The Girl with all the Gifts starts with a very intriguing and scandalous premise. A bunch of kids are waiting in their individual cells for something....moreThe Girl with all the Gifts starts with a very intriguing and scandalous premise. A bunch of kids are waiting in their individual cells for something. Pretty soon, some soldiers walk in to each kid's cell, with one pointing his gun at the kid's head, and couple of other soldiers strapping the kid to a chair. Hands strapped, legs strapped, even the kid's neck is strapped so tight that there is no room for movement in any direction. Once everyone is happy with the arrangement, the kid is wheeled into a classroom, into which more kids will be brought soon, using the same routine. Then class starts.
That was just the weirdest beginning to a book I had read in recent times and I had to know what the deal was with all the mystery and security. There is some hinting of a breakdown that happened a few years back and the current location having some scientists who are busy trying to do some research. There is also plenty of mention of zombie-like creatures, called hungry in this book, because of their insane appetite for humans. (Seriously, that sounds just like zombie to me, and the word hungry took a lot of getting used to.) But the full picture isn't revealed immediately - the story is slowly told in layers, leaving enough mystery to have you reading through to the end.
About a quarter of my way in, I did start comparing this to other zombie novels. There is only so much variety in this department, just like in many of the paranormal books. I was quite bugged by it. I am not one for reading the same kind of books - I like my books to be fun, quirky, and innovative, not steeped in conventions. Luckily, a little after that, things started becoming more obviously different. The titular girl in this book is one of the cell-girls, Melanie. She has quite an inquisitive mind and absorbs a lot of what happens around her. She doesn't quite question why she is being imprisoned though - having grown up like that, she has just taken it for granted. But something happens shortly that soon sends her into denial.
Very early on, I knew what Melanie was. But what intrigued me more was how she could be so different from others of her kind. Now that's where this story takes a completely less treaded path. You don't really learn much about it, until the very end but there is enough suspense to go on till then.
It is a good thing that the story was very intriguing. Because the writing wasn't. The author started off very well, but much of the last three-quarters of the book could have done with a thorough editing. There is a lot of repetition and focus on irrelevant stuff. I also thought that a single narrator would have worked better for this book. The different narrators were focused on with different levels on intimacy - some talked mostly about what they were doing, some others talked mostly about what they were thinking. This inconsistency meant that by the end, I didn't really know anyone well.
If you read a book without knowing who the author was, would you be able to guess the gender of the author? I had no idea who M. R. Carey was and learned later that it is a pen name for Mike Carey. But even without knowing that, I could have told you that this book was written by a male. There is plenty of sex talk in the narratives of the male characters and zilch of that when female protagonists take the floor. There are also lots and lots of military talk in here, which is to be expected considering one of the main characters is a soldier. I don't want to say that's how males write, and females write something opposite, but I like to think that there are some things men like to focus on, and other things women like to focus on. There is also a lot of biology talk in here, and funnily, that is where I generally began to get a little queasy. If you have read the book, you will probably understand what I mean.
Ultimately, when I read books like this, it is the ending I am most interested in. This is a dystopian world after all, and how the author chooses to end is as important as how the author builds the world. Does it end positively? Does it reverse the dystopia? Does it end up revealing something laughably funny just to end the story? Or does it send the world into more dystopia? I thought it was a mix of positive ending and more dystopia, with a little bit of that silly big reveal at the end. It's hard to explain, and it does make some sense, but I did wish for a different ending.
Ultimately, this book is worth reading for the ride and the suspense. The writing isn't great, but it doesn't ruin the reading experience. You can glaze over some of the technical stuff - you will get the gist of it. And while some parts of the book did leave me a bit meh, the sum of it all left a positive feel in my head.(less)
Darling spends most of her time playing with her friends - they go to richer neighborhoods to steal guavas, they invent a lot of games and play them....moreDarling spends most of her time playing with her friends - they go to richer neighborhoods to steal guavas, they invent a lot of games and play them. Their schools were shut down recently so they don't have to study anymore, but Darling is not happy about it - she desperately wants to go to school and study. They don't have any money though. Their houses are destroyed and the government doesn't care about them. But Darling has a chance to change it all - she could go and stay with her aunt in the United States. She could go there and live the life of her dreams, and visit home occasionally. But it's not as easy as that - she learns belatedly.
