24 Hour Library

A Library Blog by Abby Hargreaves

Tag: 3.5 hearts (page 1 of 3)

Abby Reads: The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton

The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton
Viking Press, 1967, 192 pages
Young Adult Fiction

As one of the local greasers, Ponyboy Curtis finds trouble with the privileged Socs often enough. After befriending a soc name Cherry Valance, things come to a head. Cherry’s group isn’t so keen on Ponyboy and the others spending time with her, so they attack Ponyboy and Johnny viciously. When this Image result for the outsiders hintonevent becomes bigger than Ponyboy could have anticipated, everything spins out of control and nothing will ever be the same in S. E. Hinton’s young adult classic The Outsiders.

If you didn’t already know, Hinton wrote The Outsiders when she was fifteen. The book was published when she was eighteen. This is especially impressive when evaluating the book critically. Structurally and thematically, The Outsiders is a mature and nuanced look at things like cycles and privilege. The way Hinton ties the ending of the novel to the beginning may seem overused at first glance, but the grace with which she handles the transition is excellent. Even as the final pages started rolling by and I realized what Hinton was going to do structurally, I worried — but there was no need. Despite the trope she uses, it feels entirely fresh thanks to adept handling.

Meanwhile, themes of the novel are clear but not heavy-handed. Issues of privilege, albeit with minimal intersection (it’s of its time and so on — there is a Native American slur used and the plights of the characters are, at the end of the day, mostly white-people problems), show up in various ways with nuance and great understanding without making the issues too complicated to grasp. All of this is underscored by Ponyboy’s first-person narration, which is delivered in a well-defined voice. As it turns out, the social commentary Hinton lays down is timeless, too. As some supplementary material points out in the Speak edition I read, the terms “greasers” and “socs” may change over the years, but the fundamental concepts behind the groups and their conflict remain.

Part of Ponyboy’s voice is his attention to detail. This sometimes means the plot seems to be moving slowly, but the reality is the plot is simply a more subtle one and not bogged down with side plots. The Outsiders is short, at 192 pages, but a delicious thing to digest with all of Ponyboy’s observations. A few literary allusions, too, help to define Ponyboy as a character and add value to the book as a whole. Though I often find literary allusions to be on the cheap side, Hinton once again surprised me here.

I don’t think I believe in perfect books, and there were a few moments of The Outsiders where dialog or phrasing was awkward. The single side plot of Sodapop and his relationship with a girl named Sandy certainly had symbolic significance, but I could have done without so much of it. But The Outsiders has stood strong for fifty years for a reason. It’s a strong example of structure and theme woven well together without being an intimidating piece of capital-L Literature and I’m not surprised it’s been used in schools for years.

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Snow White by Matt Phelan

Snow White: A Graphic Novel by Matt Phelan
Candlewick Press, 2016, 216 pages
Graphic Novel Retelling

In 1920s New York City, Samantha “Snow” White is suddenly without a mother but living the financial high life with her father. When the Queen of the Ziegfeld Follies catches Snow’s father’s eye, Snow’s life changes pretty quickly. For a time, she is sent away. And when an inheritance becomes available, Image result for snow white phelanthe Queen will do whatever she can to get the lion’s share — including hire a murderer for Snow. Following the traditional plot of the classic “Snow White” fairy tale, Matt Phelan provides both the story and art for Snow White: A Graphic Novel with a twist in setting and circumstance.

Phelan’s take on “Snow White” is excellent. A writer must have a reason, generally speaking, to cast an old favorite in a new setting, and Phelan succeeds fantastically here with his Roaring Twenties look at “Snow White.” The new setting allows for great commentary on poverty and wealth while adding a huge potential for aesthetics, of which Phelan takes great advantage. As both writer and illustrator, Phelan mixes both arts well. His illustrations are truly lovely things to examine with a sketchy, noir, watercolor style tinged with just the right touch of magic and arresting splashes of color where it best serves him.

While the text is quite sparse, the images of the graphic novel carry the story well, even in more nuanced moments. Exact facial expressions and implications throughout the text help to develop characters in specific ways that can’t be translated through text. Although the Queen is an antagonistic character, even with the spare text, her personality and motivation are well-developed, allowing readers not necessarily to sympathize, but to certainly understand her position. With the backdrop of the Great Depression, the Queen’s desire for a large financial net — particularly as someone who works as a performer — is attractive, and it’s well illustrated through Phelan’s story even without spelling it out. Phelan’s one shortcoming with his art style is an occasional tendency to draw too much chaos into an image, making it unclear exactly what has happened from one pane to the next. Often, the surrounding work is enough to clarify, but on occasion, scenes of violence are difficult to follow.

