24 Hour Library

A Library Blog by Abby Hargreaves

Tag: 2.5 hearts (page 1 of 2)

Abby Reads: Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Hogarth Press, 1925, 224 pages

Virginia Woolf’s classic Mrs. Dalloway opens with the title character preparing for a party. In the day to follow, Mrs. Dalloway and her friends, family, and acquaintances weave in and out of a loose narrative that follows a stream-of-consciousness prose style, seamlessly jumping from character to character.14942 With strong social commentary evident on each page, Woolf sketches early-Twentieth Century London through the eyes of various social classes and makes a strong point about the intersection of class position, perception, and biases.

One of the remarkable achievements of Mrs. Dalloway is Woolf’s ability to be both specific and broad in context and theme simultaneously. Although the story focuses on a select group of people, the implications of their thoughts and actions are easily applicable to society as a whole. While this is often the case or aim for fiction, Mrs. Dalloway gets at it especially well by creating characters who are both stock and individual. This works because she provides a first-person look into each character’s life, allowing them to reveal themselves to the reader while also providing the perspectives of other characters on a given point-of-view character. So while Mrs. Dalloway herself can appear as a sort of stock character who is a high society lady and readers may well accept that as the truth of her person, her maid Lucy’s understanding of Mrs. Dalloway is quite different, and adds dimension to the title character. It’s important to note, however, that racial, religious, and other identifying intersectionality is minimum, at best.

Woolf tells of these characters, too, with prose that is elegant and meandering, much like many of its contemporaries. Despite being a very different kind of work, Mrs. Dalloway frequently reminded me of J. D. Salinger’s “A Perfect Day for Bananafish.” I can’t quite put my finger on why, but if you enjoyed Salinger’s short story, you might find something in Mrs. Dalloway to enjoy as well.

With the stream-of-consciousness structure, Mrs. Dalloway can be slow at times. Though the commentary on society is endlessly fascinating, it can also be fatiguing with line after line making some point or other about this or that facet of life as a human. It’s a lot to take in and would likely require several reads before a reader could feel like they had a grasp on the majority of it. Woolf’s depth and attention to detail is extraordinary in Mrs. Dalloway and this means the reader’s attention, too, must be hyper-focused. For such a short novel, it can take a lot of scrutiny and turning over in the mind to impart the most on the reader.

Mrs. Dalloway is, for sure, one of those novels that you’ll get more out of if you’re in a classroom and have the guidance of historical, geographical, cultural, and literary context. But that’s not to say you can’t find value in Mrs. Dalloway reading it on your own. Woolf has lovely turns of phrases and, if you can manage the stream-of-consciousness style well enough, there are lots of opportunities to pick up on allusions and the various points Woolf makes about society. At the same time, this means Mrs. Dalloway requires a bit of work. If you’re looking for a straight entertainment read, this probably isn’t it, but if you’re up for a bit of careful reading, give Mrs. Dalloway a shot.

❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Borderline by Mishell Baker

TW: suicide, mental illness


Borderline by Mishell Baker
Saga Press, 2016, 400 pages
Urban Fantasy

A twenty-something Los Angeles filmmaker, Millie doesn’t have a lot going for her in the first of the Arcadia Project series, Borderline. Recovering from a severe suicidal episode that cost her her legs, Millie suffers from borderline personality disorder and has, for quite some time, lived in a facility in which 25692886she has access to healthcare professionals. But when a mysterious woman shows up and offers her independence in the form of employment, Millie jumps at the chance. She soon discovers her work will include plenty of detective work as she works to hunt down a missing fey person and work out how his connections are involved with the help of her partner and the rest of those working for the Arcadia Project.

I came into this novel after asking the folks at Book Riot for a recommendation based on the elements of my all-time favorite book, War for the Oaks. I requested something in the urban fantasy vein that had a great female lead, faeries, grittiness, a little urban feel, a stark feeling of realism within the fantasy, and music. Based on those qualifications, Borderline had a pretty strong start. The female lead was interesting and by no means nice, Baker had her own take on faeries, Millie’s reality as a double-amputee and someone with a serious mental health diagnosis was certainly gritty, there was a reasonably strong sense of realism, and, while there was no music, there was a heavy presence of art in the form of movies. After a quarter to a half of the novel, most of those things had fallen away in one way or another from their strong start.