We Need New Names is one of those wonderful books written with such an authentic voice that the reader becomes the narrator. We don't have many books like that - at least not many English books set outside the English-speaking countries. We Need New Names not only expresses Darling's Zimbabwean English well, it also chronicles her language improvement over the course of the book. When we begin, she had just had a few years of schooling and her English was rusty, but definitely better than that of all her friends. But later, when she moves to the United States and starts studying there - her English had improved so much that you could mistake her for a native US citizen. I loved this writing and transformation so much, it inspired this post.
Language aside, Darling's character is well-felt throughout the novel. Only ten years old, but she had already seen enough tragedy around her that it doesn't horrify or sadden her terribly. When she and her friends see a dead woman hanging from a tree, they talk about taking her shoes so that they can buy some bread. When Darling's grandmother's church's self-proclaimed priest treats a woman obscenely in order to cure her of something, she is initially uneasy but then shrugs it off and spends the rest of the service just having a conversation with her friend. When Darling's father returns home sick (and diagnosed as having AIDS by her people, since that's the only disease they really knew about), she feels sick of his presence and wishes him dead occasionally. Later, when they happen to be present at a neighborhood where white people (even Zimbabwe-born) were being forcefully evicted from their homes, Darling and her friends wander through the houses just vacated and stare amazed at all the riches around them, not feeling bothered at all by the violence they just saw.
These are kids who grew up seeing violence around them. Even their games are based on violent events. They'd kill each other as part of the game and cheer or cry as if they were bystanders to the actual death. They have not yet known peace and as far as they are concerned, it's not something that they will see in their lifetimes. They feel heavily when they see too much of violence - they just have a huge tolerance level. They are resourceful, but if they are cornered in a threatening situation, they will cry. Yet, they all have dreams - they want to go to America, and South Africa, and Dubai, and other well-off countries and live happy lives. And when they do, this innocence of childhood is what they want to return to. These friends are who they yearn to be with.
We Need New Names addresses a lot of issues that people from war-strewn countries face, but from the eyes of kids. When the adults wax poetic about the secure lives they had led before war, that means nothing to the kids. The adults get wasted. The kids watch that and get wasted too. Once they move to a new place, where freedom is the order of the day, what kind of life will be normal to them? Do they get used to the new life and forget the violence of the past? Or do they eye all the freedom with distaste and suspicion? This book also reminded me again that illegal immigration is not a black or white matter. The people who could get deported are humans who came here for a better life - a life that was denied to them just because of the randomness of birth. Shuttling them away rarely solves anyone's problems.
One big realization I had for the umpteenth time - Like many folks I knew, I have had days as a kid when I just didn't want to go to school. All that studying, maintaining grades, play time lost, sleepy weekdays, etc. Darling just wanted to go to school. It's terribly disappointing that there are kids in this world who have no school to go to, and kids who can go complaining about it.(less)
Didi was going through her sons' old clothes when some stranger woman stopped by to tell her that her husband (called Masterji through the entire book...moreDidi was going through her sons' old clothes when some stranger woman stopped by to tell her that her husband (called Masterji through the entire book because he tutors students) has been cheating on her, and now has another wife and son living in the city. This is news to Didi but it doesn't seem to inspire in her the kind of reaction you would expect from scorned women. Earlier, the Masterji had sent her a letter saying that he will not be visiting her this year as he is quite busy (Masterji lives in the city while Didi stays in their native village with their two sons). Didi packs up her bags and arrives at the Masterji's city apartment with their two sons in tow, surprising her husband and leaving him no way to pretty his situation, in anticipation of her arrival.
Very soon, his other wife, Apsara, and their (maybe three- or four-year old) son, Tarun, arrive home, only to find that their sleeping arrangements have shifted a little. The two half-families do manage to somehow live together for a while though, before Apsara finally gives up and moves away, mainly on account of the Masterji's cowardice and lack of spine in asserting any sort of control or assurance of protection in the house. Although Didi hates Apsara, she has taken an intense fascination towards Tarun. She lavishes a lot of attention on him, feeds him anything he wants to eat, and shows him a lot more love than she does her other two sons. Didi is also very impulsive. Even a minor hint of being ignored by Tarun can make her feel venomous. Tarun also begins to love Didi more than anyone else. He has scant respect for his own mother, who is after all way too bitter and stuck with her own demons. But this attachment with Didi is preventing Tarun from socializing well with friends his age or expressing any interest in girls.
