I don’t get it: Books that baffled

I can’t bring myself to post a negative book review. I also have a cooking blog, and when I try a recipe and it comes out terribly, there are so many factors at play – it could have been my own carelessness, some fault in the quality of my equipment or ingredients, a matter of differing tastes, or it could truly be a poorly designed recipe, but, as one recipe out of a hundred in a cookbook, I wouldn’t be damning the author by saying, “What a terrible recipe!”

But it’s different with books. Books are someone’s baby, a year (or much more) of someone’s life. Books are dreams made reality. I’m not going to spend my time tearing down someone else’s dream, no matter how much it left me cold.

That said, I’ve spent a fair amount of my time trying to read books that just didn’t click for me. At least I don’t buy books – it’s not a great loss to send something back to the library half-read. But it is a strange experience to be out of sync with so many others in the YA community. Since I started reading YA blogs, much of my reading list comes from their recommendations. And it’s just odd sometimes to hear so much hype about a book and then try myself and all I can say is, “I don’t get it!”

Here are a few of the books I’ve read (or tried to read) since starting this blog that just didn’t click for me. I’ve linked each title to a glowing review, for alternate perspective. 🙂

Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You – Peter Cameron I’m not generally that into: boy protagonists, whiners, sarcasm of the mean variety, people who think they’re smart but are really incredibly deluded/self-involved. This is a book that celebrates all of those things.
Carpe Diem – Patricia Cornwell One review I read said what they liked best about the book was the unlikable narrator. I guess that doesn’t really work for me. I loved the premise of this book (well, the travel/Southeast Asia/hot-mean-cowboy love interest part, not the bizarre, creepy grandmother-blackmails-her-children part) but despite trying over several weeks I simply couldn’t get through it.
The Explosionist – Jenny Davidson This book sounds to me like another Golden Compass (plucky parentless London heroine in an alternate-history version of reality must stop an evil plan to turn young people into mindless drones) which, considering how much I adored that book, could be a good thing or a bad thing. Reviews led me to believe it would be a very, very good thing. Reading it, not so much. It just never grabbed me.
Gingerbread – Rachel Cohn This is the kind of book I read by the truckload – off-beat, bratty-but-self-aware girl stomps through teenhood with combat boots and ink-stained fingertips, learning lessons about love and life. So why couldn’t I get through it?
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing – MT Anderson I was so ready to be blown away by this book. The premise was fascinating, the character intriguing, the format just a little bit experimental. I still think, in my heart of hearts, that someday I will get to read the book I thought this was when I first picked it up. Maybe someday I will be the reader I need to be to get this book.
Ash – Malinda Lo Many of the books in my list here are award-winners or nominees for many different awards, as well as being adored by the book blog community. Ash is among those receiving high praise from all corners. And seriously, queer Cinderella? Could there be anything more awesome? I tried to read this book 5 times before sending it back to the library. I made it at least 2/3 through and I just never, ever started caring what happened in it.
An Abundance of Katherines – John Green Things I love: anagrams, child prodigies, road trips, boy protagonists (I know, I contradict myself, for I am large and contain multitudes), people who worry they aren’t self-aware enough but actually are so sweetly just where they need to be. Despite all these magical elements, I never made it past the first few chapters.
Enna Burning – Shannon Hale Goose Girl may be one of my favorite books of all time (somewhere in the 100s, but still…). This sequel left me entirely cold. If reading Goose Girl was like having a story rush through me, so I thought about it and dreamed about it all the time when I wasn’t reading it, reading Enna Burning was like watching a movie with no sound on someone else’s iPhone screen from halfway across the plane. (Wow, that was pretty harsh. But I want more Shannon Hale that makes me feel ALIVE!)
The Sea of Trolls & The Land of the Silver Apples – Nancy Farmer Farmer’s The House of the Scorpion is in my top 20 for favorite YA/children’s books of all time. After I devoured that one I read and enjoyed her other books set in Africa, and then waited eagerly for two years for a new book from her. What a disappointment. The style just doesn’t connect for me at all. I am comfortable with the fact that, despite my love of children’s lit, there will always be many books that are actually too young for me to enjoy. I just didn’t think Nancy Farmer would be writing them!
Fairy Tale – Cyn Balog The review I link to here praises this book for having a new approach and original elements, which is all true, but then why did I come away feeling like I had just read a totally typical story – typical within both the “high school heartache” genre and the “fairy tale retelling” genre?
Mister Monday – Garth Nix This one wasn’t a question of blog hype so much as author let-down (a bit like the Farmer books). Garth Nix authored the Abhorsen series, which are also on my top fantasy book list, probably in my top 10, even. I know this series, which begins with Mister Monday, is intended for younger readers, but Nix is a seriously talented wordsmith, and I would have expected to wholeheartedly love anything he wrote. The librarian and adult YA blogger community actually seems to be in agreement with me on this disappointment, but kids seem to be enjoying them, so that’s something!

So what about you? Any books that make you feel out of sync with the hype? Are any of the books on my list books you “just didn’t get?” Or maybe one of your favorites is on here and you can explain to me what I was missing!

(Baffled egg courtesy of Nina Matthews under CC license)