The edition from my childhood is this one, with scary Turtle on the cover. But we watched "Silence of the Lamb" the other day, and Chris got it out ofThe edition from my childhood is this one, with scary Turtle on the cover. But we watched "Silence of the Lamb" the other day, and Chris got it out of the library.
A perfect read for a weekend! It was fun -- going in, I remembered exactly two things about it from reading it as a kid. 1) The exploding wedding present, and 2) Sydelle Pulaski's Polish shorthand. And when I started rereading, I thought, that is a pretty cool pair of things to remember about a book, even if I don't remember the plot twists. As I reread, I found that much of the rest of the detail came out of my memory, too; oh right, the braid and the shin-kicks.
It's interesting that this is a kids' book. I mean, there's really only one kid in it. A couple older teenagers, but they're peripheral players. Mostly the people who matter most in this book is one kid, and a bunch of weird adults. I think that's kind of great -- kids read this book and are like, grown-ups are weird. The introduction to this edition describes the writing as "for the adult in children," which is a good thing to think about.
It makes me a little sad I did not remember that this takes place in Milwaukee....more
It's been a hundred damn years since I read Divergent (okay, two and a half), which I remembered as fun, if silly. I didn't hBLAH. I'm sorry but blah.
It's been a hundred damn years since I read Divergent (okay, two and a half), which I remembered as fun, if silly. I didn't hate reading this, but I have to rate it low because I really did not have any fun doing it.
These books are still kind of cool? But they are not good. And though this is a lot like how I feel about other blockbusters of the genre (okay obviously I just mean The Hunger Games), I think these are even weaker. This particular book is repetitive, overlong, superficial, and not one emotion gets nudged the whole dang time. If you had any quibbles with worldbuilding in the first book, you will… probably have been smarter not to read this in the first place, but you're sort of stubborn and don't know what's good for you. A bit like our dystopian heroines.
So if the worldbuilding stinks, what are you left with? The plot? The characters and their relationships? But nothing picks up the slack here with great aplomb. There is a lot of ridiculous writing, way too many silly descriptions that don't work. Lots of books have this problem, but that doesn't mean it's ignorable.
Part of my problem with the stakes in this story is that book one totally lost me at the end, when they had the "simulation." To me, it was… dumb. And here in book two, probably 80% of the plot-driven scenes are either talking about that simulation or hinging upon other simulations happening, or the threat of simulations, or experimenting to make simulations work on Divergent, etc. but I am already CHECKED OUT. It doesn't make enough sense and I do not care about it, BE BACK SOON.
Next: If you like hanging out with couples that have the same fight every time you see them, enjoy Tris and Tobias! They're as edgy as if they've been married twenty years but they're only teenagers who've been dating a month! But you know, it's okay, because they only get so angry with each other because they want to protect one another. This is a great foundation for the relationship of two people who have committed themselves to a faction based on putting themselves in physical danger no matter what. Their entire code says it's cowardly to let someone else take a risk to protect you, so that fight only happens every single day. But it's okay because they're in love.
What else. Tris's character development probably deserves some mention, but lots of other reviews expound on it a lot better. She's got PTSD, is grieving her parents, has sort of a death wish I guess, and has to deal with a lot of other betrayal. She's still a badass, honestly, but she's also shortsighted and rather unkind. She's probably the strongest part of this book, but I wish that anything else was strong enough that the compliment meant something!
I was basically in this for the ending. I knew a reveal was coming, and this was going to be my reward. It is also the only reason I'm willing to touch book three someday. SOMEDAY. Not soon. After I forget. The next time I have a cold that keeps me in bed for four days on 60% brainpower. Anyway, the big reveal helps some things and does not help some other things. It is one of those reveals that gives you a page of information and then ends the book without anything else, so with as little as we get here, we can only make a bit of sense of it:
(view spoiler)[So the reason this society seems completely artificial is because it is completely artificial and fabricated by the outside world, which still exists. Okay! I forgot that they were fenced in, actually, until you mentioned it at the end, but that does answer one of my cardinal dystopian questions of "What's going on in other parts of the world?" It sucks, in other parts of the world; apparently it's all fallen apart.
Unfortunately, this society is supposed to come and save us? It was created as an intentional community to foster the moral and collaborative traits in human nature (or something). So we get our factions. The goal, it seems, was to raise generations of people this way, emphasizing one inherent positive trait in them. Then, once enough Divergent people emerged — who have more than one of these traits — the experiment is complete (?) and these scores of Divergent people should go out and save the rest of the whole world.
Okay, well… I'm sort of with you. Although human nature (curiosity, self-preservation, community) doesn't change a lot, people can learn to live in all kinds of restrictive cultures. The idea of breeding people to work in one exact way (with the trait of their faction) doesn't really sound like any sort of science anyone knowledgeable would seriously suggest, except for maybe a really drunk sociologist sometime. But okay, give it a couple centuries? See what happens? Well, too bad! Because this all had to have happened within about 50 years. Tris finds a file on which she's labeled "second generation," and the information that's revealed comes from a video from one of the original settlers, who happens to be Tris's grandmother. So… we've reformed human society in two generations?
This, by itself, isn't believable at all, let alone evidenced by the choices they made about how to actually do it. It's just not enough time to believably reform society one way, then have it break itself down and be ready to take over the world. If they're going to go out and claim an identity as a failed experiment and a footnote to history, okay. But they're not — they are convinced that they've achieved their purpose, and completed their mission, and it's time to open the gates. IT WOULD BE SUPER EXCITING IF THIS WERE TRUE, dang it. But that's not it at all.
The information does at least explain one thing that has never made sense since book one: why it is dangerous to be a Divergent. It is not inherently dangerous, but since we find out that a great number of Divergent will signal that this society is ready to end, it explains why faction leaders frequently have them end up dead. Y'know, kinda. Because it's a corrupt dystopia, and I guess that's what its leaders want to do, rather than further its goals.
Alas, the very idea of being Divergent makes even less sense now. You go to all this trouble — building a false society — to make people conform to having one personality trait, which makes not a bunch of sense since normal people in our real world have lots of them. And then, once this conformity somehow produces people with… strengths in multiple personality traits… you are then ready to rejoin normal people in our real world? Where we also have that? How will this change things? Clearly the real world has screwed things up right well, in whatever post-apocalyptic timeline we're in, but still. What? (hide spoiler)]
Just… a little internal logic, please! And I'm not even very logical, I AM CLEARLY AMITY OR MAYBE CANDOR ACTUALLY.
I also started to wonder something unexpected about this series: is Tris the most popular "rebel" heroine who uses a gun? What other YA characters have guns? I would love for someone who reads a lot of YA in this genre to chime in and tell me about more of them, because this book made me really curious about how gun violence is portrayed. I think that in this series, the author is really portraying gun violence as… cool? Lots, lots, and lots of people get shot, both good guys and bad guys. Tris has a bullet wound healing throughout the entire novel, from the battle at the end of book one. A bunch of her friends sustain them too, often right in front of her, one of them even becoming paralyzed. Of course, tons of action stories in pop culture glorify gun violence, in all mediums. It simply occurred to me that I don't usually read a lot of it, and that all of this is sort of grim and gruesome for a bunch of teenage characters — especially without authorial commentary.
When I realized that one of Tris's main arcs here is her fear of using a gun again after all the bad things that happened at the end of book one, I wondered which way the story would go: will the point be that she has to overcome her fear and learn to shoot people again, or will the point be that she makes a bigger critique of lethal violence? Despite a moment where she makes a pivotal choice to take a non-lethal weapon into a fight (and she also seems to end up unarmed quite often), it's pretty clear that the story is about inner strength, and overcoming your fears and weaknesses. This is usually a solidly good message… but I'm not super fist-pumped that, for Tris, being afraid of shooting people is her weakness, and the main measure of her healing is killing them.
In conclusion to this discussion, cute dog tricks. Thank you.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Boy, I'm a spoilsport! I'm sorry! I liked this book, I did, but I only liked it. I've been dying to read it for ages, but.
It's a cool book and very, vBoy, I'm a spoilsport! I'm sorry! I liked this book, I did, but I only liked it. I've been dying to read it for ages, but.
