Thursday, March 10, 2011

Review - Purple Daze

Sherry Shahan
Perseus Books
Purple Daze, set in the LA of 1965, follows a loosely-knit group of six teenage friends during this time. Written primarily in verse, the book is a combination of their letters, poems, and journal entries interspersed with news headlines and articles from that time period.
As someone who pretty much just thought the cover was awesome-looking, I was thrilled to discover that the story is told in verse. Though I'm a huge fan of novels written in this way, I really think that some stories work better in this format than others and I wasn't sure where this story would fall. Happily, this look at the political and social scene of 1965 works surprisingly well told in verse. I can't explain it any better than to say that, with this book, the style just fits. 

Another thing that works really well here is the split-narrative. Through the eyes of six different teenagers we get a bigger story than we'd get if the book were only from one character's point of view. Unfortunately, there are pitfalls to having so many narrators and with this book one of the pitfalls is that it was hard to tell how the characters were related. Though some were obviously dating and others were best friends, I found myself having to best-guess at the relationships between some other characters (Cheryl and Phil, for instance). Additionally, though I know some people will love this aspect of the book, for me the scattered news excerpts pulled me out of the story.

One of the things this book does best, to its credit, is defining the setting. The time and place of these characters rings out loud and clear, easily pulling even someone who knows very little about this part of history (ie. me) into the story and the narratives. The further into this book I got, the more I cared about the characters and their relationships and individual stories. I found myself cheering for them, hoping for things to turn out a certain way. This is one of those "quiet" books that I fear won't get the attention it should. The writing is honest and at times beautiful, the characters are well-written, and the setting is great. Despite being set in a very turbulent time, the book itself is action-light and character-heavy, which I love and I think through this it manages to paint an incredible picture of the time period.

I especially recommend this book to anyone interested in knowing more about the social and political climate of America in the 1960s, readers who enjoy split narratives, or who want to read a book in verse.
Purple Daze is set to be released March 22, 2011.

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