I haven't read much Southern literature (outside of the standard Faulkner and To Kill a Mockingbird) and I in fact have never been to the South. ThatI haven't read much Southern literature (outside of the standard Faulkner and To Kill a Mockingbird) and I in fact have never been to the South. That didn't prevent me from liking the book and getting a real sense of setting (in this case, rural Mississippi) from it.
This could be described as a mystery, but really it's a tragedy with a solid dose of hope. The dual protagonists are both tragic figures. One is the resident Boo Radley, Larry "Scary Larry" Ott. A scrawny white boy with a love of books (especially in the horror genre) and an overbearing, disappointed father, poor Larry can't catch a break. He's an outcast in school, his one brief childhood friendship goes up in smoke and on his first and only date the girl disappears and he's suspected (but never charged) with her murder. He joins the army, but returns when his father dies and his mother becomes senile to live as the town outcast again and become the prime suspect when another girl goes missing. The other protagonist is Silas "32" Jones an athletic black boy who was Larry's only friend until things went to shambles. His life seems pretty good when the story starts: he's a policeman in the town with a great girlfriend and the leftover glory of his high school baseball days. However, Silas has more problems than is first let on. As the story unravels, the mystery of the missing girls shares equal time with the intertwining backstory of Silas and Larry.
I spent most of the story feeling incredibly sorry for the protagonists, especially Larry. They both got out (via the armed forces). Why did they come back? It's hinted that Silas has a natural talent for detective work. So why settle for small town police work, which for Silas was mainly directing traffic? Larry was harassed, ignored and feared by his neighbors. So why not go away to some place where no one knew of his past? The town just seemed terribly suffocating.
The mystery was well-handled but mostly I was impressed with Franklin's deft touch with characters. Truth be told, I often hate tragedy in books. Especially when it's as effectively heartbreaking as Larry's childhood. But the thread of hope in the story placated me. Franklin also kept the story moving along quickly. It was atmospheric but not too in love with its own description to stall the action. ...more
A formulaic romance about a Good Girl falling for a Bad Boy. Brittany Ellis is beautiful, popular, and rich. But the strain of maintaining her perfectA formulaic romance about a Good Girl falling for a Bad Boy. Brittany Ellis is beautiful, popular, and rich. But the strain of maintaining her perfect image is starting to wear on her. Alex Fuentes is a Mexican gang member with a tough guy swagger. But he's just trying to protect his family and joined a gang to give his younger brothers a chance for a better life. Brittany and Alex project an image of who they are, while hiding their true selves. Then they become lab partners and Alex makes a bet he can get in Brittany’s pants. Will these two crazy kids fall in love and be able to bridge their two worlds? It’s not really even worth taking bets, because the answer is apparent from the premise.
The most painful part of this was the random español sprinkled in. I’m still muy baffled why authors employ this tactic, as it’s nothing but distracting. It’s really estúpido. (see how annoying that is??). ...more
Best YA I read this year. One of the top books, period, but definitely the best YA. I just couldn't put it down and I felt like my whole being was invBest YA I read this year. One of the top books, period, but definitely the best YA. I just couldn't put it down and I felt like my whole being was involved when I was reading it. This is one of those too-rare books that just springs to life fully-formed in your mind and is impossible to dislodge afterwards. From the first page I couldn’t let it go. Sometimes I forget books can have the power to shift you into a whole other life and reality which feels more real than the one where you’re sitting on your bed reading a book. It’s always wonderful to be reminded of that and experience that feeling again.
To put it simply: it was insanely good.
Split is about Jace, a teen boy from an abusive family who has to come to grips with the brother that abandoned him, the mother who could not protect him and the father who beat him. Jace finally flees his house and goes to the one person he thinks will take him in: his older brother, Christian, who left home years ago and hasn't been in contact since. Jace isn't sure that Christian will let him stay. And it seems that Christian himself isn't sure if he wants Jace to stick around, as his presence starts to create cracks in Christian's carefully contained new life.
There is some powerfully amazing stuff here, especially the hesitant relationship between the brothers and Jace trying to save his mother and the realization that she has trapped herself in a cage that she must release herself from - Jace can't save her from herself, no matter how much he loves her.
I liked Christian and how he was adjusting to the life he had fled coming back to find him though Jace and how poorly he was able to express his affection, partly because of fear, partly because of guilt, partly because he had put that part of his life deep in the closet of his mind and put everything he had on top of it to hide it away. He tried so very hard to not be his father with his extreme gentleness and patience, but he also often responded with a silence and coldness that inflicted pain.
I liked Jace and how he had to work with every bit of himself to not let his anger control him and to not become his father. He did it with cockiness and bravado and stubbornness, but his heart was good and the extreme effort finally paid off and I’m so, so happy for him. Because he refused to be broken, he never was. Damaged, but not broken.
I liked that Mirriam (Christian's girlfriend) was there and think she was perfectly used. You need that third character to balance out and comment on an intense, insular relationship like what the brothers had.