It's a cool book and very, very good to read about the enormous work of girls and women in the Allied war effort, a presence in the military that still indeed doesn't get its full due — how could it, with all the stories still to tell about that time. I've been interested in learning about those lesser-told stories. As familiar as parts of WWII narrative is by now, there are so many left that I've never heard of before. I really like when I hear them.
So, a pilot and a special ops agent are BFFs. What could go wrong?
Knowing, going in, that there is some spoiler territory and significant plot twisting to this story, I think I expected the book to be like if Gone Girl took place in 1943 amongst the Gestapo in France. It may have been a tad high of an expectation, suspense-wise. I remained innocent and pure as the driven snow about every plot element going in, and it is more fun to read like that. Partly because (same as with Gone Girl!) some of the early fun is the simple anxiety of, where am I getting tricked here? Which side will the twist come from? IS THIS TRUE?
There are two sides to the story, and both girls have a narrative conceit that allows them to write down their tales for us to read. (I kind of hate those narrative conceits, but that's me.) Part One of the book is an account of British women's air force training, written under torture under Nazi imprisonment in France. Our girl's gone down in her friend's plane and been captured, and so she starts writing. But can we trust literally anything she is saying? She's confessing to the Nazis after all. She says she is doing it to avoid torture, which is true, and she says she's angry with herself for giving up details. She's got her reasons — some real bad shit is gonna happen to her soon. But what if we're following her misdirections?
She has a bunch of attitude and writes really sassy things about her guards (into the account the same guards will be reading for intel). This cheeky behavior is how she deals with her fear and her shame at caving to interrogation, and it's supposed to be funny, but I also just found it terribly alarming. It's difficult, actually, to feel completely close to a character who's definitely lying to you, and fighting off the reader as her enemy.
Beyond that, there's clearly a secret mission, there's clearly clues being planted somehow for somebody, but even the red herrings get spoilery really fast. But I do want to chat about the things that unravel, because I enjoyed that part of looking for clues, and since this was a library book I won't get to look at it later if I don't write them down:
(view spoiler)[* The moment that the prisoner herself enters the story. She writes it in the third person, so you have to catch it (a moment before the Gestapo does).
* After she's in the story, is she really who she says she is? Would it mean anything if they had switched places, the pilot and the spy? It's easier to fake being bad at navigation than to fake being good at it. And it would be easy enough to switch out a description of yourself in your story for a description of your friend, so the Nazis think that you are the one who is not a pilot. She says she's making up the details of Maddie's story (flights and locations, etc.), but the only details of her own life we get are in the present in the prison. Why does she tell Maddie's story so intimately, instead of hers? And doesn't it mean anything that she's got Maddie's papers? (I REALLY thought this whole thread was going somewhere. That's a twist that would've knocked my socks right off.)
* The fact that she knows German made me trust her narrative EVEN LESS… not certain what it could do, it just seemed like a bomb that would go off at some point. Easy to keep things secret when you're switching languages all the time.
* Once you realize something is going on with the underlining: a handful of short phrases about the prison are underlined in the text. Are we reading this after someone else has had eyes on it, making highlights? Or are these coded messages that she planted when she wrote? Against all reason, they seem to be tidbits of information that might come in handy, say, if her best friend were to attempt to break in and rescue her. But why would such a thing be encoded into a statement written for the Nazi guards? (This is explained later but I liked the wondering, and found myself looking for them eagerly.)
* The reporter going "I'm looking for verity" was way too cool and I got all wiggly.
* HI BIG SPOILER SERIOUSLY but I thought maybe she faked her death. Because she was so good at faking everything? But no. Just sad.
* This is not about clues but still belongs in spoiler space: I was disappointed by Maddie's scenes in France. A full half of Part Two takes place with her Katniss-ed out of things, having to stay hidden in a barn away from the action. Once she gets to come out there's some fun with hiding places and secret messages, but still the main action has very little to do with her. How can being a part of the French Resistance be so dry? I need to read a real book about it sometime. (hide spoiler)]
Ultimately, I just didn't feel things as I hoped I would, and that seems to be my lacking, if the book's fans are any indication.
* British coastal defense — pre-Blitz, the military gunning down Luftwaffe planes crossing the Channel. The tension sounds unbearable. And that's where we get the first part of our back-story here, and that was wonderful.
Plus, fan knits, everybody! (Can't believe they printed a URL in the bibliography? It's already wrong, but you can figure it out.)
This book almost made me interested in reading Kim, which is slightly impressive as I really don't think I am. But I always want to read books that get referenced by fictional characters, and love when they reference books I've read. I suppose it's a way to imagine them more fully, or even a way to feel closer to the author.
Really don't know what to think about the author's related book, which at least is going for something different. I think I'll skip it for now, but… maybe someday.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I need to explain: this book, in my opinion, is not a bad book. I don't think there's much that's actually wHuh. That's not how I expected this to go.
I need to explain: this book, in my opinion, is not a bad book. I don't think there's much that's actually wrong with it, as a book, honest. Sometimes, two stars — because that is not very many stars! I know! — means: "SUCKY!" But I do not mean that now.
I almost let myself peer-pressure into rating this three instead. But, it is actually a truly important thing in my heart to rate stuff based on how I liked reading it! And if somebody asked me if I liked this, I would say: "It was OK." So.
We've got, partly, a packaging problem, none of which is the book's fault whatsoever. But pretty much everything this book is labeled with is a misnomer. Yet, despite fair warnings in other reviews about its ambiguity, I still expected/hoped I was reading: (1) a slightly-magicky (2) YA-ish book. The title, even, is a poor choice (although objectively it's a real nice title), because it strongly indicates both of these elements. So that should get cleared up entirely. Don't let this happen to you!
Magickyness: it's not. There is a spell book, like it says, but it's not what it sounds like. And I don't think that's a spoiler. Because you can tell from the atmosphere, early: the "magic" here is the same type of "magic" that is in, I will say, I was thinking a lot of the movie Amelie. Meaning: things click together in a darling, delightful way, and although real life doesn't actually work like that, the things that happen are all technically real. Right? And that's where the fun is, instead of in imaginary magic. It's maybe magical realism? But who actually ever has a definition for that; also, THERE IS NO MAGIC. So… ?! Okay. JUST BEING CLEAR!
Young adults: I'm frustrated that Listen Taylor is the title character. Listen Taylor — although she is THE BEST character, and most moving storyline in the book — is maybe 15% of things here. There are lots of characters! And backstory. It's doing a lot. There's three adult pairs in the main characters, and one in the backstory. Listen has one storyline. It's not Listen's book. Nor is it any other young character's book. Quirk doesn't make YA. The book is about marriages, people! So just say that. Everyone here knows what it's like to be a young reader; somebody calling a book "adult fiction" never stopped us. Just explain what the book is and people of any age can read it if it interests them. Right? Please.
Oh but about the packaging: I love that cover to death. Greatness. (Even if it, too, is misleading.)
Anyway. None of this has to matter! Because I potentially can love any book. For a time, I strongly considered actually reading the copy of Shaquille O'Neal's autobiography that someone gave me. You never know. Love abounds. But, for me, it just did not take this time. Like Marbie, the good things just slipped through my fingers, and I watched them go.
However: some of this was so up my alley that I was terribly confused the whole time whether I liked it or didn't. Some of the writing is so seriously great. It's great. Beautiful and funny. (Although, some of it was infuriating.) The character Listen, and everything she deals with at school and just deals with IN THE WORLD about friends and confidence, is fantastic. I gobbled up those scenes, hoarded them like a hamster with sunflower seeds; I want to keep every one. Cath's own story and relationship felt very real and genuine and hard, and I was often impatient to see them more. And just, some of the details, I almost felt like I wrote it sometimes: there is actually a good amount of it that is just about school counseling? And Warren cross-stitches a bookmark for heaven's sake? I mean, I actually do that! A lot!!! Like I devote a lot of my brain to thinking about cross-stitching bookmarks! Like, do any of you want one? Not kidding but okay.
Anyway. As I said, the book is about marriages; angrier reviewers say instead, the book is about adultery. So… both? It's correct: each of the three adult storylines involves an exam of a couple's commitment and unfaithfulness. It's what it's about. We get different angles, different outcomes. And for me it was at times lovely, at times tough, and at times too damn perplexing.
