Two Bewildering Books

The most recent two books I've read have been really perplexing. They each provided intense reading challenges and at various points I wanted to throw them across the room, later to be redeemed as the story progressed. 

The first is Stolen by Lucy Christopher. I'm experimenting with second person narration (wherein the protagonist addresses the entire book to another person--often letter format) and Stolen is the most recent, most popular example of second person in YA. I've known for a while that second person is really hard to pull off. There are logic issues (like, you can't tell the person you're writing the letter to things they already know--like their eye color--just for the sake of telling the reader, because that undermines the point of the letter and makes the reader conscious that they're reading a novel, not a real account. A little of this is unavoidable and can pass most non-nitpicky readers, but too much and the fictiony magic starts to wear off and you begin seeing the author tapping away at keys instead of characters speaking). 

In the beginning of Stolen, my mind rejected the narration style like my body would a virus. It was like "NO! This is not working! ABORT! ABORT!" It also felt super telly in places, which can be another pitfall of second person address. I really contemplated giving up at around the 50 page mark, but I stuck with it because, dammit I paid good money for this book (my frugality is legend). I'm really glad I stuck with it because around the half-way mark I got into the story. The narration style evened out for me after the introductions and set-up were complete, and the setting of the Australian bush was beautiful and supported the story just like a good setting should. 

The other odd reading experience I've had recently was The Returning by Christine Hinwood. Like Stolen, The Returning is a Printz honor book written by an Anglo-Australian author. With The Returning, too, I had issues with the writing style. This book is very dialogue-heavy, which would generally increase the speed of reading. In this case, though, it worked opposite of that. The characters all talked in a kind of West Country-meets-alien dialect. The dialogue was not so much accented as a completely different version of English with different syntax rules, vocabulary (most of which is not defined), and inflections. I found myself re-reading some sentences three and four times trying to patch together meaning. In some places, the reading experience can only be described as a slog. The narrative, too, was really unusual. There seemed to be no marked beginning, middle, and end. In fact, on a tonal level, the last chapter felt like it could've been placed anywhere else in the book. It certainly didn't feel like a resolution. 

I also contemplated not finishing this book, especially right around page 120 by which time my inner clock was craving some kind of adherence to traditional story structure. I held on, though, for said reasons of frugality, but also because it was blurbed--in the most gushing way possible--by two of my all-time favorite authors: Melina Marchetta and Megan Whalen Turner. When the story stopped switching between characters and lingered on our protagonist, Cam, while he was at court, I found myself invested for the first time. The court scenes had real shades of Megan Whalen Turner's work, which is mad impressive. The Returning wasn't redeemed quite as much as Stolen for me since the language issues permeated the entire book, but I'm glad I finished it, even thought it was a challenge (maybe even because it was a challenge). 

I think it's often the most challenging books that offer the greatest opportunities for learning. Have you read a challenging book recently? If so, was it worth it in the end?