Rather than the traditional dwarves, Phelan employs young street urchins to come to Snow’s aid in her time of need. Each with a street name, the apparent orphans are reliant upon themselves to live and get into some light mischief along the way. While Phelan mostly avoids magic and fantasy in his Snow White, the urchins are a perfect stand-in for the seven dwarves, if they don’t carry the wisdom the original dwarves are known for. The Dickensian twist works well within the context of 1920s New York City, too, and makes for a charming addition to the retelling.

Phelan does fall a little short in pacing with the narrative. With plenty of exposition leading up to the main event and conflict, the story feels a bit front-heavy. The role of the rescuing prince — here, a detective — seems to come from nearly nowhere, and his consequences are difficult to see form from any earlier appearances. His involvement earlier on might have solved this in some fashion, even as an appearance in Snow’s childhood to help bring the story full circle. It’s primarily this that makes me think Snow White: A Graphic Novel might have benefited from another round or two of edits.

The work stands solidly, however, as a whole. The artwork is truly remarkable and something I’d be willing to hang in my home, if not keep the graphic novel as a piece on a coffee table. Phelan very successfully brings “Snow White” to a new setting and to great effect, certainly enhancing the original story with his choices. His art and text mix beautifully and, while a few elements needed tweaking, the graphic novel is a win. Interestingly, the book is evidently targeted at elementary-school- and middle-school-aged children, though the quality and layers could easily serve an older, adult audience.

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls by Lauren Graham

Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls by Lauren Graham
Ballantine Books, 2016, 224 pages
Celebrity Memoir

During my latest celebrity memoir kick, I blew through Lauren Graham’s Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls. Graham begins at the start of her life and runs through the events of her childhood to her current life as, at the time of writing, she was in the process of finishing up the Netflix 40411206reboot of Gilmore Girls. A super-fast read at 224 pages, Graham’s memoir is fun and funny, much like readers might expect Graham to be.

Despite, or maybe exactly like, the title depending on how you look at it, Graham’s focus on her work with Gilmore Girls is pretty minimal. Graham discusses how she came to be on the show and a bit of her experience with the first couple of seasons, but her willingness to go into detail falters. Even in writing about her work on the reboot, Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, Graham avoids a tell-all, which is disappointing, given the marketing and timing of the book, which arrived shortly after the series became available on Netflix and, to my mind, was advertised as something that might be read as a companion to the show with information for the fans.

Interestingly, Graham provides quite a bit of characterization, relatively speaking, of Kelly Bishop who plays  her mother in Gilmore Girls. Meanwhile, Alexis Bledel, who Graham mentions being quite close to throughout filming, makes few appearances and has little in the way of description from Graham. Other co-actors, such as Melissa McCarthy and Yanic Truesdale, like Bledel, are so absent from Graham’s memoir that it makes the reader wonder if their relationships with Graham are so unhappy that Graham avoided telling more to bow to professionalism. If that’s the case, it’s rightly so, but what little Graham does offer suggests perfectly happy working relationships. Where many other celebrity memoirs are willing to share detail on how actors work and play together, Graham is hesitant. And even further, Graham largely avoids talking about the greater atmosphere and the process of making either iteration of Gilmore Girls in favor of describing her personal routines. While these are interesting on their own, it feels like a short sale for folks who are interested in reading specifically about how she works within the context of Gilmore Girls and her own understanding of her character, Lorelai Gilmore, particularly given the book’s subtitle.

Still, readers can enjoy Graham’s sense of humor. She never takes herself too seriously and frequently pokes fun at Hollywood culture and her peers. One particularly funny moment was a crack at celebrities who use ghostwriters, which she insists she has not done for this memoir, providing evidence via the novel she also wrote, Someday, Someday, Maybe — why, she asks, would she write a novel on her own and not this? In further detail about her writing process, Graham lets readers in on an immeasurably helpful tool: the kitchen timer method. Developed by a friend of a friend, the method is adapted from the Pomodoro Technique, which aids in productivity particularly in the craft of writing. Graham lays out all the rules of the method and encourages readers to try it — I tried it myself in a loose form and have already found quite a bit of success with it. Thanks, Lauren!

