:: This is Part 2 of my February book reviews and suggestions. See Part 1 here. ::
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng :: I should have read this ages ago when it was on everyone else’s TBR pile. Seriously, the storytelling is admirable. It’s rare that a book with so many characters is able to fully develop every single one of them, but this does that and it does it well. The plotline is subtle (even though the plot itself is heavy) and the tension builds in a natural, quiet way while still managing to read fast. I was not kept on the edge of my seat by wondering what happened to the girl (as it is easy to guess at early on) but rather by the scenes that led up to that fateful night. The explorations of loss, gender, race, assimilation, and expectations could very well be too much for most books to handle; this one does not buckle under the weight.
Lucky Girls by Nell Freudenberger :: Much vitriol has been spilled about this book. While I don’t quite understand the hate, I did not care for this collection overall. The first two stories are not bad – the title story is beautiful if not terribly emotive – but the final three lack engagement. All of the stories are acutely rendered, which is part of the problem. Their language is so precise that it is almost bland. I admire the attention to words and the ease with which she navigates a story – she’s an excellent writer – but the stories lacked feeling (and no, it wasn’t because the characters are unlikable; I enjoy unlikable characters (if we’re being honest, humans are unlikable across snippets of their lives)).
Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West :: Laughter. Laughter everywhere. It’s funnier in the beginning, more serious toward the end, but it is so good throughout. Its main focuses are feminism, comedy, and body image. All of these are great topics anyway but even more so considering our current social climate. I read this in an evening flat (it’s not long) and learned something while laughing. I can’t complain about that.
**Keep scrolling for more reviews below the links**
this too shall pass by Milena Busquets :: Grief is hard to write. It’s easy to overdo it and risk pushing your reader away (because who wants to be consumed by fictional grief if they can avoid it?) or give it a nonchalance that leave the reader unable to feel for the character. This book teeters on that line, stumbling in the middle chapters. The grief is mostly forefront (as the protagonist addresses the “you” who has passed away throughout) but in the middle chapters it sometimes feels shoehorned in with a single sentence. That said, this is a translation and English is not nearly as feeling as the romance languages so the grief sentiment can be harder to convey without absolutes. My biggest issue was with the epilogue because it answered no questions worth answering and would have been better just left off. Overall, it’s a good mediation on grieving for a loved one but don’t expect to cry or be too sad for the protagonist.
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein :: I avoid non-human narrators because usually such a thing involves fantasy or sci-fi or some other such genre I don’t read (it’s just not my taste). However, this book is better for being from the point of view of a dog. The book has a sad undertone – I cried more than I care to admit – with such themes as sickness, cancer, a court battle, death, etc. but it is also hopeful. It has its issues: there is definitely a downside to having the dog as narrator for the latter third of this book (before the final two chapters); there are plot holes and the end wraps up too neatly; much of the philosophizing is gimmicky (but, the dog says he learned from TV so it makes sense that it would be); the female characters are terribly drawn; and some of the tangents into medicine or racing go for too long (I admit to skimming every once in a while even though I hate to do it). I may have connected with this book primarily because I have grown up with my share of dogs – one of whom is still alive and kicking at fourteen – and I also have a lab. I don’t dress them up or anything but I talk to them like they’re humans so I may or may not be a bit of a “crazy dog person.” Anyway, this is for people who love dogs, want to cry, or who just want to read something told from the perspective of a most genial and uncompromised narrator.
Bone Black by bell hooks :: This girlhood memoir is written in short, three-page chapters that almost function as vignettes. Its prose twists from lyrical to raw and abrupt quickly, serving up truth in light and dark forms simultaneously. The memoir shows the earliest signs of how a writer, especially a writer of this caliber, comes into being. While the focus is very much on her life, there are pieces that would ring true to the histories of far too many female writers and perhaps more than a few male writers as well. More importantly, the author paints a vivid picture of black girlhood that is the whole story and not a piece of a story meant to serve as emotional fodder or backdrop. This is central and whole, never begging for pity or sympathy (even though some of the interactions in her past could lend themselves that way in the hands of a lesser storyteller). The memoir tells things as they are, plain. It doesn’t play on your emotions but you will feel something anyway, which is something for which every writer strives.