I'm not going to try and excuse the casual racism of the book. Fletcher has a very clear worldview as expressed through the character of Richard MoninI'm not going to try and excuse the casual racism of the book. Fletcher has a very clear worldview as expressed through the character of Richard Monington, defender of the King against Cromwell. There's the King, then gentlemen, then yeomen/craftsmen, then white peasants, then black slaves, then Indians. Women and girls have similar gradations, but the expectations are completely different. The good should be rewarded, the bad punished, but no one should be shifted out of their appropriate caste. People of color, whether African or Native American, are completely inscrutable, and magical. this sums it up pretty well, I think:
She became a symbol of the horrible tragedy of white servitude in its most noxious form. There was tragedy in black slavery also, but not the poignant, weary heart-break he saw in the girl, try as she would to conceal it.
"She", is a young woman named Tamar, indentured and persecuted for bearing a still-born baby and not revealing the father.
Okay, so it's racist and sexist and rife with stereotypes. So, you might ask, why did I like it? Why does it get a pass when Gone With the Wind doesn't? They're both prey to the same sentimental view of the past as an idealized system. But Fletcher isn't trying to justify it: she's not moved by the plight of the slaves, certainly not compared to the honest white indentured servants, but she does gives us active rebellion and thoughtful consideration of just how back-breaking the work is.
What's really heart-breaking to me is a pure throw-away bit about a native tribe that's almost disappeared. There are cleared fields in (modern) NC, and no aggressive natives because they've died off. Disease has eliminated more than half the population, possibly as much as 90% in the hundred years since Roanoke Hundred. Just imagine the Cherokee landing in England after the worst wave of the black death. No wonder they felt like God had handed them Eden.
I don't think I've ever read a worse book. It is a failure on every conceivable layer.
First, there's a framing story in which the author,Appalling.
I don't think I've ever read a worse book. It is a failure on every conceivable layer.
First, there's a framing story in which the author, Mimi, is talking to her husband and grandchildren. These are long sections in italics, which many people find difficult to read, so the physical design of the book is bad. But also, the framing story doesn't add anything, giving very little information about The Lost Colony historically, and none about Manteo today. Well, that's not true: it breaks up the continuity and momentum of the mystery, and replaces it with the ersatz excitement of the grandkids being told the story.
Second, I'm guessing that this was chosen for the Battle of the Books for its local interest. It fails horribly on that score, having neither a strong sense of place nor as much information as the average Wikipedia entry.
Third, it is ostensibly a mystery. It says so, right there in the title. That aspect is a story about two boys on the Outer Banks who have several scary incidents happen to them and then the culprits are revealed during a storm. It doesn't actually have anyone trying to solve a mystery, there's no detecting, there's no clues, no misleading red herrings. Well, one of the kids does jump to a hasty and offensive conclusion that turns out to be true, but there isn't any thinking to speak of.
Fourth, speaking of offensive, let me share a little spoiler with you: there are also two boys "of Indian descent". They aren't properly named (although the get referred to as Ghost Boy and Drowned One), nor is their tribal affiliation. Readers could be mistaken for thinking they are actually children of immigrants from India rather than indigenous kids of NC. The phrase "dumb heathens" could refer to anyone, of course, although I suppose the repeated use of "savages" would clear things up. More fail: we're told in the framing store that "it wasn't fair for the Native Americans, because later, they pretty much disappeared, too". WTH? NC has the sixth highest native population the US. I like that passive structure too, which erases hundreds of years of genocide. Of course, the author states "the Indians were treated unfairly, and still are today" which she should know because she, herself is "part Cherokee." Not that any effort is ever made to specify what this unfair treatment consists of.
Fifth, and this is a big one, the writing is horrible. Not just "it isn't my cuppa" stylewise, I mean it's really hard to figure out what the author is trying to say most of the time. The scenes of the mystery shift abruptly, without helpful exposition, but seem to cover incidents over an entire school year. The author never writes a simple sentence, but relies heavily on the thesaurus and usage that makes no sense. Unless "surfboard-red" is a common thing, and I didn't know. No one just said anything, no, "he howled," "he squealed," "he cried," "he gurgled". That's two pages wasted on a scene where the boys are chewing Life Savers in a dark bathroom to see if they spark. I had to read the scene twice to figure out what was going on. It has no relevance to anything else, by the way.