Millie, though originally with a refreshing, biting personality that is often reserved for men in procedural dramas (think Gregory House of House, MD) — to include hypersexuality driven by symptoms of her borderline personality disorder — became a bore after not too long. While it was fun to watch a woman inhabit this character for a while, Millie’s existence as a woman dissolves and the reader might as well be reading about a man. Because her gender felt so specific in the opening, the lack of its influence in the rest of the novel doesn’t fit well. Additionally, while Millie doesn’t need to be likable to be interesting — and I’ll again state that I don’t feel protagonists need to be likable to be worth reading about, nor do they need to be redeemed for a novel to be of value — there’s a strange disconnect in which Millie is often quite socially aware and politically correct, excepting for a few moments, one of which features her having an unkind, racially-charged thought to the detriment of an Asian American character. Her generally harsh personality combined with this propensity to be social-justice conscious seems at odds, and is never quite explained or developed enough to make sense, unless readers suppose it’s some feature of her personal experience with mental illness and stigma.

Grittiness remains throughout with Millie’s challenges as a double-amputee and someone with BPD, but the industrial grittiness I admittedly looked for in comparison to War for the Oaks was mostly absent in the shiny land of Los Angeles. And, I think the form of art featured (again, instead of the cool and dirty rock ‘n’ roll of Oaks) took away from any potential grittiness, especially as film is used as a sort of metaphor for illusions and glamor (a faerie concept, if you’re familiar with the genre, meaning magical visual illusions, primarily). So these things ultimately let me down.

Also frustrating for my tastes was that Borderline sits more comfortably as a detective or mystery novel, much like a procedural show like CSI might. It seems that Borderline is one of these, first, before it is a fantasy novel. This is partly evidenced in that, aside from the heavy procedural and detective influences on the plot, Baker seems to know more about her fantasy world than she lets on. This is somewhat natural, given Millie is new to it and she is the reader’s eyes for the purposes of this story. But the fact remains that Borderline doesn’t quite feel as advertised. Plus, Baker has a new take on faerie lore — fine, maybe, for others, but not for me.

Borderline has a sequel, but it’s not something I feel compelled to read. Though the novel might not be bad, it simply wasn’t what I was looking for and felt miscategorized and poorly marketed based on the dust jacket description and cover image. Baker’s world needed more explanation and less of a detective lean for my tastes.

❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man’s Fundamentals for Delicious Living by Nick Offerman

Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man’s Fundamentals for Delicious Living by Nick Offerman
Dutton, 2013, 352 pages

Famed for his work on Parks and Recreation, Nick Offerman pulls together his top life advice for readers in his series of essays, Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man’s Fundamentals for Delicious Living. With advice that runs from the religious, to the handiwork, to the legal, Offerman’s writing often veers into Ron 17674991Swanson (his character on Parks and Recreation) territory. If you’re wondering what you’re getting into here, Offerman’s book can be boiled down to a few (mildly profane) words: don’t be an ass.

Pushing against this philosophy, however, is the book itself. Often, despite his protests to the contrary, Offerman comes off as pretentious and holier-than-thou, particularly as he discusses religion. He borders on the idea that those who appreciate religion are inherently stupid. Though he argues against this concept and states he can feel the opposite, given those of faith are not pushing their faith on others, many moments had me rolling my eyes at the hypocrisy. If you’re not a fan of folks like Richard Dawkins, who is known for his vitriol against religion, tread carefully.

Offerman’s attitude doesn’t stop at religion, of course. At times, his essays are nothing more than obnoxious manifesto, as if the book’s entire purpose was to give Offerman a space to let off steam. This might work well for readers who already wholeheartedly agree with Offerman on anything and everything, but Offerman isn’t doing much to persuade anyone here. Unfortunately, the topics Offerman touches on are repetitive. Again and again, it’s anti-religion (in some form) and pro-recreational drug use. While I have no concerns about visiting these topics at all, the constant revisiting made Offerman’s book somewhat hollow and bland.

Because Offerman mixes personal stories with opinion essays, he has a tough job of balancing the two in a way that reads naturally and makes sense. Unfortunately, this throws off the pacing of the book as a whole, making it feel entirely longer and slower than is necessary. Still, despite the title of the book, it ends up being more of a memoir than tips and advice on “delicious living.” And still, still, the instruction that does appear is starkly in the vein of Ron Swanson in many ways. This is further highlighted by a prose style that eerily matches Swanson’s speaking patterns, suggesting Offerman either does a significant amount of improv in his acting work or that he’s otherwise influenced by his most famous work in this book. The prose style, then, is okay — but not great.

