I read books of all sorts, but mostly kids' lit and young adult literature and speculative fiction for all ages—usually from a feminist perspective.
I've adopted a personalized version of the CHOICE reviews approach to recommendations/star ratings:
***** = Essential, a.k.a. truly love, absolute must-read, buy it now
**** = Highly Recommended, a.k.a. this is a really good book; I would buy it as a gift
*** = Recommended, a.k.a. pretty good; worth reading
** = Optional, a.k.a. meh
* = Not Recommended; a.k.a. this is not a good book
What is there to like?
▪ danforth is excellent at creating feelings and atmosphere—hot, small-town Montana summers; intense, guilty crushes; the well-meaning but destructive, and often desperate, born-again Christians. This is such a central part of being a teenager—feeling everything so much more intensely than you ever have before, and heightened awareness of it—that it’s a major achievement for a YA novel, and I mean that as strong praise.
▪ Superb prose style, not only in the descriptions that create the above-mentioned atmosphere, but in the rhythm and realism of the dialogue, and in casual turns of phrases like “death casseroles” (Cameron’s characterization of the food brought over by neighbors in the wake of her parents’ death).
What's not to like?
It does, I feel, exhibit some of the weaknesses I’ve come to associate with “MFA style” adult fiction. I have to abandon all pretense of objectivity here, because the qualities I think of as weaknesses are certainly not viewed that way by everyone, or even the majority of readers.
▪ One, this isn’t a plot novel, but rather an experiences novel. Life isn’t plot-driven, so it is more true-to-life in that sense, and the novel ends on a note of potential, rather than one of finality. Not necessarily a negative point, but readers more accustomed to a narrative arc, or even resolutions to what seem like clearly intended plotline departure points, may come away unsatisfied.
▪ AND YET, despite its “true-to-life-ness” in its lack of a set narrative, there are some almost ridiculously overdetermined elements: actual. flashes. of lightning. when Cameron, Adam, and Jane are planning their escape from camp, for example, and Aunt Ruth’s tumors, and the Quake Lake journey. Rather heavy-handed touches, I thought, presumably for the purpose of adding literary weight.
What made me pick it up?
I saw it on the library shelf and remembered that it was on my to-read list because of PW’s Spring 2012 Flying Starts, and I thought I should read a realistic/“issues” book instead of my usual fantasy/sci-fi.
I don't know; I don't usually read this kind of book! Suggestions?
Overall Recommendation: Highly Recommended
(I’m actually rating and recommending this a notch above what I want to, because my “problems” with it are really personal preferences. So if you’re an actual real friend of mine looking for a recommendation based on our mutual interests, this might be misleading. Or, you might like to try something different, too.)