I don't mind watching characters make mistakes. When you really know a character, watching them fail to do the right thing can be as or more moving than watching hard choices be made and lessons be learned. (What I'm actually trying to say is I deeply love Don Draper and you can't make me stop.) Everyone knows, mistakes are important, and that makes them good stories.
But I didn't really… get it, here. At least two of the infidelity stories rely on someone making really bad choices (narratively-acknowledged, objectively bad ones) and both of them were just limpy, to me. There is the smallest, smallest amount of "why," a small link into the bigger structure, but I felt dismissive and shut down.
In particular, I gotta talk about Marbie. I guess this has to go in spoilers even though it's important to me. This is about sex, and sexual threats, and I don't really know how to articulate these things very well? But I've gotta use plot details to talk it out. (view spoiler)[I have a really unpopular opinion about this. But the scenes where Marbie ends up sleeping with "the Aeronautical Engineer" made me extremely uncomfortable, and I don't think it is in a narratively purposeful way, because what bothered me is not picked up in any way later on. I don't know what to call it, exactly. Rape isn't a light word and so I hesitate; date-rape and gray-rape are sort of problematic terms; but 100% of what went on between these two was COERCION to me. It bothered me A LOT. A lot. The A.E. coerces Marbie into sex at least twice. And… certainly she was acting strangely, in a strange situation. And she couldn't explain herself, why she wasn't really forceful about saying no. And you know, what a fun dialogue is in our culture right now about what a "no" is, like parsing hairs, to make a "no" sound small when it should be respected like a sledgehammer: NO. But you know what? Marbie does say no. She does. When he suggests having sex, she doesn't want to! It's that simple. She goes along with it. She doesn't want to cause a problem by backing out, even the first time (when she's NOT being blackmailed), she worries it wouldn't be "fair" to him. Because you know what's fun? Women get blamed for that, too. Not only is it our fault that our "no"s aren't strong enough, but it's also shitty of us to say no at all. Whatever it is… it's not sexy sex. That's not simply "cheating" on her boyfriend. Later, she explains it with a revelation that she was acting out her fears of commitment? And that isn't even a bad explanation… but it doesn't fit. It explains PLAYING TENNIS, and that's about it. She didn't just go and have sex with somebody else. She got pushed around into it. (hide spoiler)] (Also, to a lesser extent, this arises in Fancy's marriage.)
The other thing I turned out not to like very much was the Secret, since of course learning the Secret is the reason to stay with this book to the end (WHY IS THIS BOOK SO LONG?) But, I really think my opinion on this part doesn't matter very much. I think it was just not the story for me. It reminded me a little bit of the totally stupid backstory I read in Ireland recently, which just fell right on its face for me til I pointed and laughed. …Yeah. This reminded me of that.
My failing to connect to this book was made very clear by the medium: I read this as an e-book, which meant that I read it on my iPad, which meant that sometimes, my book had internet. I actually use the iPad primarily for book reading (I know!), so I don't usually noodle all that much… but oh. How this book made me curious if anyone had posted something new on Facebook! It was amazing! They always had!!!
As a side note I am pretty confused about the previous book the author published of the same story — it appears to be exactly the same story, even looking at the cover tells you — but I guess, told differently? And packaged for adults? So she just wrote a version over again with different words? I don't know. I don't work in publishing. People do this? It… is weird to me, but okay. I'm sorry I didn't like this book, because that's the kind of question of retelling that I would find interesting enough to read it again.
But, I won't.
Onward and upward.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Well, there was absolutely no way I wasn't going to read this, a YA novel about the social issues of sexual abuse denial in the Hasidic community in BWell, there was absolutely no way I wasn't going to read this, a YA novel about the social issues of sexual abuse denial in the Hasidic community in Borough Park, Brooklyn. While I read it, it reminded me of another book, The Bermudez Triangle, simply in that I was not deeply enjoying it as a novel, but the subject was so damn good I wasn't going to quit til I knew everything it had to say.
I've enjoyed reading novels about Orthodox Judaism (and religion generally) since I was a kid, which is probably originally the fault of Chaim Potok. I've always been curious about the details of maintaining a culturally-specific lifestyle in this very time and place. In recent years I lived near (some maps said in) Borough Park, so the environment of this novel felt both like a foreign country and like one I knew. I lived halfway between the Jewish enclave and the Chinese enclave of Brooklyn, both enormous, and both so fully-saturated that you can go for blocks without seeing any printed English, other than street signage. In my exact area, though, I was mostly surrounded by the previous generation of Italians, who used to run the place and grew somewhat displaced by these insular communities. I'd walk a few avenues, get my hair cut in Chinatown; go the other way, get my sewing supplies in Borough Park. Good pizza was everywhere, though.
So there's two ways to talk about this book: reading-wise and issue-wise. The issues are pretty interesting to start with. The Orthodox community, of course, adheres carefully to values based on history and tradition and gender. The community portrayed here (its accuracy being in the eye of the beholder, I expect) focuses almost exclusively on the purity of reputation, and thus deliberately overlooks dangerous problems in its midst. As communities, sometimes, do. For the one in this book, it is actually a panic over one's family's lasting viability in the marriage market that preoccupies them with reputation at the exclusion of most else. "How will your children ever get married?!"
In the book — this is more or less all spelled out in the description but just in case — Gittel witnesses (view spoiler)[her best friend's brother raping her, and is bewildered by her fear of the problem as it worsens, until her friend commits suicide (horribly, right in Gittel's home) at age nine (hide spoiler)]. The girls do not have a name or a context for the assault; it "isn't something that happens here," and so there is near-universal victim-blaming when any part of the problem is confronted by the adults. For the rest of the time, it is just "hushed" up, and Gittel spends a lot of pain and effort trying to deal with her neighbors' ultimately pretending that her best friend never existed, because it is the easiest way for them to move on. Gittel herself also deals with a bit of what seems like PTSD, haunted by her friend, and traumatized by her thin grasp of sex based on what she witnessed.
The author published the book under a pseudonym, a Hebrew proverb describing a "Woman of Valor." She came out a bit later as Judy Brown, the daughter of a newspaper owner. Similarly to that in the novel, attention to the real-life issue was sparked by a newspaper editorial, and Brooklyn's scandal then focused primarily on the corruption of the D.A., who dealt dishonestly with prosecution of influential rabbinic officials (not dissimilar to cover-ups related to the Catholic church scandal). Last year it blew up further during election season. Most stories that have come out are of young male victims, which is different than the story in the novel, but the resulting intimidation and worry is real, and familiar here.
This is all pretty engrossing. But, I didn't feel the book really nailed it as might be done. This is quite forgivable, for a debut novelist sending out a manifesto raw with feeling, but of course I'd wished for the best. In a way, its point is ready-made at the outset — the situation being fictionalized is obviously an unjust one — and so the book itself sort of meanders around with its weighty burden. For instance, half of the book has a back-and-forth timeline structure, divided between what happened when the girls were nine, and present-day when Gittel is a teenager. Teenaged Gittel is apparently coming to terms with what she knows happened, but backs down from taking it too seriously. Then the book's second half abandons this structure (and some of the unresolved plot threads, such as her police report) entirely for the present, most of which focuses on Gittel's marriage.
Although there are merits to all of this being included, it feels as though it drifts away from the real topic, and starts to feel really overlong. It is interesting culturally (although I have read other books about it before), and in some ways is significant since marriage is the culmination of everything their childhood was structured around. (Marriage and pregnancy are also a pretty surprising topic to cover in a YA novel, but of course, Gittel and her husband are just 18 and 19.) After she is married, Gittel suffers more and more from her repressed anguish until she finally must take action, and that is the direction the story takes in its ending.
But, there were plenty of things I was still concerned about, that I took pretty seriously — Gittel's PTSD symptoms, for instance — that don't get specifically concluded in the end. It may be up for interpretation whether we are getting a complex, unresolved ending, or whether the author is expecting that all resolutions will be folded up in one tempered victory. I'm afraid it's the latter, but that if you're aiming for tough realism, it's not enough.
However, I'm happy for this book to be what it is, and the response is good and interesting. The community knows that it's out there, and has beenresponding. Voices are good, and in my opinion, just open the way for others to tell their stories more and more perfectly.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I really did not expect to like this book! And I was not going to read it! Then I read a lot of Goodreads reviews all year that started, "I didn't thiI really did not expect to like this book! And I was not going to read it! Then I read a lot of Goodreads reviews all year that started, "I didn't think I would like this book!" So I had to try.
