Feeling generous with my five stars, these last couple days. There was so much I loved about this book, all the way through, that really only got inteFeeling generous with my five stars, these last couple days. There was so much I loved about this book, all the way through, that really only got interrupted right at the end. That end! This was a book club pick where it was just not okay for anyone to show up without having finished the last page!
Some people have said: this book isn't sure what it is trying to be. There's some genre mystery, at first, until that sort of goes away. There's some revenge crime. Quite a bit of coming-of-age. Folklore. A decades-long cultural picture of the Anishinaabe reservation town. There's tropes from all sorts, and none specifically from beginning to end. I guess this reads as messy to some, but it didn't to me. Not when the book is this awesome, and not when I enjoyed it all so, so much.
First of all, something is wrong with me and I had never known of Louise Erdrich before somebody selected that we read this one. This is only her fourteenth extremely well-received novel, so, that's understandable, right? Also, she is doing so many things I love in her work. The Faulkner-esque way her characters fit together through each of the novels into family histories, generations, into a town, is one of my favorite uses of literature. I read just one and feel the universe is unfolding its secrets to me. So in a way, this book being great was enough to make a lifelong fan of me, because I want all those secrets, every one. I'll wend my way to more of them, undoubtedly.
Here's what I loved about this one: our young narrator Joe's family, to whom something awful happens, was so loving and real to me. Both his father and his mother were great characters. The way they struggled to cope together, and individually, and managed not to break completely moved me a lot. I felt that the initial plot, of the brutal attack and rape of Joe's mother, was handled well: a woman retreating after a trauma can be a way for her reality to be swept under the rug of the narrative while her men take care of her, but I felt that she emerged at just the right time to prevent this cliche. She airs her story out quite thoroughly (perhaps too thoroughly, for Joe), and though she isn't the main character, we see her recover in a realistic way as the story deepens.
What's it deepen into? One of my favorite threads that emerged is the backstory of the white characters, Linda and Linden, twins with a birth story worthy of a folktale but who are simply our characters' neighbors. I loved the actual folktales of Nanapush (seen previously in Erdrich's novel Tracks) via Joe's loony grandfather, and the ghost. I loved Joe's friends, geeks on a mission. I loved the soldier-priest, letting them watch Alien through the window. And I loved Sonja, and the money.
It deepens into a whole lot more, too, spoilers for which I'm just going to leave out of the review, I think. The finale is hugely shocking and upsetting. I was sure, certain, that someone would stop it from happening. Once I had to really watch it happen — and then the double shocker that comes at the very end — I didn't really know what to think. To my surprise, it all impeded my enthusiasm a bit. It's almost too big to settle. I think I have different feelings about the ending than I do for the rest of the novel. But it probably is one of those stories that couldn't have ended with anything less....more
I chose this for my book club because of the ingredients we have here that are great and chewy: an unlikable (female!) central character, an ambiguousI chose this for my book club because of the ingredients we have here that are great and chewy: an unlikable (female!) central character, an ambiguous plot, an examination of privilege and youth and American ignorance, a virgin/whore war in the press and social media, a from-true-life story. But sometimes, while I read, I see in my mind's eye the ingredients of the book all sitting in a pot side by side, but the pot ain't cooking.
Essentially, this book has us inspect the character of Lily Hayes: what is she really like, deep inside? Lily is in jail, in Argentina, awaiting trial for murder of her roommate while studying abroad. Did she do it?
The book uses multiple perspectives to give us its information. Potentially, this is a way to learn bits about Lily through various lenses: her father, her prosecutor, her boyfriend. It's an interesting plan, but ultimately I decided that it actually got in the way. What the author does is more ambitious than just giving us Lily through multiple lenses. What she's really trying to pull off is crafting each one of these people into their own sympathetic literary world, so that in a sense we have at least four protagonists. It's not a bad idea, but they had mixed success with me (outside of Lily I only enjoyed reading Andrew, her father), and eventually I got tired. I started out the book thinking "Wow, so much wonderfully complex introspection!" and by the second half I was thinking "Oh god there is some more introspection!"
