I didn't just read this book; I absolutely devoured it. Like Mandarin is the stuff of what a teenage girl's life is made of: a whirlwind of jealousy,I didn't just read this book; I absolutely devoured it. Like Mandarin is the stuff of what a teenage girl's life is made of: a whirlwind of jealousy, desire, ambition, low self-esteem, adventure, betrayal and acceptance, and not a bit of it is written in a shallow way. Whether you've been the odd girl out, that girl, or somewhere in between, this is a book that will have you thinking about the importance of relationships among females: how we get into them, how they shape us, support us and rip us down.
Grace Carpenter is the daughter of a disappointed mother with illusions of grandeur. Her father is dead and she never knew him anyway. Her little sister, Taffeta, is the delight of her mother's world and almost the sole focus of her attention. Grace has no true friends to speak of, only a group of lunch table pals. She's been skipped ahead a grade, so at 14-going-on-15, she is the youngest sophomore and the brightest student in a class full of cowboys and their pickups.
Yeah, you could says she's lonely.
Enter Mandarin Ramey. She's 17, also alone, but prefers it that way. She doesn't give two cents about what anyone thinks of her. She's promiscuous, openly defiant, has a reputation for fighting, and the only thing she does is exactly what she wants. She's the Angelina Jolie of her school, and no one knows it better than Grace:
"Sure, maybe most of the attention Mandarin got was negative. But it wasn’t the kind of disdainful brainfreak attention that I got, when I got any at all. Hers was lustful. And jealous. Because even as they condemned her, every single girl wanted to be her.
But nobody more than me."
-Grace, Like Mandarin
Once the friendship ignites, what follows is Grace walking on a tightrope to keep Mandarin 'happy' and 'interested' in her. If that sounds like more like a romance, then you kind of/sort of have it right. Grace immerses herself into Mandarin's personality exactly like a lovestruck girl does over the guy of her dreams. Except that Grace doesn't harbor romantic feelings for Mandarin; it's much more a tale of wanting to be her, so much so that Grace studies the way that Mandarin walks, holds herself and dresses. What Grace doesn't realize is how very damaged and fragile Mandarin is. . . and, like all wounded creatures, Mandarin is also unpredictable and manipulative. She puts Grace through little quirky conversation tests, and very much adopts a, "if you're not with me, you're against me" attitude when it comes to Grace. However, while the turbulent friendship between Grace and Mandarin takes center stage, the book is really about all sorts of different relationships between women: teenagers, middle-agers, mother-daughter (or lack thereof), there's even a teacher-student relationship for Grace. Hubbard does an excellent job of showing how these different relationships shape who we are, and how past and present ones can help lead us to our new ones.
Then there are the characters, and all of you know how much I love a character-driven book! Grace is definitely her own person, although she doesn't think enough of herself to be it sometimes, especially not when a twister of a character like Mandarin enters the scene. DO NOT get her mixed up with the vapid, feel free to [insert yourself] female protagonists that we sometimes are confronted with in YA lit. Grace is intelligent and knows what she wants in her future, but loneliness does funny things to people, and it's easy to get sidetracked when you are 14. Mandarin is an incredibly well-drawn character, although it does take time for vulnerability to show through, but her magnetism is palpable through the pages (I think we've all known a Mandarin-type). At times, she felt one part Rizzo from Grease, one part Dicey Tillerman from The Tillerman Family Cycle and one part Stepmother from Cinderella. She's extremely complex, and any answers you get about her mysteries are hard-won and bitterly bequeathed.
Besides the two main characters, the ones you will see the most of are Grace's mother and younger sister, Taffeta. Grace's mom is a very definite sort of person and lives vicariously through Taffeta's success on the beauty pageant circuit. Grace feels forever worthless in her eyes do an incident that happened almost eight years ago that crushed her mother's hopes for her. Mother Dear also has the unfortunate characteristic of phrasing things precisely so they simultaneously shame you, but also leave little room for argument. On the other hand, Taffeta might be the most intelligent six year-old I've ever read, and if there is one fault that I can find with the book, it's that she sometimes seemed more like a ten year-old, rather than a small child in kindergarten.