I think the one weakness was the romance with Dakota. Like The Adoration of Jenna Fox, it was not the focus of the book and came off as tangential. Also like Jenna Fox, the real point of the romance was not to be romantic, but to have the protagonist decide who they are and who they want to be reflected in a relationship with another person. The family relationships and the inner journey are much more important than who they end up dating. So the romance subplot feels both tacked-on and essential.
P.S., I forgot to say earlier how Jace’s compulsive stealing of chess piece queens is so obviously metaphorical but it’s never explicitly pointed out, which I like. It’s a subconscious desire manifesting in a conscious action. The chess queens are his mother – a potentially powerful woman stuck protecting her husband, the useless but pivotal king. Jace liberates them by stealing them away. He can't save his mother, so he saves the queens instead. Ah, Jace, your shoplifting says so much about you ...more
**spoiler alert** The story of a girl with an African American father and a white Danish mother whose life is nothing but tragedy. Seriously, every ba**spoiler alert** The story of a girl with an African American father and a white Danish mother whose life is nothing but tragedy. Seriously, every bad thing that could happen, does happen. It’s like a Lifetime movie. Rachel’s dad is an abusive G.I., Rachel’s mother is an alcoholic who has an affair and runs away with the children to America to be with her racist boyfriend. Rachel’s mother loves her children, but is incredibly fragile and screwed up, and eventually jumps off a roof with all her children. Rachel is the only one to survive. Of course, the parents had already lost a child in a house fire. What are the odds that two sets of kids from the same family die in two separate tragic accidents (/murders, I guess)?
Rachel goes to live with her strict grandmother and her sweet, beautiful Aunt. Her Aunt contracts a bacterial infection from a scrape on a tennis court and dies. The grandmother descends into alcoholism. Meanwhile, Rachel has problems with the American racial divide, for the first time having to choose a side between black and white. It goes poorly. Oh, and meanwhile Rachel’s father never visits her (once she’s conscious after the fall) or maintains any kind of relationship with her. So basically her father abandoned her and her mother tried to kill her and everyone else in her life dies or is an alcoholic. Unnecessary tragedy in spades.
The story is told from multiple perspectives, including Rachel’s mother and a little boy who renames himself Brick whose equally tragic story of course gets tied into Rachel’s.
The only cool part of this book is that it takes place mostly in Portland (where Rachel’s grandmother lives) and there’s all kinds of Portland name dropping. ...more
This book is one very slow, meandering message about how war is horrible, horrible, horrible and wounds everyone it touches. IOne long miserable slog.
This book is one very slow, meandering message about how war is horrible, horrible, horrible and wounds everyone it touches. In the Korean War you’ve got Hector (already scarred by the death of his father), the American veteran, and June, the Korean war orphan who had her entire family brutally taken from her. Even seemingly perfect pastor’s wife Sylvie has heavy damage from the Japanese occupation of China in the 1930s, where her parents were missionaries. War is brutal, it is horrific and it is devastating.
I can appreciate the book’s message but I can’t enjoy the actual story. I didn’t like anyone. Terrible things were happening to everyone and I just feel numb. They’re paper dolls re-enacting scenes. And the main characters felt like types I’d seen better played before. Especially the Tanners: charitable, driven Ames and his beautiful, gentle wife Sylvie. Of course the pastor and his wife seem like a golden couple, perfectly suited to their missionary work but who are actually two very good but damaged people with rifts in their marriage. It’s practically a trope. Especially the fact that one half doesn’t feel like they can live up to the other’s goodness.
Also, I find it disturbing that so many women in this book are portrayed as so sexually aggressive. It always feels like the women are seducing the men. Hector is endlessly becoming interested in women who then pounce on him, looking to use sex to mask their loneliness or neediness. And the poor men - getting jumped by school girls and pastor’s wives and war widows (in case it didn't come across - that is sarcasm). It’s always the women who somehow force the men into situations that they are hesitant to enter. While sexually empowered women are good, here it comes off as a way to blame the women for any consequences and let the men off the hook, because they are just victims of female sexual aggression. ...more
There are a few historical time periods that I just have trouble really enjoying in historical fiction form. One is the Holocaust. Another is AmericanThere are a few historical time periods that I just have trouble really enjoying in historical fiction form. One is the Holocaust. Another is American slavery. There are a lot of books written about those time periods, and it's very hard to find an author who finds new stories to tell during these periods, or new ways to tell the same story. And there's only so many times I want to read the same depressing story again, and again.
The Kitchen House is a perfectly competent story. It read fast, and Grissom did a good job with the plot, setting, and characters. The Kitchen House follows Lavinia, an orphaned indentured servant girl raised by the house slaves, and Belle, the slave daughter of the master, on a Virginia plantation from 1791 - 1810.
But she didn't do anything new. It's the same cruelty in the same cruel forms. It's the same characters I've read before - the villainous overseer, the unhappy master's wife, the kind mother-figure slave. These characters probably come up a lot because there were a lot of people who really shared these characteristics. But it's hard for me to read tragedy heaped upon tragedy in the same forms. Just not something I enjoy doing in my free time.
