24 Hour Library

A Library Blog by Abby Hargreaves

Tag: 2 hearts

Abby Reads: Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
W. Norton & Company, 1966, 176 pages
Fiction (Published Fan-Fiction)

Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea takes a famous secondary (tertiary, really) character of a classic and fleshes her out to full person-hood. As a prequel to Jane Eyre, the novel explores the life of the woman in the attic before she was driven to madness. Her childhood in the Caribbean, her marriage to Edward Rochester, and her imprisonment in his manor are all examined in Rhys’s narrative, supplemented by chapters about Rochester as a young man and his struggles with his unwanted marriage and a wife he perceives as insane. Whether Bertha Mason, known as Antoinette Cosway in Sargasso, is in fact mad in earlier chapters is unclear, though her insanity by the end is clear. The path to that point is muddy, though, resulting in a text that is thought-provoking if confused.

Rhys provides no context for her story, even opting to use an alternative name for Bertha/Antoinette for much of the story and hardly ever naming Rochester. Without the knowledge that Sargasso is, in fact, intended as a prequel to Jane Eyre, readers will find few clues to the connection and may be therefore lost for the purpose of the novel and its implications. This issue of vagueness is exacerbated by a prose style that utilizes dialect (both in pronunciation and grammar) which, while perhaps accurate to the location and helpful in characterization, serves to further obscure the content of the novel in a text that is already confusing.

While Antoinette’s plight is certainly one for pity (at least from what I could tell), it’s difficult to feel sympathy for her when readers are left feeling so uncertain of the events and circumstances. The novel is full of maybes — maybe Rhys’s depiction of people of color who live on the island (generally in a service capacity, as is accurate to history) is racist, but it’s hard to tell when the overall text isn’t clear; maybe the novel gives Antoinette more agency and calls into question her insanity, but it’s hard to tell when the overall text isn’t clear; maybe Rhys layers a newer generation of feminism onto what is generally considered to be an early feminist novel (Jane Eyre), but it’s hard to tell when the overall text isn’t clear.

Maybe I’m missing something or was choosing to read this as a leisure read rather than as an academic one. Maybe this book is better suited for the classroom, where discussion around the maybes and professor-provided context can shift the focus to pieces that I overlooked. Wide Sargasso Sea is, no doubt, a great opportunity for scholarly work. But ultimately, it’s not something to read for fun, even for fans of Jane Eyre.

I read this book as part of Book Riot’s 2017 Read Harder Challenge, fulfilling challenge #11, “Read a book that is set more than 5000 miles from your location,” and I happily leave it behind with two hearts.

❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson

Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson
Vintage, 1994, 192 pages
Fiction

Written on the Body came into my life as a recommendation. I typically don’t take recommendations for books because (a) my TBR list is huge, (b) I generally find I have a good grip on the kinds of things I like to read more than other people do, and (c) I have a degree in advising people on what they should read based on their interests*, so I’m perfectly capable of doing it for myself. But sometimes I accept recommendations and even follow up on them because it can be a useful tool to getting to know the person who is doing the recommending and once in a while, it’s good to step outside yourself and, I don’t know, hear other people’s opinions on stuff and things, I guess.

So I picked up Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson after being told that it was the best book ever and totally beautiful and heartbreaking and all the things you want a good book to be.

Uh.

Yeah.

Not so much for me.

A novella, the book tells the story of an unnamed first-person narrator. We don’t know the narrator’s gender. The narrator falls in love with a married woman and waxes poetic about all her best qualities and the lowercase- and capital-R romance of it all. Life is one big beautiful tragedy for our dramatic narrator who deals in metaphor after metaphor. And it’s about to get a whole lot worse. The love interest (who I’ll remind you is married) reveals that she has cancer. With an obsession that leans toward stalking and feelings of being torn between allowing the woman to get the best possible medical treatment and spending as much time with her as possible, the narrator spirals.

I like pretentious literature as much as the next person, but this was overboard for me. Aside from trying to sell a clearly unhealthy relationship as something romantic, Winterson overdoes her prose with a poetic intensity that is exhausting. After the first dozen or so pages, I found myself asking how could she possibly sustain this over-the-top narration style for an entire novella? I still don’t know the answer as to how she managed it, but she certainly did and it was not comfortable nor useful, I think, to any sort of plot or character development aside from maybe suggesting the narrator doesn’t exactly live in reality but prefers to see the world as a stage and capital-A Art house. Or something.

Ultimately, Written on the Body felt like the kind of experimental artsy stuff I read in my college writing classes. It was aimless and inconclusive. It was pretentious and inaccessible. It was so not for me.