Graham could use more detail in most of her anecdotes and writing as well as a bit more clarity — though she regularly refers to family members, her family tree isn’t quite fully explained anywhere, which makes some of her stories and the characters in her life unclear. Because of what information she did share, the particulars of these connections felt relevant, and I ended up seeking out her family tree on my own which helped fill in some gaps of understanding and made her narratives altogether more clear.

Like many other celebrity memoirs, Talking as Fast as I Can is fast-paced and easy to read. Graham tells fun stories, but this is by no means an all-out reveal of her life, Gilmore Girls, or her co-stars. Still, Graham is intelligent and funny throughout, even managing to provide some excellent practical advice for readers looking for something a little more.

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
Random House, 1970, 192 pages
Juvenile Fiction

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume encounters Margaret, a young girl who has moved with her parents from New York City to the suburbs and is beginning to question what it is to be religious and what it is to be a woman. With crossover between her personal religious life and her new social circle, Margaret finds tension in her parents’ relationships with their own parents as well as neighborhood friends and 37732their older brothers. Blume asks important questions about what religion means to the unindoctrinated religious explorers and what it means to be a young girl growing up in America.

Prior to Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, I had never picked up a Judy Blume novel. Where I admittedly expected some level of innocence and naivete (this was published in 1970! Certainly those were simpler times. No? Well, another discussion for another day), I found a great deal of honesty and challenging topics wrapped up in a beautifully simple narrative and prose. Without a complicated plot, Margaret is left to ponder the wonders of the world and the universe, leaving plenty of questions unanswered for young readers to think on themselves. Despite the natural complexity of religion and puberty (and what a combination!), Blume makes both simple and accessible for her young target audience.

What was especially impressive was Blume’s dedication to making the depiction of Margaret and her friends one of the truest I’ve seen of young girls’ friendships. A particular scene in which Margaret’s group of friends determine rules for their friend group stuck out as especially familiar to me, despite the absurdity of it. I, too, could recall sitting down with friends, notebooks in hand, to place arbitrary rules on our group about boys, communication, and other relevant aspects of our lives. (As an aside, from a professional perspective, I can now tell you that this type of play is in preparation for adulthood, which is pretty neat and makes Blume’s work here even more impressive. As Margaret and her friends are on the verge of experiencing puberty, they are also mentally practicing their adult lives through these exercises. Interesting!)

Similarly realistic, if perhaps slightly underdeveloped, is Margaret’s secret crush. These new feelings that develop within her are scary in some ways, so they’re largely ignored until they can’t be. Even when the crush cannot be ignored, Margaret tiptoes around it, creating a delicious sort of tension that will entice readers to read on.

Meanwhile, though the book is written for older children and younger teens, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret can easily be enjoyed by adults. Plenty of the subtleties of Margaret’s life (to which she does not catch on) are fascinating to watch play out in various ways. Where adults will be savvy about the implications and consequences of various events, Margaret is often oblivious beyond some surface information. This is not Margaret being stupid, either, but it highlights a compelling piece of childhood that we often forget. That said, there were moments and a general feeling of lack of development — while the book remains completely accessible, its deeper symbolism and meaning are really not so deep at all, which might leave something to be desired for readers who prefer to do a little more thoughtful work.

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret only takes a couple of hours to read and is a fun experience. Glittering scenes with her grandmother make for a unique piece to an already-important story. Whether you’re religious or not, this novel provides a nice look at what it can mean for some and where sometimes, meaning falls short.

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood

Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood
Sourcebooks Fire, 2016, 304 pages
YA Fiction

 

Full disclosure: I work with Jessica Spotswood. I wasn’t coerced into reading her work; it was something that would have interested me anyway. My thoughts here are my own and have no bearing on Jessica as a person, who is lovely. Onward!

After seventeen years without her mother, Ivy is beginning really to feel the pressure of her foremothers’ legacies. For generations, the Milbourn women have left behind amazing works of art in one form or another only to die young in Jessica Spotswood’s Wild Swans. On the coast of Virginia, Ivy struggles Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswoodwith her grandfather’s encouragement to build her writing portfolio while finding new companionship in his favorite student (Connor) and fighting against the assumed romantic entitlement of the boy with whom she grew up (Alex). Meanwhile, her mother returns with her two half-sisters, only her sisters don’t know exactly who she is.

