My junior year american history teacher assigned this for the class, and for each chapter, we had to write a little diary entry of our reaction to the...moreMy junior year american history teacher assigned this for the class, and for each chapter, we had to write a little diary entry of our reaction to the content. This is why I think everyone in my grade hated this book but me. Gee whiz, why are you making us think about the effect of history on modern day? It's horrible torture, I know.
Now, it's been about four years, but from what I remember? I loved this book. I wrote pages and pages and pages in my little response-journal. (I want to dig it up but my teacher kept it because she wanted to mail it to the author, or something.) So this review is just going off of what has stuck with me through the years.
On one level, it just felt good to see a book about the South that was realistic. He neither glamorizes this aspect of Southern culture as tragically heroic and noble, or vilifies them all as ignorant hicks. The people he meets are just people. One little anecdote sticks out in my mind to this day, of Horwitz talking to this lady who was a KKK member, who is chatting about her membership and her motivations for it, while showing him pictures of her grandchildren, showing him her knitting. He never "others" anyone. Every person he profiles, from the neonazis to the weirdly obsessive Civil War re-enactors is portrayed as an actual human being. Very refreshing. I've spent most of my life thus far in south Jersey, the Pennsauken area, and the Philadelphia suburbs, and come from very Yankee blood--except for a two year stint in very rural North Carolina was I was nine and ten years old. And I mean rural--my fourth grade teacher was from Ohio, for example, and she had her dog kidnapped several times and "go home, yankee!" spraypainted on the side of her garage.
And I find that I'm always defending where I'm from to someone, you know? Being in the Philly area, people are always dumping on New Jersey, and I'm always busting heads over it. And being in the North, people always talk about the South as a caricature, endless country filled with gun-toting, trailer-dwelling, violent, illiterate racists with no teeth. And even when it's not that explicit, that's the attitude towards anything south of the Mason-Dixon line. I remember having to prove to someone a couple of years ago that the South had actually elected Democratic politicians several times, and he wouldn't believe me until I actually sent him links to webpages that showed the different Democratic senators and governors. It's just ridiculous to me. Not that there aren't such stereotypes walking around down there--I remember some classmates being absolutely flabbergasted that I lived in a house, not a trailer--but it's so convenient and easy to dismiss it all like that. But I digress.
On the other hand, Horwitz is from New England, so his perspective is definitely that of a Yankee, so dyed-in-the-wool Southerners probably won't like this book. And he never actually reaches any kind of conclusion about his experiences that I recall, but it is, I think, a portrait of the Civil War and slavery in modern day Southern culture. It's a snapshot, trying to reveal how the echoes of that war resonate through life there, and why it's such an important and ever-present fixture in the South and not so much in the North. Plus, I'm just a junkie for people's stories, and there's some absolutely fascinating little glimpses into people's lives. Like the KKK grandma mentioned above, but also a guy who peddles Confederate merchandise who's from Ohio and whose philosophy professor father named him Soren Kierkegaard, and the hardcore reenactors practicing bloating so they could look properly dead when they went down in mock battles. Talking to an African-American waitress about the Confederate flag over the Richmond, Virginia captial building. I really could go on.
I took a lot of great things away from me, and from that history course in general--the biggest one being that people, as always, are just people, and how deeply something, the Civil War for example, can shape and direct an entire culture, as well as how it can glue people together and give them solidarity and/or meaning, how history is glamorized and twisted to fit whatever your political whim happens to be. I don't know. Now I'm thinking about this book again and want to whip up some biscuits and sweet tea and reread it.
Read it: Mrs. Walker is a smart lady and this book is incredible for a reason.(less)
i read this book in 8th grade, because every single one of my friends loved this book so much they might as well have married it. i ended up thinking,...morei read this book in 8th grade, because every single one of my friends loved this book so much they might as well have married it. i ended up thinking, "this is it?" massively overhyped for me. i should go back and reread it because i don't think i really appreciated it properly.(less)
**spoiler alert** i originally picked up this book at my boyfriend's house (his mom had read it) because i read the back and the basic premise? fascin...more**spoiler alert** i originally picked up this book at my boyfriend's house (his mom had read it) because i read the back and the basic premise? fascinating. also, i needed something to do while my boyfriend was hogging the x-box.
and the premise is fascinating. and something about the plot kept me reading to the end. but her god awful treatment of it made me so mad, so if i could rewrite the book, this is what i'd do:
1. cut out all the weird little subplots that stray too far afield from the basic theme of the book: anna's coming of age, and how kate's leukemia affected her family. cramming in irrelevant subplots does not make your book deeper. it makes it confused. i would axe the romance between the lawyer and the guidance counselor. i would axe the guidance counselor's artsy twin sister. i would axe the "conflict" between the mother and her career-woman sister. i would axe the lawyer's service dog. all this manages to do is clutter the book and distract from what's actually happening. i mean, what is the point of the seizure during the courtroom scene? it's like she didn't actually want to deal with the central questions and just wanted to pile on melodrama.
2. characterization does not happen when you tack on internal suffering to every single character. even the bit characters--you must know about their deep, internal struggle. i'm not saying you shouldn't give your minor players depth, but this is not the way to do it. it just comes off as cheesy.
3. speaking of cheesy, she kept making these metaphors (both actually good and kind of played out) and then totally spoil them by all but declaring to the reader, "hey! i made a metaphor! and this is what it symbolizes!" cut. that. shit. out. this was especially frustrating because there was a lot of rare but really well-written bits.
4. make the hard choices. send that delinquent brother to jail. kill off kate and let anna grow up. the back of the book said this was a coming-of-age story, but it can't be if anna dies in a car crash before your main conflict is resolved! resolve it properly! there is not enough bolding in the world to properly emphasize how strongly i feel about that statement. she continually shied away from making the right choices for the plot. cancer girl needs to die. she said she wanted to die. the miracle healing was not uplifting, it was just plain weird.
god, this book could have been a really cool examination of the effects of a serious illness on this family, and a really awesome coming of age yarn, but instead it's a pile of cheesy schlock, which i find really disappointing.(less)
totally the most informative and eye-opening book i've ever read. i mean, animal sex. it's great and not at all like, "ooo, look! animal sex! tee-hee!...moretotally the most informative and eye-opening book i've ever read. i mean, animal sex. it's great and not at all like, "ooo, look! animal sex! tee-hee!" i reccomend this to everyone.(less)