I cannot begin to tell you what a good writer Hubbard is. . . when I read the synopsis, I was like, ehhhh, this could go either way. Well, it went all the way to the brilliant side of the scale. Hubbard writes with simple elegance, but there is always this feeling of constantly being carried forward. You aren't rushed, but you are anxious to read what happens next. Normally, I will drift through a book this size over a couple of evenings, but all of the sudden, I realized that I had far more pages held in my left hand than in my right. It was a pleasant surprise and a testament to how smoothly the book moves along. And in case you were wondering if you can have good time in Smalltown, Wyoming, hold on: Grace and Mandarin show you how it's done. For a place that most of us likely are not famaliar with, Kirsten does a wonder of world building, and I don't doubt that Washokey is the beautiful, barren landscarpe with splaces of color and high winds that Grace so vividly describes for us.
You're not going to find any romance or nookie in this book, although the boys do try. What are you going to find is a path that most of us travel at one point: the area of our lives where friends can overrun our affection for family and sense-of-self. Where living in the moment and thrill of getting caught was all you needed for a good time. When you finally learned to look at people and saw them from precisely who they are, and not just who they are in relation to you. Like Mandarin is a beautiful debut, an exquisitely written book about the people, places and emotions that hold us down, and the ones that urge us forward. I can't recommend it enough....more
Do you remember studying the Holocaust in grade school? There was a famous saying that you probably learned:
“First they came for the Communists, but IDo you remember studying the Holocaust in grade school? There was a famous saying that you probably learned:
“First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.”
Niemoeller’s immortal and pointed statement on the dangers of political and moral apathy could easily be applied to the small, sequestered community that Gittel and her dearest friend, Devory, live in, located in Brooklyn, NYC. This is a community of ulra-orthodox Jews, and reading Hush is like stepping into a world that you know exists, but the customs and beliefs that they practice are, on the whole, far more foreign than familiar. This story essentially is about three things: a beautiful and enduring friendship between two little girls, a community who hurts its most innocent members in a misdirected and fatal attempt at protecting itself, and how ignorance and fear condemns victims, not the perpetrators.
Central to the story are Gittel (the narrator) and Devory. They were born on the same day at the same hospital and have been best friends ever since. Gittel is a wonderful narrator, and the best way I can describe her is that she’s a cross between Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird and Eloise from Eloise. She is spunky, energetic, and makes observations that are profound in the eyes of a nine-year-old, but ironic and whimsical to the reader. Devory is a bit wilder and often acts out. There is a good reason why she does: Devory is being sexually molested by an older family member. Devory does not have a word to explain what is happening to her. She has nothing to call it. Such things do not exist in their world, the world of the chosen people, all of whom are going to Heaven. It’s only when Devory’s behavior deteriorates and Gittel witnesses the abuse that things come to a head.
The story is separated into two sections. In the first section, the narrative flips back and forth between 1999- 2000, when the girls are nine, and 2008, when Gittel is preparing to graduate from high school and looking forward to becoming engaged. Devory is no longer there. Gittel communicates with her by letter throughout the book. It’s the only way she can communicate with Devory. You learn on the first page of the story that Devory is dead.
This is a multi-layered story with no easy answers and many victims. The community is a well-oiled machine, and social reputation and placement are everything. In the everyday status quo, there is a lot of love and security in the community, and you see this especially in the relationship between Gittel and her father. The also pride themselves on taking care of their own and providing for the least of their community. However, they are distinctly uncharitable toward those who do not act in a proper way, come from a family with a bad history, or who could in any way bring shame upon a family or the community at large. Thus, when something shameful happens, it is hushed up rather than dealt with. By default, Devory is condemned to death. People knew something was wrong. Not one person told the absolute truth, but they knew enough to help her if they wanted to admit what was going on. The stakes are high – speaking out against your fellow Jew literally is a horrible sin, an absolute evil. When someone does try to speak out about something, they bring shame upon themselves and their families. At the least, the community will completely ostracize them; at worst, they may be physically attacked. Gittel spends a good amount the book dealing with her guilt, growing to adulthood with her frozen-in-time best friend haunting her dreams and sharing her thoughts.
