Saturday, April 9, 2016

What we're reading: Read-alikes

I mostly have a great distrust of what people call "read-alikes," that whole idea that "if you liked that book you might like this one." Even though people who read one romance, for instance, may like another, most of the time there is so much more to it than that from the reader's standpoint. There is point of view. There is language. There is plotting. There is setting. There is that hard-to-define thing people call "tone." Characters are all-important. There are so many small elements that make up the bigger picture of why you like a book that I find many attempts to do the "if-then" thing unsuccessful. (Others seem to feel the same. Jeff, one of our reference librarians, did an amusing
blog post on our main library blog about the utter impossibility of finding a read-alike for Gone Girl.)

In spite of my usual skepticism, however, for some reason I went with a read-alike suggestion this past week, and I wasn't disappointed. Our 10-12 Book Club had just finished reading the multiple award-winning Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Saenz, and were almost universally delighted with the book, giving it a 9 out of 10. My personal reaction, in a paragraph on Goodreads, was:
I have only read a few books in my life that had a narration as perfect as this one. I kept wanting to stop reading so I could type my favorite quotes into Goodreads. (Someone had beaten me to most of them.) The characters are so beautifully portrayed through the lens of Ari's observations--his voice is exquisite. The story is moving, visceral, real, nostalgic, touching, revelatory. I'm overwhelmed.
I was so taken with the book that when Goodreads (whose behind-the-scenes owner/marketer is Amazon.com) popped up a read-alike for it (and suggested that I could get it for the "unbelievably low price of $2.99" for my Kindle), I decided to have a little faith. That is how I came to read Gives Light, by Rose Christo.

Like A&D, Gives Light is about two boys who find each other while in the process of growing up and going through some major changes in their lives. In Gives Light, the circumstances are a bit more dramatic, though. Skylar, who is 16, narrowly escaped death at the age of five at the hands of his mother's murderer; he lost both his mother and the use of his vocal chords. He has grown up with no other family but his dad, although he has a vague idea that he may have some relatives somewhere. Then his dad goes missing, and Social Services intervenes to place him with his grandmother, a Native American who lives on an Indian reservation in Arizona. Suddenly Skylar discovers that not only does he have family, but he has a culture and a place in the world different from anything he's experienced before. He also finds out that on this same reservation lives Raphael, the son of the serial killer who took his mother's life. Their inevitable encounter puts many things into motion for both of them.

While most writers can't equal the language skills and lyricism of Benjamin Alire Saenz, I have to say that this writer came close, in her own distinct way. The characters were wonderfully realized. The conflicts and emotional baggage verged on unbelievable, but they worked. Christo depicted the life on the reservation in all its mundane detail, but because these details would be unknown to most of us, this was completely engaging. I loved Skylar and Rafael, Granny, Annie, and Aubrey, and everyone else who made up this world. The romance was sweet, and was intimate without being explicit. So I will join my voice to Amazon's: If you liked Aristotle and Dante, you might like this book too!

I see that there are four sequels, but I'm almost reluctant to go there, because this was so satisfying on its own. Our library doesn't own any of these books, but I will be fixing that issue right away!

Other books that are suggested as read-alikes for Aristotle and Dante by NoveList (that are currently owned by Burbank Public Library) are:

Saint Anything, by Sarah Dessen
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
Ask the Passengers, by A. S. King
The Book of Broken Hearts, by Sarah Ockler
The Miseducation of Cameron Post, by Emily M. Danforth

Perhaps you (and I) can exhibit a little faith, and try a few of these while we wait for the Christo books to arrive!


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