But regardless of the execution, there is something beautifully tender about this idea, this antihero of a young American woman. One of the reasons why I felt the multiple perspectives were a hindrance is actually because the time we spend with Lily's own perspective tells us everything we need to know. The author pulls it off perfectly: we see every moment that Lily's viewpoint clashed with what was around her. My favorite thing about this is that it was Katy, the fated roommate, who usually called her out on things. Katy was sharp and observant, and every time Lily noticed this — whoah, how did Katy get that and I missed it? — we get a little shiver for them both. The world, for both of them, is not what it seems: one of them is living on her own self-absorbed planet, and the other simply has so little time left to live.
So, Lily kind of sucks, and that's what's so great about her. I dig getting to know a messy character really well. I will stick by to witness them failing and feel why it's sad for them. Lily is the quintessential 20-year-old college girl. She's pretentiously intellectual and liberal, ignorant of interpersonal politics, won't shut up about how sexually free she is, barrels into cultural immersion without cultural respect, and basically is used to being focused on herself and having others validate it. If it sounds like I'm judging her, of course I am. But if it sounds like we shouldn't all recognize something uncomfy in her, you're wrong. Probably most of us have grown out of it by now, but very likely most people reading this know what it's like to feel that way for at least one second.
Most importantly, Lily is used to not getting into trouble. Layer upon layer of her identity and cultural status — whiteness, money, Americanness, gender, education — have built up a person who is privileged to not be afraid of consequences. Unfortunately, she sees this lack of fear as a personal trait, a strength: I'm so brave and confident and right because I was born this way, I am a creative thinker, I am so free. It makes her proud of how she acts, and that is what gets her into her trouble. These details, in the book, were what made it worth reading for me. Things like the photos on her camera revealing so much of her: disrespecting people in poverty by making "art" of the low moments they can't hide, the diseased faces, the unclothed children. Lots of 20-year-olds feel like they're journalists; lots of 20-year-olds feel like they're right about everything. That is, basically, what she gets prosecuted for. (view spoiler)[We don't really get any good reasons to think that she committed murder. All she did was make people dislike her. (hide spoiler)]
This is, obviously, a close fiction of Amanda Knox's story. And in some ways, it's far too close, as several salient details of the real case are copied down directly into the plot. It's far too many, and looks unimaginative. Probably the author wasn't interested in imagining more to the crime; probably she wanted to focus our attention on everything else I've just mentioned and more. But it looks weird, at the macro level. At any rate, it was interesting to go back and read more in depth about Knox than I had done, and take a note of what aspects of this story this real person dealt with. (This article was an especially good piece on the conviction-by-dislike phenomenon.) Indeed this is still going on for her this very week: today, her final appeal in Italian courts begins; meanwhile, tabloids are reporting on who she was kissing this weekend.
Relatedly, this book put the cold finger of fear in my heart contemplating what a nightmare it would be to have my emails published by subpoena. Man, I hope nothing public ever, ever happens to me.