I can appreciate the artfulness of it, though. I can see why it might be a valuable piece of literature to read, particularly in an academic setting (and even more so if that was an academic setting of primarily women, but I’m biased). But if you’re looking for a straightforward read for brain candy, you won’t find it here.

*This is a gross simplification of my MLIS.

❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin
Square Fish, 2009, 304 pages
YA Fiction

 

In Gabrielle Zevin’s Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac, co-editor of the yearbook and high school student Naomi might as well have been born yesterday. After falling down the stairs of her school, Naomi has lost all of her memories. Dealing not only with the stress of typical high school drama, Naomi has to rebuild her life from nothing. Whether or not she’ll get her memories back is up in the air. She focuses, instead, on creating new memories. With a few shocks along the way, Naomi discovers her boyfriend Ace, her best friend Will, and the guy whose past is as murky as Naomi’s feelings for him, James.

 memoirsMemoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac simply wasn’t all that memorable. Granted, I did read it a while ago, but I had to look up quite a bit about what this book actually was about. Details came floating back the more I read, but overall, this book didn’t really stand out. It’s strange, perhaps, because the book was an ALA Best Book for Young Adults and, generally, I find books that receive awards or other professional recognition (New York Times Bestsellers and iterations thereof aside) tend to be pretty good. I trudged through Memoirs because, even now, I’m reluctant to truly give up on a book. But despite the intrigue of the title and the publisher-approved summary, Memoirs just didn’t wow me.

Zevin packs a lot into Memoirs. There’s Naomi’s amnesia, of course, Will’s “Nice Guy” persona (some of you know exactly what I’m talking about), the oddly-fitting jock stereotype that is Ace, James’s uncomfortable history and mental health,  Naomi’s family situation, and certainly a few other things I’m forgetting about. All of this in just three-hundred-four pages. With so many tragedies occurring, each on a different level than the others, the book, from a conflict-load perspective, should have been two books with two different stories, preferably with different sets of characters. It’s possible Zevin was attempting to convey the same sense of overwhelm Naomi felt at the loss of her memory; but the number of conflicts in the narrative didn’t overwhelm so much as just make the book feel weighed down with material, despite how relatively short it actually was.

Naomi, as a character, did little to help. As she’s figuring out who, exactly, Naomi is, the reader gets little sense of who Naomi is. She spends so much of her time asking, “Who am I?” that the reader can’t invest in her much and come to care about the outcome of her problems. Zevin kicks it up with supporting characters, who are sometimes too colorful, such as Naomi’s step-mom-to-be, who just seems unreal, and Will, who, even as the “Nice Guy,” walks around like, not some sort of exaggeration, but more like a cartoon. James is the most interesting character of the bunch. Frankly, I’m surprised Zevin hasn’t (to my knowledge) written a spin-off novel about him. While James has some cliché features as far as YA novels go, he does seem the most real of all the characters and that sense of reality gives him an edge that similar characters in other novels don’t have as much as. This is especially evident toward the end of the novel.

It’s hard to pin down Memoirs. One moment, it’s light-and-fluffy; the next, for a briefer moment, it’s heavy and intriguing. Sometimes the “heavy” is done well and other times, it’s obvious that this is a book written with words about people who don’t exist. Personally, I like to forget that I’m reading when I’m reading. If that’s what you’re looking for, too, you won’t find it here in Memoirs.

 

❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Astray by Amy Christine Parker

Astray by Amy Christine Parker
Ember, 2015, 352 pages
YA Psychological Thriller

Astray is the sequel to Amy Christine Parker’s Gated. Now that Pioneer’s community has been disbanded by local law enforcement, his trial approaches while Lyla tries to fit in at school and reconcile the life she had before with the life she has now. Parental members in Lyla’s former community cling to the life they had while outsiders begin to join them despite the larger community’s disdain for Pioneer’s followers. Lyla, meanwhile, is breaking down relationships with those still in the community, including her parents, while building up relationships with new people like Cody’s siFullSizeRender (1)ster and mother. Relationships of all kinds trouble Lyla, from her new therapist to her old friends. But at the center of it all is one relationship: Lyla and Pioneer.

Maybe I went into Astray with too high expectations, but I was admittedly disappointed by Gated‘s sequel. I read the two books about a year apart, so it’s possible my perception of the books had more to do with my personal growth or life or what have you than it had to do with the books themselves, but Gated would have probably been better off alone. The psychological intrigue and other aspects that made Gated special were absent in Astray. Where the subtle play of psychology influenced the events in Gated, a more heavy-handed approach made Astray feel less mature, less realistic, and less gripping than its parent.