Wild Swans is quietly and realistically feminist, with plenty to consider in terms of fate, self-determination, and taking charge. Though Ivy is not a strictly active character, her power appears in other ways and her thoughtfulness adds to her as a person and to her narrative. Much of Ivy’s development comes through her introspection. She’s incredibly mature and self-aware, which leads directly from her upbringing and grandfather’s role in her life. Spotswood’s characterization of each person is touched with a heavy dose of realism: many characters are paradoxical in their actions and speech, all characters are nuanced, and their interactions with and influences on each other clearly have an impact as relationships do in real life.

Connor is, in some ways, slightly cliched. He occasionally falls into the poet-boy trope, with tattoos and a coolness that many of the other characters find slightly off-putting. But in many other ways, he’s refreshing and real: Spotswood carefully handles Connor as a complete foil to Alex, which helps to reinforce the feminist message of not oweing a sexual or romantic relationship to anyone, regardless of how long a couple of people have been friends.

Spotswood’s story is wrapped up in excellent prose, too. Despite having a rather quiet plot, the book moves quickly with language that isn’t overly long but still exact. Ivy, as a narrator, is able to communicate quite a bit of context without going overboard. She’s concise and uses fairly simple language, but the quality and clarity of the plot, setting, situation, and beyond are not sacrificed for it. The quiet plot, however, also ends quietly. By the end of Ivy’s story, little seems to have truly changed. A few more beats might have tied things up in a more satisfying way, but this might have cost the novel its deep sense of realism, which in some ways feels more valuable.

If you’re looking for something that’s steady and fleshy but not overwhelmingly heavy or dark (though there’s darkness in Wild Swans, to be sure), Wild Swans could be a great next pick for you. It’s a quick read that delivers on balanced emotion and subtlety, well worth the couple of days you’ll spend with it. Whether you’re in on a rainy evening or enjoying the sun’s rays on the beach, give Wild Swans a shot — you just might find something in yourself that will surprise you.

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
Simon Pulse, 2017, 384 pages
YA Fiction

In When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, readers are introduced to gutsy Dimple and amorous Rishi. The summer before she’s to go to college, Dimple packs her bags for a computer coding camp where she expects to work hard to earn the prize of working with her idol and developing an app28458598 which will help her father and thousands of others. What she doesn’t expect is to meet her future husband, Rishi. Enamored by Dimple and her drive, Rishi is hardly deterred by her naturally horrified response to the rude realization that her and Rishi’s parents have conspired to put the two teens together. When Dimple and Rishi are paired together for their coding project, Dimple is hesitant at best. But perhaps Rishi has more to offer than what Dimple wants to believe.

Young Adult fiction publishers seem to finally be getting the message that we need more diverse books. This is only the very beginning, but with a publication date that quickly followed the final installment of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, When Dimple Met Rishi came at the perfect time. The buzz around the novel is well-deserved. Because the novel is written by a woman who can racially and ethnically identify with her characters, stereotypes are nonexistent or, in the cases where they do appear, are explained to inform the reader and flesh out the stereotype that is actually a cultural feature or, an unconnected individual quirk.

Not to continue comparing Menon to Han, but another fantastic similarity between the two is the novels’ abilities to take a fairly slow, everyday plot without outrageous dips, dives, and heights and maintain a high level of interest in readers. Characters in the novel experience everyday problems with loved ones and friends, many of which readers might recognize from their own lives. However, these conflicts are rarely yawn-inducing. Instead, Menon props up the novel with characters who are well-developed and emotive. With such a high level of development, managing chemistry between characters might seem like a stiff challenge, but Menon proves her skill again in helping readers become invested in Dimple and Rishi’s end with the considerable gravitation between the two characters.

Menon’s setting of a pre-college camp for computer programmers is also highly interesting, and a bold thing to actually show a young woman entering. For all the talk we have around girls in computer sciences, it seems rare to see such a person reflected in fiction and even rarer to see it done well and realistically. Dimple meets plenty of detractors when it comes to her love of coding, but perhaps what really sets this environment apart from similar locations is that Dimple’s coding camp is full of all kinds. While some of Menon’s secondary and tertiary characters become caricaturistic, the presence of those characters at all (such as the stereotypical Mean Girls) assist in creating realism.