The City Son is what I would consider an explosive book. The author wastes no time getting into the story - there is no meaningless digressions or descriptions of the trees and the clouds and a person's complexion or similar, no pages of history before the main story starts - nothing that can divert the reader's attention. Instead he begins the story where it should (the revelation of Masterji's adultery) and proceeds to reveal the consequences. And what consequences they were!
At the core, The City Son deals with a taboo subject. Something very disgraceful and disgusting; something that destroys a lot of people in the process. That's about all I will say about it, but if you are curious to know what the topic was, comment below (or email me) and I'll email you. I wondered if I would have read the book if I knew what the taboo subject was, but I guess I probably would still, except I would be reading it with a sick feeling in my gut because I know it's coming. I'd love to spare you that anticipation (especially if you're planning to read this). Some books work because we know nothing about them.
I found it shocking that the taboo thing went on for years without anyone suspecting it. There are people who lost love because of it, people who lost confidence, and then there were people who suspected something vague and did not have the guts to save matters. The thing about reading such a book is that it keeps you at the edge of your seat. You want things out in the open, but there are people you care about caught in the webs, people you don't want to see hurt more than they already are. The author certainly had my attention throughout - it was really hard to put this book down. I finished reading this 245-page book in under 4 hours, and let me put that number in perspective - it generally takes me about 4 evenings to finish a book that size.
Of course, as I pointed out earlier, the pacing of the book is real fast. I wouldn't really call this entirely a plot-oriented book, as it's really a long progression from cause to effect. As for the character development, some were fleshed out much better than the others. There were a few characters who I wished had their own chapters - it would have been nice to know what they thought. But I wouldn't say there was anything major in the character development department. The book starts off from Didi's perspective, then transitions to Tarun's, and finally to a woman named Rukma. The transitions between characters seemed like a big gray area, where every relevant character seemed to talk at once. I never quite enjoyed these in-between paragraphs because I wasn't quite sure which narrator to focus at.
Note: I read the ARC edition, and it had plenty of Nepali phrases that were not explained. I hope the final edition straightened out that issue.(less)
Sometimes it takes a drastic event to put things in perspective.
President Idi Amin has just decreed that all foreign Indians must be "weeded" out of U...moreSometimes it takes a drastic event to put things in perspective.
President Idi Amin has just decreed that all foreign Indians must be "weeded" out of Uganda within 90 days. Fifteen-year old Sabine suddenly finds her world upturned. While her father reassures her and her family that they are not foreign since they were all born in Uganda, Sabine secretly shares the same worries as her mother. It doesn't help that wherever she goes, she sees animosity from other Ugandans. But for now, she tries to put the 90-day countdown to the back of her mind. All she really wants to do is get through her classes daily and practice dance with her best friend, Zena.
But as the countdown continues, her favorite uncle, Zully, goes missing, Indian-owned or -operated shops are plundered, her mother's friend is almost arrested by soldiers one day, and Zena begins to behave strangely. To add to the confusion, President Amin has insisted that even Uganda-born Indians have to leave the country. At this point, Sabine has had enough. She did not believe that they will not be tortured or arrested, and did not want to find out what could happen if they stayed behind.
Child of Dandelions is set against the backdrop of the expulsion of Indians and Pakistanis in 1972. Part of the motivation for the expulsion was that the Indians in Uganda were apparently richer and had more wealth than the African populace. Child of Dandelions portrays that prominently in the book, especially in the friendship between Sabine and Zena. Sabine's family is very well-off, living in a big house, and not having much worry for money. Zena, on the other hand, wasn't that lucky. Sabine and her father are however not willing to believe that money could be the reason for this expulsion. After all, the Ugandan economy will collapse without the Indian corporations to hold it up. But at one point, towards the end of her morale level, Sabine makes a trip to a place where the indigenous African population lived and was shocked by the poverty that stared back at her.