Not really relatedly, I did harbor one pet theory through the book that I was really disappointed didn't pan out. (view spoiler)[I thought Katy totally, 100% had the hots for Lily. I thought the author was setting this right on up! It would have fit perfectly, and had an amazing impact on the story. We know Katy wrote about sneaking around to keep secret a relationship Lily wouldn't approve of (which was taken to mean Sebastien, but we know wasn't). Katy calls her gorgeous all the time, and Lily notices it. And Katy makes several shy hints, during those scenes, that she has her eye on someone, but nothing is happening "yet." Then, in the aftermath when we get the DNA report of Lily having touched Katy's bra clasp, I was like zing!, yes, this is happening! Something went on between them — Lily, of course, says that she's always expected to "kiss a girl before college was out" — and it's important. But then it didn't go anywhere, and then I learned that even the bra clasp was part of the original Amanda Knox evidence, and then everything was sad and formless again. (hide spoiler)]
Maybe the author almost wanted to think outside the facts, but wouldn't let herself. She's an excellent writer (even if she often uses bizarre vocabularly like "the moon was a glowing auricle in the sky") and I hope she keeps writing novels so I can read her fifth one someday.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I'm very glad I read this, even though I doubt I'll be interested in rereading it again. I definitely liked the book, but whether a person will love iI'm very glad I read this, even though I doubt I'll be interested in rereading it again. I definitely liked the book, but whether a person will love it or not depends a lot upon their taste, and how important certain aspects of novels are to them. The book has a powerful story and a walloping message, but is often heavy-handed in its writing style. Indeed, this was the author's first book, and it turns 20 years old this year, so its place in the world of popular reading and writing has shifted. You can tell, reading it, that this is a writer who will grow more, because it is so well-conceived but misses some beauty in the writing, and some subtlety in the themes, and those are important characteristics to me as a reader.
It did pleasantly surprise me. It wasn't about what I expected it to be about, but I ended up getting something out of the direction it went in anyway. At first I wasn't certain I liked it much at all, and then I started to understand what the focus would be and it worked a bit better for me. While I was expecting this to be a mother-daughter story and an immigration/culture-shock story, this is not really the novel's atmosphere at all. It's a looking-in book rather than a looking-out book. Trauma, really, is the atmosphere, to the extent that it almost is a "therapy book": both mother and daughter experience sexual traumas, and these, themselves, are our subject. It is the "reverberation through the generations" story. It is straightforward and tough. There is a coming-to-terms, without a clean ending. (There's a big ending, but not a clean one.)
Our protagonist Sophie grows up in Haiti without her mother and then, suddenly, is summoned to live with her in New York. She experiences almost the opposite of culture shock: her New York school is Haitian, they teach in French, and her mother does what — according to her — Haitian mothers do. Sophie left the political dangers of the country of Haiti behind, but the cultural issues are still with them in the United States. The sexual oppression of girls becomes very real in Sophie's life, and it becomes the focal point of everything, including her mother's past, and her own future.
While I was reading this, I attended an event with the author where she mentioned meeting a group of psychiatry students who had read this book and were using it as a case study for clinical analysis, and I can completely see how you could do this. I often think about the connections between literary analysis and counseling. And here, everything floats right up on the surface, the same way it does in clinical case studies. Having lived her teenage years with her mother's PTSD, as an adult Sophie is in therapy, Sophie attends a support group for victims of sexual phobia, and eventually, Sophie goes right back to Haiti. She needs to ask it questions. She looks her beloved grandmother in the eye and asks why their family does what it does. These scenes are quite blunt and simple, in terms of literary artfulness, but as an "issue book" it is almost as good as a survivor's handbook. A script, even.
This book also surprised me in some personal ways on the more general thematic level, the connections-between-people level. It directly addresses (and works out) some things that happen to have come up in my own life in the past week. Isn't it strange when this happens for you in a book? I didn't even know it would, here. But I listened....more
This is a family memoir, and links several story pieces together more cohesively than almost any novel I've reThis book is so wonderful. I loved this!
This is a family memoir, and links several story pieces together more cohesively than almost any novel I've read in ages. It's beautifully done. Partly it is about the author's growing up in Haiti at her uncle's house, before moving to the U.S. at twelve to be with her parents (c. 1980). And partly it is a chronicle of the year that her father and uncle died, and in which she gave birth to her first child (c. 2004). Each of these pieces is a worthwhile story in itself, but there is a darker pull that drew her to write about it all together, which is explained outright in the book's description: the circumstances of her uncle's death in the custody of U.S. Homeland Security.
It's impossible to discuss the book without eventually addressing what happened to Joseph Dantica. But first I feel the need to point out that the content of this book is just about 10% injustice, 5% history lesson, and 85% love, love, love. Edwidge Danticat loves her family so much, and she tells us so many things about the comfort and fun and happiness of belonging to them, it makes us care a lot and understand a lot about them personally. After reading this book, I love her family, and I'm, you know, a stranger to them.
