Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Book of Tomorrow

Cecelia Ahern is the daughter of Ireland's former prime minister and the author of P.S. I Love You, among other novels, so when I saw she had a new novel coming out, The Book of Tomorrow, I asked the people at HarperCollins to send me a copy. And I liked it even more than I expected to; it's a real page-turner.

The first-person narrator of the novel is a teenage girl named Tamara who is about the age of my daughter. She has been given everything in life, and appreciated very little of it--until her dad went bankrupt and killed himself, and she and her mother were forced to move in with relatives. The relatives have a lot of secrets, and that's part of what keeps you turning the pages.

Another thing that keeps you turning the pages is the actual book of tomorrow, which turns out to be some kind of magical blank book or diary. When Tamara looks in it, she sees diary entries from the next day. The interesting thing is that she's then free to try to change what will happen the next day. And the way she does it isn't mystical or anything like that; in fact some of the fun of reading the novel is in how she'll forget a detail and then understand why she's written about it:
"It was only when I landed on the grass and looked up at the house, at my bedroom, at the closed window, that I understood the meaning behind my message to myself to leave the window open."

The final thing that kept me turning pages is the quality of some of the writing, like the comment Tamara makes about her mother, early on:
"She wasn't a comfortable person and so had no comfort to give anybody else." It seems to me that the longer Ahern writes, the better she's getting.

This particular novel, though, has some unevenness in the the writing, probably due to her unfamiliarity with the genre that I'll here call "speculative fiction." One of the characters in The Book of Tomorrow is gradually revealed to be a one-dimensional, cardboard cut-out of a person, and it's quite disconcerting--you think you're reading a novel about how people relate to each other--and for the most part you are--except that towards the end, one character practically whips out a big black moustache, puts it on, and begins laughing fiendishly.

The character of Tamara herself, though, is very true-to-teenager-life. Most of her dialogue sounds like the kind of stuff I hear from the teenagers who flit in and out of my house, like this conversation between Tamara and the oddly-named Weseley:
"Where's your dad from?"
"Cool, like in the movie?"
"Yep, exactly like the animation" he said heavily.
"You ever go there?"
"How come he moved here?"
"Ah." I nodded understandingly. "Always a good reason."
We both laughed.

Tamara's explanations of why she does some of the things she ends up doing are convincingly adolescent, too:
"My life felt so out of control that I wanted to lose control of me too. Just for a little while, at least."

So, despite the cardboard-cut-out character and some of the clunkiness of the way Ahern takes her chick-lit-writing skills to the next level, I thought that reading this novel was quite a pleasant use of the couple hours it took me to get through it.


kittiesx3 said...

I've been wondering (and am too lazy to search your blog if you wrote about it previously) but how did you get to be so enamored with YA literature?

Jeanne said...

Elizabeth, I always read what is now classified as YA; lots of SF and fantasy is now. And then when my kids got to be about ten, I started bringing home library books from the YA section that I thought would interest them, and I like to read along with them so we can talk about it. Now they're both too old to be interested in much of the YA section of the library. And this book is actually written for adults--I mentally classify her books as "chick lit."

Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness) said...

I'm glad you enjoyed this book. I got it in a pack of HarperCollins books, I think by mistake since it's didn't look like the type of book I'd request. I wasn't sure if I was going to read it or just pass it on to my sister, but you've made me think I should give it a try.

Jeanne said...

Kim, it won't take long to read, and it is fun--plus, if you read it before passing it on to your sister, you've got another book to talk to her about. See if you agree with me about the characterization of the person who turns out to be the villain.

Anonymous said...

Sounds good --

Melissa said...

I'm gonna have to get a hold of this book. I keep seeing it *everywhere* and now I'm really curious.

Jeanne said...

Readersguide and Melissa, it would be a good beach book for those of you who live within a day's drive of a coast.