It’s not all doom and gloom. There truly is a sense of community here, and the friendship that Gittel and Devory have is enduring, charming and a beautiful thing that you will enjoy watching grow. An extremely important person in the story is Kathy, a ‘gentile’ woman who lives in a rented apartment in Gittel’s home. She is the keystone in this story, and if it were not for her, neither girl would have much exposure to the outside, nor would Gittel ever find a way out of her pain. It’s also a fascinating look inside a community that one rarely gets a glance into, and the author is brave for shedding light on it and its darker issues. ‘Eisher Chayil’ is a pen name, and you will learn in the book that it means ‘Woman of Valor’. I’ve read some review where readers think this is pretentious. I disagree – I think the author is stating what she thinks is ‘true’ valor, and this book is her attempt at living up to her own standards. I don’t blame her for not signing her real name to it; in all likelihood, she probably still lives in this community, and she and her family likely would face expulsion from it if she was ever connected with this book.
This is a well-written book full of the kind of humor that only happens when two worlds collide, and the childish observations that Gittel makes between her world and the modern, secular one will make you laugh. It also has plenty of bittersweet moments, ironical observations and desperate emotions. You will identify with the feeling of friendship, family and community, but will be engrossed and educated in the aspects of another culture. If you like dystopian literature, this may actually be a book for you – even though it is set in ‘real life’, outside influences are carefully controlled, the customs are foreign, the marriages are arranged, and romantic love is a ridiculous notion that only outsiders believe in. There are many Yiddish phrases throughout the book, so please be away that there is a glossary at the end to help you out. I advise reading it before you start the story, and this is most definitely a story worth reading. It’s heartbreaking, poignant and promising, and reaffirms the belief that ignorance and apathy are the enemies of truth and justice.
Can I call you Gayle? After all, you've reduced me to a snotty, hiccuping mess twice now. That ought to put us on a first name basis.Dear Ms. Forman,
Can I call you Gayle? After all, you've reduced me to a snotty, hiccuping mess twice now. That ought to put us on a first name basis. The last time I wrote you was right after I finished If I Stay. Nothing makes me feel quite as raw as something that rips the lid off my fear of death, and did that book ever pick my shaking little bones clean. But it's okay. Going through that once, it's all good. That's what a good book is supposed to do to you, right? Great books evoke emotional responses. Crying is a barometer for your empathy, for your soul. And who wouldn't cry for Mia, after what she went through? Losing your entire family in one swoop, and then deciding to keep on keepin' on despite the horrific loss. .. I can't imagine that Mia's bravery and resolve wouldn't affect a person. I didn't think I'd cry like that again for quite some time.
I guess somewhere in there I did kind of forget about Adam. . . Again, you and your setups.
I don't know how, but you did it again, but this time it was with a pill popping, emo dripping, reclusive, self-loather. I was in tears by page 100, and you managed to do it with a type I normally despise. I kept thinking the same thing in awed wonder:"Oh, that wench. She's killing me again." I mean that without ire and with a certain kind of admiration. I don't name call unless I care.
Honestly, it was easier when it was the girl breaking my heart. Oh, but Adam, you can't hate the guy who got Mia to come back. It's not possible. If love can do that, it can do anything right? His voice and promise were the Lorenzo's Oil of young adult tragedy.
I guess somewhere along the line, we've become something of a Kim to Mia in our minds, and we admired Adam for his devotion to her. I guess somewhere we figured that Adam was fine being a shelf of support for Mia, and we forgot that he might need one, too. I guess we kind of forgot that her whole family had become his.
Adam's feelings of loss are tough in this one. I think it's always tough when you are the secondary mourner, the one who doesn't have any right to treat the loss as your own. When someone close to you loses a blood relative whom you also loved, there in something in you that feels like you don't have the right to treat the loss as your own. Sometimes all you have left is the one you have to be there for. And when that person chooses to leave you. . .Christ, what the hell are you worth then? I see why Adam has issues.
There might have been flaws in Where She Went. I wouldn't know. I was too busy being in the moment with them, crossing my fingers and wanting/hoping/praying they left with closure. So, if there were any, they didn't matter - they were overpowered by the emotion. Adam's flashbacks, his internal monologue and their conversation, their reckoning . . . I didn't think you could do it again, but you did. You left me without the ability to write an actual review. I think it was actually tougher (and better) this time because we already know them both. I mean, I'm writing this thing on a Monday during my lunch break, but I finished it last Thursday. I thought the distance would give me insight, but here I am, tearing up again.
You nailed it again, Gayle. I doubt we'll ever see Adam and Mia in any more books, but I do hope you will continue to bring your brand of evocative and emotional writing to the table again and again.