Some reviewers had problems with examples of Dimple’s physical abuse of Rishi. I’m not one to believe that characters must be nice or likable to be interesting or worth reading about, but the abuse, particularly as something that was never resolved as a character trait, felt out of place in When Dimple Met Rishi. These instances might have informed readers of Dimple’s character, but given that she never seems to outgrow the behavior, its existence in the novel is troubling.

Finally, When Dimple Met Rishi did run a little long for my tastes. A particular beat of the romance plot toward the end might have been left off for a read that felt a little snappier, which likely would have suited the experience better. However, When Dimple Met Rishi is, overall, almost as good as the hype and certainly worth the time to read. Even aside from being an important novel due to its status as a “diverse” novel (scare quotes because we shouldn’t need novels featuring non-white characters as direly as we do, and yet here we are), When Dimple Met Rishi is worth it simply for the pleasure.

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour

Everything Leads to Your by Nina LaCour
Speak, 2014, 336 pages
Fiction

A set designer for movies, Emi lives in Los Angeles in Nina LaCour’s Everything Leads to You. With her brother out of the country, she and her best friend move into his empty apartment. Though regular interactions with her ex-girlfriend (and her ex-girlfriend’s current partner) make her uncomfortable, EmiImage result for everything leads to you is determined to make the most of this opportunity and make a break into the behind the scenes of Hollywood. When she discovers a note from a famous actor in an estate sale, Emi is driven to a new mission: find the woman referenced in the note and join the woman with her inheritance. But things are never as they seem in the movies and only sometimes as they seem in real life.

LaCour pieces together a beautiful coming-of-age in Everything Leads to You. Unlike so many other LGBTQIAA+ novels, Everything Leads to You features a young lesbian woman but the story does not revolve around her coming out or around her sexuality at all. While her relationships play a large role in the plot and her sexuality is by no means glossed over, it is not the novel. Coming out novels are, of course, important — but so are celebrations of homosexuality as the everyday. LaCour’s depiction of Emi and her relationships emphasizes the normalcy of it all, which is something sorely missing in most LGBTQIAA+ fiction I’ve encountered.

What’s more, the novel has a totally unique setup, particularly for a young adult cast. Just out of high school, Emi has a job that is unlikely for most people her age, but reasonably realistic all the same. The Los Angeles backdrop makes for an environment that feels new. LaCour’s commitment to the unique location helps to create an atmosphere that is rich and and full of the sort of wonder and style that is only inherent to Hollywood — or, at least, how many of us imagine the area.

LaCour does fall short in prose. While adequate, the sentence structure and vocabulary doesn’t do anything to add to the emotion of the book. It simply tells the story, leaving much of the ambiance up to setting and character actions. Further, Everything Leads to You might be categorized as a sort of light example of literary fiction wherein the focus is on character development over plot, but it remains that the primary conflict simply did not drive the book forward enough. Without a higher level of definition and development, the plot seems more offhand than suits the rest of the novel. This is again emphasized with the lack of chemistry between Emi and the primary love interest.

Everything Leads to You is an important addition to the LGBTQIAA+ fictional catalog, but it has its faults. Like a book in watercolor, it’s a lovely reflection of even the slightly grittier sides of movie making and a tribute to films themselves. A few more rounds of edits might have bumped this one up several notches, but I ultimately finished the novel feeling interested in LaCour’s other works.

I read this book as part of Book Riot’s 2017 Read Harder Challenge, fulfilling challenge #15, “Read a YA or middle grade novel by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+,” and I leave it behind with three-and-a-half hearts. 

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah Maas

A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah Maas
Bloomsbury USA, 2017, 707 pages
Fantasy

With Feyre back in the confines of the prison that is Tamlin’s mansion, she and the Night Court crew are working on a scheme to get her out and back to the fae she now knows as her mate, Rhysand. It’s not long until the impulsive Feyre is slashing throats and taking names in an aim to escape, but old friendships cause a hindrance and family is now at once both more and less than it once was. Feyre must adjust to her new role as High Lady of the Night Court while still figuring out her new physical self, first discovered at the end of A Court of Thorns and Roses. Sarah Maas brings the motley group to a roaring crescendo as they fight for their lives in A Court of Wings and Ruin.

