Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Sharp Time by Mary O'Connell

Title: The Sharp Time
Author: Mary O'Connell
Publisher: Random House/Delacorte Press
Release Date: November 8, 2011
Pages: 228 pages (hardback)
How I Got the Book: Christmas gift.

The Sharp TimeSandinista Jones is a high school senior with a punk rock name and a broken heart. The death of her mother has left Sandinista alone in the world, isolated and vulnerable, When the school system lets her down, her grief and instability intensify, and she ponders a violent act of revenge against a teacher.

Still, in the midst of her crisis, she gets a job at the Pale Circus, a funky vintage clothing shop, and finds a kindred spirit in her coworker, Bradley, a boy struggling with his own secrets.

Even as Sandinista is losing heart, confronted repeatedly by the failures of those in authority, she is offered a chance to believe in the redemptive power of friendship. Now she must choose faith--and forgiveness--or despair and vengeance.

Readers will cheer Sandinista on as she navigates an often brutal but unexpectedly beautiful world.


Since the death of her mother a few months before, Sandinista has been on a slow downward spiral and a haunting incident involving her, Alecia Hardaway, and their teacher Catherine Bennett has pushed her closer to the edge. Getting a job at the Pale Circus, a vintage clothing store, with Bradley and the store's owner Henry helps her and getting to know other business owners on the same street does too, but that might not be enough. If she can't conquer her anger, Sandinista may end up taking her pretty pink gun and doing something she will regret.

I may not like most of the characters (especially Erika; what happened to her is terrible, but what she is doing is wrong and not at all anything that should be construed as "girl power" or feminism, something I'm glad Sandinista realizes), but I understand why they are the way they are and sympathize with them. That's an accomplishment in itself because if I dislike a character, it's often because I find them unsympathetic. Sandinista, our school-skipping and orphaned heroine, is a little difficult to understand, fairly sympathetic, and very, very angry. I can't recall if I've ever read about such an angry heroine.

One of the novel's main subjects, the abuse of students by teachers and faculty and how the school system can so badly fail the students, was unexpected, but I found it to be a powerful event to focus on. No parent wants to think their child is being abused not just by their peers but by the teachers that are supposed to be helping them. As I've seen while watching the news, this still happens all too often to be comfortable. I wish I could find more YA novels dealing with that subject. Recommendations, anyone?

I did struggle with the novel at some parts. Multiple times, I stopped and thought that this was less of a young adult book and more of an adult literary novel. I wouldn't be able to come up with proof to support why I feel that way, but that's what kept coming to mind. I do have an appreciation for adult litfic, but one reason I don't seek it out as regular reading material is because it reads so monotonously to me. It's nothing to do with the content, just the way it's written. That same problem happened to me while reading The Sharp Time.

Not to say the entire novel reads in such a dull way (or as dull as this review, if you ask me, but I guess I expended so much of my energy and enthusiasm on a recent glowing review that I'm having trouble being my usual bouncy self while reviewing). Some of the scenes in the novel are undeniably tense, like when Sandinista drives to Catherine Bennett's house with her gun and ends up throwing Toad at her window. I just about bit another hole in my lip when I was reading that scene.

Strangely enough, my brother shares a name with the character Bradley. I love my brother (I call him Bubba), but he says things that make me want to castrate him. Book Bradley said this on page 37: "How fun to work with a girl; it's like having my very own Barbie doll." If Bubba were less of the foul-mouthed-gamer type and more free-spirited, I could see him being like Book Bradley just because of that one line. The problem? Bubba is a misogynistic shitwaffle. Book Bradley reminding me of Bubba in such a way was not good for him at all.

I've been debating with myself back and forth about whether or not I would recommend this for anyone, but I think I'll go with yes. It may help to approach it as adult litfic instead of young adult, though. Maybe if I'd known ahead of time and approached it differently, this short book wouldn't have felt like it was five times longer.

3 stars!

What am I reading next?: The Ghosts of Ashbury High by Jaclyn Moriarty