But I won't blame the book for my preferences. It's not the book's fault that it's like so many that came before it. It's not the book's fault it has a story to tell that I'm tired of reading. I will read the same fantasy plot fifty million ways from Sunday, so it's not like sticking to a genre formula is an objectively bad thing if that's the genre formula you like).
The book standing on its own is well-done, and for those interested in another book about the antebellum South (and this was a New York Times bestseller, so it seems like a lot of people are), then this is a good choice. ...more
Doing this story from the perspective of a five-year old too young to really understand what’s going on was a spot-on choice. Donoghue did his voice bDoing this story from the perspective of a five-year old too young to really understand what’s going on was a spot-on choice. Donoghue did his voice brilliantly. The first couple chapters I wondered if they were going to be in the Room for all 300-some pages and wondering how I would get through the repetitiveness of that but Donoghue knew what she was doing. The escape/chase scene was one of the few times I have had an edge-of-my-seat experience while reading. Even knowing what the outcome would be (because I thrive on spoilers) I still could barely breath while reading it.
This is basically everyone’s worst nightmare spectacularly written. Scarier than a Zombie Apocalypse and absolutely gripping. ...more
There's always That Guy. You know That Guy. The one that you would never befriend of your own volition but who has managed to worm his way into your fThere's always That Guy. You know That Guy. The one that you would never befriend of your own volition but who has managed to worm his way into your friend group. He's usually a friend's boyfriend. And he's not a bad guy. He's not a puppy-kicker or a wife-beater or anything. He's just...irritating. And he's even more irritating because you have to be nice to him, because someone you do like a whole lot likes him. Sometimes there are flashes of why he's been included: he'll say something funny or interesting or do something unexpectedly nice and you'll go Aha! So THAT'S what she sees in him!. But then he'll go back to being pompous or annoying or just plain awkward and you'll think I cannot WAIT until they break up and I no longer have to deal with him on a regular basis.. This book is That Guy.
It's not a horrible book. Sure, I got bored, but I never felt like hurling it against a wall. My standards for one star is that a book has to make me angry with it. This book mostly inspired indifference (and a simmering irritation that it just would not end).
I just don't get why the critics adored it. Did they all drink the Kool Aid? Is liking this book a matter of literary peer pressure? Are the other bookgeeks not going to sit with you at lunch anymore if you criticize what has been deemed the Great American Novel? Or maybe I do understand exactly what happened: whiny, self-destructive white people are to book awards what Nazis are to the Oscars.
I know there's been some controversy over whether Franzen would be getting such praise if he was a woman. I think that's an insult to women; I've seen chick lit with more realistic characters and better writing. I don't think Franzen is getting all the recognition because he's a man; I think he's found the critical sweet spot. Women who do the same have gotten the same inexplicable critical praise (see: The Shipping News and The Gathering).
Franzen throws out a lot of topical issues: 9/11! Corrupt war contractors! The Iraq War! Republicans! Democrats! The White Stripes! He's trying so desperately hard to be relevant that it's actually a bit painful. He wants to write something about the American Experience Today, but instead of writing something new or interesting he just dumps in whatever is big at the moment.
And the characters! Oye, the characters! Has anyone who praises his skill at crafting characters actually met real people? Because these are not real people. And I'm not just saying that because all the characters are either whiny doormats or self-involved assholes (for variety, sometimes they're both over the course of their lives!). I actually like flawed characters if they're done well. These are not. They are not characters; they are walking dysfunctions. They are not recognizably human; they are cliches. If no one else, Connie is a symbol of all that's wrong with Franzen's writing. She has no personality. Literally, none. She is nothing but an empty vessel waiting to be filled by Joey. Why is she such a doormat? Why doesn't she ever mature? Who knows! Who cares! I can't even be angry or disgusted by anyone because I honestly just don't give a shit. It's so unrealistic, it's comical.
I expect a hell of a lot more out of the Great American Novel. I want something original or beautifully written or filled with amazingly depicted, fully-formed characters. I want something that tells me something about America, about the time I live now, not some hack job that could've been pushed out by any crank.
If you want something original (not limited to American novelists, btw), try China Mieville (Author) or David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas. If you want hauntingly beautiful writing, try Toni Morrison. If you want characters so alive you almost feel you know them, try Mary Doria Russell. If you want to waste hours of your life in order to be a Literary Cool Kid, then try this book.
P.S. What is up with Franzen and his obsession with feces and anal sex and hate sex? Either he's trying to be edgy or he's someone I would keep my hypothetical daughter away from. ...more
A mystery that feels like a paperback you'd pick up at the airport. Whether or not that appeals to you depends on your personal tastes. For me, it wasA mystery that feels like a paperback you'd pick up at the airport. Whether or not that appeals to you depends on your personal tastes. For me, it was an okay way to pass a few hours, but wasn't particularly memorable. ...more