As for making me cry, I am going to steal a line and say, "So, dude. Bygones."
First, let me say that this is the first book by Jennifer Donnelly that I have read. So, I was able to read it with a fresh mind, no expectations andFirst, let me say that this is the first book by Jennifer Donnelly that I have read. So, I was able to read it with a fresh mind, no expectations and not compare it her previous YA offering, A Northern Light.
That being said, I can say that I pretty much loved almost everything about this book. I mean that. Revolution has angst, rebellion, a fabulous mystery, solid scholarly research and the most fantastic playlist I’ve ever read in any book. The main protagonist, Andi, is still dealing with her brother’s death that happened two years earlier. Her mom has gone a bit crazy, and her dad couldn’t deal and basically left Andi and her mom. Andi starts doing what a lot of angry teenagers do when they are depressed: she starts ditching school and ignoring her schoolwork. Big Papa finds out, comes in, stamps out some quick decisions, and makes Andi come with him to Paris so she can get away and catch up on schoolwork while he conducts some heavy duty scientific research. That is a very basic introduction to the story – it is a lot more involved, but this story is so beautifully written, I truly don’t want to ruin the experience for anyone.
Andi might be one of the most intelligent characters I’ve ever read. Also one of the most tormented. She's brutal and makes the most sarcastic, clever, but caustic observations I’ve read in quite a while. Consider:
“Orla McBride is a cancer survivor and wrote about it for her college apps and got into Harvard early admission. Chemo and hair loss and throwing up pieces of your stomach beat the usual extracurricular hands down. Vijay only got waitlisted, so he still has to go to class.” Pg. 6
This might make me a sick puppy, but it was her comments like this that made me simultaneously laugh out loud and make my jaw drop. I’ve read a few reviews that said this was teenaged angst on overload. I most firmly disagree. We’re mot talking about normal adolescent pain. We’re talking traveling-up-your-spine, splicing-your-soul, you-can-only-see-one-way-out pain. It ain’t pretty. Some people do notice and try to help, but really, Andi only wants her mom, and that lady is too busy trying to have an emotional connection with two dimensional versions of her deceased son to notice her living daughter. If you have no frame-of-reference for Andi’s anguished mental state, then yes, it might be easy to dismiss her anger, depression and suicidal wishes as melodramatic moodiness. However, if you ever have been affected by depression or watched someone you love go through it, you might be more sympathetic to Andi’s attitude and issues. Being a teenager has nothing to do with it. Andi has been through some seriously stuff, and its taken its toll.
Andi also comes from a background that has produced a worldly, cynical and extremely well-educated person. Some people may find this pretentious. I didn’t. Any comments she made about her and her classmates' superiority were dripping with sarcasm. She certainly knows that she and her cohorts have the best of everything. Again, Andi has a very sharp-tongued and caustic observation style regarding her family, peers and overall place in the U.S. social and wealth hierarchy. It’s really not referenced much in the story by Andi, but just the mere fact of where she goes to school, that she simply jets off to Paris with her father. . . you are very aware that she is a ‘rich girl’ and an extraordinarily privileged individual. Trust me, Donnelly meant for you to be aware of this.
I don’t want to go through the book in detail. I will say that Andi stumbles onto a mystery in Paris when she finds the diary of a poor girl named Alexandrine Paradis, who lived during the French Revolution. Andi becomes obsessed with what happened to her, and their pain parallels the other’s, regardless of their very different backgrounds. Alexandrine’s fate becomes intertwined in Andi’s own, and you become as interested in what becomes of Alexandrine as you do Andi – I particularly liked that Andi found herself wrapped up in this character of history as she read her diary while I was doing the same with Andi. At some point, you do start wondering if both Andi and Alexandrine are going mad, or if each's conscience is speaking to them through subconscious, uncanny ways. More than a few times, I wondered if Alex and Andi were/are the same person.
There is so much layering in this book that I could not possibly go through it all without ruining some things for you. I will say that is there is a significant amount of debate about whether history is fact or narrative, and about what makes people what they are. The way the history is woven through the modern story is absolutely marvelous and at no point did I feel jarred from one setting to the other – it felt like a smooth road in and out of two different times. The only thing part I had trouble getting into is a part I can’t mention – it’s too pivotal a part of the story! It borders on the supernatural, and you are never quite sure if it really happened or not. It works, but it took a moment to accept. You’ll know what I mean when you get there.
