Saturday, January 25, 2014

Running Lean

1) A term referring to a deficiency of fuel in the fuel-to-air ratio of an internal combustion engine. (2) A physical condition where not enough caloric fuel is present for optimal performance of the body. (3) A spiritual condition in which a believer relies on his own strengths.
The title of this first effort at teen fiction (novel form) is a metaphor. The male lead character (like the author -- write what you know!) is into bikes. Calvin is part of a large family and is struggling to get over the death of his older brother (and mentor) in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, his girlfriend (into manga -- again, like the author) -- who is his first real girlfriend and seemed to be the only one who really understood what he was feeling as he dealt with the death -- has serious problems of her own. Stacey has anorexia. This is flagged as a possibility in the first few pages by a friend of Calvin, but it takes much longer for him to truly face things and figure out what to do.

The book has some clear positives. We get a good sense of what the two characters are thinking, their inner monologues. The author provides two complete characters and their parallel stories along with some other supporting casts. I like books that provide such alternative points of view. The book also shows us how people can be basically good people and well meaning, but still not understand and/or do the right thing in various cases. The importance of truly supporting another person, even if you don't fully understand yet what is going on or know what exactly to do is true enough. Issues of God and spirit also show up, including early on with Calvin's best friend. Church going even played a role in them first going out. The author expresses her religious beliefs on her website for those interested.

I have to give it a mixed review though since the book felt too drawn out. The friend so early on bringing up "anorexia" was a bit of a misstep -- the warning signs were there from the beginning and it was a bit too soon to say that. After saying it, having over three hundred pages of text seemed a bit much. It seemed too drawn out to me. Mention was made by some about the clueless parents. That happens and the author noted one place (in answer to an online review) that it was partially a plot device -- you cannot have the parent serve as a sort of "deus ex machina" and end the story. I'm not really upset about that. I do think the book could have been shorter. Another concern for some was the nature of Stacey. Was she too clingy or needy? Well, yes, she had some issues -- anorexia grows out of such things. As to why Calvin stays, I think that is explained some -- she was there for him, he feels a special obligation to someone he loves (this might have religious overtones) and the same sense of hyper-order that she feels compelled to use to keep sane in some fashion helps to put an order to HIS life. This sort of complexity adds to the story.

Overall, it was a serious look at major issues for teens today, including the economic issues that Calvin had to deal with. It was overlong but was a promising first effort.

I obtained this book from Book Sneeze in return for this review.