"The sun sprawled through the window upon the numb body hung across the bed." It's trying so hard to be creative that it's incomprehensible. But that's not the scariest part.
Sixth, there are at least 35 other books in this series.
I like that the Battle of the Books selections normally cover a range of styles and topics. I've really enjoyed reading alongside the girls and attending the battle. But this is inexcusable. Even if it's an incredibly popular series (which I doubt), it's so poorly written that I can't imagine recommending it to thousands of kids. You know how Harry Potter is the series that sucks the kids into reading? This is the anti-Harry Potter.
Such a sad book, with sexual assault, bullying, eating disorders, and all the quiet with no one talkingRemy and Dexter from This Lullaby have cameos.
Such a sad book, with sexual assault, bullying, eating disorders, and all the quiet with no one talking about any of this. And yet, the joy of a Dessen book is that the protagonist is learning how to deal. Despite all the sad subjects, Annabel isn't just wallowing, she's learning and adapting and changing how she thinks as well as how she acts.
One recurring theme in Dessen's books is that the teen protagonists feel the need to protect their parents from something that is hard, or ugly, or sad. As a mother I want to reassure them that their parents can take it, whatever it is. That they don't have to shoulder these burdens alone. I think that must be one of the hardest things to learn: what we can safely intrust to others, how to derive support without losing autonomy. Here I think it's handled particularly well.
And yes, I love that there is no insta-love here. A nice, slow, friendship developing into romance. The author looks at what rumor says about people versus what you can learn about them from getting to know them. There's a nice interplay between who seems dangerous, and who really is.
Other aspects that deserve a shout-out: sensitive portrayal of mental illness that isn't simplistic, realistic portrayal of some of the hazards of modeling/beauty culture, engaged parents, and a love o' bacon. This is easily my favorite of Dessen's works.
What's making me crazy is I can't remember which of her other books mentioned Lakewood Models. If anyone knows, please tell me. My google-fu was weak with this one.
I liked it even more when I read it, but I haven't been tempted to reread it, or anything else by Frazier since, so I guess it was just the storylineI liked it even more when I read it, but I haven't been tempted to reread it, or anything else by Frazier since, so I guess it was just the storyline and local appeal....more
The book is at it's best when the author just lets it flow. I like the characters of Tilly, her family, and friends, I love the way Jame's OCD is handThe book is at it's best when the author just lets it flow. I like the characters of Tilly, her family, and friends, I love the way Jame's OCD is handled, I even liked the stuff about gardening, which isn't normally a topic to draw me. An enjoyable story with some meat to it, and a pleasing romance. I look forward to more from this author.
Updated 10/11/2012: Attended a reading/talk last night with the author, in recognition of OCD awareness week. She was amazing, charming, forthright, and engaging. If you get a chance to see hear, you really should. ...more
I have an ARC; I'm pretty much beside myself with antici- (say it) -pation.
It may not be The, but it is certainly A Great American Novel. BarnhardtI have an ARC; I'm pretty much beside myself with antici- (say it) -pation.
It may not be The, but it is certainly A Great American Novel. Barnhardt has a marvelous way of capturing the absurdities of an era, as he showed in Emma Who Saved My Life: A Novel. More importantly, where the wise author sees the folly of his characters, he doesn't mock them for their earnest embrace of the mores of their times. Like Dickens and Austen, he is sympathetic to the situations people find themselves in, to the hazards they create for themselves.
Background: the novel is set primarily in Charlotte, NC during the first decade of the 21st century. Conversations and flashbacks take us back in the lives of the Jarvis-Johnston family as far as the Civil War. For these people the past isn't over. There's Gaston making a fortune writing historical novels, and his sister Jerene's work maintaining the family art collection at the museum, and her husband Duke's devotion to re-enacting with maximum authenticity, and preserving a battle site. The past is ongoing, too, in the efforts of the next generation, where Annie finds a way to help previously discriminated-against families purchase their first home in integrated neighborhoods, and Bo and his wife Kate struggle to do God's work in a contentious suburban church, and Joshua tries to keep his sexual escapades on the down-low using his best friend Dorrie as a beard.