Paddle Your Own Canoe was marketed for fans of Ron Swanson — the cover alone makes that abundantly clear; yet Offerman fights against the connection throughout his work while pulling together his thoughts on things in a way that isn’t terribly cohesive and is ultimately tiresome. A few moments of humor pop up and Offerman certainly can go on about this and that, but at the end of it, I felt let down.

❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: What I Was Doing while You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman

What I Was Doing while You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman
Three Rivers Press, 2014, 304 pages
Travel Memoir

Drawing from the same well of humor that provides lines for shows such as How I Met Your Mother, Kristin Newman brings her international travel stories to the page in What I Was Doing while You Were Breeding. After several failed relationships, Newman sets out on many trips betweenWhat I Was Doing while You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman show writing season and pursues short-term flings with whatever local men are available — or not — in the places she visits, which she calls “vacationships.” While for some journeys Newman brings along a friend or two, she often travels alone throughout her twenties and thirties, allowing for plenty of opportunity for self-discovery and global awareness.

Despite Newman’s enormous privilege to do all of this traveling, she’s seemingly unaware of it. Newman regularly complains that her friends can’t join her, blind to the amount of money and time away from a regular job it takes to travel the way she does. She goes out of her way to stay at inexpensive hostels and motels, which she uses as a strategy to meet other young, single people. This leads her to make comments about the poor conditions of her stays.

Arguably worse is Newman’s tendency to engage in offhand racism (which she admits is racist, but ultimately does nothing about it and even seems to find some pride in it) and general cultural unawareness. Although Newman has these many opportunities to explore the world and learn from other cultures, she is quick to point out things that are “weird” or otherwise lesser-than her American experience. Newman eventually recounts a specific event in which she declines a date with an Asian man through a dating app simply because he is Asian. Newman has minimal shame in admitting this — and arguably none at all, given her willingness to not only tell the story once, but refer back to it once or twice in later pages. She underlines this with a few blatantly anti-Asian jokes. Asians receive the brunt of Newman’s disrespect, but her general racism is evident in phrases that suggest otherness and exoticism like “gorgeously colored people” without many other descriptors, as if their whole being is tied up in the color their skin.

Readers might expect Newman’s book to be mildly offensive, like many sitcoms are. However, her offense does not stop at racism. There are also moments of homophobia and slutshaming — even in the same breath. “The nice thing about a gay club is there is no possible way to be the sluttiest person in the room,” she writes. This is par for the course for Newman. She regularly inserts comments that slutshame, claiming it’s okay because she’s the most promiscuous person she knows, while also putting down individuals who choose a more monogamous lifestyle and even telling of instances where she tries to get those individuals to move into a lifestyle that better matches and suits hers. Newman doesn’t even pause at rape jokes.

The following paragraph contains a spoiler, if you’re concerned about that kind of thing here — and it’s a big one, but something I feel is important to discuss given everything we’ve gone over at this point.

Newman isn’t a likable person, and the unshocking ending only serves to reinforce heteronormativity and a dangerous dependency on the patriarchy. Despite Newman’s past, it is a man and her relationship with him that ultimately saves her from herself, if she chooses to view her promiscuous lifestyle as destructive (which, as an undercurrent, it seems she does). She is only “cured” of her own personality (distasteful as it may be in its racism, slutshaming, and so on) when she is essentially forced into playing the role of the wife and mother. And I’ll just add another sentence of words here so the last words don’t stand out and inadvertently spoil anyone who cares about being spoiled and mistakenly sees the last words of the actual paragraph because they’re the last words.

Okay. Spoiler over.

The one redeeming quality of Newman’s memoir is a theme she returns to regularly, though perhaps doesn’t follow as closely as she might think. Her philosophy when traveling is this: Do the thing you’re supposed to do in the place you’re supposed to do it. This is a bit more nuanced than “when in Rome,” I think, and provides not just for doing as the locals do, but also doing things as opportunities present themselves — as both the time and place are right to do them. And as you are right to do them. This is a great takeaway for a travel memoir, and I only wish Newman had been more conscious of herself as a representative of America in her travels and as a writer when later relating these stories.