The premise is silly indeed. It has potential, but I am kinda tired of the trendy one-note premise YA books that are so looming over the land lately. I haven't been interested in reading one for a while. Hey, wake up.
So, here, as every summary and review will tell you, the narrator is a kid who has spent its whole life switching bodies every day. Doesn't have one of its own, wakes up in a different somebody else's every day, with a dim grasp of that person's life and memories. Can't control whose, and no one knows. It just kinda follows its own rules. At some point, the kid named itself "A," even though there is no one in A's life to even call it a name. But, A's a person, with memories and experiences, who's read books and likes songs and has an email account. A knows all about being a normal person except what it's like to spend tomorrow with someone. It's… lonely.
Okay. So that's the thematic premise, that A's identity issues are painful and screwy. Do you exist if no one knows you are there? etc. And then, A falls for a girl.
But I'm going to outline a few of the other details about this book that would have helped me decide to read it earlier, because there are a few specific things that make this idea work:
* A stays in the same general area each switch. (Right now, Maryland.) Since the same body doesn't happen twice, every 12:00AM there's a blip into someone new. The body-to-body traveling only seems to go as far as it needs to to find someone of the right age.
* The point is, if A wanted to make a friend in town… it could kinda happen.
* A likes like to send emails-to-self as a kind of diary every day.
* One day, A forgets to log out.
* The morning after, that guy is mad. He knows something happened to him, and someone else's email is on his computer, and he starts raising hell.
So, in the beginning, we're given an ethos that every day's m.o. for A is to keep the person's life intact: no matter what kind of day we've landed in, we leave it like we found it. We don't break up with the person's stupid boyfriend even though it would do them good, etc. We do their homework and put them to bed, like a nice guest, like a campsite.
This is interesting in two big ways: 1) What does A really know, then, about developing a personality? If you're always playing somebody else's rules, you don't have much fun of your own. 2) Oops, because pretty soon A is screwing with people's lives, in order to do just that.
Every morning after meeting Rhiannon (the girl A develops a crush on), A wakes up with a new first question of the day: not "who am I," but "how far away is she?" Pretty quickly, all we're focused on is her. Will we go see her today? Did she email? Thus, A screws up many, many days for people, makes their families mad and suspicious and incurs them injuries and consequences, all because of going to see Rhiannon. Rhiannon who is reluctant, has a (poopy) boyfriend, and — even after she believes A's story — doesn't really know what to do with somebody that she's only known a short while being so super, super into her. There is nothing familiar about the relationship between A and Rhiannon, and that is worth a heck of a lot in the over-treaded land of YA romance! This story gets to be both fresh and realistic, which is sort of an amazing feat for a paranormal story. Or whatever you call it.
Think about Rhiannon. Learning to be friends with someone you can't see is not the norm. Getting hit on by a person you like but are only occasionally attracted to is not the norm. Being the only real friend and confidante someone's ever had in their whole life is not the norm. And Rhiannon is aware of the pressure all this puts on her in a way that A totally is not comprehending. For instance, A is impatient when Rhiannon shows homophobia — being uncomfortable and nervous on A's "girl" days — BUT, isn't this actually some pretty great honesty for our character? Getting used to sexuality is challenging enough for a 16-year-old, even when the total number of bodies to deal with is two. And furthermore, Rhiannon is in the right to express what she is and isn't attracted to, and to stay in control of who she does and doesn't want to kiss/hold hands/have sex with. (Worth noting that there is also some ethical angst over A's right to use people's bodies for pleasure, though I am personally more interested in Rhiannon.)
Rhiannon's character covers a fantastic blend of self-confident, dream-girl GGG openness, but which is nonetheless limited by her age and experience — as everyone in life really is! I think Levithan found the absolute perfect amount of disbelief to suspend in creating their relationship, and the balance is extremely fair to Rhiannon. It's what makes this whole thing feel real, and that's what's really magic here. She is a great girl, and she is not perfect. Which is good, because any more suspension, the book would break.
But, now's the part where I get pissed off about something. Sorry in advance. I like you, book! Except:
I did not expect fat shaming from this story. And I can't believe this really happened? Because it was really, really bad. It was so bad it was like a completely different book. It was like Sweet Valley High. Completely boggling. But the day that A wakes up in an overweight boy's body is shockingly unkind, and I am upset that no one stopped the author from saying these things.
Here are some of the things, because I think people should know:
* "It's hard to raise my head from the pillow, hard to raise my arms from my sides."
* "It's as if sacks of meat have been tied to my limbs."
* "His size comes from negligence and laziness."
* "While I'm sure if I access deep enough I will find some well of humanity, all I can see on the surface is the emotional equivalent of a burp."
* "I pick a ball of lint the size of a cat's paw out of Finn's belly button."
* "There must have come a time when it became too exhausting to do anything, and Finn just gave in to it."
* "They're reacting to the thing that Finn has allowed himself to become."
How could these things be said? How is it okay? I was horrified. There is no alternate perspective. No one in Finn's life this day cuts this kid any slack or indicates that A has a crappy attitude about weight. Rhiannon doesn't want to touch him. (Which, again, is her right — but it reinforces the shaming, too.) Worse, she can't "see" A inside as she claims she can on other days, always "some glimmer of you in the eyes," but in a fat person? No glimmer. No soul. This poor kid Finn, who has apparently "allowed" himself to become a monstrous animal not worthy of respect, understanding, or love, all by weighing "at least three hundred pounds."
I would like to be careful about how I editorialize on this, because I don't want to hurt someone myself by mistake. But… I mean, this boy weighs over 300 pounds? All right — I am not knowledgeable about weight and medical concerns, but I'm sure it is probably true that 300 pounds is an overweight amount to be, for probably any person at any age. So sure, it's probably okay if the author feels like saying so, unnecessary though it seems. But… this weight, as quoted, is not an extreme and rare mark. Many people weigh that amount. Right? Great and perfect people whose problems aren't any of anyone's business? 300 pounds! It is not unheard of! Jesus. David Levithan must have friends that weigh that amount! David Levithan should probably get a good punch in the gut from one of them! It seems like that would be nice.
The strange thing about it is, this book falls ALL OVER ITSELF bending backwards to be Down With Folks. That is even, in my view, its main purpose as a novel. A's special insight into the many ways identity is and isn't developed is used to tell us how important it is to just be a person, and to accept all of people. We get pointed notes about religion, race, gender identity (A even has a day in a transgendered body), and sexuality especially (there are multiple same-sex couplings in the book, discussed frequently). And according to the book, the point is that these identities are not definitive of a person. It puts far forward the decree that personal beliefs and physical mandates should not be judged or used to separate people from each other, and that love should cross these boundaries always.
But someone who's fat? Ew.
It is shitty that Levithan is so smart and level and fair in every area of people's lives but that.
BUHHHH ANYWAY, this is a really cool book and I'm extremely glad I read it, so, that's that. Really I couldn't get enough of it. I read it up until it was gone. In general, it says beautiful things about who we are, and how we are all a little different of a person every day. It's a bittersweet message that gives you the feeling of being caught in the rush of a river's current, and you can't do anything about it. But, neither can anyone, so we're gonna figure it out together.
I wanted a little more from the internet. The situation with Nathan and the emails was awesome and suspenseful, and A's use of the internet as a way to maintain a stable, personal identity makes so much sense! There is an immensely rich potential with this premise, to talk about our internet identities and their correlation to the identities that live day to day in our bodies. But, other than one quick mention of an internet friend, it's not explored in much depth. It's funny though, because this wish is just like I felt with Will Grayson! I guess I am really, really stoked for a rich YA story full of feelings about internet friends, and David Levithan keeps circling. Won't someone write me one?
I also wanted loooooooots more from (view spoiler)[the day in Rhiannon's body (hide spoiler)]. That was such a weirdly lukewarm day. Why? That should have been much cooler. Or, I don't know, changed something.