I also struggled with Lyla. She came across as less likable and, while playing the new girl in school, became a cliché. In fact, she became, in many ways, a non-speculative-fiction version of Bella Swan, complete with the new frienemies, angst over dates, and difficulties with parents. And yes, these are all things that are often inherent in young adult novels. These are the things that real teens encounter on a daily basis. But with Gated‘s unique take on these challenges, Astray felt far too flimsy in comparison. Decisions Lyla made in Gated seemed, from my outsider perspective, generally sensible. Dangerous, perhaps, but still sensible in the bigger picture. Astray showed a side of Lyla that was far more willing to take risks for reasons that, from my perspective, simply weren’t worth those risks. So often the risk came down to death and, while this may have been an indication of Lyla’s delicate mental state, the logic didn’t follow.

The turn of events in Astray was not as believable as Gated, either. Where Gated was more a book of the mind, Astray falls more into the category of physical violence. Pioneer attacks less with psychological warfare — though he does that, too — but imagery of physiological harm shows up again and again: a broken toy owl, illness, torture, shrapnel. This jarring difference positions the books to appeal to different audiences. I absolutely support authors playing with audience intentions by series, but within a series, doing so can make books in a series feel disjointed.

On its own Astray might not be bad. It’s not bad as it is. It just can’t stand up to Gated.

❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Is Everyone Hanging out without Me? (and Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

Is Everyone Hanging out without Me? (and Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling
Three Rivers Press, 2012, 222 pages
Nonfiction Humor Essays

I am embarrassingly unfamiliar with Mindy Kaling’s work. I mean, I know who she is and I know some of the things she’s been in, but I’ve never seen her in action. I know she was in and wrote for The Office. I know she’s got The Mindy Project going on. But really, that’s it. While I had planned on waiting to read this until I’d become more familiar with her other work, I decided there was really no point and jumped right in. I am now even more curious about her main works. Is Everyone Hanging out without Me? is fun, mostly. Kaling plays around with differDSC_0250ent styles and formats, she includes pictures from her life, her voice is very much her voice. But I was troubled by how cheaply she often pursued jokes, while at the same time berating comedians for going for low forms of humor.

While telling readers a bit about her past, how she got to where she is now, and airing general grievances about the injustices of life (trivial and otherwise), Kaling resorts to making light of sexual assault, mental illness, disabilities, Jews, trans* people, body image, and sexism. As Kaling is a person of a marginalized group (women of color), I was surprised to see all of this. I was disheartened at her use of slurs for people with mental disabilities. I was disappointed at her entire chapter on Jewish stereotypes because, “No, really, all my friends are Jews.” It’s all rather hypocritical, too, as she dedicates an entire chapter to why comedic “roasts” (in which a comedian targets a particular individual with some harsh words about them meant to be humorous — you can imagine many pieces on the Kardashians, for instance, and likely find at least a few roasts there) are inappropriate and pathetic attempts at humor. Okay, Mindy.

Despite my feelings about these issues, I did finish the book and it wasn’t all bad. Kaling has her funny moments and, when she’s not stooping to the likes of what I described above, she’s very good. Moments I wouldn’t expect to translate well in text worked. Small observations of life that, in the right light are hilarious, were riots. Kaling has the tools to do this well. She wouldn’t be where she is without her talent and skill. But the harm she does with jokes about how girls are all about getting their nails done and cupcakes (and much worse) is hugely problematic and severely knocked down my enjoyment of the book.

I found Kaling’s use of footnotes charming, if a little spare. Rather than feeling like an important piece of the way Kaling approaches comedy, they felt like an after-thought gimmick with so few sprinkled throughout the book. I’m also a fan of footnotes, though, as someone who uses too many commas and even more parenthetical asides, so maybe I’m biased.

Personally, I feel Kaling could have done better. The skill is there, the writing is there, the content isn’t.

❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: The Revolution of Sabine by Beth Ain Levine

The Revolution of Sabine by Beth Ain Levine
Candlewick, 2008, 224 pages
YA Historical Fiction

In Beth Ain Levine’s The Revolution of Sabine, Sabine’s revolution is not the only revolution going on. Sabine is experiencing the American Revolution but through a lens which is atypical for American readers. Sabine is a young French girl, struggling with the idea of traditional womanhood in Eighteenth Century France. Her coming of age becomes more difficult as, not only her headstrong attitudeDSC_0027 leads her to want something other than what her parents want, but the presence of Benjamin Franklin in France and his grand ideas. It doesn’t hurt that her governess’s son, Michel, has been hanging around more often and has plans to run off to the New World to help the colonies fight their English parent.  When Michel offers Sabine the opportunity to come with him, she’s torn. Does she leave her controlling parents or let the boy who’s grown on her more than she expected go?