I read this book as part of Book Riot’s 2017 Read Harder Challenge, fulfilling challenge #8, “Read a travel memoir,” and I leave it behind with two-and-a-half hearts.

❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Ms. Marvel Vol 1 – No Normal by G. Willow Wilson

Ms. Marvel Vol 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson
Marvel, 2014, 120 pages
Graphic Novel

Dealing with a lack of self-esteem fueled by external and internal Islamaphobia and the usual challenges of being a teenager, Kamala in Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson only wishes she could be like her heroes. When she stumbles into the appearance and powers of Ms. Marvel, she finds being a hero is a bigger challenge than she could have imagined, especially as her family begins asking questions.Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal (Ms. Marvel Series) by [Wilson, G.]

Most origin stories for superheroes involve origin stories that pull fans in with drama and excitement. Kamala’s introduction to her powers is, by contrast, anticlimactic. This is, perhaps, somewhat intentional — another highlight of how truly ordinary Kamala imagines herself to be and maybe even is. With no fascinating spider bite to explain her powers or any overly dramatic emotional baggage, Kamala encounters her new abilities as part of the every day.

Marvel superfans may find this origin story more interesting as it ties into other parts of the greater Marvel universe, but for the casual comic book or graphic novel reader with limited exposure to Marvel, the opening of Kamala’s life as a superhero is unremarkable, save for her predictable shock at her new state. This story line, however, is truly the central plot line despite its stark simplicity. Few other plots are formed or deep enough to create a robust narrative.

Meanwhile, Kamala’s family represents a set of interesting dynamics. Kamala’s mother holds strong opinions and is often hard on her daughter while the father of the family is more forgiving. With an older brother, Kamala often finds herself in competition with her sibling but also has a supporter in her brother.

Islamaphobia is one of the elements of Kamala’s life which contributes to her low self-esteem. Interestingly, the bulk of Islamaphobia featured in the graphic novel is the insidious kind. Zoe, the primary perpetrator, doesn’t seem to be consciously anti-Muslim. Instead, the Islamaphobic language she uses and suggestions she makes seems to be more of a convenient vehicle for her more general dislike of Kamala. Zoe is, to some extent, the “I’m-not-racist” racist. This is useful because readers who might not otherwise see their language and actions as racist might view their own behavior in new light thanks to Zoe’s antagonism.

Another interesting character lives in Kamala’s friend, Bruno. Despite his bad-boy skater look, Bruno is the lawful good of No Normal. Bruno expresses romantic interest in Kamala and backs those feelings up with respect and care. Though he appears in few panels, Bruno’s influence is clear in Kamala’s actions. Moments of strength sometimes seem to come from memories of Bruno’s kindness and integrity.

No Normal isn’t my style, but works as an introduction to the world of superheroes, particularly for girls who may feel intimidated by the genre. With a sketchy illustration style, Kamala’s story is just beginning and future volumes are sure to grow in excitement.

I read this book as part of Book Riot’s 2017 Read Harder Challenge, fulfilling challenge #18, Read a superhero comic with a female lead,” and I leave it behind with two-and-a-half hearts.

❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Hello, Sunshine by Leila Howland

Hello, Sunshine by Leila Howland
Disney-Hyperion, 2017, 368 pages

I received this eBook from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Hello, Sunshine will be available for purchase July 11, 2017.

In Leila Howland’s Hello, Sunshine, Becca Harrington has been rejected from every college she’s applied to. With dreams of becoming a star, she packs her things and makes a cross-country roadtrip from Boston to LA with her boyfriend, Alex, who has plans to attend Stanford. Things come crashing down when Alex breaks up with her at the end of their trip, leaving Becca feeling like an utter failure. Despite plans to live with her cousin, Becca finds an apartment of her own where she meets a new friend, Marisol, and a cute aspiring director, Raj. With a list of goals in hand (including finding an agent and getting paid acting work all while working a bummer job as a waitress), Becca sets out into the shiny world that is Los Angeles while learning to get out of her own way.

As a first-person narrator, Becca is hyper-everything. Much like the overexposed picture that makes up the cover to Hello, Sunshine, the narration style is fast and bright, as if living inside the head of an extravert (which Becca clearly is). While Becca uses a lot of words to tell her story, particularly toward the beginning, she doesn’t say a whole lot. In addition to a selection of sentence structure and vocabulary that makes Becca seem as if she’s talking a million miles a minute, the plot structure, too, moves at a rapid pace. While so many events happen to bring Becca to the end of this chapter in her life, Howland might have done better to focus on fewer things and committed to fewer false starts in Becca’s attempts at an acting career. While this may be an accurate representation of trying to get famous, it doesn’t work well for a narrative.

