RaveThe A.V. ClubRemarkably, Stars might be Green’s best novel yet ... There’s more wisdom about life and death here than in a dozen similarly themed, more \'literary\' novels, and Green’s protagonist is a wonderful creation. Green’s success stems from his ability to render his characters’ voices extremely well ... Green could have gone wrong with this setup in many ways. Cancer-stricken teenagers is such an inherently sentimental idea that it all but begs him to ladle on the tear-jerking moments. And though the book garners its share of tears, it earns them by being brutally honest about its characters and their condition. It’s predictable, but it works nearly perfectly, because it’s always filtered through caustic Hazel, who tells jokes, doubts the afterlife, and constantly points out the conventions of her genre ... he’s found a narrator who’s very nearly the equal of Holden Caulfield.
RaveAV ClubRemarkably, Collins turns the final volume, Mockingjay, into a grim, cynical reflection on the human cost of war. A series that started out as a dystopic tale of derring-do with undercurrents of social revolution has ended by addressing how the system will always chew up individuals, and the mechanisms of power are inevitably abused ... But the book’s final third makes it the best in the series. All governments are corrupt, Collins seems to argue, and the only thing people can do is try their best to care for each other. The final slog toward doom for Katniss and her friends gets as grim as any book aimed at teens ever written, a death march that leaves Katniss and the readers choking on ashes. Collins closes the book on two improbable moments of grace, but stunning as they are, they’ll be too little for many readers. The real hero of Mockingjay just might be Collins, for creating an ending that invites readers to hold on to hope, but question everything.
John Jeremiah Sullivan
RaveThe A.V ClubEssayist John Jeremiah Sullivan doesn’t do everything right, but he gets the single most important item exactly correct: He manages to make whatever he’s writing about at that moment sound like the most interesting subject on Earth ... Sullivan’s greatest subject is his native land, the American South, and he finds new ways to talk about subjects that might seem largely played out, such as blues music or the life of Axl Rose ... Sullivan’s greatest strength is writing about music. His essays on, varyingly, Michael Jackson, Rose, and the roots of modern blues are well-structured, thoughtful, and have just the right words to describe exactly what in all of these forms of music is worth preserving. His weakness is politics ... even when Sullivan is hitting a bum note or two, he’s finding new ways to enthrall. There aren’t any boring moments in Pulphead, and Sullivan is as good at conveying his fascination about his subjects as anyone writing essays today. His name deserves to be up there with Chuck Klosterman’s.
PositiveAV ClubEvans has a few of the problems typical of young short-story writers, but for the most part, this is a collection of perfectly conceived little tales that look at underexposed corners of American life ... The biggest issue with Suffocate is that nearly every story features a similar protagonist ... This would be a bigger problem, but the stories’ plots take Evans’ signature character into fascinating new places and relationships, and she’s adroit at creating supporting characters ... Nothing Evans does is wildly original, but each of Suffocate’s eight stories announces that she’s found the territory she knows, and marked it out with sophistication and terrific writing.