Monday, December 11, 2006

This Is All, and it's a whole lot.

Is it just me, or is it terribly ironic that a book with 808 pages is called This Is All? Am I just stating the obvious again? *sigh*

I read it all. Every word. At times I hated it fiercely. I hated it most when it challenged the way we read books. For a period of 213 pages Aidan Chambers wanted the reader to first read the even numbered pages, then turn all the way back and read the odd numbered pages. It's very disarming and rather frustrating. By the time I became accustomed to the technique, when I finally stopped instinctively reading, the experiment was over and I had to remind myself to go back to normal. It took several pages. And you know what? It worked. I can look back however many weeks ago that I read it (yeah, as of this morning, I'm 16+ books behind in blogging) and recognize that it was an innovative way to separate two storylines in Cordelia's life that were intertwined in time. Had Chambers offered the events in chronological order the importance of the individual storylines would have been muddled.

This Is All is not for everyone. Obviously. It's Epic Realism. I don't know if that is an actual term, but I can't think of one that fits it better. Full title: This Is All: The Pillow Book of Cordelia Kenn. Cordelia has kept a diary (or Pillow Book in the Japanese style) for several years. At 19 she has become pregnant and is going back to those old entries, editing them and fleshing them out with the goal of giving them to her daughter on her 16th birthday. Cordelia spares no event - hides nothing from her daughter, no matter the content.

When all was said and done, I was astounded by this piece. I'm not quite sure what to do with it; it doesn't easily fit into any list save for those for length. It was very good; the characters were amazing - every one of them were 3D (which, really, they better be at this length). Sometimes Cordelia did strange things that made me raise my eyebrow. However, there is really only one choice that makes me wonder. Something drastic needed to happen plot-wise for two of the characters to recognize what mattered in life (yadda, yadda). Without giving anything away, I wonder whether the event needed to be quite so dire. In a book that was generally the realistic everyday musings and events of a teenage girl, the sudden transition to a teen-in-peril type of book actually made it just a little less believable. In a different book, I wouldn't even think twice about it, but here, something else might have worked better. (But what do I know?)

If there is anything at all about this that intrigues you, I urge you to read this book. All of it. In all honestly, you can't accurately respond to part of the book without knowing the context of the entire book. By the time you get to the end you must reevaluate everything that came before. It will take time, but I think it's worth the work the reader has to put in. Plus, I'd love to discuss it.

While reading this title, I spoke with a coworker and she mentioned that she used to read War & Peace and Anna Karenina every holiday season. I made some comment about length and depression, but acknowledged that I hadn't actually read either (I'm a bit of a commitment-phobe). I told her about This Is All, then, unsurprisingly, found it on the shelf and gave it to her. I also gave her Speak, which, in my opinion, every ninth grader in the nation should read, as well as every adult who has any contact with teens. She commented that I must like books with disembodied eyes & leaves on the cover. I hadn't noticed. She took the books.

One last note: I've heard a lot of discussion this year about books marketed for teens that could well be as or more successful for adults. This might be one of them (others: Octavian Nothing & The Book Thief).

Cybils Tally: 25/80


Anonymous said...

800 much commitment for me.

Becky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Becky said...

I enjoyed reading THIS IS ALL, perhaps because of its intimidating size. Who knows? Always a fan of large books requiring some commitment, I found This Is All to be exactly the kind of book I could enjoy and savor in some parts. Not that I loved every plotline, every character, every twist along the way, I could have done without some scenes, but overall, I thought it was quite good. Much more rewarding that Octavian Nothing and easier to get into than The Book Thief. It's a diverse book covering a relatively wide timespan. When most YA books only cover four to nine months, four years is quite a lot. She changes and grows through that period as well. And as a reader we get to be witness to some of her greatest discoveries, worst embarrassments, and some huge mistakes as well. She's not perfect, she's human. What more can you ask from in a fiction book?