Other points about the story I liked: the entire story is absolutely steeped in music – the history of it, the structure of it and the listening to it. It’s amazing, and I am sorely tempted to keep the book for a few days extra and pay the library fines just so I can go through it, collect all the songs and make a Revolution playlist. I also appreciated how much work went into establishing the historical context of the French Revolution – I’ve read a few recent histories of that time, and Donnelly’s writing is spot on. Also included in the story are references to the feelings of marginalization being felt by the same French communities that Virgil is from.
I recommend this book. It was a brutal, take-no-prisoners sort of read. I wish I could go into more detail as I normally do, but that would be cheating you out the experience of reading this book and discovering all its layers yourself. The mystery, the music, the history, the family tension, the developing romance, the question over what is truth and the personal battle that Andi fights with her own grief. . . this story is simply a lovely, living thing.
I took a heavenly ride through our silence I knew the moment had arrived For killing the past and coming back to life -Pink Floyd, "Coming Back To Life"
MI took a heavenly ride through our silence I knew the moment had arrived For killing the past and coming back to life -Pink Floyd, "Coming Back To Life"
Marchetta is a writer who understands the beauty in the breakdown. This book would not have been so simultaneously hopeful and heartbreaking to read if she didn't. It's 2007. Two years have passed since Tom's beloved Uncle Joe was killed on his way to work in London. Tom's father has always been a drinker, but he completely falls off the wagon after Joe's death. Tom's mother walks out in an attempt to shield his younger sister from the chaos. Tom refuses to go. Eventually, his father walks out on him, too. Tom escapes quietly into an numbed state of drug and alcohol use to cope. I blame him, but it's a sympathetic blaming. Some emotions feel better on snooze.
His Aunt Georgie has other problems. Due to seemingly being the only family member able to hold her crap together (bless the Georgies of the world), she flies up to London to retrieve Joe's body, if possible. Her ex accompanies her. The one who cheated on her five years earlier. And got another woman pregnant. Now, two years later, Georgie is also pregnant with his baby. Honestly, I don't how she did it, because straight up, I would be like, "Please, for the love God, hand me a drink."
Like I said, I can sympathize with Tom.
I am not sure if I can adequately articulate my emotions about this one. I know on the surface it would be so easy to say that the events in The Piper's Son are about a family dealing with grief from a death. It would be incredibly easy to say that. However, the death, to me, seemed more of a reckoning, a gathering on the Finch-Mackee timeline for things unsaid, resentments unacknowledged, and demons unconquered. The death of Tom's Uncle Joe was the keystone of a family's implosion and magnified issues that were already present. Instead of the family coming together, the fine fracture lines cracked apart and separated individuals. Tom was both abandoned and chose to be on his own. Georgie closed in her grief and shame and anger over her baby brother's death and her unplanned pregnancy.
No one I've read can quite balance grief and humor like Marchetta can . . . Our Tom is still the snarky layabout that he was in Saving Francesca, but while you only got a whisper of his pain there, here it is full blown, as are his quips and timing. At times, I hated him, and at others, I kept praying that he would reach out to someone, anyone, because it was evident that he wanted and needed that. Georgie is one of the 'realest' characters I've ever read. She carries guilt the way she carries her child: it hangs low on her and takes up the center of her being. Marchetta really nails the difficult journey of self-love and forgiveness of others through Georgie.
I didn't just smile; I laughed out loud in public (several times, I might add). A couple pages later, I'd tear up. I love this family - I know a bit about how some families need to get a little blood on the floor so everyone can walk away feeling loved and forgiven. It's a cathartic process you only appreciate if you grow up with it. Their humor, their loyalty and their ability to feel deeply had me hoping the entire book that everyone would find their way back to each other.
For those of you wondering if you need to read Saving Francesca to understand this book, no, it's not necessary. The Mackee's story stands on it's own, although Saving Francesca is a book I highly recommend to you, as well (review coming 03.14.11). I am not sure if I am really doing this book justice, but suffice to say, I didn't love it; I breathed it in and lived it. It's the subtle difference between standing outside a story and being a witness in it, and Marchetta's writing is the type that makes you feel like you walking down the street with Tom or talking men with Georgie. In the end, this is the story of how love can rip family apart and bring them back together, of how keeping connections with others alive and hungry nourishes and protects your own life. The Piper's Son is a beautiful story of love and redemption, of going home again, and how some things have to shatter so you can put them right again.