The structural outline of this book is crazy and fun. She jumps back and forth through loops in the timeline every which way, and sometimes branches off into folktales or someone else's memory from decades back. It's a total ramble that she's totally in control of. Her childhood recollections are vivid, even when the circumstances are stark. Haiti at that time was, of course, a poor and often dangerous country, but Edwidge seems to have missed the "worst" of the violence and poverty that would affect her neighbors. Her uncle remembered the U.S. occupation of his childhood, and in his final days he was driven away by rebels from his neighborhood. But in between he and his wife ran a church and school, and helped to raise several young people (only one of them their own child) in what I keep wanting to say appeared to be a happy childhood, although there are plenty of tough stories here. But it isn't evoked in a way that is bleak. It's life. The author seemed to enjoy and be awed by her family as a little girl, with a warm care that the reader begins to share.
However, there is an edge, an imbalance that it seems she can barely glance at. Though waiting comfortably, the author and her brother still waited for eight years — until she was twelve — to be able to join her parents after they moved to New York City. That's a long time. That's a whole childhood. Her parents had two more children in those years, and managed only one visit back home (their immigration story is an interesting time capsule) before Edwidge and her brother were finally allowed to go. And then, snap, they were gone. Exhilarating; wrenching.
For the record: this kind of thing blows my mind, and I would dearly love to read a whole book just about that, if the author would write one. (FWIW it appears she came nearest to it in Breath, Eyes, Memory and in a lesser-known YA novel, both of which I plan to read.) Edwidge's own transition to post-immigration life is not covered in depth in this book, which made me sad because I have a lot of feelings, and it's just something I care to hear about. Our New York City contains so many millions of immigrant tales, and not of the "Ellis Island" kind but the "people who got here yesterday" kind. I think everybody who lives here should care about them, and I find it really important, but I acknowledge it was not essential to the rest of this book right here, only me.
Instead, the timeline mostly advances to her adulthood in 2004, when she learns (on the same day, no less) that her father is dying of a pulmonary disease, and also that she's pregnant. And then, when her uncle comes to visit… In the beginning of the book, she says, "This is an attempt at cohesiveness, and at re-creating a few wondrous and terrible months when their lives and mine intersected in startling ways, forcing me to look forward and back at the same time." I loved this introduction, and I feel I understand her all the more for it and her own meaning for the book.
There are all kinds of ways to dwell on how horrible the way that her uncle Joseph died was. I don't really want to lay them all out in a review here, because it's sad, and for most the facts will speak for themselves. The main reason I won't go into it, though, is that the author herself refrains. She shows the restraint of an artist in cataloging the injustices he experienced after being detained by immigration at the airport in Miami, and she leaves many of the more emotional messages inferred, unsaid. While you could write a whole book about those few days, she doesn't. Because of how well she has permitted us to know these people in the book that she did choose to write, we are able to understand them deeply as this very fucked-up thing goes on, and worry for their fears and feelings ourselves.
Actually, I partly take back something I said in my last review — judging by this book, maybe it is possible to write a natural-sounding narrative based on the account of a formal government report. This author, of course, had benefit of interviewing personal contacts (her cousin and their lawyer) who were present during portions of the events, but overall the story sounds measured and real, including the parts that were clearly primarily based on details gleaned from the Freedom of Information Act. It's well done and hard to do.
I believe this is the first book by Edwidge Danticat that I've read, though I've certainly read something before, because I've known her name since she showed up in my curriculum in a memoir class my first semester of college. That was several years before the events of this one, so I do not know what we read. A short essay, I think? About her hair, maybe, and perhaps one of her brothers? But I clearly don't remember. I'm eager to know her better, and I love so much that she lets us....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.
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 holThe 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
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
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
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 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
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 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
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
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
Actually, this was great. I enjoyed the first half so very much that I was thinking, "Is it weird to 5-sAnother 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
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
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
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
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
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