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Second Star – Alyssa B. Sheinmel

Second Star – Alyssa B. SheinmelTitle: Second Star by Alyssa B. Sheinmel
Publishing Info: May 13, 2014 by Macmillan
Genres: Contemporary, Magical Realism, Retelling, Young Adult
Find it on the web: Buy from Amazon // GoodreadsDate Completed: March 9, 2014
Related Posts: The Stone Girl

A twisty story about love, loss, and lies, this contemporary oceanside adventure is tinged with a touch of dark magic as it follows seventeen-year-old Wendy Darling on a search for her missing surfer brothers. Wendy’s journey leads her to a mysterious hidden cove inhabited by a tribe of young renegade surfers, most of them runaways like her brothers. Wendy is instantly drawn to the cove’s charismatic leader, Pete, but her search also points her toward Pete's nemesis, the drug-dealing Jas. Enigmatic, dangerous, and handsome, Jas pulls Wendy in even as she's falling hard for Pete. A radical reinvention of a classic, Second Star is an irresistible summer romance about two young men who have yet to grow up--and the troubled beauty trapped between them.

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I’m just gonna come right out and say it… SECOND STAR was a very disappointing read for me. I’m not a huge fan of Peter Pan, but as with any retelling or adaptation, when it’s done well (for example, Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson and others non-Peter Pan related), I have the potential to fall in love with it. SECOND STAR was not that book for me.

The synopsis sounds exciting, right? Love, loss, lies, dark magic — the back cover even talks about magical realism which I was incredibly curious about and couldn’t wait to see how magical realism really came into play. The sad fact was that it didn’t. This is a contemporary retelling — which I don’t have a problem with at all, except for the fact that too many elements of the original story, which is obviously a fantasy, were forced to squeeze into the plot of a contemporary novel. It’s just too hard to make a contemporary retelling so parallel to that of the original fantasy and fairy tale. Let me explain…

The book starts off with Wendy Darling graduating high school. She sees a mysterious boy out in the surf at night (“Pete”) and ends up immediately enthralled with him. Deciding to finally go off and try to find her missing brothers John and Michael (who were supposedly killed in a surfing accident but with little trace of them, Wendy had never believed it), Wendy travels from beach to beach looking for clues and ends up crossing paths with Pete in more ways than one. Enter Pete’s nemesis “Jas” (the Captain Hook character who I would have LOVED more “good to be bad” appeal from) and a love triangle between the three.
Okay, that I can do. But I had some major issues with the book and how things were forced to fit in. First: I could have loved the Wendy-Peter-Hook love triangle. I wanted her to choose between the innocent and the corrupt, but the switch from guy to guy happened way too quickly and I didn’t really feel a genuine connection to either one. I also wanted much more dark side from Jas. He IS the nemesis after all, but turns out just to be a good guy who is perceived as bad when he’s just taken a few wrong turns in life. I guess that’s entirely possible as a contemporary adaptation spin on Peter Pan, but I think I was hoping for a more Machiavellian Hook than unfortunate circumstances.
Second: I hated the drug story arc. What? Drugs, you say? Yes. Drug use in books doesn’t really bother me — I’m not always a fan of it, but it doesn’t usually bother me — but what I didn’t like about it in SECOND STAR was the way it was used and how forced it felt. The popular drug among the surfers is…. “fairy dust”. I felt like the drugs existed solely in the the story to incorporate fairy dust in there somehow and I could have done without all of it. There could have been some other backstory to create the rivalry between Pete and Jas (rival gator farms? I could have totally loved a more comedic retelling like that…) and not used a weird drug plot.
Third: The most interesting thing about this book to me was the mysterious disappearance of Wendy’s twin brothers Michael and John. Wendy never believed that they had died in a surfing accident and so she sets out to find out what really happened to them. The book starts out with this giant mystery and while Wendy really is looking for answers the whole time, the reader gets virtually no clues the entire book until closer towards the end. When I first saw that a mystery was being introduced, I was hoping it would follow a more mysterious path, but it really just felt like a constant back and forth between Wendy and the love triangle, and Wendy and her stubbornness to find her brothers. I felt like she was constantly going back and forth — obsessed with this or obsessed with that — and I just didn’t like her character much at all.