I have a shelf in my room. I call it my 'Holy of Holies" shelf, and on it goes my most precious and prized books. Raw Blue by Kirsty Eager now has a pI have a shelf in my room. I call it my 'Holy of Holies" shelf, and on it goes my most precious and prized books. Raw Blue by Kirsty Eager now has a place on that rather short space. The last time I read something that affected me this deeply, it was If I Stay by Gayle Forman, and before that, who knows? If you look for deeply emotional reads that simultaneously leave you aching and hopeful, you owe it to yourself to pick up this book.
This is an example of a character driven story at its finest. The entire plot of the book centers around the emotionally painful journey of Carly. I've read many reviews that do not state outright what trauma Carly is dealing with, but, as you can guess from the synopsis and will learn very quickly what happens if you read the book, I am going to go ahead and name the pink elephant: Carly is a survivor of rape. I don't feel it's possible to adequately talk about the book unless that fact is present. The fear, shame, rage and bravery Carly shows is directly related to the crime committed against her.
Two years after her trauma, Carly still has told no one and has moved away from everyone she knows. She immerses herself in her one true passion: surfing. While doing that, she meets Ryan, a local who has recently returned after his own time away. I cannot emphasize enough how wonderfully true-to-life the beginnings of this attraction is. This is the real beauty of Kirsty's writing - so many conversations, so many misunderstandings in this book felt like ones I've heard or had myself. There were several times while reading that I stopped, blinked, and thought, "Linds, this takes place in another country, not down the street!" Carly's emotions are similar to what many people feel when they meet a special 'someone' - nervousness, self-scrutiny, and, yes, hope, however faint it may be. For her, these feelings are so much more pungent and enhanced due to the horrible transgression committed against her. You can feel and taste her desperation in wanting to trust again, but how do you do that when your entire sense of security has been ripped from you?
Carly is a very familiar and easy-to-read character. I literally could see her clench and unclench her hands in her search to find a a balance between feeling safe and being brave enough to personally connect with others again. I want to stress that this is not the story of Carly and Ryan; this is the story of Carly and her decision about conquering her pain and reclaiming her life. However, Ryan is an extraordinary character in his own right and an excellent example of how second chances are well-deserved given certain circumstances. His nature and behavior towards Carly reminds me very much of several 'regular' guys I know; he is simply a good person, and his approach and reactions were thoroughly 'male'. It's clear that he cares for Carly very much, and you will want to see her be happy with him.
Raw Blue is entrenched in the surfing lifestyle of the Northern Australian beaches, and from what I have read, is loved by Aussie reviewers for being distinctly Australian in voice. I never have been surfing, nor do I live near a beach, but Kirsty's writing is very descriptive. With my own limited knowledge of waves, beaches and surfing, I had no issue conjuring up the scenes that Carly describes. I have no idea if I got it right, but I do feel like I was right there in the story. Something I can compare it with is Cynthia Voight's descriptions of the Chesapeake Bay area in her Tillerman Family series. I've never been there, but as in Raw Blue, the simple and vivid language flows through your mind, leaving you with a very clear picture of a place you've never been to. More importantly, the surf is directly connected with Carly's ability to feel happy and alive. Carly would not stay afloat if it weren't for the water, and the book is very much about her relationship with it.
There is Australian slang and surf terms throughout the book, but you easily can figure out the meaning of much of it from context, and there is a fairly obvious U.S. equivalent for most, i.e., boot --> trunk, and "How're you goin'," is "How're you doin'?" If it ever were to be published in the U.S., I might suggest a small glossary for U.S. equivalents and explanations of surf terms - it's not absolutely needed, but it would be convenient. I would not touch one single word of the text itself; it's a picture of life there and should remain as is.
I don't know exactly what is is about Raw Blue that affected me so deeply. It's a book with an easy, flowing gait but with very complex and powerful emotions. Carly being nineteen makes this a book that fills the open gap for college aged literature. I think what really got me was the realization that Carly could be any one of us. It easily could have been me. I just turned 30, and this book had me going back to my college and mid-twenties dating life. I thought of times that could have ended badly, and I am so thankful they didn't. I highly encourage you to read this book. Carly's story is a poignant and powerful one that deserves attention, consideration and, most importantly, conversation. I encourage you to share it with someone you love whose safety and well-being you hold close to your heart.