When I was looking for an African read, I came across Shenaaz Nanji's Child of Dandelions. Being Indian, I was bothered by the premise of this book - expulsion of Indians from Uganda. It would be harrowing enough to be expelled from any country for any reason. It's worse if that was the only home you ever knew, as it was for Sabine's family. When I found this book on Audible, I grabbed it immediately.
Child of Dandelions is a coming of age story amidst terror, tragedy, confusion, and death. Sabine's distress at being disowned by her country of birth and her conquering of her challenges is very humbling to read about. She had gone from reverence towards her President to complete disgust at him. Although she is only fifteen, she definitely has the spine of a courageous adult. Many a time, her wit has helped rescue people around her from soldiers. Child of Dandelions is really a story of one family's fight against the injustice and politics of war and power, while still keeping her head high and her pride intact. Sabine is a heroine I loved to read about.
That said, occasionally Sabine acted like a ten-year old. Maybe it was not such a big deal - after all, even adults are known to behave like whining kids in many situations. Still, it bothered me because the author had established Sabine as a very capable character, that her voice occasionally felt very immature to me. It could also just be the narrator's fault - maybe she was overdoing some of the tones and inflections. Still, despite this issue, this is a book worth reading.(less)
I loved Frangipani. It took me weeks to finish it because I haven't exactly been in a reading mood. But books I read during such phases usually end up...moreI loved Frangipani. It took me weeks to finish it because I haven't exactly been in a reading mood. But books I read during such phases usually end up getting tossed because they don't hold my attention long enough. But Frangipani was always a delight to come back to. It felt very authentic and Tahitian, with adorable characters, and a very easy-going narrative style.
Frangipani is mostly told from Materena Mahi's perspective. When the book begins, Materena is moaning her partner, Pito's, negligence with money. They already have a little baby boy and Materena just found out that she was pregnant with a second baby. She wants Pito to let her collect his pay but that is out of the question because then he will be made the laughing stock by his friends. He will not see the end of questions like "Who's the man and who's the woman between you and your woman? Who's the noodle? Who wears the pants? Who wears the dress?" if he lets Materena collect his pay. But she does anyway and then doesn't see him at all for a long time, he having decided to leave her.
They reunite weeks later under very humorous circumstances but Materena goes on to take a job as a professional cleaner (very different from just a cleaner, as she reminds us often) to get some extra money. However, her hands are soon going to be tied down once her daughter, Leilani, is born. (She knew it was a girl because she did the needle trick). Much of Frangipani focuses on this mother-daughter relationship and I like to say that the author, Célestine Vaite, got it right. As a child, Leilani worships her mother, but as she steps into her teen years, there is much animosity directed at her mother. Through the years, their relationship evolves, but the sentiments expressed may as well be universal.
There is a lot of Tahitian delight sprinkled through the book. Did you know that Tahiti is not a country but one among many islands part of French Polynesia, and part of France? The people there speak French and Tahitian. Materena says that a woman and a man should not marry until they have been together for a long long time and have had kids together. She also happens to have a very large family, including immediate family and all the many cousins she has. They all live very close to each other so any time she has to go to the Chinese store to buy something, she is sure to meet quite a few of her relatives on the way. As you read the book, you get the feeling that you are meeting almost everyone in Tahiti and they all know each other. It takes only about 2 hours to drive around the island; of course, with traffic that can be more. The "public bus" in Tahiti is called a truck and that's what most of the people there use for transport.
Frangipani is actually book one in a three-book series, all focusing on Materena. I cannot wait to read books two and three now. The narrative style of Frangipani is a little unique - it read more like a chronological series of essays than a continuous narration of a story. It worked well for this book because of its very quirky narration and humorous tone. The author has definitely drawn the picture of her hometown very well - it is hard not to picture the characters or their circumstances in your head. It has scored all the points in my book - storytelling, story, characters, voice, and culture authenticity.(less)
Leroy Kervin is an Iraq war veteran who returned from the war in a coma and had to be admitted to a group home to be taken care of. Seven years later,...moreLeroy Kervin is an Iraq war veteran who returned from the war in a coma and had to be admitted to a group home to be taken care of. Seven years later, he woke up with a clear mind. Suspicious of the clarity and believing it to be a trick, he decides to commit suicide. Freddie McCall finds him severely injured and takes him to the hospital, where he visits him often. But Freddie has issues of his own - a friend leaving for the prison has moved a marijuana garden to his basement and Freddie is worried about being found out. His routine is awfully similar day after day - work at the group home at night and a paint company at day, with just a brief two hour stop at home between jobs. Pauline Hawkins works at the hospital where Leroy is being treated, and while she takes amazing care of her patients, her own life has nothing major to look forward to. She lives alone with her rabbit Donna, and spends most nights watching TV and some days visiting her mentally ill father.