The choice of present-tense adds tension to the story — will Becca “make it” in Hollywood, or will she not? — but doesn’t leave Becca much time for reflection, which she sorely needs. As a character flaw, this is slightly resolved later on, but not convincingly. Meanwhile, Howland uses f-bombs and other profanity relatively liberally. This isn’t a problem in and of itself, but doesn’t suit the reading level, prose style, or the book’s personality (or, frankly, Becca’s personality). Obviously not a piece of literary fiction, Hello, Sunshine’s writing style revolves around immaturity and a lack of sophistication. This does quite a bit to characterize Becca, but doesn’t make her particularly interesting and doesn’t serve to show the author’s skill, nor does it do the book as a whole many favors.

All said, Becca’s narration, though fast (and, wow, the last quarter of the book or so is like whiplash in terms of events), is matter-of-fact and not totally unlike eighteen-year-olds I’ve known.

Howland does bring the book to life with some interesting characters. Though she’s never mentioned, real-life Kesha seems a natural model for Marisol. Marisol’s background is far more interesting than any other character’s, Becca’s included. With an unexpected twist toward the end regarding Marisol which sends Becca running back to her cousin, Marisol’s personal story may be a little trite, but her characterization is the strongest. Meanwhile, the ever-present “juice man” has a predictable role toward the end of the novel. Main players in the book, Becca, Raj, Marisol, and even Becca’s mom and cousin, all are fairly well-developed. Even more-secondary characters, like Reed, are the stars of their own lives. Perhaps the one flaw in Howland’s character description is Becca noting Raj’s “coffee-colored skin,” which is borderline, if not straight-out problematic (I’ll leave that up to PoC to decide).

A fair amount of themes and symbolism seem present in the book, although I approached this as a leisure read and didn’t over-analyze things. One point that did come to my attention was Becca’s near-constant talk about stomach problems early on. It was so frequent it seemed like this would later become a plot point, like some kind of diagnosis that would interfere with her goals. Alas, it never returned and was just a case of some heavy-handed show-don’t-tell as readers learn that Becca is upset with her new single status. Hello, Sunshine is also solidly grounded in the modern world with mentions of Instagram and Ikea floating about. Whether or not this is included to color Becca’s world or provide fodder for symbolism (Ikea comes up multiple times as part of a running bit of wisdom; personally, I find mentions of specific establishments that exist in reality to be distracting and unnecessarily dates the book, but I feel similarly about made-up institutions meant to stand in for something well-known, like an author referring to a fast food restaurant as Burger Prince, but I digress), it makes the novel a touch more relevant for the right here, right now.

I suspect fans of Morgan Matson’s Since You’ve Been Gone will enjoy Hello, Sunshine. Not only is the cover art strikingly similar, but the overall feel of the stories are about the same. Hello, Sunshine isn’t a literary masterpiece, but works as a palate cleanser or a quick weekend read. For two-and-a-half hearts, what you see is what you get.

❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany
Arthur A. Levine Books, 2016, 320 pages
Fantasy Play

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child picks up in play format where Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows left us. Now an adult with three children, Harry Potter brings his offspring to Platform 9 ¾ to send them off to Hogwarts. For Albus Potter, Hogwarts brings a new set of pressures involving living up to his father’s legacy. Meanwhile, Scorpius Malfoy struggles with his own problems. The two find each other and develop a friendship before beginning a new adventure that changes the entire canon of Harry Potter as we previously knew it.

Look. I realize this is all Rowling-sanctioned, but this is absurd. Though the results of the series may remain, Albus and Scorpius, with the help of a time turner, completely alter the underlying events of what actually happened, particularly in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. The implications of these changes cast familiar characters in a whole new light, often in ways that don’t make sense. Additionally, *MAJOR SPOILER AHEAD*, the “change” in the fact that Voldemort had a child (with Bellatrix Lestrange, no less), is a lazy trope that leads me to believe the only reason this text exists is for the money its creators knew it would make. Ew.