I see there is a companion book for Rhiannon happening, which I will probably read, and there is a little mini prequel. However, this is actually the rare book where I'd be thrilled to see a direct sequel happen! (As this review puts it brilliantly, the remaining story is a very tempting one to tell.) I love the ending, and thinking about what has to happen now, for A. It could be so many things. Good things or bad things, all kinds of turns, in all kinds of places. I feel for A, and I'm mystified by A, and where A goes, I wanna follow.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I decided to be hard on this book, and the reason is because I wish it had been harder on me. This is not a bad book, nor a bad sequel, and I'm stillI decided to be hard on this book, and the reason is because I wish it had been harder on me. This is not a bad book, nor a bad sequel, and I'm still totally warm on the series. But, 3 stars, because I remember a "rounding up" feeling on the last one, and well. There's still quite a lot of story to go, isn't there.
I gotta be upfront about a thing: something about this series does not work for me. But it's hard to explain what it is. Something feels… McDonald's-y. Cheap. Un-nutritious. Artificial. By numbers. I don't know. Both the characters and the plot (both long and short arcs) give me a feeling that isn't good. It's ridiculous when I try to say "I just don't buy it" about a mostly-fantasy book, because that's not what I mean to say — the list of things I've "bought" hook line and sinker is wonderfully fantastical. Making things up isn't inherently a problem, no, because a very untrue thing can ring quite true, but this stuff doesn't. Clunky clunk. Only thing is, I like it anyway.
This book is mostly about Ronan and a good bit about Adam. The Ronan stuff is entirely new — picking up on the enigmatic last line of the previous book (an enigma that rang so hollow I recall I didn't understand it at all), we explore Ronan's secret abilities to dream items into reality. Intrigue ensues, and we develop the meaning of it all for a bit, and in the end (view spoiler)[I guess Ronan is healed or changed or happy or not psycho any more (hide spoiler)] but I don't really know why, exactly. But that's nice I suppose. Now he can do something different.
The Adam stuff, conversely, references the end events of the previous book a lot and doesn't help you out much if you don't remember what exactly that was all about. (Or, as I'm rereading my old review, I again didn't actually understand very clearly in the first place.) But this was actually my favorite element of the book. It's flawed, but ambitious, and there are some really cool scenes near the end that picked up my enjoyment of the entire book a lot. Adam is really rather "other"ed in this book, even more than before — his actions at the end of book 1 set him apart, and the consequences emerge in this book to punish, reward, and separate him further. Now he is not only poor trailer trash who may not be great boyfriend material, but also half-deaf, half-magical, partly violent. I don't know exactly, but he's something that isn't good. And each one of those things that Adam is gives me a little wince of objection, because there's something imperfect about all of it. But, I want to watch everything he's going to do, because I like it the most. (view spoiler)[I loved so much the scene at the Gansey manse, when Adam is invited to the upper-crust party and can't contain the visions that overwhelm him. He gets so angry that people are looking at him like that because he's poor, when really it's because he's acting crazy right now, but can't admit how badly he's failing to keep it together… it's a harsh mess of a scenario, and it was good. (hide spoiler)]
My other favorite character was Chainsaw the charmingly suspicious raven. The bird got about as much characterization as the people, for better and worse.
This is a paragraph that turned out to only be three whole spoilers just about kissing. (view spoiler)[Blue and Gansey almost-kiss at last. Hurrah! (hide spoiler)] Oh, and (view spoiler)[when she makes out with Noah — because he's already dead and she thus can't kill him with her loooove — was maybe my favorite scene (hide spoiler)]. And (view spoiler)[I dig Maura and the Gray Man's romance such as it is, and was also super psyched that he didn't get killed! I was convinced he was gonna get killed so the author wouldn't have to decide what else to do with him (hide spoiler)]. End of paragraph about kissing.
Also? For the number of times we have to read the name "Mitsubishi" in this book, I sure thought that car would look cooler when I Googled it.
My hopeful prediction for #3 is that we get to dig our ice cream spoons into the symbolism just all dripping off of Gansey these days. That's something that could become really beautiful, really fun, and really tragic, and it's what I wish to see this series do.
I'm really glad these books will keep going on a while, because I also really hope they will get just a little bit better.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
This was so wonderful, please love this book with me.
I'm having a soft spot lately for YA that the author sets back in the decade they grew up in. (TThis was so wonderful, please love this book with me.
I'm having a soft spot lately for YA that the author sets back in the decade they grew up in. (The other one coming to mind is In Zanesville, which opened a door to a bunch of memoir-novels for me.) This book is definitely fiction, but it is set in 1987 and written with the details of the world the author lived with as a kid.
There are so many pieces to this story: June is grieving her uncle Finn. June's family is dealing with their feelings about him dying of AIDS. They have this painting he made for them which may be worth a lot of money, but it's complicated. June begins a secret friendship with Finn's boyfriend. And June's older sister is going through some crisis that is throwing everything way off.
Each one of these things is important, but the main thread is certainly June's grief for her uncle. He was her person, who understood her and loved her really well. So what this loss does is help us readers understand who she is. She's fourteen, and hasn't grown into teenagerdom yet — she feels the feelings but still reacts like a young kid. She is in that era where she is starting to understand how strong her feelings are, but not understand that other people also feel them. To her, they are private and nervous and unique, and when someone suggests that they may understand what she feels, she cannot bear to be known so raw. And she can't bear that such big feelings might be common.
She craves adult love but doesn't have a role for it, yet. Part of June's healing her grief for Finn comes from exposing the uncomfortable idea that she was perhaps too in love with her uncle, and this discomfort highlights the way that maturity corrupts really honest feelings had in youth. She wanted Finn to love her more than anyone, and there is a dark innocence there. I thought this was wonderful, because I could completely understand where it was coming from. When I was June's age, I would sometimes fall asleep squeezing my pillow tight, imagining that someone was embracing me back with a deep, appreciative love. And in my imagination, more often than picturing a boyfriend holding me, being in love with me, I would just picture someone who loved me. An imaginary person who loved me more than anyone. I think this is exactly how people transition the need to be loved from childhood longings into adult ones — being gutted by the need to be so special to someone.
This innocence becomes ridiculously complicated once Finn's boyfriend Toby shows up in June's life. She never knew of him before (which gets explained in pieces throughout the novel), but Finn wanted them to help each other grieve after he was gone, so they get in touch. And not coincidentally, Toby is also ill with AIDS, and his clock is ticking. This thread could've gotten really saccharine, but it's way better than that, because Toby is sort of a dingbat? I don't know. He is a wonderful guy and makes poor decisions constantly, so you never really know where this is going. I don't think he's ever known a child before. He wants her to hide their meetings from her parents, he gets her smoking, he gets her drunk, he drives around without a license, he asks her to drive. It all… makes sense, in a way, but is completely wrong. He's fine really, but much in the same way that June feels the need to keep her love for her uncle wrapped up and private… this is a too easily corruptible idea, and it is clearly going to blow up eventually.
And I was gobsmacked by the way that it did. You're wrong if you think you can imagine how this book will end.
But, so, all of June's relationships get thrown up in the air. Who has the right to love someone the most? How do we fit people into hierarchies in our hearts? There are so many feelings about inclusion and secrets and types of love that June has to rip open and confront, and it is really super important for her to do it. One of the things that makes this an interesting coming of age story is in seeing her having to deal with the resistance she gets from adults. It would be easier if they didn't have to confront all those things she is dredging up, actually. But June cannot grow up if they don't.
The presence of AIDS in the story is an interesting one. June's family experiences a ton of fear and discomfort over it. They still worry about catching it, from kisses, from cups. They wonder if Toby can be tried as a murderer. They are embarrassed by the notoriety, and horrified by the loss. It just seems like bad luck, to them, that Finn had to live this way and be in the path of the disease. There is a really quietly sad scene where they're just watching the news as a family, and a story comes on explaining that the AZT drug will be released to the public soon, and they all have to turn the tv off and leave the room and can't talk about it. They feel bitterness and loss in equal measure.
Some things are incredibly important to the story but unfold so slowly, it almost feels like spoilers to talk about how they unwind. There is a painting of June and her sister that Finn painted just before he died, which somehow unfurls and then ties up like six threads in the story, the more we find out about it. (It is also where the book's title comes from, and was maybe my favorite part of the whole thing.) And the very relationship between June and her sister that is depicted there, which is this hard-to-figure-out gamut from antagonists to allies, develops sad and scary edges that eventually demand June's attention, demand our attention.