The Free is an amazing book - very fast to read, with a very engrossing plot. Even though the lives of the characters were significantly different from mine, I found myself warming up to them and really liking them. They all had very real problems - problems that are sometimes subtle and oftentimes tend to get buried under the carpet. Leroy has been in and out of coma and has returned from the war a very different man. After his attempt to commit suicide, he flits in and out of consciousness. His dreams follow a long sequence where he is running with his girlfriend from military people, who are killing people with strange green/purple marks on their body. His dreams are clearly a manifestation of the life that he has been leading post-war, in that the taints of war never leave you and leave indelible marks on your person.
On the other side, Freddie is thiscloseto losing his house, thanks to his mounting bills and two not very high paying jobs. He is dedicated, however, to his work and never once complains about his abysmal state. Every person he comes across worries about his ill health, but Freddie brushes the concerns off and is ever so helpful to them. When his friend starts to harvest marijuana in his basement, he is worried, but the money he gets for complying helps pay off his bills. His daily cause of sadness however is that he sees very little of his daughters after they were taken away by his wife when they split. Pauline has similar problems. When a girl is brought to the hospital with abscesses in her leg after heavy drug use, Pauline takes an instant fancy to the girl and helps her through the ordeal. She identifies a lot with this girl - both alone, both craving human connection but making all the wrong choices. But the girl doesn't really want to be helped. No matter how much she admits that her situation is bad, she keeps going back to it.
Willy Vlautin tells a great character story. There is not one place in the book where he tells what his character is feeling or worrying about. His lets his narration and his story give us a measure of his characters' emotions. The reader knows everything about the characters through their actions. This literary device worked really well because it places the reader directly in the shoes of the character and depending on the kind of person you are, you will have your own conclusions about each character. You may empathize with them or pity them. Moreover, he doesn't pass judgment on his characters' actions - they do what they can, whether it is right or wrong. Most of the times, their circumstance drives them to do certain things, but he tells it very matter-of-factly that we do not question it.
This isn't a book that masks problems and tries to give everyone a happy ending. The problems are real, no matter how profound. What I loved about this book is that the issues that the characters face could very well be faced by any number of people I see everyday. They are not the problems that get debated about in council meetings or the Congress or even in the news. These are generally the invisible problems of the world that everyone seems to have. Vlautin tells their story so profoundly in The Free that their problems become our problems too.(less)
Niladri, aka Neil Kapoor, watches despairingly as his mom is taken away for schizophrenia treatment. Even when he visits her just before she leaves, h...moreNiladri, aka Neil Kapoor, watches despairingly as his mom is taken away for schizophrenia treatment. Even when he visits her just before she leaves, his mother is obsessed with her looks and how awful she will look on screen. Occasionally, motherly instincts jump out from her but not often enough. He is angry at his dad because she has to go away again. But it comes to a boil when he finds full unused bottles of medicines hidden away by his dad - apparently he hasn't been giving her her medications.
The Isolation Door follows Neil as he navigates the complex web of negative human emotions around him. After his mother has been taken away, his father is utterly tormented by her absence and occasionally spends nights in the parking lot outside her ward. He isn't willing to pay Neil to study theater, nor does he seem to show any interest in his life. His mother's sister is convinced that his father is responsible for her plight and tries to gently nudge Neil towards issuing an official complaint against his dad.
Thanks to his aunt, he pays his way into theater school. Right from the first day, he gets in with three other students, each having his/her own personal issues. Tim is very dominant and abusive with his girlfriend Emily, but deep inside, he has his share of insecure feelings. Emily is a very timid submissive girl whose very personality screams frailty, but Neil likes her. Quince has some unrequited feelings for Tim, and is often a tough nut to crack, having made an almost impenetrable shell around herself.