Moving on. Many familiar characters make appearances throughout the play: Harry, of course, Hermione, Ron, Ginny, Draco, and others show their faces — but that’s about all that is familiar about them. As any good Tumblr fan theory will tell you, Harry Potter is absolutely in the wrong profession. Although Harry obviously does a wonderful job bringing people to justice, he’s far better suited as a professor than as an auror. The characters, Harry included, are caricatures of themselves at best, hardly resembling the rich and complex beings they were as adolescents. It’s a disappointing switch that, though perhaps explained by the tragedy known as becoming an adult, doesn’t feel true to the characters we’ve known — much of the point of Harry Potter was that humans are capable of breaking the cycle. Cursed Child takes an enormous step backward in that respect, proving — at least in the world of Harry Potter — that everything the original series preached is false. Furthermore, the characters’ dialog was unsettling throughout. Unnatural to begin with, it’s never more uncomfortable than when Albus throws around SAT-grade words, even as an eleven-year-old.

Not all of the characters are a total disaster, however. There is one exception: Scorpius Malfoy, though perhaps a bit overdone in his shyness (okay, a bit overdone overall, like many of the others in the play — I’ll mark that up to it being a play which requires heightened emotions and characterizations for the sake of the actors playing them), is a new angle of human we haven’t yet seen in Harry Potter. I imagine him as a combination of Harry and Luna Lovegood in many ways — sarcastic and a bit dreamy, steadfast to his friends, and really rather innocent. It’s a fun exercise of imagination — how would the son of Draco Malfoy turn out? Many of us Potterheads hoped for a redemption for Draco. Rowling didn’t deliver — though there was a bit of a lean in that direction in Cursed Child — but Scorpius is a sort-of consolation prize.

Cursed Child also features some strange pacing, dabbling between moments of rapid action and crawling inaction. I imagined at many points throughout the book what it might be like to see this as a play (verdicts, from what I’ve seen, aren’t terribly favorable aside from the special effects). I could only picture myself being bored to death and in the throes of hysterical laughter when comedy was not the intent.

We all wanted a book eight, and we got it — but at what cost? Rowling apparently had limited input (my understanding is she essentially gave a stamp of approval but did not actually contribute to this essentially glorified fanfiction [that’s not a dig at fanfic, though — I love fanfic; don’t get me started]), and it shows. If you want the complete Potter experience and don’t mind having the original series essentially ruined, go for a read of this. Otherwise, you’re better off with the folks in the Epilogue, What Epilogue? corner. I’ll see you over there.


❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Pantheon Graphic Novels, 2004, 160 pages
Graphic Novel Memoir

I’ve never been one to really enjoy graphic novels. I see their value, I appreciate that others enjoy them, but it’s never been my thing. Once in a while, I find one that grabs me, but generally, I find I have a bias toward wanting more text. I read quickly and graphic novels flash by me. I probably, admittedly, do not pick up subtleties in the images that go along with the text. That’s my disclaimer for my review of Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi.

Persepolis is, arguably, not a graphic novel. In fact, it’s a graphic autobiography. Marjane Satrapi tells the highs and lows of her time as child in Iran during the Islamic revolution. As she explores the various relationships she held, particularly of that with an uncle, Marjane Satrapi gives the circumstances surrounding these events and the events themselves something of a face – albeit one with parts obscured and with parts illuminated by hindsight. A brave and rebellious child with equally tenacious parents, Marjane Satrapi as a character provides a spunky girl in less-than-ideal circumstances.

Another disclaimer – I grew up going to school in the American public school system. It would seem, compared to many other countries’ systems, mine was lacking in the global awareness arena. Any formal historical education I had focused solely on American history and, even then, it was limited to pretty much the Revolutionary War except for maybe on semester where we covered the Civil War through part of World War II. All this to say, I had zero context for Persepolis. At twenty-four, I guess there’s an argument to be made that this is my fault, but frankly, there’s a whole lot of history to learn and no so much time to do it. So, while I’ve gotten to the edges of starting to learn some of what I missed, I’m factually and conceptually blind when it comes to the Islamic revolution and Iran.