"Shame isn't a quiet grey cloud, shame is a drowning man who claws his way on top of you, scratching and tearing your skin, pushing you under the surface." pg. 37
"The moon is weird tonight. A yellow devil with a knowing face and hard triumphant eyes. The top of his head is cropped off diagonally, as though he is wearing an invisible hat at a jaunty angle. Usually when I see the moon I feel like I've been blessed, but not tonight. The moon is telling me to watch my feet." pg. 50
"My happiness is crunchy. Snapping, crackling and popping in the sun." pg. 137
"What did he say? You can't always pick your friends. Well, he's damn right there. I have two friends here: a fifteen year old who sees people in colours and a salsa-mad Dutch woman. I didn't pick them, they just turned up in my life, and I'm really glad." pg. 148
"Once they know they've got a hold of your shame, they can shake it out and hold it up for the all world to see. And you become less than it. You become something disgusting." pg. 170
"He exhales, then leans forward, reaching under the table to hold my knee. 'I didn't mean that. I want to be here. You know what I kept thinking about while I was away? When we went for a surf the morning after - how I felt coming up from the beach with you afterwards. I was thinking, 'How good is this?'" -Ryan, pg. 201
This is not a book. Dreams of Significant Girls is a finely crafted vessel, and the story beautifully braids together three different narratives intoThis is not a book. Dreams of Significant Girls is a finely crafted vessel, and the story beautifully braids together three different narratives into a single, strong anchor. I didn't want to put it down.
As the synopsis says, the three girls are sent by their families to a premier Swiss boarding school for a summer session. Each girl is sent for a different reason, and each has her own goals and gripes associated with the trip. The three are placed in the same dorm room together, and each fills the space with her personality, culture, interests, and insecurities. The story starts in the summer of 1971, continues into the two summers, with correspondence in between. Each girl takes first-person narration in turn, adding a multi-layered viewpoint and forming a comprehensive coming-of-age picture from three people with very different, but surprisingly relatable, backgrounds.
Shirin: she's deceptively passionate. At first, you would think she is a perfect snob and devoid of personality, but later unfolds with her own strong character, only to be undone when she has to weigh actions done against and by her with her family's culture and expectations. Her life is one of privilege, but privilege isn't protection.
"She turned on her tape deck as loud as it would go. The ear-splitting music filled the room - a fast, grinding guitar accompanied by a voice so low and growling that it was impossible to decipher the words. I immediately thought of my brother Cyrus, unstoppable in his fighter jet, streaking across the sky. Forget the couture party dresses. Forget my matchmaking society mother. Forget teaching math to fidgeting schoolgirls. . . I wanted desperately to fly alongside Cyrus, screaming across the empty blue skies." -Shirin, Day One
Ingrid: at first, I had her pegged as a poseur, a small town girl who liked to talk big. Then she backed up her talk with action, and I was dumbfounded. She's boy crazy, not always fair, often selfish, and occasionally, tempts her crueler nature. She also has natural streaks of eccentricity and artistry. She has trouble dealing with her own family and personal issues, but glares unflinchingly at atrocities committed by others. No one lives in the moment and deliberately snuffs out inhibitions quite like she does. She is deeply insecure, and struggles particularly with her feelings over her father's PTSD from his time as a German soldier.
"Why the big separation? Just because we were old enough to get pregnant didn't mean we should be kept apart from the XY chromosomes. Boys made up half the human race, so what was the big fucking deal? To act like they were kryptonite only made things worse. Everyone back home was sure I'd had sex already. I hadn't, but I was determined to that summer. In my experience, grown-ups always kept the best stuff for themselves." -Ingrid, Day One
Vivien: the one I felt closest to. Gentle, but with a solid, stoic character. She bears hardship the best of the three. At the time of their arrival, she had the most struggle in her past, yet she is the least cynical and most optimistic of the three. Her family is earmarked by her father's past as a Holocaust survivor, her mother's richly loving Cuban family, their exodus from Miami after being labeled fascist sympathizers, and father's current position as a jeweler who deals specifically with South African diamonds.