The Isolation Door is a very dark read. Though it is a very fast-paced book, it is definitely not a book to read if you are looking for a quick read. There are several layers to this book, just as there is with human personalities. The cast of characters in this book suffer from some ailment or the other. The narration is laced with an undercurrent of mental issues - depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, among others.
Despite its well exploration of the dark sides of the human personality, The Isolation Door does not establish great portrayals of its characters. I couldn't care either way about any of the characters nor see any depth to their personalities. I thought some characters were a bit laughable or unreal. The characterizations did go well with the theme of the book however - there is a deep void within the book that strips out the characters to their bare minimums but I would have enjoyed some more depth to their actions.
Ultimately, I liked this book but couldn't get very invested into it. It being fast-paced helped keep the plot moving - there was enough of a suspense to keep me coming back. The prologue was by far my favorite part of the book - Neil's mom dangling herself out of the window to get her husband to do something her way, would forever leave an impressionable picture on little Neil's mind. There is so much that is wrong with that picture that it is horrifying sometimes, and seriously screams for help. But it is clear that things did get very wrong eventually.(less)
When Kavita was pregnant for the third time, she wanted to know the sex of the baby as soon as possible. After two births - the first girl was taken t...moreWhen Kavita was pregnant for the third time, she wanted to know the sex of the baby as soon as possible. After two births - the first girl was taken to be killed by her husband and the second she gave up for adoption without letting her husband know - she was emotionally shattered. The last thing she wanted to do was give birth a third time and look into the eyes of another girl and lose yet another part of her for a girl she was not allowed to keep by the narrow-minded people of her remote Indian village. "Luckily" for her, this one is a boy and she finally allowed herself to rejoice. When this child was born, she named him Vijay, which means victory, and spent the rest of her life making sure he had a good life and opportunities. But there was never a day when she did not think of that daughter she gave for adoption and wondered whether she was still alive, and if yes, where she was.
When Somer and her husband, Krishnan, are told that Somer cannot become pregnant, they decide to adopt a child. That decision did not come easily. Somer was distraught by the thought that her body has failed her and was slowly slipping away from the confident woman Krishnan had fallen in love with. When they go to India to adopt a girl, Asha, they are transformed and in love with the child. Motherhood doesn't come easily to Somer, which according to her is yet another reason her body failed her. Worse, Somer hasn't had a good time in India. She felt very foreign and isolated in her husband's home - not knowing the native language nor recognizing the happy exuberant man her husband had transformed into in his native house.
In alternating narratives, Secret Daughter tells the story of two mothers and the daughter they share. Kavita's husband, having regretted killing their first born, wanted to do something right by his wife. He moves them all to Mumbai and tries to earn a respectable keep there. However, it is Vijay who brings them fortune when he gets older. Except, they are not very sure where all the money is coming from. Somer continues to feel isolated in her own home. Her husband and daughter share a common skin color, whereas she was sometimes mistaken to be the maid. It humiliated and irritated her.
I listened to Secret Daughter after hearing plenty of good things about the book. Unfortunately, it did not wow me in any way. The story was definitely intriguing. There are a lot of themes at play here. The most prominent was about the marriage between an Indian and an American that seemed very romantic initially but started collapsing soon mainly because of the cultural differences. As Somer recounts later, her husband had embraced the American way of life so often and so well that she had begun to take it for granted. She was very unwilling to embrace any of his Indianness and disliked it immensely when their daughter, Asha, showed any interest in her heritage. Asha had known for a long time that she was adopted and when she plans her trip to India, it results in all kinds of trouble between her parents. Kavita and her husband, Jasu, are also wrestling with their own demons. After giving up two daughters and choosing to keep a son, they don't feel justified by their choices. Their son isn't the darling they wanted him to be, what if they still had their daughter?
Despite the promising plot, Secret Daughter had a few failings that weighed more in my mind. Somer is one of the main protagonists of this book. Unfortunately, I connected very little with her. In addition to being very annoying and uncompromising, her character was also very flat. I don't know if listening to the book as opposed to reading it had anything to do with it, but I thought some of the other characters, like Kavita and Asha's grandmother, were fleshed out much better. The story also seemed to jump too fast between the girl's adoption and her adult years. I get that a lot of the story happens later, but without any of the middle years to hold the story together, the ending did not move me in any way.
