September 07, 2014

Natalie Standiford: "How to Say Goodbye in Robot"

Title: How to Say Goodbye in Robot [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Natalie Standiford [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Contemporary
Year: 2009
Age: 11+ (though Amazon says 8+, but I personally can't see this one appealing to very young readers)
Stars: 4/5
Pros: Honest, heartfelt, quirky story. Quirky characters too.
Cons: Friendship borders on unhealthy. Jonah's family issue is a bit too extreme to ring true.
Will appeal to: Those who can relate to outsiders, or sympathize with them. Those who are more drawn to M\F friendship stories than to classic boy-meets-girl stories. Those who don't mind open and/or bittersweet endings.

Blurb: New to town, Beatrice is expecting her new best friend to be one of the girls she meets on the first day. But instead, the alphabet conspires to seat her next to Jonah, aka Ghost Boy, a quiet loner who hasn't made a new friend since third grade. Something about him, though, gets to Bea, and soon they form an unexpected friendship. Still, Bea can't quite dispel Jonah's gloom and doom - and as she finds out his family history, she understands why. Can Bea help Jonah? (Amazon excerpt)

Note: since I only received the PDF review copy I was talking about in my latest post yesterday, I decided to revert to my original plan, and review this book first. My Screen Time feature will be up on Sun. 20. The new book I received is called Fighting Kudzu, and I hope to have my review posted in a few days.

Review: The aggressively pink cover has to go. Coupled with the title, it will manage to convince you that this book is about two teens who were madly in love once, but ultimately broke up because one of them got cold feet...or worse, a cold heart. Just as, by its appearance and title, Sweethearts by Sara Zarr - a book that has a lot in common with this one - will manage to convince you that you're about to read a fluffy romance novel that, nonetheless, will end in heartbreak. Well, in a word, no.
Mind you, I love aggressive pink. It just doesn't fit this book. And yes, both novels do feature heartbreaks...of different kinds...but not of the romance variety.
Bea is new to town. Her father's job forces the family to relocate often, which has seemingly put a strain both on Bea (who copes by becoming increasingly unattached and coldish, at least on the surface) and her mother (who takes refuge in weird or childish behaviours, not to mention in cheating on her husband). In Baltimore for her senior year, Bea finds herself drawn to Jonah, the school loner, and bonds with him over their shared love for late-night talk-radio. If Bea's home environment is not the standard of perfection to say the least, Jonah's situation is tough to start with, and it gets worse through the novel. Estranged from his father since his retarded twin brother Matthew died (along with their mother), Jonah will uncover a painful truth about his family, and in his despair, he will start a moody cycle of clinging to Bea and cutting her off. Of course, the title gives away most of the ending...but (like it often happens with works of arts) it's not about the destination - it's about the trip...
I did like the concept of this book. While I usually cringe at the mention of the new-girl-or-new-boy-in-town (such a cliché...which usually cues dating-and-saving-the-world-together, or more often, she-is-suddenly-experiencing-weird-stuff-only-he-can-explain), the relationship here is offbeat, and not of the romance kind. Bea's family is not conveniently absent, though I can't say they're aware of what goes on with her. The school clique is average, but not stereotyped like in most books - you know, the classic Mean Girls Club or something along those lines. Someone for Bea's class will even manage to surprise her...The radio callers are a nice touch, though not all of their personalities sound very believable to me. Bea's voice is fresh, original and genuine. The coming-of-age aspect is nicely done. Now you get to know what prevented me to give this book 5 stars... [...]

a) The slightly unhealthy nature of the friendship. Right from the start, Jonah is the one who call the shots, and resents it when Bea steers into more "typical friendship" territory - like when she proposes that they text each other in class or tries to comfort him over Matthew. He often gets possessive about her, but isn't above pushing her away when he thinks she's not really getting how he feels or isn't dedicated enough. Friendship is not about a person who demands and another one who gives. I can see that Jonah is somehow protective of Bea, and I can see why Jonah makes Bea feel special in a way, and I can understand his issues up to a point...also, their friendship has, indeed, some magic moments. But on the whole, Jonah is not fair to Bea, though he'll make amends for that in the end, and though their relationship will help her growing.
b) Jonah's father secret and behaviour. I can't be more specific here (spoiler, you know), but I found it really hard to believe his actions. Especially the big secret concerning Matthew ultimately sounds like it were ripped off a soap opera...and it's a testament to Standiford's ability to write a story and make us connect with it that we can buy "that thing" somehow.
c) The late-night radio show. Some of you may know that I'm a radio personality for a local station here in Italy, but this doesn't mean I have a clue how american ones work. The quirky callers may be genuine as far as I know, but they sound a little too odd to be true, if I am to judge them from when I'm standing. Kreplax from the future is fun, though. Herb, the host, sometimes sounds like a jerk to me - I understand he has to moderate the calls and whatnot, but there are times when he doesn't seem affected by the things his callers say, or very little so. On the other hand, many Goodreads reviewers seem to be fond of the Night Lights characters, so I suppose they are genuine radio material overseas ;). I have to admit that their gatherings in person are both fun and bittersweet, though - a bunch of unusual, different people suffering from different kinds of loneliness, who find some unusual solace together.
The ending, while different from the one in Sweethearts (at least insasmuch as Jonah is different from Cameron, the male character in Zarr's book), has a lot in common with it. It's (that word again) a bittersweet ending, more than an open one. And it really fits the story to me :).

For quotes from this book click here.
For more Contemporary books click here.
Liked this book? You might also be interested in Sara Zarr: "Sweethearts". 

8 comments:

  1. I've heard so many good things about this book. Just haven't gotten o it yet.

    Didn't it have a different cover before??

    Karen @ For What It's Worth

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    Replies
    1. Not that I know of. Goodreads lists a black one with a pink telephone, but it's the Portuguese one.

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  2. This sounds kind of cute! I didn't know you were a radio personality- that's awesome! I've actually thought about getting into voice acting, but my current job is kind of sweet and I'm way too lazy to do both! ;)

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    1. The way it's said in English makes it sound so much more than it really is (I mean, since you use the "personality" word). I'm just a small fish in a radio sea, you know ;).

      Delete
  3. Lol, I know I've read your About Me before, but obviously I only saw the Christoper Pike fan part and not the radio personality part. ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's not your fault (or Pike's LOL)...it wasn't there before! When I started blogging, I wasn't comfortable about sharing info about myself, so I stuck to the book and music related ones. After a couple of years or so, I've decided that a few more may leak. Just a few ;). So I only recently added the radio bit, and now the avatar. And I think it's mainly because I made those two or three friends in the blogging department, and I wanted them to know me a little better...do you know of one? ;)

      Delete
  4. I had to read the title twice, to make sure I was seeing it correctly, lol. Definitely catchy! Yeah, the pink cover has got to go :P

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    Replies
    1. The catchy title is what drew me to this book at first...but the cover would have discouraged me if I hadn't read the blurb AND the reviews LOL.

      Delete

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