"Sometimes when a phrase in English doesn't make sense to me, I translate it into Spanish. Fiesta de jardin. For me, it's a way of pulling words and meanings apart into their constituent elements, giving them a new context and rhythm. Growing up speaking two languages has come in handy. Not just for whispering secrets, but for cultivating perspective, a certain distance between you and what you're observing. It's like sitting on a stone wall between two countries, two cultures, two gardens, but not fully participating in either." -Vivien, Day Fourteen
When the book begins, the girls are nowhere close to becoming best of friends. Shirin and Ingrid in particular are hostile towards each other. These two are yin and yang to each other, with Vivien often acting as subtle peacemaker and bridge. Then, something salacious happens with Ingrid, and something despicable to Shirin. Especially in Shirin's case, this sets off a series of events and reflections that solidifies their friendship. If that sounds convenient, trust me, the friendship is anything but one of convenience; but, as J.K. Rowling wrote in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's/Philosopher's Stone, there are some things that you can't walk away from without becoming friends. In that trio's case, it was troll. In this trio's case, it's being witness and a pillar of support to one another's personal demons and heartaches.
I absolutely love the quiet way Garcia makes history present in this story. It's not the story, but it's there as background and context. The characters will mention a current event from those years in passing, and it gives a subtle point-of-reference. Sometimes it's the most casual mention, i.e. at one point, a character mentions the 1972 Olympics in Munich. You know the major event from that event hasn't happened yet by the way she mentions it, but you, the reader, does. It gives the story this tone that the characters themselves aren't aware of yet. It gave me the chills, like I was the seeing the future of their world, but it's the past of our own. It creates a marvelous sense of connection and tension. I think Garcia picked the time and setting of her story with especial care. Each girl comes from family that has been historically displaced or is facing upheaval, both politically and personally. Their personal family histories also give them connections through connections to world history. Each girl comes from a background that forces them to live in a duality, a double-consciousness: Jewish-Cuban-New Yorker, German-Canadian-Small town Girl, and a mixed-heritage-very upper-crust, Iranian Princess. In particular, I feel like I had an advantage with understanding Shirin, since I have several friends and acquaintances who were born and grew up in the States as a direct result of the Iranian Revolution. Knowing their families' histories gave me context for Shirin's character.
It's a fine irony that they all three are put out of their comfort zone in Switzerland, the land of neutrality. For them, it was the Land of Opportunity, a place where they learned what they were made of as individuals. There definitely are moments of, "yeah, right", when reading about the extraordinary opportunities and events that come their ways. At times, it feels like they should be part of fairy tale. I still loved the story, even then - it felt like this is what happens when you take the risk if being true to your own ambitions and sense-of-self. Of course, each girl comes from a well-to-do background, but that was not always the case for two of the girls' families, and will not long be true for the third.
This is the beautiful part of the story: it shows that history is context. It influences your life and gives it background, but what you do with what you are given and the choices you make is your own narrative. We are a part of a world wide diaspora that has always and will always be in motion. These three girls are proof that there are no little neat boxes you can check yourself into in life; you have to create your own world, the one that is significant to you.
The story, setting, everything - it's exquisitely written. You feel like the girls are confiding in you, letting you know about the summers that they count as the most important of their lives. I wish I could articulate all the complexities of this book, but I will say it ranks as one the most intelligent young adult novels I have ever had the pleasure and privilege of reading. When I am lucky enough to read an ARC for tour, it's not often that I feel compelled to own. This absolutely is a book that I will buy once it's released. I want to experience it again. One week was not enough. Dreams of Significant Girls is an unflinching look at the life long process of building who you are and want to be amid the people you share life with. You will be enveloped and captivated by this book. You may not be friends with these three, but you will feel honored to witness their coming-of-age. I highly recommend it.
Extra: Cristina Garcia is prolific writer and had many works. Dreams of Significant Girls is her first young adult novel. Check out her other books and writing at her website.
If you want to get a good sense of Garcia's writing style before this book releases, please pick up her Dreaming in Cuban (GoodReads/Amazon). I read it college 10 years ago and still own my copy. It was also a finalist for the National Book Award in 1992.
Please note: I don't normally warn about this, but Garcia is absolutely bare bones honest about each girl's curiosity about sex. This is different in each girl's case, but I did want to make a note that there are some descriptions of sexual acts (and their consequences). If you prefer your YA without mention of sex, this book is not for you. However, I will say that this is a small, but significant part of the total story and encourage you to read this book regardless....more
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