The other or rather the main issue I had with the book had to do with the narrator. Soneela Nankani's narration just did not work for me. Sure, she was fluent, didn't do much drama and narrated well and clearly, but I had the same issue that I did when I listened to Life of Pi. The narrator didn't do the Indian accents well or pronounce the Indian words correctly. I sat through the first few mispronunciations without complaining but there's only so much of sam-baar (actual, saam-bar) and ba-yaa (actual buy-yaa) that I could listen to. I don't mind a few mispronunciations in audiobooks, but when there's so much of a language in a book, I'd rather go for an authentic experience.(less)
Miss Renshaw suggests to her class of eleven schoolgirls that they are going on an excursion to the gardens to think about death. The kids, however, t...moreMiss Renshaw suggests to her class of eleven schoolgirls that they are going on an excursion to the gardens to think about death. The kids, however, think that their teacher just wants to meet Morgan, the gardener who takes care of the plants in the garden and who, according to Miss Renshaw, writes a lot of poems. At the park, Morgan mentions the ancient caves where the aborigines carved a lot of paintings. Even though some kids don't want to go to the cave, their teacher insists that they all visit the cave. Once inside the dark cave, the girls panic and scramble their way out of the cave. Miss Renshaw asks them to wait but they are too panicky to listen. Outside, they sit and wait for their teacher; only she doesn't come out. They wonder if she is lost, or if they should go back in and look for her, but they are too scared to do so. Some of the girls want to head back to their classes, because it's snack time soon, but most of them wonder if it is appropriate for them to return to class after losing their teacher. Whoever heard of students losing their teacher?
The Golden Day is told from the perspective of eleven girls, but mostly Cubby. Kids as young as her make for an interesting observer because they see things they don't understand and sometimes cannot fathom the significance of what just happened. When Miss Renshaw fails to come out of the cave, they start worrying. They wonder if maybe Morgan and Miss Renshaw got out through another exit. Maybe they are just hiding in there. Or maybe they are lost inside the cave. But eventually, after weeks of waiting, they accept that Miss Renshaw may never come back. They haven't yet embraced the notion that maybe she is dead though the thought hangs in the air; her not coming back is a sufficiently tragic thought. The teachers sense that they are not telling the whole story of what happened, but Miss Renshaw had made them promise not to tell anything and they didn't want to break that promise, even if it meant stressing out everyday about the what-ifs.
I thought the first half of the book was slightly dragging. It was definitely a fast read though. Once Miss Renshaw goes missing, the pace picks up, with the characters wondering what could have happened. The Golden Day has a very poetic narration. There is so much atmosphere and emotions in this tiny book. Having a kid as the narrator means seeing the world a little differently - feeling captivated by colors and butterflies and lovely grass; not feeling it very odd that Miss Renshaw likes to meet Morgan very often; happily skipping away when she sends them off to write poems while she sat and spoke to him. Kids worry about different things - going back to class without their teacher worries them because how can they explain that they lost their teacher? Especially, when said teacher told them not to reveal certain things? The author shows how the little innocent things that adults don't think twice about, can upset kids.
Dubosarsky explores how ambiguity and lack of closure can weigh a person down, especially with kids. Very often, when a tragedy happens, it is easy to forget the kids who bore any kind of witness, with the adults being busy solving crimes and occasionally remarking that the kids are suffering. The author actually focuses on the kids here - their worries, fears, and behaviors. A classmate of Cubby's provides practical and sensible arguments most of the time, but when it comes to her dead mother, she prefers to believe that the mother is abroad. Another girl cries all the time at the smallest triggers.
Even for the reader the book ends ambiguously. Did Morgan murder Miss Renshaw? Did they run away together and are they still alive? Or was Miss Renshaw's plan to think about death in the park an ominous hint of a planned suicide? We will never know and the deliberate ambiguity is pretty clever - to follow that of the children's and compare our reaction to theirs. Are we just upset in not knowing what happened? What about the kids? Wouldn't they be traumatized?(less)