Also just need to shout out how squeeingly brilliant it was to invent a potential boyfriend-ish for June (who spends much of her time pretending that she is in the Middle Ages) who comes on to her by asking her to play DnD.
The writing is gorgeous, too. I was highlighting constantly, so I could save some of my favorite quotes on my computer after I returned the book to the library. I'm really glad I read this, and I recommend it to everybody who has ever had a feeling....more
A nice short work of single-author essays about The Mill on the Floss -- which is pretty much my favorite book, so reading about it is most often a plA nice short work of single-author essays about The Mill on the Floss -- which is pretty much my favorite book, so reading about it is most often a pleasure. (Unless you're gonna be a huge weirdo about it.)
Interestingly, the main original thesis here is to present Eliot's novel as having been written with a strong connection to Darwinism, both in ideas and in literary devices. It's a pretty good argument. Not entirely up my alley, but I like that it's there.
Ashton has a really good voice as a critic that is easy to read and easy to take arguments from. I didn't agree with every conclusion, but I was still able to have a good time. The essays have the right amount of biographical insight, context of other critics, and original explanations. And happily they addressed a lot of the things I find most awesome about the book, so that is fun for me.
Especially RIYL the whole Maggie/Stephen thing. WHICH I REALLY DO....more
Actually, this was great. I enjoyed the first half so very much that I was thinking, "Is it weird to 5-stAnother book about Romola! What do you know.
Actually, this was great. I enjoyed the first half so very much that I was thinking, "Is it weird to 5-star lit crit on Goodreads??"
I think there's two main parts to her thesis here: 1) Eliot's purpose has been misread for a century. She was writing a poetic epic rather than a historical novel. Romola represents history itself. 2) A sort of sub-thesis regarding the transition of human religion (at least in Europe) from pagan to Christian emphasis, via Romola's choice between Tito and Savonarola.
So, these theses are kinda unusual, but Bonaparte's study of them is awesome. And rightly so: it's good I read this while studying Romola, because she seems to have singlehandedly revived the reading of it. (She published this in 1979.) Writing on this novel is sort of thin, so a work like this is a really major presence.
Aside from just being engaging and readable, it's her research itself that's exciting. She seems to have based her theories just 1% on conjecture, and 99% on a super-detailed study of what Eliot read while writing the book. It sounds so elementary, but it's really smart, and really convincing. It is sort of famed that Eliot went a little bonkers* in her Renaissance research for "the Italian novel." But instead of just saying, "Boy she read a lot!", Bonaparte is saying, "Well, what was she thinking about?"
* I hadn't read this elsewhere before: I loved the bit where George Lewes (Eliot's quasi-husband) wrote to her publisher to have him suggest she cool it on the research. Like she wouldn't take it coming from him, but if Blackwood asked, maybe that would sink in. (I don't think it did.) Writing the book at all was even Lewes's idea! Which I love. Because he thought she had gotten too emotionally wrapped up in writing The Mill on the Floss, so he was like, "Here honey, lookit this, what if you wrote about Savonarola?!" WELL THAT'S WHAT YOU GET, LEWES. I think Eliot was probably like, "Have you met me?"
Later on in this book, I maaaybe was thinking I could go a good six months now without seeing the word "Bacchus" again. She labels things as Bacchic, I'm certain, hundreds of times. It's part of her thesis, it's okay. I just. Mercy. So I lost the thread a little, but I think other than this, the writing is so good I had to stop skimming for the bits relevant to me and read it all the way through.
Pretty sure I'd read something else she writes. Her bio page mentions "The Metafictions of the Victorians" which I will look up if it ever becomes a book.
(She currently teaches at CUNY City College, which wins her points with me too.)...more
Well, this one surprised me completely. I did not expect to love it, but I entirely did. Somehow, Gaiman's books and I are matching up so much betterWell, this one surprised me completely. I did not expect to love it, but I entirely did. Somehow, Gaiman's books and I are matching up so much better in recent years than we used to. He's an exciting guy — being so prolific and so varied in his mediums, maybe he will be one of those creators with several marked eras to his life's work. I like watching that happen, even if it seems like he's going to take over everything in the world, sometimes.
Anyway, I also feel like this book's description gets everything dead wrong, somehow, and gave me a completely off expectation for what the book is like. Partially this is due to the frame story, which really doesn't matter much at all to the premise. The man is sort of just the vessel for the story to happen around. His narration sets the scene and the tone (he is only seven during the real story, so there is a lot of plain speaking and innocence to the viewpoint in his memories) but what's important is what happens to him, with these women.
The actual story is of his befriending his neighbor Lettie as a kid, after she helps him with a couple of problems. She is eleven, cool as a cucumber, and her family turns out to know far, far more than they should. They know what unseen suicide notes in strangers' pockets say, and what electrons look like, and how to stitch pieces out of the literal fabric of time. They know things immortal people know. But because he's just a little boy, it's all fine with our narrator, and he just loves it at their house because they're nice to him and give him food and there's cats. One day, Lettie brings him along on an errand, and they walk deep enough into the woods that the sky changes color, and Lettie sorts out a monster who's giving them trouble. Only she doesn't quite, and it follows them home to the boy's house, and it takes the whole rest of the book (and a ton of Lettie's help) to make it gone.
There must be a term for this type of story, because this is one of those tropes where the trouble the young boy gets into is only made worse by the adults, and his parents cannot (do not) help him. They don't believe him and misunderstand him and punish him, and only complicate the things he already has to do to fix everything. He knows what's really going on, but being seven, he can't get them to trust him. This matters, because the thing he is fighting takes the form of a woman living with his family, and "when adults fight children, adults always win." Adults themselves are intimidating enough to seem like the monsters, sometimes.
The writing is what's really beautiful here, and that's not something I usually feel about Gaiman, who has a really straightforward style. But the sentences inhabit this tone that is gentle and simple and bittersweetly blunt, which has a gorgeous flow and is completely fitting for the point of view of a small child. The style is trustworthy, somehow: you just want to follow it along its way, a quick trip down a brisk stream, without stopping to ask questions until you're delivered at the very end. It doesn't need to be any longer than it is. There's also a gauze of nostalgia around the whole thing — it seems to take place in the 1960's, but the atmosphere and lifestyle of rural Britain ends up feeling quite a bit older. I loved the details of their time-capsule farm life, the handbasins and candles and old books, and how the TV looks when it can't get the picture right. Sometimes it feels like we'll forget.
Gaiman definitely is one of those writers who seems to have his ideas on a constant "tumble" cycle, and story elements reappear in his work a lot. This isn't a bad thing by definition, but there's a little bit of buyer-beware to it. I'm not even familiar with half of his work, but I spotted repetition here from The Graveyard Book and Coraline (a sinister mirror world lurks right outside your childhood house), Neverwhere (the child is a door), Sandman (the fates/witches), and actually quite a lot of Doctor Who. It reminded me of an extra-long episode set in the country, only The Doctor is a little girl.
This book is too creepy to give to a young child, but it doesn't feel like an adults-only book either. (There are two vague descriptions of sex and nudity, as understood from a little kid's eyes.) The style is so clear and inviting to read that I could see an older pre-teen kid liking it, though.
I got this book from the library, but I am definitely going to buy it sometime so I can have it around. It's awesome....more
I disliked this so much, I thought for a while that I was going to one-star it. But, somewhere there is some benefit ofWow this was a disappointment.
I disliked this so much, I thought for a while that I was going to one-star it. But, somewhere there is some benefit of the doubt for it. (Plus, I've still only ever one-starred one book, and that seems a stern record to break.)
This book is melodrama city and I did not like it. This is melodrama like origin-of-the-word melodrama: no realism, immobile characters, senseless actions with huge consequences, lots of fainting and suicide. I wasn't expecting it, for one thing, and it was also just not enjoyable. If you'd like to read this book, get ready for: long speeches with illogical reversals that explain everything at the last minute; guys who hear their girlfriend fell off a horse and start slitting their throats in despair before asking if she's okay; exoticism and Creoles; constant comments about purity and women and duty; pains in the ass.
