this book – but it’s the adventures of the Crew and their first battle with evil ghost Yankee Jim Robinson.

If you want to really enjoy this book, make sure you’re not too caught up in being an adult. Because if you aren’t in the state of mind to laugh at moose farts, purple flames coming out of buttholes, or pants being burned off by a Pinto, then this is the wrong book for you. I really love when there’s supernaturally-induced farting and indigestion because it adds hysteria to the scare – it reminded me of Dreamcatcher.

I already want more of the Strange Times crew – which is good because the graphic novel takes place after the book, but I want to know when I’ll get even more adventures. What happened to Charlie’s dad? What happened to Gramps in Vietnam? Do they use ghosts to punish Wiz’s dad for being a douche? Will they ever defeat Yankee Jim? I also love the supernatural mythology – how ghosts and souls work, what can happen, how they can manifest, was all fleshed out well but didn’t tell everything.

It’s no secret that keeping teenage boys engaged in literature and reading is an uphill battle – this is definitely a work that would keep a young male reader entertained and interested. He’d recognize these boys in himself, and that just doesn’t happen enough. I loved these characters because I knew them too – especially Mouse and Mattheson. Those were my friends, things we would have said, and probably the way we would have responded to ghosts being real and friends being in danger. My friends would have also absolutely tried to build a papier-mache asscano.

I also really loved the message of self-love that was sprinkled throughout. Charlie needed a dose of confidence and learning to love himself – and he learned it from Mouse and Mattheson and Wiz. While there’s too much fat-shaming in general in the book, when Riley has his revelation about himself and his body it was a pretty beautiful moment. We put a lot of pressure on boys and girls these days to look a certain way, and the recognition that your body is beautiful because it is capable and you are living is so needed.

Teenage me would’ve given this a 5/5 all the way – cute vulnerable boys, ghosts, adventures, so much swearing, hilarious fart scenes. Adult me is going with 4/5 – I wish it had been longer because some of it felt rushed or unexplained, and too!many!exclamation!points! Which feels kind of hypocritical because people really talk like that, but it kept snagging my eyes while reading.

I recommend this book for a quick, funny read, or for the young person in your life who needs an adventure.

Review – Wink Poppy Midnight

A hero.A villain.A liar. – A review of Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke (5/5)

Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke was released March 22, 2016 – I read it in one thrilling sitting on October 4, 2016. I read this as part of a read-a-long with @BookishGals on Instagram.

A hero. A villain. A liar. Who’s who?

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We start the story with Midnight moving to a new house. He now lives next door to Wink – petite, redheaded, unique, from a big and free spirited family. He used to live next door to Poppy – ultimate cool girl, icy blonde hair and ice in her heart, the girl Midnight doesn’t want to love anymore.

The characters are full, complicated, at turns sympathetic and exhausting. We are inside their heads and seeing things in their hearts that they don’t. I can’t tell if I saw the twist coming because I’m a cynical weenie or because Tucholke wanted the reader to know. It’s a good twist. It’s a twist that fixed my one reservation during my reading.

I was concerned we had a pair of dueling Manic Pixie Dream Girls because despite being in all three characters’ perspectives it feels most like Midnight’s story. His story was about getting over love – and the way he described both Wink and Poppy led me to be concerned he didn’t see them as people. I was relieved to be wrong. Wink Poppy Midnight goes beneath the surface so that not only do we the reader know each character, but by the end of the novel they all know each other on that better level too. Midnight borders on MPDG most with Wink, but I think in the end they connect on a level only the two of them can understand.

This is a love story.
This isn’t happily ever after.

There are heroes and villains.
Sometimes they are both at once.

Everyone is a liar.

It’s a bit of a ghost story, a bit of a fairy tale, and a little bit mystery thriller.

It reminds you how much it sucks to be a teenager – that life is bigger and harder and truer well before people consider you an adult, or believe that “the real world” is an arbitrary label. The real world is now. This novel highlights that it matters to learn to ask for the truth, to give it, and to say what you need instead of hoping life will give it to you.

The voice of each character, the style and structure are flawless in their execution and you can follow the story and keep the threads separate without confusion or blurring of roles.

5/5 – I loved this.

I am really happy that I recently ordered Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea – I hadn’t put together that it was the same author.