All of these characters, and many more, are trying to find some way to accommodate a weight of history that both protects them and holds them back. They are all struggling against the expectations of Society (such as it is down here) and against sexism and racism and classism, even as they enjoy some privileges from the system. Book One introduces the family and runs through their gamut of first-world problems, and I was afraid, I admit it, that maybe Barnhardt was going to give in to Tom Wolfe-like railing against everyone and everything.
Then there's Book Two, which lifts the book above mere witty sniping, into something sympathetic, and understanding, and revealing. There is no bogus Hollywood ending, but the good receive some reward, and the wicked receive some punishment, and the result is the best one could hope for, given the characters and modern history.
Barnhardt is a writer with scope and the best sort of human charity. His novels are infrequent, but the rewards are earned.
This is now my favorite of Dessen's books. There are familiar elements: conflict with parents, conflict with sisters, high-achieving academic girl disThis is now my favorite of Dessen's books. There are familiar elements: conflict with parents, conflict with sisters, high-achieving academic girl discovering how well she can do other things through a job, the importance of friends. But there's some new stuff here, too. A central issue is education. The oldest sister, Margot, has been to college and come back home, brimming with ideas for improving the family business. The middle sister isn't bookish, she's going to beauty school to learn how to do hair. And Emaline, encouraged by her distant father, has applied to Columbia and been accepted, and then the father didn't have the money, and it was too late to apply for financial aid, and now she's going to the state university that offered her a free ride. To her mother and the step-dad who raised her, this is a perfectly good choice. It's a good school and she won't graduate in debt. But to the biological father, himself a well-educated, privileged, big-city boy, her not being able to go to the Ivy is a huge let down. The assumption that everyone needs to attend college, and earn the most prestigious degree possible, regardless of cost in all senses, has become so pervasive, and yet, for most US high school students, the cost of college is an enormous barrier. It's nice to see it getting some play.
Then there's the whole art thing: an award-winning filmmaker and assistant down from NYC to shoot a documentary on a local artist; the value of art; the meaning of art; how to reconcile one's artistic inclination with the sort of life one wants to lead. Whether or not it was intentional, I couldn't help but associate the artist Clyde with the writer, teacher, mentor, and NC publisher, Clyde Edgerton, who had a huge influence on the Southern literary community, not least by enabling writers to stay at home and have successful careers.
And also, I like that the romance wasn't the Best Ever, and that maybe high school relationships, like summer romances, don't continue afterwards, but that doesn't make them any less real, intense, or important. This is a mature, clear-eyed, accepting sort of novel. It is tremendously respectful of all the different kinds of work that people do, and the different kinds of lives we can lead. It reminds me of Maeve Binchy and Rosamunde Pilcher, whose audiences are significantly older that the average YA reader. Although the story is firmly focused on 18 year old Emaline, I think this book will have crossover appeal.
The "chickwashing" shelf, by the bye, is for the cover. Emaline is a cut-offs and tank kind of gal, not a swirly pink skirt one, and that background isn't to be found in her small Outer Banks town. If the author was Sam Dessen, they'd have used a stock photo of a trunk in a dorm room, probably. I don't hate the cover, I just hate the generic "girl" quality of it, which wouldn't encourage guys or older readers to give it a try.
I rather liked the way Yolen wrote this: with a young investigator taking notes as she examines the story, and working through the theories of what miI rather liked the way Yolen wrote this: with a young investigator taking notes as she examines the story, and working through the theories of what might have happened. Because nothing has been proved, I don't at all mind that the end is left on a questioning note: what do you think happened?
I spent a year in Winston-Salem, and among other trivia, learned that older family members were present earlier in the evening that Smith Reynolds dieI spent a year in Winston-Salem, and among other trivia, learned that older family members were present earlier in the evening that Smith Reynolds died. How's that for morbid curiosity?...more