Characterizations of the inhabitants of Levine’s story are rather flat. While the motivations of some of them are very clear (such as Sabine’s mother), their actions and descriptions cause a caricature effect, pushing their personalities to the extreme and making them somewhat unbelievable. Unexpectedly, one of the most reasonable characters seemed to be Benjamin Franklin, who makes brief cameos in the novel but does not get directly involved in the action of the events. Sabine herself is predictable as the but-I-don’t-want-to-get-married-mother teenage daughter typical of similar stories. Some of the characters mirror, in a superficial way, characters of a Jane Austen novel. Sabine’s friends provide the gossip-y ladies who care only for marriage; her potential suitor the
antagonistic and rude upper-class would-rather-get-the-plague-than-marry guy; the we-grew-up-together-but-we-aren’t-actually-related love interest; the actually-pretty-cool dad — you get the picture. All of this might be fine except these characters are recurring in historical writing and feel unoriginal.

Although Levine’s main character is sixteen or seventeen, the book feels more appropriate for readers ages nine to twelve. The content may be a little political for readers of that age, but the writing style fits right in with other books readers of those ages might be reading. The themes of the book are similarly very clear, leaving little room for debate. This may make the book a good candidate for younger students doing book reports or analyses, but for the casual reader, makes the experience somewhat uncomfortable. If Sabine had a theme song, it would probably be “Free Bird.” We get it.

The ending of The Revolution of Sabine isn’t totally predictable if a little anti-climactic. It’s a strange mixture of realistic and unrealistic that left me feeling somewhat unsatisfied. It tied up the book as a whole with a shrug for me. This book had been sitting on my TBR list for several years and, ultimately, I didn’t feel like it was worth the anticipation and guilt I felt whenever I saw it sitting at the top of my Goodread’s list. This might be a great selection if you teach middle school English or are a middle school student. Beyond that, there are better options out there.

❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Going Too Far by Jennifer Echols

Going Too Far by Jennifer Echols
Pocket Books, 2009, 245 pages
YA Romance

After a traumatic beginning to her adolescent years, Meg takes on a new style. Now, it’s getting her into trouble with IMG_2612the law and she’s taking her friends down with her. When the cops find Meg, her boyfriend Eric, Meg’s friend Tiffany, and Tiffany’s date Brian on a dangerous bridge, they arrest the four teens. Meg, Tiffany, and Brain are assigned to ride around with one of three options for their spring break: police, fire department, or ambulance. But they don’t get to choose — the law does. Meg is paired up with Officer After, who is attractive but has problems of his own. Meanwhile, Meg struggles with her relationships with Tiffany, Eric, and her parents.

I went into Going Too Far expecting the title to be a reflection of Meg pushing the limits with Officer John After in terms of the appropriateness of their relationship. Although this was a shade of a theme in the book, this was not what the title was referring to. Instead, it is more about how the pair pushes each other to hazardous points in the name of fixing each other. Like many other YA novelists, Echols deals with growth and maturity in Meg’s journey. However, in one of Meg’s final acts of “maturity” she completely abandons herself, leaving the readers with a sense of betrayal. This change is a clichéd one, too, joining many other clichés in the novel such as the “tortured artist” trope and “got to get out of this small town” theme.

Echols’ writing is similarly repetitive. There is never a moment when the reader even has the chance to forget that John has “dark eyes” or Meg has “blue hair.” Though not unreadable, the rest of the prose is unremarkable. It’s clear at best, but dull and unimaginative.

With some clichéd characters, other characters show more promise, like Purcell. Unfortunately, Echols never fully delivers on Purcell or Meg’s parents, who are another pair of intriguing but underdeveloped characters. The remainder of the cast is full of stereotypes — the virgin valedictorian, the softy best guy, and the fatherly law enforcement officer. Echols does make an interesting move with Eric, who is irredeemably misbehaved but constantly bailed out by his rich parents one way or another. However, he’s incredibly unlikable.

I will also take a moment to note that there’s a good deal of slut-shaming in this novel. I had hoped Meg would turn out to be a character who shows her readers that it is acceptable for women to be sexual beings, but she and others regularly make comments that suggest her opinion (and the author’s) is otherwise. I will also emphasize that authors are not their characters — however, in this instance, I found no trace of anti-slut-shaming philosophies from the author in the novel.

❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

© 2017 24 Hour Library

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