Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Reading is Love is Hell

Here's something that sets me apart from most readers: I love short stories. I know they're not as popular as novels, but I don't care. I am in awe of those able to create great short stories, where you have to build the world and tell the story in so little space. You can imagine, then, how excited I was to read Love is Hell by Justine Larbalestier, Melissa Marr, Laurie Faria Stolarz, Scott Westerfeld, and Gabrielle Zevin (many thanks to Farrin Jacobs at Harper for sending the copy). It's five absorbing supernatural twists on love and love ripped apart, with not a weak story in the bunch. From beginning to end:

Sleeping with the Spirit by Laurie Faria Stolarz. Brenda isn't sleeping so well in her new house. She keeps waking up exhausted with bruises on her body. As her dreams become clearer, she learns that the bruises are coming from Travis, the ghost of a teenage boy who was murdered in her house seventeen years ago. Travis can only contact Brenda through her dreams, so he enlists her help in tying up some loose ends related to his death.

Stupid Perfect World by Scott Westerfeld. It's very The Giver meets Feed. As part of a class experiment in a future society, students must live with a condition that has troubled their ancestors. For example, the hot girl Kieran likes decides to give herself a cold. Kieran himself decides that instead of letting his bioframe run the programs that allow him to function 24/7, he's going to go Shakespearean and learn to sleep, perchance to dream. Maria decides to allow her teenage hormones to run rampant. Drama, both Shakespearean and high-school-hallway, ensues when Kieran and Maria find their emotions bringing them together.

Thinner Than Water by Justine Larbalestier is a dark faerie tale set in an historic tourist village. In Jeannie's small village, teenagers can become handfasted, a trial one-year love and living arrangement between couples. Jeannie would rather escape her village, move to the city, and become a doctor, something her parents are very much opposed to. The one bright spot in Jeannie's village life is Robbie. A handfasting ceremony joins the two, and the village's small-minded people tear them apart. Temporarily.

Fan Fictions by Gabrielle Zevin is, I confess, my favorite story in the book, probably due to my wanting to live in the books I read as a child. Paige is the girl that no one except the new librarian at school really notices. The day the librarian recommends a book called The Immortals, Paige meets the new mysterious boy in school. Aaron and Paige's romance grows until the day Paige hears the school book club talking about The Immortals. If they're just discussing the book, why are they quoting and describing Aaron?

Love Struck by Melissa Marr. The convoluted, complicated romance between Alana, who refuses to have relationships longer than six weeks, and Murrin, a selchie, is made even more confusing when Murrin's brother tries to interfere. When Alana steals and hides Murrin's seal skin, he cannot leave her. Not that he wanted to leave in the first place.

Despite their quick pace and the fact that half the battle of reading SF or fantasy short stories is getting into the world in the first place, I was completely absorbed by these stories. I found that the three stories in the middle, in particular (Westerfeld, Larbalestier, Zevin), were really economical with their language and made intelligent use of the short space. I confess I've never been a fan of True Love Forever stories, nor of stories about the Perfect Love between Two Perfect People (I'll have to write another entry on how I was born without the romance gene someday). These stories totally satisfied the part of me that loves to see stories about the heart without making me gag on how physically perfect and emotionally unobtainable the main characters were. The stories are dark, serious, and often gut-wrenching. That's a compliment.

Other books in the "...Hell" series:

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