This story is positioned as a tragic romance, or a tale of seduction, or a love affair, but there are actually zero of those things in it. Sex in this book is really weird. Indiana, the woman in a loveless marriage, is spiritless and resigned. When the epic derp Raymon decides to become her lover — basically as a game, with classic She's All That nuance — she is excited, but that is all. They are not in love. (view spoiler)[More than once, she leaves her husband for him, but Indiana and Raymon never even have sex. (hide spoiler)] Who cares, I guess? But (I don't know how else to say this) I thought that things would be a little more French. This is, after all, George Sand, about whom I know approximately two and a half things, and she is very French indeed. Yet somehow, this book is modest in the extreme.
There's a specific reason, though, that this is a problem, and the reason is simply that some of the connected themes offend me. The person Raymon has sex with the most is the Creole maid, who is "other"ed like crazy the whole entire time. (So, not only do we get a virgin/whore dichotomy out of that icky business, but a cultural one as well.) And, the whole reason that Raymon becomes drawn to Indiana is her persona of untouched purity. And so, plotting to seduce her doesn't really… work. (We actually have to hear about this a lot.)
The funny thing is that Raymon is the character that I liked. Ralph, good loyal Ralph, made me want to barf in my mouth. Raymon, at least, is so terrible that he's funny, and when he gets upset — unlike every other character who gets upset for no reason — it's because he's done something very stupid. (My favorite comment, from Shannon: "He's like a train wreck, except … a train wreck is usually a one-time event. Raymon just keeps happening to people.") Raymon's final betrayal is also sort of perfectly awful.
Ralph, to the contrary, is just as clueless but somehow an even worse person. His pale, clammy devotion to Indiana is gross and not sweet, and the more we hear of their backstory together — I can't believe I even survived that endless speech at the waterfall — the grosser it is. Oh, you were friends from childhood, that's sweet. Oh, you're actually cousins? … Okay, well it was a different time. Actually, he is more like a father to you? That's… a little uncomfortably Freudian. (view spoiler)[In fact, he not only raised you, but he promised you to himself when you were little, and spent your childhood training you to be a perfect wife for him? (hide spoiler)] That's… um… (view spoiler)[And when you married someone else, he had so little control of his passion that he had to clam himself up, and allow your husband to harm and abuse you? (hide spoiler)]That is officially the least realistic thing I've ever read. (view spoiler)[And of course now you live happily ever after with him? (hide spoiler)] … Yes, I am barfing in my mouth. Like I promised.
It's possible that I read the worst translation ever written. (This was a quick pick off the library shelf, and I forgot to do research.) I don't think that's it, but I should say it.
But, okay, what's the point? I said there was a benefit of the doubt to this novel, and it comes mostly from the authorial voice. George Sand, when she changes the subject away from the things the story is about, is no dummy! Definitely the most important thing about this book as literature is Sand's strangely subtle way of using political history. The references are cunningly "inside baseball." She has written it in a setting that is very, very fixed in time — very different, if you think about it, from most novels that can be read and fully understood more than a hundred years later, using only the information given inside the novel itself. With this book, you need all kinds of information from outside it, about very current and recent events in French politics. It isn't a political novel — the references have only a little bearing on the plot — but with them Sand is explaining why she's written this story at all. In my opinion, this is actually really cool! I just wish that I had any of that historical knowledge, or that I had read an edition that provided it. The notes in this one were abysmal — a single asterisk for each, and then all lumped together at the back of the book, just a few pages total. The references are far too sly for that treatment, and I acknowledge that a lot was lost this way.
I'm interested, intellectually, in the place that novels like this occupy. I'm interested in the difference between novels of adultery and novels of courtship. I'm interested in the Frenchness of it all! And I can take a little melodrama if it gets me somewhere. This was presented to me, in fact, as an alternate take on my favorite book, The Mill on the Floss (by Britain's lady George): a girl in need of love, a childhood friend overlooked for a seductive rake, and similar thematic use of water. (Even a boat journey, and you know I've got a thing about the boats!) It sounded convincing, put this way, but they could hardly be more different and still be the same species.
Thing is, of course, George Sand published an incredibly large number of novels, and she occupies a place in literature that is not simply intellectual. It's possible that what I'd really like the most is to read a good biography, but I'd like to give the writing another legitimate try again, and just know better what I'm getting into with these novels. And if I ever do, I'm going to need one of you people to tell me what it should be.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I really liked this, and read it at least twice as a kid. I don't remember it well enough to have an objective feeling about it, though. The issues inI really liked this, and read it at least twice as a kid. I don't remember it well enough to have an objective feeling about it, though. The issues in this story can be quite sensitive, which I'd be more concerned about now as an adult....more
The school librarian put this into my hands one day in 4th grade. She knew that I was trying to read all of the Newberry books, and this was the brandThe school librarian put this into my hands one day in 4th grade. She knew that I was trying to read all of the Newberry books, and this was the brand new winner! I was the first person to check it out of the library, and I preened like a little bird.
This book didn't become a favorite, but I don't remember why. I had some funny inclinations as a kid and took my reading super seriously. This book has grief and learning in it, like lots of Newberry books do, but maybe there wasn't enough systematic injustice to get righteous over, for my tastes. … Such as they were.
Maybe I was just sad, because I was starting to age out of the Newberries, and it didn't feel as exciting a book as I used to expect from them. I miss that feeling still. ...more
I remember finding this on the library shelf, so excited that there were more Ann M. Martin books to read. This one was serious-looking, and the subjeI remember finding this on the library shelf, so excited that there were more Ann M. Martin books to read. This one was serious-looking, and the subject matter was sort of above my age level (I was probably 9 or so), but I remember a good amount about it. Actually, it has a vivid description of (view spoiler)[suicide by wrist-cutting (hide spoiler)] that I've never forgotten, and always picture whenever the subject comes up somewhere.
It seems like this is out of print now, which is a little surprising considering the author's fame, but perhaps is even more unfortunate now that bullying is more of a mainstream issue than ever. I'm not sure whether this book's message is particularly better than that found in other YA novels about bullying, but it exists.["br"]>["br"]>...more
I definitely liked this. I read it the winter of the Iraq War ramp-up, in 2003. I felt under-informed about the guy's actual background, and this helpI definitely liked this. I read it the winter of the Iraq War ramp-up, in 2003. I felt under-informed about the guy's actual background, and this helped a lot, though I think it's intended more for readers who are already on the same page as the author. Not that anybody's managed to be on-page with Molly Ivins, but, you know....more
I read this when I was in 6th grade. Because I knew that it was important, and I wanted to learn about all the important things, so I read lots, and lI read this when I was in 6th grade. Because I knew that it was important, and I wanted to learn about all the important things, so I read lots, and lots, of grim, completely age-inappropriate books about social oppression! It wasn't bad to do that; I learned a lot. But it was, I will say, odd.
I had to ask my dad what "castration" meant. In case you're wondering if your little avid reader is old enough for this book, consider if that is a conversation you're in the mood to have!
In all honesty? I think I learned about the book in the first place from an episode of "Mr. Belvedere."...more
Fiiiiiive stars? Yeah, okay. This is partly because… I just want more people to pay attention to this bookThis was recommended by Sara. VERY STRONGLY!
Fiiiiiive stars? Yeah, okay. This is partly because… I just want more people to pay attention to this book, and this writer. Please.
I will also say this right off the bat, to get a few people's attention, which is, RIYL: Lynda Barry. These girls, they are Lynda Barry's spiritual children, they are full-flesh neighbors of Arna and Marlys and everyone. Wrong and awkward and hurting and mistaken, and silly. Carrying on with their stuff while the hard and dark world of the adults goes on indoors. And dogs.
The thing is, in this book, nothing… happens? It isn't about action but feeling. It really is just about 14-year-old girls, one in particular, whose name is Jo (like the author), though no one calls her this. She's just our narrator, and we're in her head, floating on the fluff that is having a best friend to think everything up with and ignore everything bad with. They live in a grubby Illinois town in the 1970s, and don't have much to go on, and there are some serious family problems. But the magic of the book is in the very real depiction of the weird netherworld that children inhabit underneath, or above, their family problems. They have to endure them, and they are stressed by them, but also they are still children, wanting children things. Playing with toy soldiers in their room, getting emotionally invested in the clothes they want to buy off layaway with babysitting money. All of it genuine, all of it top priority.
About a third of the way through, there is a turn. So far we've been mostly talking about babysitting and shopping, and melting down into an emotional mess at the approach of a boy's potential glance. And then, Jo finds something in her house that she does not expect to see, and suddenly the book opens a new door in her mind through which we learn some new things that she had not been saying before, a lot of them. The darkish tone of teenagerdom that we've been coasting along with suddenly chills your gut.