I don’t want to put the burden of that education on the author. That would cover so many –isms, it would make your head spin. At the very least, it would potentially imply that my time is more valuable than Satrapi’s, which it certainly isn’t. So, this burden is on me. My lack of knowledge in this area, however, presented a fairly large disconnect with the content of Persepolis. I had no context for the events in Satrapi’s life. And, while for many readers this might mean a springboard to doing research on their own, I just felt lost. It was a case of not knowing what I didn’t know (also on me, I don’t deny that) and doing the bare minimum of checking Wikipedia when I really felt it necessary. So, I’m certain I’m missing out on a lot of Persepolis that I needn’t. I probably would have enjoyed it with more context, whether Satrapi had supplied it or not. And, to be fair, Satrapi did include quite a bit of explanation and background. In any case, for this particular topic I leave you with this: be aware that, if you’re not already well-versed in this piece of history, you’ll be lost. Don’t blame it on the author.

Next: Satrapi as a character. Perhaps this is a symptom of autobiography or autobiography in graphic format or who knows what, but I felt Satrapi as a character was always distant and two-dimensional. Perhaps, again, this was intentional – the story, after all, is more about events, circumstances, and people surrounding Satrapi than Satrapi herself. But I consistently felt as if Satrapi was revealing only very specific parts of herself in an attempt to string together a cohesive narrative (and don’t we all? But I found it ill-suiting here.)

Which brings me to the narrative structure. Again (and again), I’ll point out this was an autobiography. Is it fair that I ask it have a plot? I don’t know – I do believe a plot of some kind makes an autobiography more compelling. And while the Islamic revolution rages throughout the narrative, Satrapi’s coming-of-age did not feel particularly directional or with any arc. Each vignette included in the narrative adds up to her emerging as a young adult, but one does not follow the next naturally.

And, as a piece of personal preference (as if this entire review isn’t) – I was not a fan of the artistic style employed the in graphic portion of the graphic autobiography. The wood-block-like prints reinforced the two-dimensional feel I got from Satrapi-the-character.

I hate that I didn’t enjoy Persepolis; I feel down-right guilty about it. But there it is. Despite disliking it, I still think I’d recommend it to many. It’s a valuable piece of work and probably has more than I’m able to appreciate with my limited scope. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler

Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2009, 320 pages
YA Fiction

Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler had been on my radar for a while. It was published in 2009 and ever since, it’s floated around the various book blogs as the cover is intriguing and the title compelling. But what’s promised as either a cutesy summer read by the cover and title – and what’s promised as a serious and heartfelt look via the power of literature at the themes of love and loss aren’t fulfilled.

Quick summary – teenage Anna lives next door to her best friend, Frankie. Frankie’s family might as well be Anna’s family, except for Frankie’s brother Matt. At a birthday party for Anna, Anna and Matt come clean with their feelings for each other. Everything is going great, though Matt wants to wait to tell his sister about their relationship – until Matt dies. A year later, Anna and Frankie are still trying to heal and still keeping secrets from each other. The pair go to California in an attempt to renormalize Frankie’s family with their annual vacation with a mission to meet twenty boys in the time they have there.

It’s become the norm for me to read fiction with a feminist lens. It’s kind of impossible not to at this point. This was no different for Twenty Boy Summer which, as it turns out, has a plot that revolves largely around self-worth coming from the attention of boys and slut-shaming. There’s also this weird obsession with the value of virginity and I think it could be argued that the book leans toward old-fashioned and, frankly, oppressive ideas. Given that the primary, if superficial in various senses of the word, plot of the story is Frankie and Anna’s pursuit to have sex with (and then just kiss, and then just meet) twenty boys in a summer, it ends up feeling like the moral of the story is abstinence. Make of that what you will.

Though the story mostly revolves around Anna and her healing, Frankie and her parents make for far more interesting characters. Sadly, they’re underutilized. In brief moments, the parents’ pain over the loss of their son plays out in fascinating ways, flipping between giving Frankie free reign to do as she likes because life is short and holding Frankie to strict rules and conditions of family time because life is dangerous. A few tense passages show conflict between and within the parents, too – I wonder if this might have gone over better as a novel which focused on them. Frankie’s grief, too, plays out in engaging ways, but with Anna as the focal point, it’s impossible to tease out the intricacies and details of her methods of coping. Perhaps it’s the removal from and mystery of her grief that makes it so interesting, though I can’t help but wish it had been a greater piece of Twenty Boy Summer.

In general, setting tends to be a non-issue for me in that I don’t notice it all that much unless it’s specifically relevant to the plot. I did find Ockler’s choice of Northern California to be thought-provoking. While the themes of excess and promiscuity lend themselves better, in my mind, to Southern California (and I doubt many of you disagree), the more family-oriented Bay Area throws up a contrast to Anna and Frankie’s behavior. Perhaps take this with a grain of sea salt – my impressions of California and its culture are limited to a two-week visit a few summers ago and plenty of movies.