I was hoping for a lot more as the book progressed because I felt like the beginning half was going fairly slowly and when Wendy finally started picking up big clues about her brothers, I was ready to jump back into the mystery. The ending, however, was entirely a let down. It was confusing, it was unclear, and it was very disappointing. I’m not sure if this is where the “magical realism” was supposed to come into play…? Honestly, there was no magic in this book. I mean, that’s fine — it’s a contemporary retelling so really, it shouldn’t have magic, but it was advertised in more than one place so I just had expectations that it would show up.

Really, SECOND STAR just didn’t work for me. I didn’t enjoy the plot, I felt like too many aspects of Peter Pan were forced into the book and in other places that not enough of Peter Pan was present. Retellings are a tricky business and it’s really hard to get a perfect amount of original story and adaptation, but SECOND STAR just didn’t mesh well for me. I was also not a fan of the characters at all and I felt like they could have been so much more developed. Their personalities didn’t shine, no one stood out, and the back stories seemed weak or convenient. The upside was that it was a quick read and the mystery of Michael and John kept me interested although I was ultimately disappointed with how pretty much even story arc resolved.

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“The View from Goodreads” is a featured section in my reviews that I decided to incorporate! I tend to update my Goodreads status a LOT when I read — reactions, feelings, notes — so I thought it would be fun to share the sort of “reading process”! All status updates are spoiler-free (no specific plot points will be revealed) but will contain reactions to certain pages and/or characters!

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Wendy Darling // Character Obsessions: Finding her brothers, learning how to surf, running away, boys.
Wendy was just so “blah” for me. I felt like her character didn’t have a lot of depth. She was stubborn, didn’t listen to anyone, and only had two things on her mind (well, three, I guess): Finding her brothers and Pete/Jas. Her emotions and her decisions were all over the place and she just wasn’t a very compelling main character to read about.
Jas // Character Obsessions: Fairy dust, money, surfing, Wendy.
Jas was the Captain Hook character and he could have just been so much more BAD. I would have loved to see a Machiavellian Jas, hell-bent on destroying Pete and using Wendy or a bitter, broken Jas or… anything dark and twisty. Jas was a softie. He may have been Pete’s rival but when it came down to it, he was just an old softie who made a few bad decisions and ended up in a tight spot. Meh. Disappointing.
Belle // Character Obsessions: Surfing, Pete, hanging with the boys.
Belle was the Tinkerbell character in the book and… actually, I guess she was fairly spot on! I guess as far as the movie goes, she had the right amount of jealousy, but honestly as I was reading, it felt like too much. I got annoyed with how jealous and protective she was and it got old pretty fast. She was, however, the only character who seemed to stand out to me in terms of personality. She knew what she wanted, she was happy where she was in life, and she had a fuller backstory than most seemed to have.

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Kept Me Hooked On: Genre-switched adaptations. I was so curious to see a fairy tale reimagined as a contemporary! I’m always interested to see what authors keep and what they change. It didn’t quite work out for me in this case, but I think it’s incredibly interesting and I’m always looking for more!
Left Me Wanting More: Development. Everything seemed so unfinished. The characters felt undeveloped, the plot felt thrown together, the ending seemed totally anticlimactic. It just wasn’t working for me at all.

Addiction Rating
Skip it

I really hoped to find another great Peter Pan retelling but SECOND STAR just didn’t do it for me. I’m always interested to see retellings take on in a different genre so I was so curious about a contemporary adaptation, but it just didn’t work for me. Maybe a little bit of Rufio could have sweetened the deal…?

book_recommendations1BOOKS LIKE SECOND STAR

(Click the cover to see my review!)

        Tiger Lily       Cruel Beauty

The Stone Girl – Alyssa B. Sheinmel

Title: The Stone Girl by Alyssa B. Sheinmel
Publishing Info: August 6, 2013 by Random House Publishing Group
Genres: Contemporary, Psych/Mental Health, Young Adult
Find it on the web: Buy from Amazon // GoodreadsDate Completed: July 22, 2012
Related Posts: Second Star

    She feels like a creature out of a fairy tale; a girl who discovers that her bones are really made out of stone, that her skin is really as thin as glass, that her hair is brittle as straw, that her tears have dried up so that she cries only salt. Maybe that’s why it doesn’t hurt when she presses hard enough to begin bleeding: it doesn’t hurt, because she’s not real anymore.
Sethie Weiss is hungry, a mean, angry kind of hunger that feels like a piece of glass in her belly. She’s managed to get down to 111 pounds and knows that with a little more hard work—a few more meals skipped, a few more snacks vomited away—she can force the number on the scale even lower. She will work on her body the same way she worked to get her perfect grades, to finish her college applications early, to get her first kiss from Shaw, the boy she loves, the boy who isn’t quite her boyfriend.
Sethie will not allow herself one slip, not one bad day, not one break in concentration. Her body is there for her to work on when everything and everyone else—her best friend, her schoolwork, and Shaw—are gone.

