Schulz and PeanutsSchultz and Peanuts David Michaelis Harper Torch 2007

David Michaelis
Harper

I think I’ve discovered the secret of life — you just hang around until you get used to it.

-Charles M. Schulz

Until reading this book I didn’t give Peanuts much credit, finding it dull and repetitive, with a cast of one-trick-pony characters. You could play the sad trombone at every single Charlie Brown punchline. But now I get it: Peanuts was never meant to be funny. The comic strips are not jokes at all. Just like Charles “Sparky” Schulz himself, they are bleak but not hopeless. The strips appear flat and overly simplified, but are actually complex and ground-breaking work. Much of the layering of the sad-sap narrative comes from Schulz’s belief that he could never be truly happy. He did not expect happiness, but instead worked to be loved by others. But, as repeatedly pointed out by the major figures in his life, he also didn’t exactly understand what love is.

Schulz was a surprisingly complicated person, as biographer David Michaelis’ meticulous research shows us. He details Sparky’s life from birth to death and doesn’t skimp on the backstory of anyone in between. The most striking layer to Schulz and Peanuts is that we are given a comprehensive recounting of the grief Schulz experienced when anticipating and grieving his mother’s death. Too many biographies minimize mourning into a footnote, when the loss of a loved one is an event intense enough to alter mourner’s identities. For example, biographies of Abraham Lincoln usually note that he was devastated by the death of Ann Rutledge, but that mention is often the first and last time she is mentioned.* This is to the detriment of the entire biography, as that trauma likely shaped his entire identity. Scarcity of detail is not an issue whatsoever in this book.

Michaelis paints such a lively picture of Sparky’s creative process, his personal experiences, and his relationships with friends, family, mentors, and business associates. If you think Peanuts is totally lame, give this a read and see if you still feel that way.

*Except for Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, which mentioned her often.

— Romona

The Half Life of Molly PierceThe Half Life of Molly Pierce Katrina Leno Harper Teem 2014

Katrina Leno
HarperTeen

Molly Pierce is missing pieces. Missing time and blackouts have been a way of life ever since she was a child. But now, at seventeen, things are starting to come back to her. Things she can’t quite make sense of, but things she’s determined to get to the bottom of.

The Half Life of Molly Pierce is a very intense book. You’re never quite sure what Molly has got herself into and what has prompted the return of her memories. But there is a sense of danger throughout, and you’re constantly worried about what’s going to happen to her.

But what I really enjoyed was the dynamic she had with her family and friends. It quickly becomes obvious, to both the reader and Molly, that her family and close friends know more than they’re letting on. But they are still a great support system for her, especially her siblings. And it’s clear that the situation is very complicated and everything they do comes from a place of love. There is a bit of a romance woven in, but it is overshadowed by Molly’s platonic relationships.

Despite the interesting story and relationships, I ultimately felt that The Half Life of Molly Pierce was too short, almost incomplete. I like fast paced novels, but it felt a little like the story was rushing past some important elements that needed to be explored further. However, if you like thrillers and just want something quick and easy to read, The Half Life of Molly Pierce will keep you guessing

— Christa

Falling Into PlaceFalling Into Place Amy Zhang Greenwillow Books 2014

Amy Zhang
Greenwillow Books

Falling Into Place opens with Liz Emerson driving her Mercedes off the highway. On the surface it seems like she has everything, so what brought her to this point?

I love the structure of this novel for two reasons. The first is the narrator. Throughout the novel, the identity of the narrator is kept secret. It is someone very close to Liz and someone who knows a lot of intimate details about her life. They aren’t an unreliable narrator, per se, but since you don’t know who they are, you can never be 100% sure what their bias may be.

The other reason I love the structure is because it’s non-linear. It changes quickly between events before the accident, ranging from minutes before, to years before. There’s never any one moment that makes her want to commit suicide. Instead, you see how life has changed Liz. She may only be a teenager but she still struggles with many things. But the novel also explores what comes after the accident. It looks at how her actions have affected the people around her, not just her family and friends, but classmates and strangers as well. It’s an interesting look into how connected we all are.

It’s hard to believe that this is a debut novel, and that Zhang was only a teenager when she wrote it. It’s an emotional, hard hitting story, written in beautiful prose. Those who enjoyed If I Stay and Thirteen Reasons Why, should make Falling Into Place their next read.

— Christa