Angela Morrison, Taken by Storm, Sing Me to Sleep and a CONTEST
*Also Read Rivenheart’s Review*
Last month saw the release of Taken by Storm by Angela Morrison in paperback, and her second book, Sing Me To Sleep, was released TWO DAYS AGO (in the US) and sold out on the first day! And so! The Rock Pool, together with Angela Morrison, are delighted to offer you the chance to win TWO SIGNED COPIES OF ‘TAKEN BY STORM’, and an envelope of SIGNED BOOKMARKS to share with friends, for two runners-up. To enter, just answer the question at the end of this post!
Taken by Storm is the story of Leesie, a committed Mormon girl on the road to BYU, and Michael, a diver, who has just lost his parents and many friends to a tropical storm. Michael moves to Washington to live with his grandmother, and there, he and Leesie meet and the usual chemical reaction occurs – with a hitch. Leesie is a Mormon, and Michael is a godless heathen (no offence to godless heathens; I use this in jest and affection XD). This Will Not Work. Mormon version of Haram.
The story is told through a dual narrative: chat logs and poetry for Leesie, and dive logs for Michael. I think the format – though very modern and contemporary – has its limitations, and the author pushes it right to the edge, and sometimes goes over, particularly in the dive logs (which are essentially journals): there are passages that don’t read like a journal at all, which jars at my sense of the book’s internal validity. But I quite enjoy experimental fiction, and the style itself wins a lot of plus-points for that alone – I can imagine it must have been a challenge to write.
It suddenly clicked when I was 77 pages in that the story had a twin theme: grief and loss that is channelled through Michael, and the struggle to live by different values, through Leesie.
From the outset, Michael’s character got my back up – he was grieving, yes, but he was also an inconsiderate jerk who uses his loss as a lever on Leesie, who initially takes him on as a kind of project: and here, you watch her make the first mistake in her Road-to-Perdition thing, which is that she overestimates herself, and thinks she’s immune. She’s not.
Leesie is interesting, and on a kind of male-level, I can understand what is appealing about her. She’s legendary at school for being the ‘Ice Queen’: terribly cynical and wise to the ways of the world…but at the same time, despite that edge, she’s also blindingly sweet and innocent too, especially in the Dark Haram Arts (I approve, obv). That’s part of what makes you believe she’s real.
But back to Michael – he really was a jerk, and barely human. Right from the first page, I was uncomfortable with how he talks about girls like meat, in a very crude way. I don’t care if that is how some boys really are: it isn’t what girls need to see or read, or become desensitised to it just because it’s real. Although perhaps the point was that Michael’s character had to be set up to change, and he had to start off somewhat soulless: as I carried on reading, I understood that, but it didn’t make me like it any better.
An Amazon review says it is a ‘romance with heart – a tale of love, not lust’, but I’m not sure it drew the line, exactly – it would be more accurate to say it was a story of evolution, and of Michael confusing the two as the same thing, whereas I have this idea that Leesie’s chastity allows her to see the difference. Part of the climax is an unravelling of both characters: there’s a moment when everything falls into place, and suddenly he understands what Leesie has been trying to tell him all along. That same moment is a moment of everything-ness: that lucidity is what inverts and transforms him, gives him back his soul.
This definitely is not ‘preachy’, which I think is the graven fear of any person who picks up a book that makes any mention of religion. I think religion and faith are not well-explored in current YA, and the, er, pleasures of the flesh are. I felt this could have done with a lot less of that and hit just as hard – if not harder. What made this book very uncomfortable to read was the almost incessant physical blah. Unnecessary. I really think it detracted from the overall power of the story by bashing you in the face with it again and again. And again. It’s difficult to take teen love seriously when it’s only about action. Can you imagine how much more intense and powerful this would have been if the rule was ‘no touching’? (Muslim rule! Along with thou shalt not date, etc.)
That negative aside, the authenticity of the story is flawless and without cliché, and I’m thrilled to see a book that really tackles this angle with such depth. There were countless moments throughout the book where I had to stop either to chuckle madly or faceplant for being reminded of conversations I’ve had with people. Like this priceless moment when Michael goes to Leesie, ‘you pray?’ I also recognise Leesie’s struggle to explain her world to him, how she tries to unravel for him her experiences of her inner, private world, and how unwieldy she finds the words she has to use.
