Andrea's Reviews > Ms. Hempel Chronicles

Ms. Hempel Chronicles by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum
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's review
Jun 23, 2011

it was ok
bookshelves: fiction-general, read-2011
Read in June, 2011

2.5 stars, actually, because I liked half of the book. Indeed, I loved the first 3 chapters - I felt like so much information was packed into each well-crafted sentence, and that the observations about teachers and students and parents were so right on.

The last 100 pages or so just fell apart. Bynum started jumping large bits of time, leaving me feeling disoriented. Also, it is dropped in after more than a hundred pages that Beatrice is Asian-American, then a few pages later that she is half Asian-American. Perhaps I'm simply a racist reader, because from the beginning I was imagining Beatrice and her family as white, because I'm white. I hesitate to write that, because I know it ties in a lot to how whiteness has been created as a cultural norm, etc. But with that as the foundation - I still spent 100+ pages imagining Beatrice, her family, her father, and then felt like I had to cast back my mind and totally re-imagine everything, and then when she says pages later that her dad is white it was like, okay, so half of my suppositions were correct? It just made me feel like I had bought into this world that was being created, and then all that mental work was cast aside and I felt totally destabilized. It felt sloppy, as though Bynum had written these stories about the same woman in order to publish them in magazines, and then when it came time to put them in a book carelessly slapped them together.

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