Twenty Boy Summer is just okay. It’s what comes to mind when I think of beach reads, though that may be because a good deal of it takes place on a beach. It’s less light-hearted than the cover suggests, less dark than the summary and blurbs suggest. My main concern comes from the “lesson” Ockler inserts, but for readers who can look past that, this might not be the worst way to spend a few hours.


❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Amelia Anne Is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfeld

Amelia Anne Is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfeld
Speak, 2013, 288 pages
YA Thriller

I was lured into this book by its absolutely stunning cover. Gritty and ethereal, I thought the artwork would reflect the inner contents. I stand by judging a book by its cover — it actually and typically is a fairly good gauge when it comes to all kinds of information about a book — but, overall, in this case I was wrong. Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone  by Kat Rosenfeld has quite a bit going for it in the prose department, but fails to present an engaging plot or character.amelia-anne

When an unidentified college-aged woman is found dead in new high school graduate Becca’s hometown, there’s no knowing who could have killed her. The close-knit town, despite its efforts, doesn’t seem interested enough in this mysterious murder and, with college approaching and the days with her on-again-off-again boyfriend numbered, Becca can’t help but turn her attention to the outward violence that has cast a shadow on her vacation town. As her obsession grows, readers are introduced to the unidentified woman: Amelia Anne. In a tumultuous relationship of her own, Amelia Anne is caught between a new love (theatre) and an old (her boyfriend).

In recent years, I’ve come to appreciate literary fiction more and more. It’s a hard thing to do and relies on character development over plot. I’d argue it’s especially less common in young adult fiction than it is in adult fiction. The likelihood, then, of finding a well-written work of young adult literary fiction is slim. Going into Amelia Anne Is Dead and Gone, I didn’t necessarily know I was getting into something more character-driven. It occurred to me, by the end, that was exactly what I had done. It didn’t sit well with me.

There’s a lot of transformative power in death, regardless of how close the person who has passed is to the central individual. With Amelia Anne Is Dead and Gone, the thematic weight of everything in transition in Becca’s life is heavy and made heavier by the presence of a dead girl. Coming to terms with graduation, a breakup, a loss of innocence, the verge of adulthood is all part of the traditional Bildungsroman. There’s the expectation that any Bildungsroman will have at least some literary fiction element as the primary focus is on the internal changes of the character from girl to woman, from boy to man, from child to adult. The problem with Amelia Anne Is Dead and Gone is more that I didn’t get the sense Becca had really changed. She’d spent months being obsessed and accusatory and introspective, but she hadn’t grown up. She was not now entering the final weeks of her summer as more worldly: she was just traumatized.

And with good reason. The most interesting part of the novel is the twist. I don’t feel it’s handled particularly well and it feels so out of place in this book, but there’s something chilling-but-commonplace about the twist that really grounds the rest of the book, which is already so far grounded in reality so as to make it almost boring. The twist grounds the book with a swivel of the heel into the dirt while the rest of the day-to-day content drops a shapely rock onto the earth’s surface. The tension — and the way I looked at humanity and people for a brief moment — was shifted into something not extraordinary, but certainly odd.

This heightened the interest in one character who did not get the page time they deserved, honestly. Pages were allocated for other characters who were uninteresting and clearly placed as intentions to distract the reader from the reality of things. This wasn’t necessary, though — the reader doesn’t have enough clues to piece together what really happened to Amelia Anne until it’s revealed. There are parallels that suggest things throughout and you find yourself thinking, “Oh yes, I see how this happened.” And you’re probably right, to some extent — but I can almost guarantee you haven’t figured the whole thing out, even if you’ve trained yourself to ignore the superfluous characters and their explosive violence.

This book is, by the way, explosively violent. It’s unsettling in some passages and, while it’s not a gore-fest, it’s not for those who like pretty depictions left and right. In any event, I finished Amelia Anne decidedly unsatisfied. The effort didn’t pay off, despite the promises I felt Rosenfeld was making. She’s lauded for her poetic ability throughout reviews for Amelia Anne but without enough direction, the book doesn’t amount to much.

❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Older posts

© 2021 24 Hour Library

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