What she sees means that something very bad may have happened, which — in perhaps the most realistic thing I've seen in YA book in a while — she cannot bring herself to deal with, and so goes about with her evening, just helping to make dinner, avoiding the closet in the basement, while she thinks of a way for the thing to not be true. That feeling (and the suspense) is one of the most horrifying and emotional that I've experienced as a reader in ages. And it highlights what makes the meandering of this book so much stronger in its realism than anything more tightly plotted would be — give this situation to almost any other strong-and-sassy YA heroine out there, and they would have opened the closet door on the first try. But Jo can't, she can't make it belong to her, she won't do it until her mother makes her.
I read the rest of the book in a fearful daze. It felt like the ring of a really loud bell that gets whacked with a mallet, like when something hits you in the head and you feel like you're ringing. Devastation could be lurking in anything, lurking behind every boy or every weird dark field they wander through, or amongst the cheerleaders who emerge two-thirds of the way to hold a slumber party of doom. (The award for People Most Unprepared to Be Invited to a Cheerleader's Slumber Party goes to our main characters. The candidates are running unopposed.)
I now need to read everything Jo Ann Beard has ever written, and I'll try. I can't believe she has published so little, conventionally at least, that I can go buy or check out from a library. This book is fascinating as a transitional work, the memoir-as-fiction, which is a type that can be either dubious or revelatory (more echoes of Lynda Barry). It's her first novel, let alone her first YA work, so this is a hopeful adventure. Extremely....more
The completist in me is glad I read this, but if I wasn't still coasting on the interest built up from reading Every Day recently, this wouldn't holdThe completist in me is glad I read this, but if I wasn't still coasting on the interest built up from reading Every Day recently, this wouldn't hold much interest. The stories are real short and simple, and although the purpose is meant to be to show another varied handful of days out of A's life, the ones here feel a lot like the ones in the book, and they even repeat each other a little.
I was curious what they would be like, before I read this, so I'll explain for the sake of those who feel that way. Just in case anyone cares, I'll put the premises behind spoilers.
(view spoiler)[1. A's best 10th birthday, with some good big-sister bonding. 2. A at 7, a neglected child with a sullen, strict parent. 3. A is about 15 (extrapolating from the "day" number) and spends the day chatting with the girl's best friend over the internet. It's unclear if there is something more to their relationship. 4. A is 16 and an athlete. 5. A is 16 and a boy who spends all day with his best friend, who asks for something more from their relationship. 6. A is 16 and a boy who spends all day with his best friend, who asks for something more from their relationship. (hide spoiler)]
Nope, that's right -- two of these stories sound exactly the same! And they're not, you know, the same, but no denying they are out of the same aisle of the grocery store. But both of them are good, and #6 especially brings a lot of depth to the collection and makes it worth reading.
The others are far less substantial: A pontificates on being an athlete and having a strong body; A pontificates on having long-distance friends (and disappoints me yet again by dismissing internet friends as an impossible option).
#2 was the most interesting premise by far, but it was short and not a lot happened in the story. In general I'd have welcomed reading a lot more about A's childhood. The questions and pathos of it interests me a lot. They stand out sort of oddly here -- they are written in A's current voice, almost like a journal entry about the memory, in retrospect for our benefit, rather than the voice or perspective of an actual child. It reads okay, but it makes me think that Levithan is not very interested in A's experience as a kid, which is too bad because I am.
I want to believe that Levithan is an author who knows more than he writes into the story, but I don't exactly believe that's true here. I suspect there's a lot he isn't sure of, and that it's one reason the scope of the stories is so narrow. Maybe in time he will explore a bit more.
Anyway, I'm really glad I could check this out from the library! Hurray.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
This is one of those novels that lists out its ingredients without cooking anything. I wish it didn't feel like an experiment.
It wears a lot of itselfThis is one of those novels that lists out its ingredients without cooking anything. I wish it didn't feel like an experiment.
It wears a lot of itself on its sleeve. It is dreamy and hazy; you can tell by all the line breaks in the middle of sentences. Fairy tales, King Lear, Wuthering Heights are all used explicitly, but essentially just by making the comparisons. It's about liars because that's what the title says; you learn in the first couple of pages not to take the narrator literally, and the characters lie to each other, and I think it is meant to feel like a twisty mass of lies! lies!, but it doesn't feel that way. Only one lie matters. It's the one you read to the end to find out.
But, let's talk about how amazing it is when writers write about idyllic summer vacation time. Ugh, it is candy to me, I love this. I love the summer vacation as a cultural phenomenon that is stultifying and magical at the same time; we don't care if it makes sense as long as it's ours. And I always want to read stories about special summers, because as a kid my summers were never like this, as mostly I just sat in bed all summer reading books about summer (and I loved it).
This book is like a theme park called Summer Vacation Land, with this private family island of summer homes and domestic staff and motorboating to get to town and the big beach and the little beach and the maple tree tire swing and the books and the knickknacks and the dogs. Purposefully, the summers here cast a spell, contained in the bounds of the island and the vacation; the cousins never see or even speak to each other during the rest of the year, but on-island, they're a seamless unit. Should we know more about their lives than just what happens in the summer? Don't think that far!
Because… basically this book is the summer vacation of E. Lockhart's novels. It is takin' a little break. It is a thriller! That's all fine. But it is off-brand. Sometimes, you see what you look for in a thing, but other times you kind of ruin what you're looking at by looking for something else. I kept squinting through this, trying to get those warm, billowy, gauzy curtains out of my face and see if there was anything really going on in there.
E. Lockhart's previous books are some of the most intelligent novels about gender roles and related interpersonal politics that I've gotten to read, and they are meant for young people, and that makes them even better. And I love saying that because when I first heard about her I was like, "Well, that book is pink and has the word 'Boyfriend' in it so I think I will not." Because she does both! She does both: it's YA, it's boys, it's girls, it's fun but true feelings and mental health and it is grounded in so much thoughtful reality I want to bite my finger or something. It's a great way to write, and up to now everything of this author's that I've read has been like this, and I am doing everything I can to avoid saying "I am disappointed she tried something different" because that's not really what I believe.
The problem, I guess, is for fans of hers like me who might be looking for that insight to transcend genre again, for the talent that in the past turned YA romance books into feminist masterpieces to do the same thing with a suspenseful, twisty story with amnesia and secrets and mysterious illnesses and horrible truths. Instead, it's just what it says on the tin. Who can complain about that?
There is a little bit more. A little bit: mainly, the cultural challenges raised by Gat (who I consistently misread as "Gats" because this whole setting is so Gatsby-esque), who is the only non-white person of import in our character's life. He's smart as heck and has reasonably well-stated political insight about privilege (both white and other), and his feelings are heard and are… not insignificant. But neither were they deeply significant. This subject was more like a thing that got pointed at occasionally and then left alone, having assumedly spoken for itself. Cady is alternately shamed and moved by Gat's feelings of otherness, but the book doesn't really weight them enough. Supposedly they are also the whole catalyst for the big plot point, but it doesn't feel — er — true.
Similarly, there is a bit of handling of mental health issues as Cady deals with her confusing (and mysterious!) post-traumatic disorder of an unknown type — is it psychosomatic? a brain injury? — where she deals both with chronic pain and with a nagging grief she doesn't know the cause of. But we see her trigger a bunch of warning signs: she compulsively gives away her possessions, she drastically changes her appearance, she loses her ties to friends and relatives, she may be addicted to narcotics, she risks her safety in reckless activities, she speaks of wanting to die to escape her unmanaged pain. The author, I think, lobbed as many signals off the suicide-risk checklist as she could, and it does build up dread and concern for our protagonist. I wish it had been done more elegantly, or with a deeper purpose than to just telegraph that Cady is down in a deep dark hole, and then pull an amnesia trick on us. But again… that's what it says on the flap. That's what you get. Quit complaining. Okay.
Sorta 2.5 stars. But I'm rounding up because until the full bluntness of the ending rung out, I enjoyed myself and looked forward to what else we would learn. This author is a brand-loyalty for me, so I don't regret reading it (how could I, barely even spending a day on it) and I'm looking forward to more from her, whatever it's like.