Friday, January 20, 2012

Book Review: A Corner of the Universe *Contains Spoilers*

Goodreads/Barnes&Noble Review: A 2003 Newbery Honor Book

The Barnes & Noble Review
Bringing back memories of her extraordinarily moving yet quietly told novel Belle Teal, Ann M. Martin (who also pens the popular Baby-Sitters Club series) takes us back to the 1960s, where we spend a not-so-typical summer with one girl and her mentally ill uncle.

Hattie Owen enjoys peaceful Millerton summertimes with "houses nodding in the heavy air," being in charge of Miss Hagerty's breakfast tray at her parents' boardinghouse, and drinking lemonade on the porch after supper. Yet this year, it's different -- Hattie's uncle Adam is coming home. Returning from a Chicago school that's just closed and whose existence is kept quiet by adult family members, Adam is a 21-year-old man with a child's mind, having a knack for talking quickly, a savant-like ability for remembering weekdays, and a passion for I Love Lucy. Hattie and Adam wind up spending precious time together -- including a visit to the recently arrived carnival with Hattie's new friend, Leila -- which makes her feel soulfully connected to her uncle, especially when he declares that she's "one of the people who can lift the corners of our universe." But when Hattie takes Adam on the ferris wheel one night, it sets off dramatic events that lead Hattie's family to strengthen its bonds and changes her life's outlook forever.

A novel with a flavor similar to Kate DiCamillo's Because of Winn-Dixieor Kimberly Willis Holt's When Zachary Beaver Came to Town, this absorbing look at a shake-up of one family's small-town normalcy will bring you to tears but leave you feeling ultimately triumphant. Martin paints her characters masterfully, letting Uncle Adam's unsure energy carry an unpredictable foreboding beneath the story while Hattie builds a gradual rebelliousness against the denial and unspoken truths that surround her. A powerful work that presses all the right emotional buttons and touches on all-too-human themes, A Corner of the Universe is one book that should not be missed.

Matt Warner

My Review: As with all of the other YA books I review on this blog, they are random. They are books that have caught my interest in some way, whether it's the cover, the content or the author. This book is a Newberry Honor Book (good sign) and the author, Ann M. Martin, wrote the Baby-Sitters Club series (another good sign). Those two pluses, coupled with an interesting concept and a unique story line, seemed to spell success.

But for me ... not so much. I did enjoy Hattie and her family, but I felt like there wasn't enough to keep the book going. I agree with Hattie about the time frame, which is also the first paragraph in the prologue:

"Last summer, the summer I turned twelve, was the summer Adam came. And forever after I will think of events as Before Adam or After Adam." - A Corner of the Universe, prologue pg. 1

So while reading, it was Before Adam or After Adam. Adam is an interesting character, and it's never disclosed what exactly he has, although the reader can surmise that he's mentally-ill. I could feel the tension between the adults whenever Adam was in the room, and viewing Adam from a child's perspective was brilliant. Hattie doesn't consider her 21-year-old cousin as mentally-ill. Rather, he's another friend in her life.

But there wasn't anything that could keep the story moving. The only thing that was exciting, the only changing event, was the arrival of the carnival and Hattie's new friend who worked at the carnival who left as suddenly as she came into the story. Half of the story was based around Carmel's Funtime Carnival but I think it's all external. There are cases where Hattie's choices directly influence the next scene, but there's too many of them where they're coincidental.


When Hattie breaks the rules and tells Adam to sneak out of the house so they can go to the carnival at night, I can see that happening. That's believable. What's coincidental and annoying, however, is when they go on the ferris ride and it breaks down. Yes, these things do happen, but I don't like how it was completely by chance. Then, there were a handful of times where Adam seemed to like Angel Valentine. Cute comments. Adam staring at her breasts. Then Adam walks in on Angel and her boyfriend making out (perhaps more). Adam leaves and is missing. They don't find him. They've looked everywhere. Until, they find his body. Adam killed himself.

Hattie's convinced at first that Angel killed him because she had a boyfriend and Adam caught them doing inappropriate things while in the boarding house even though they aren't allowed to.

It's a nice puzzle and every piece fits into it perfectly, but some of the pieces seem extremely smoothed, like it's too easy for it to be placed. I liked how she tied in 'A Corner of the Universe' into the story. Also, I don't like books where halfway through I'm wondering, "Sooo what's going to happen next?" I like character choices, which this one is, but I feel like there needs to be a plot running alongside it. Even a loose plot. Having a carnival plop in the middle of a small town, for me, doesn't count.

It's an interesting read but I don't think I'll read it again. It's interesting to note that Ann M. Martin had a mentally-ill uncle as well, but she never met him because he died before she was born.

Rating: 3/5

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