Breaking It Down Further: The pressure is getting to Sethie. The skinny girls at her school, treading carefully around her boyfriend (boyfriend?) Shaw, and her mom who has always been skinny. She’s minimlalized her food intake and has discovered how to force herself to throw up to purge the food she’s already eaten. She’s determined to stick close to her ideal weight, a thought that takes control of her everyday life. But that’s not Sethie’s main focus. She’s having fun being a teenager – meeting new friends, hanging out with her boyfriend Shaw, and going to school like a regular girl. She doesn’t realize just how seriously her eating issues are affecting her life.

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Alyssa Sheinmel gives us an extremely realistic story of a girl already in the midst of struggling with her body image and is progressing further into the realm of eating disorders. In a lot of ways, I really connected with the book in the fact that this was an extremely relevant issue in my teen years and I saw so many parallels between people in my life in high school and Sethie in Sheinmel’s story. Unfortunately it really is a big issue – one I personally think is only getting worse amongst young girls and teens – and I really liked how the book posed an interesting question that I began wondering as I was reading. Sethie’s of average height (I think she was somewhere between 5’4″ and 5’6″? Can’t exactly remember) and her ideal weight is 111 lbs. She’s constantly starving herself to get there, but she is still eating. Small portions here and there, every once in a while a full meal when she has to — And I began to wonder, at what point do we call this anorexia? At what point is it a full on diagnosed eating disorder? Even though she’s not so skinny that it’s dangerous to her health and it hasn’t started to affect other physical aspects of her body, is that behavior enough to warrant the title of an eating disorder?

As I kept reading, it’s clear that even though people may not notice the physical signs as much, Sethie is doing her body major harm by starving herself and even worse, we start to see her mental state deteriorating. The more pressure she puts on herself to not eat, stay skinny, lose even more weight, the more we see the stress taking its toll on her. She stops caring about her once good grades. She starts to purge the food she just ate, even if only a little. She stops communicating with her mother, who is her only parent as a single mom. It’s affecting her friendships. She’s so focused on her eating habits that she doesn’t even realize the coldness and emotional gap that exists between her and her boyfriend Shaw.

Even though this was an extremely serious topic, I’m glad that we did come out with a lot of positive messages from the book. Sethie has to take a look back at herself and see what she’s doing. She has friends who are there to support her and help her when she’s struggling the most. There are some upsides to such a dark topic!

As far as the book itself goes and the styles, I really wasn’t thrilled with the use of the third person. As I was reading up on the book, I read that this was Alyssa Sheinmel’s first book in the third person and I really wondered why. To me, I think the first person — getting the story straight from Sethie’s head — would have been so much more effective and brought so much more emotion, personal struggle, turmoil, joy, fear, hope, etc into the book. Throughout the first half, I felt so disconnected from all of the characters, so I was very happy that in the second half, I finally started to make connections and they finally started to come to life instead of just being words on a page.

I think a big part of that “transformation” was the development of Janey’s character. Sethie meets Janey through her boyfriend/non-boyfriend Shaw and they spend most of their time at Janey’s because they spend so much time traveling internationally. At first I thought Janey was going to be a shallow character and a bad influence for Sethie, but the more we get to know about her, the more I began to like her and realize that she was just the friend Sethie needed at this point in her life. She was relaxed and mostly non-judgemental, but she was tough and able to see past the flimsy act that Sethie put on regarding her issues. I really think that Janey was one of my favorite characters and really pulled the whole story together for me. I also really liked the addition of Ben’s character, which I won’t say too much about so as not to cause any spoilers. He was another person who arrived in Sethie’s life at just the right time and had just the perfect demeanor to bring a really positive note to the book.

addiction_factor1Library Read

I really liked the way the book ended. That being said, I didn’t really really care for the beginning. I didn’t connect with any character or feel much emotion until halfway through. Up until then it just felt so impersonal, especially with the use of the third person.

book_recommendations1BOOKS LIKE THE STONE GIRL

KISS OF BROKEN GLASS      Fault Line Christa Desir