This was an amazing coming of age story and a fascinating look at the life of a disenfranchised young woman growing up in the years following the civil rights and women's liberation movements. The main character in the book, Evie, is independent, smart, creative and modern and this book follows her turbulent and often misguided quest for something like happiness. Set in the late '70s and early '80s, Evie grows up with an imperfect but loving mother, she and her friends feel entitled to their freedom and creativity.
The story - though it's from a single and not always sound point of view - subtly shows how women's lib complicated gender roles and the sociological changes that followed in the coming decades. There is an honesty in this book that in itself is liberating. Evie is opened up, strewn apart, and sewn back up (metaphorically) and we are not spared any of the gory details. The reader is certainly not manipulated into liking Evie, but I was wrapped up in all of the characters, and when Evie begins to live like a martyr, it truly showed how complicated and different men and women are, and the sacrifices and compromises we make.
One of the reviews compared it to a young woman's 'Catcher in the Rye'. While I scoffed at the cliche, after putting down the book I agreed completely. I've never read another book from a woman's point of view that so timelessly and eloquently describes growing up as a 'liberated' young woman. The loss of innocence and the realization of the power of a woman's sexuality are universal, and Evie's tendency to objectify herself first, so that she feels that she is giving of herself as a commodity and holding the power, she refuses to be a victim.
The story can be a bit wordy, and just like the main character, I felt fickle while reading it, especially about Evie; but in the end it's her flaws, naivety and questionable decision-making that make her unforgettable. She is at once a fragile young woman, and a survivor with unimaginable strength. She compromises herself without forgetting who she truly is, and though her pain is palpable, she perfectly describes the detachment of depression - and how she built walls to protect her heart, a seed of hope and a sense of self that keeps her going.
It's a fairly long book, but her prose drew me in and I couldn't put it down. I found myself constantly comparing the plot and characters to my own experiences and those of loved ones. The writer has a beautiful vocabulary, and uses it without coming off as pretentious. Also, the wispy and detached young lady in the story, just as a best friend would do, at times infuriated me, but I never stopped wanting Evie to come out on top, to be with the one she loved, to triumph over her demons. She will always be beautifully flawed, but as a reader I would have been devastated had she succumbed in the end.
This book is probably a favorite of mine in part because I am an American girl, and what Hilary Thayer Hamann describes is also my anthropology. It reminded me of another favorite - She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb, though the two heroines couldn't have been more different, their inner torment broke my heart and their will to live and to fight and to love inspired me. I related to both stories half the time. The difference being that the other half of the time I felt shame reading She's Come Undone, and the other half of the time I read Evie's story, I felt indignant. And I liked it.
More importantly, this book made me feel connected to all women; both in my personal life and the ones I'll never meet, the ones who fought for my right to an opinion and a voice. It made me think about the changes, and repercussions, that women have experienced over the last 40 years. It was never preachy though, Evie was silenced by her pride, but the author let us in to the depths of her struggles. This book will stick with me forever.