This isn’t about exploring the boundaries as much as being forced to the very edge of them, and then some. I think it explores the truth that people often break their rules when they are with people who don’t have the same ones, but – following every law of averages – somewhere in between the part where they overstep and the part where they are eternally damned, something has to give…and I thought the ending was great, totally did not short-change you – it had the right amounts of everything.
Like Rivenheart, I felt my opinion of this book would be more on the atypical side, being a person of faith. I think to most people who will read this book, it will only be a good story – touching and moving and romantic – but it won’t be real, it won’t be a choice you might really have to make, or a struggle you have to live. And perhaps that is why, in the end, despite the things I wasn’t too comfortable with, I really was moved. (NO I DIDN’T CRY WHY WOULD I DO THAT? CAN’T YOU SEE HOW MACHO I AM?)
Sing Me To Sleep is the story of Beth – aka The Beast, scarred and way too tall, whose only escape from her unhappinesses is through singing with the Bliss all-girls’ choir – and Derek, the dangerous daredevil type-boy she meets in Switzerland, oh and throw into the mix her only/best friend, Scott, whose intentions she can’t figure out. Oh, and a fantasy fairytale makeover that transforms Beth to totally hot from totally not.
But Beth learns that changing the packaging doesn’t change what’s inside, nor is it so easy to change: she might look beautiful, but she still feels ugly, she still doesn’t trust people not to be out to humiliate her, and she definitely doesn’t trust Derek – a guy who she believes wouldn’t look at her twice in her Beastly days.
And music. It’s also about music and songs and flights of ethereal and finding your voice.
When I started reading this, I was a little irritated by it: there was this self-obsessed character who was so full of her rubbish self-image that she created herself a hell worse than anyone could create FOR her, and she drove me MAD, with her defeatism, passivity and pessimism. I would’ve liked to have smacked her and said, girl, get over it! SO WHAT?
Again, a twin-theme emerges here – Beth battling the psychological beast to win back her self-belief, and the mystery that is Derek. I’m pretty pleased with myself that I worked out the mystery (to the last detail!) very early on, and anticipated the ending, and so I spent nearly two-thirds of the book waiting for Beth to catch up. And! Everytime Derek is about to tell her, Beth interrupts him with a wisecrack, and after about the twentieth time, I’m ready to scream at her to be quiet and let the dude speak.
Although the story came together much better, I can’t say I really became attached to Beth. When she had this moment of thinking to herself, ‘omg I whine too much’, and I was all ‘omg yes you do!’ We’ve all been there – we’ve looked awful, we’ve tried to outgrow it, and we hide all evidence of ever having looked that way when we finally figure it out, and we learn how to leave it behind: Beth is doing this, but her whining is truly excruciating. The biggest drawback to her personality was that she didn’t really have the self-preserving sense of humour every misfit needs to survive. I would’ve liked Beth more if she laughed more, joked more, and could take herself less seriously. She would’ve liked herself more if she had.
I’m not a very musical person, but I liked that you didn’t need to be to feel its soul – and I especially like that when you finish the book, you can go straight to Angela Morrison’s website and listen to ‘Beth’s Song’. I liked that she explores the difficulty of finding words to put to your experience, especially for the deepest feelings, and you are allowed to experience that frustration along with Beth.
Again, major downside was the festival of flesh – I really don’t like graphic books, and a lot of the, er, desiring etc., was just too much. So ditto what I said for Taken By Storm.
There was one thing I really loved in this book: the portrayal of mother-daughter/son relationships. To me, Beth was most real in her relationship with her mother: she thinks and acts in a way that appreciates how much she owes her, and has a great sensitivity to her mother’s feelings. There’s evolution here, too, with a gradual revelation of her mother’s strength, climaxing in a scene both beautiful and intense.
Overall, while the book starts off pretty shakily, it gets itself together after about 50 pages. And despite my above digs, the fact that I read it in one sitting, skipped dinner, nearly attacked someone in Asda who tried to steal my book, and know it was 12.06 am when I finished should all tell you that I was entirely wrapped up in it and had to finish it before I was good for anything else. And after I read the Author’s Note at the end, I didn’t have to heart to feel negatively about it until later.
Okay so now CONTEST!
To enter, just answer this question in the comments (and remember to enter your email address!): If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be and why?
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This contest is open INTERNATIONALLY. Closing date: 28th March 2010.