Like the two previous novels in the series, Wings and Ruin is slow in places. With infighting, particularly now that Feyre’s sisters are present to provide an additional point of view, plenty of scenes are taken up by simple back-and-forth conversations, often rehashing long-made decisions as small pieces of information appear to the High Lord and his “family.” Lucien, who is caught between a long-time friendship and alliance with Tamlin and his affection for Feyre, provides yet another perspective that demands reckoning as the various sides approach a battle, if not a full on war. As other courts become involved, war strategizing becomes the bulk of the plot leading up to the few battles themselves, which can make the prose drag at a hefty 707 pages.

These conversations and the plot of the book itself means there are new characters and returning acquaintances to keep track of. Complicating the new roll call is the fact that these characters are building political relationships with each other and, as those occasionally fall out or fall in for one reason or another, it means taking note of these and remembering the status of each relationship can be a challenge.

Maas gets a bit dramatic in Wings and Ruin, which might help with some of the more monotonous scenes, but more often than not leads to passages that just feel overwritten and insincere. With Feyre as narrator, Maas has to find new ways to make the readers love Rhys as much as Feyre does, leading to some slightly awkward and overdone phrases that just don’t feel genuine or are otherwise so invasive that it feels ridiculous rather than sexy.

But this isn’t to say the whole book is a loss. To the contrary, it’s a fun read, even if it’s not my favorite of the series. A Court of Mist and Fury was, to my mind, superior to Wings and Ruin with more obvious conflict and, of course, the building tension between Rhys and Feyre sustaining much of the plot. Wings and Ruin doesn’t have the benefit of that so much — and Maas didn’t quite reach her potential with the lovers’ separation — but it does have moments that are truly exciting and ultimately propel the story forward.

Picking this up, I was under the impression that the series was over. Certainly by the end, all of the large conflicts have been resolved in one way or another, perhaps to or not to the characters’ satisfactions. Even Tamlin has a fascinating scene toward the end that bumps up the quality of the book significantly and perhaps gives a sneak peek as to what Maas is really capable of (and, having returned to the Throne of Glass series a few times after originally disliking it, I think Maas has a whole lot of potential we haven’t seen yet, but that will build of the years into something quite impressive).

As the novel truly came to a close, however, I felt some things were unresolved. I’m unsure if there’s another to come in A Court of series or if we should expect some spinoffs, but I’m doubtful that this is the last we’ll truly see of Feyre and the troop. In fact, Maas has teasingly noted that a crossover between her two series wouldn’t be impossible. Given than Throne of Glass is the larger epic and as of yet unfinished, I’m left wondering if we can perhaps expect an appearance of our favorite Court in a pivotal moment for Celaena and friends in Throne of Glass.

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Knopf, 2016, 320 pages
Fiction

Two sisters separated by social conventions and later by slavery and marriage open this long line of family stories that travel between Africa and North America in Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing. Alternating between the two lines of the family, Homegoing transcends time and space as it moves through the ages, encountering culture and politics. With each chapter featuring a new small plot, the work as a whole focuses on the impact of slavery and colonialism.

Gyasi’s careful planning and mapping of her characters and plots is evident throughout the book. Though not strictly a novel, Homegoing reads like one, even with each chapter and element tied so loosely together. It is largely the attention to detail Gyasi bestows that transforms the work from simply a collection of stories to what feels and reads like a novel. At the same time, readers who prefer small bites rather than sweeping epics will see the opportunity to get the best of both worlds.

What’s interesting about seeing the generations over the years is how each family has a personality, making each line a sort of character of their own. In our own lives it can be a challenge to see beyond one or two generations, but watching personality traits and traditions get passed on is fascinating. There is not necessarily a single thread that runs through either family, but there’s a clear cause-and-effect between parents and children that appears in key ways. Gyasi knows her fictional families well, showing once again her attention to detail and planning.

In including so many individuals for such a lengthy story, however, Gyasi does fall into the trap of losing momentum. Earlier characters are much more defined than later characters are. This may be a symptom of simply getting tired of the story and losing energy or it may be the nearness. With less historical separation, Gyasi perhaps loses her ability to see characters as separate from herself. Because they are not living in such a different world than she is, she’s more able to rely on things she already knows to inform her characters, which then causes her to include fewer personal details to illustrate them. But this is only a theory.

