Saturday, June 20, 2009

Book Review: Alive and Well in Prague, New York by Daphne Grab

City girl Matisse is transplanted from Manhattan to small town Prague due to her father’s Parkinson’s disease and she’s none too happy about it. Instead of art galleries and indie films, Prague’s main attractions are the fall hay ride and a very bad tempered goose. But as her father’s symptoms worsen, Matisse’s attempts to ignore the grave situation and to push everyone out of her life come to a head.

This was the first of two books I read for the Nerds Heart YA Tournament (the other being David Yoo’s STOP ME IF YOU’VE HEARD THIS ONE BEFORE) and I have to say that I do think it’s very deserving of a bigger audience. The subject matter is not that typical for YA lit and it fills a void in the “living with a sick parent” genre (with emphasis on living since no one dies). It is well written, well researched, and genuinely moving in parts.

Because the story is about Matisse’s journey from denial and rebellion to acceptance of her new life situation it is the kind of book that you know where the story is going from the moment you pick it up. Yes, it’s predictable, but I think it needs to go where you think it’s going to go to be effective.

You could chart Matisse’s journey by the lunches she brought to school over the course of the book. In the beginning she brings spinach salad, French Brie, edamame and other fancy foods as a way of both holding on to her city girl identity and subtly sending a message to her new classmates that she’s above them. By the end, she’s happily eating country vegetables such as summer squash and thinking about just how yummy Prague’s famous apples really are.

But make no mistake, it takes the bulk of the book for Matisse to grow from whiny brat to sympathetic fighter, and although the last few chapters are satisfying and enjoyable to read, you have to go through a lot of hard times with Matisse to get there. It’s great that Author Daphne Grab breaks up some of the heaviness with a few family flashbacks on happier times and comic relief subplots such as rebel without a clue Cranston/Dylan and the aforementioned goose, because otherwise this might feel too much like “required reading”.

Tune in tomorrow when I review STOP ME and Ali and I make our final decision about which book moves on in the tournament.

21 comments:

Steph Su said...

Nice. You've piqued my interest for this novel now. I'm going to have to keep a lookout for it!

BookChic said...

I loved this book when I read it last year- so good! :) Glad you enjoyed it too! Great review!

Janssen said...

I agree with you - a little slow and could have been too heavy without some of the lighter bits.

bermudaonion said...

That book sounds really good to me and I love that she's named Matisse - he's one of my favorite artists.

Tracy said...

Can I borrow this one?

Vasilly said...

I checked this book out to read it because of the tournament. I will be moving this up the pile quite a bit. Great review.

Beth Kephart said...

I love the idea of this.... A celebration of books deserving a wider audience. And an interesting sounding book, too.

Bookworm said...

I read this one last year and it was a little slow, but I really enjoyed it! Matisse was whiney, but she has an awesome name!!!

Just Your Typical Book Blog said...

Nice review! I read this last year sometime and really enjoyed it.

Amber

Charley said...

I appreciated that Grab chose to tackle a difficult and emotional subject, especially in her debut novel.

The Kool-Aid Mom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
thekoolaidmom said...

Part of me really wants to run away from this book, not sure why. May be the sick parent thing, since my dad passed from cancer a few years ago, but the whiny brat part's not inspiring me to pick it up either.

I enjoyed reading your review :-)

Readingjunky said...

Enjoyed your review. I really liked this book.

Shooting Stars Mag said...

Awesome review. I still want to check this one out.

I have a favor to ask if you see this though and it would mean a ton if you could...the YA book carnival starts tomorrow and I want more people to know about it so they can enter, hold contests, find new blogs, and just enjoy, so could you please maybeee post something about it either tonight or tomorrow or even early in the week? Thanks.

-lauren

Marie said...

I don't know if I would have made it through, but I'm glad you did. Great review!

Staci said...

I liked your views on this book and love the cover. I like how you made the comparison of what she starts eating for lunch and what she ends with, also showing her progression as a person. I want to read this one for sure!!

Elise said...

I absolutely love books that are really deep, even if they involve hard times. Yet light bits always help me get through them! I will have to look into reading this book.

#3 extra entry

Llehn said...

I enjoy fish out of water books. My interest is definitely piqued here.

#3 extra entry

Zibilee said...

This book sounds a bit deeper than your average YA read, which makes it really enticing to me. Although it sounds a bit sad, I think that it would make a great read. My daughter might also like it, which is always a selling point for me.

Alexa said...

This book sounds really interesting. I don't think I've read a YA book where the character is living with a sick parent. I think I'd really enjoy it

#4 extra entry

Paradox said...

This book sounds unique, and very interesting. And Matisse is an awesome name for a character!