Meanwhile, her writing style leans heavily toward the story-telling tradition, which is fitting for the African backdrop. This style also softens some of the more brutal aspects of the story — the slavery, rape, and racism that is present on both sides of the Atlantic is rarely graphic, yet Gyasi still achieves a powerful narrative. While she’s under no obligation to make these horrendous aspects of black life over history and in present, Gyasi’s prose style has that affect. Whether this is a positive or negative thing is up to the reader, and likely differs for each reader. Some may feel it was a disservice to omit the reality of these horrors, while others might feel a taste of the horror is enough to get the point across without turning readers off. I’m inclined to feel it’s somewhat a disservice, but recognize that Gyasi’s priorities may have been elsewhere.

If you’re a reader who prefers short stories or novellas to whole novels, Homegoing is a good alternative. It’s slow-moving at points, but overall captivating and an achievement in research and self-introspection. Gyasi has certainly done her ancestors proud in representing them here, as not just victims of their circumstances, but as people.

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Vintage, 1970, 224 pages
Fiction

Toni Morrison’s famed The Bluest Eye opens with an idyllic Dick-and-Jane description, typical of the image of an all-American-white-middle-class family in the 1940s. This image crumbles quickly as Morrison zooms in on the lives of a small black community within a larger white community in Ohio, and focuses further on young Pecola, whose family life is severely wanting of stability and who struggles with the external pressures of racism.

Here’s the deal: I’m a white person who grew up in a very white state. I have basically no context for The Bluest Eye and, while I’ve broadened the diversity of people in my life thanks to a move to Virginia almost seven years ago, I’m not an expert on racism nor have I ever experienced racism personally (and I never will because that’s how racism works). So, while I don’t think it’s appropriate to let my personal experiences influence my review of this novel, I do think it’s appropriate to acknowledge that my experiences influenced my perception of the content of this novel. I can, and will, still speak about the novel as a piece of literature or writing as I would any other novel with reminders dropped in here and there that my understanding of The Bluest Eye is inherently incomplete in a variety of aspects and, therefore, I may misinterpret sections and I welcome you to call those moments or anything else out either privately or in the comments.

With that said, The Bluest Eye is primarily a piece on internalized racism at various levels: the personal (especially Pecola and her desire for blue eyes, which she sees as the epitome of beauty and, generally speaking, a feature of the white population only — there are certainly people of color with blue eyes, but for the purposes of Pecola’s experiences, no such people exist), the familial (Pauline’s frustrations with Cholly often seem to manifest in using words seeped in a context of racism), and the community (schoolmates of Pecola shun and harass her for the color of her skin). Morrison also includes broader versions of racism, including systemic, among others, without ever overwhelming readers, though her characters are clearly overwhelmed by the unrelenting presence of racism in their lives.

Not only does Morrison handle this heavy topic with a great amount of skill and literary grace, but her prose on its own is something to marvel at. Specific and leaning toward a sort of magical realism (particularly in a chapter which discusses the origins and current state of a character known as Soaphead Church) but without the actual magic, Morrison manipulates her readers through a deliberate choice in language and syntax.

Morrison sets up fascinating character dynamics, including Claudia’s precocious refusal to buy into the internalized racism both Pecola and Frieda (Claudia’s sister) exhibit. She, unlike the other girls, refuses to befriend a new light-skinned girl in their class and, though she can’t fully articulate why, she hates Shirley Temple. The most engaging use of characters mimics a Greek chorus, as Claudia’s mother and her mother’s friends discuss or gossip about others. Although Morrison often shows readers specific events (such as Cholly’s abuse of Pecola), the chatting women rehash the event and provide further context and perception on the events as Claudia overhears their conversation. This is especially helpful as the nonlinear narrative is sometimes difficult to follow.

With issues at hand such as racism, incest, child abuse, rape, poverty, and other heavy points, Morrison’s novel is mercifully compact while still having a great impact on readers. As a modern classic that continues to be relevant today, The Bluest Eye ties together a heartbreaking story with skillful prose into a read that challenges in more than a few ways. Morrison paints a candid and stark picture of life as a black American in the 1940s but the implications of the novel follow to modern American and shed light on how we can be better humans today.

I read this book as part of Book Riot’s 2017 Read Harder Challenge, fulfilling challenge #17, “Read a classic by an author of color,” and I leave it behind with three-and-a-half hearts.

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

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