24 Hour Library

A Library Blog by Abby Hargreaves

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Abby Reads: The Curiosities by Susan Gloss

The Curiosities by Susan Gloss
William Morrow, 2019, 368 pages
Contemporary Fiction

With thanks to William Morrow for the final copy.

After the loss of her newborn, Nell can only think of how to fill the void. Despite treatment after treatment, Nell and her husband Josh are seemingly unable to get pregnant. And while Josh appears to have moved on, Nell cannot let her grief go. Meanwhile, the bills from fertility treatment have added up and Nell has kept just how much money has been spent on treatment from Josh. Now, she has an opportunity to work as the director of a new artists 40712737colony in an attempt to chip away at the bills, but it might be more of a challenge than she’s up to. There’s the hippie-photographer who might be dealing out of the basement Annie, the even-keeled sculptor Odin who gives Nell a case of the butterflies, and Paige, a printer who isn’t ready to settle. As Nell navigates her new position and the people in her life, she must first get out of her own way.

While characters who are diverse in thought and age inhabit The Curiosities, their execution leaves something to be desired. Each character seems to be driven primarily by a personal tragedy, leaving no room for other traits or meaningful history. While certainly things like child loss and partner loss are hugely impactful events, their effect cannot entirely encompass a person. Gloss’s characters are, as a result, rather flat and lacking the roundedness and complexity of real people or believable and compelling characters.

Although the characters may not be entirely convincing, the plot of The Curiosities is reasonably so. The initial setup of Nell hiding crucial financial information from her husband is perhaps a bit far-fetched, but not entirely implausible. From there, Nell does conveniently get the first job for which she applies — and is evidently fairly unqualified for — but the subsequent events, involving the building of the artists colony and a death in the house that causes upheaval for all of the residents feel fairly natural and realistic.

Gloss struggles some with showing over telling, favoring a prose style that is rather unspecific. Rather than extend information into scenes that conveys the goings-on at the colony, Gloss indicates passing time with vague indications of the activities of the artists and leaves more detailed scenes for looks into the characters’ pasts, including the deceased benefactress. Overall, this makes the plot pass quickly and, to some extent, without notice. Additionally, the prose does its job and just that — there are few turns of phrase to savor and enjoy, few impressive descriptions. Readers who seek a more driving plot will latch onto the death and be lost in the details of seemingly more extraneous scenes that develop character, but do little to push events forward. Meanwhile, readers who prefer novels that are heavily character-driven will enjoy The Curiosities if they can get past the singular dimensions of the characters.

The Curiosities is a moderately quick and enjoyable read. Fans of Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows will find some shared elements to enjoy, though the work is not quite as adept. It’s a novel that is easily categorized as women’s fiction — though that’s generally not something I believe in — and will no doubt find many book clubs to enjoy it.

❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood

Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood
Speak, 2012, 352 pages
Young Adult Fantasy

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!

Having assumed responsibility for her sisters following the death of her mother in the face of a father who doesn’t know his daughters are witches, Cate Cahill has more to worry about than just being found out for her magic. In Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood, a group known as the Brotherhood has 11715276striven to drive witchcraft out of society. Cate and her sisters live in a world that is an alternate history of our own, but with careful world-building and plenty of borrowing from the real-life Salem Witch Trials of the Seventeenth Century, Spotswood achieves a story that feels realistic despite its fantasy and will be a fun read for those who love teen romance stories.

With a specific kind of world-building to achieve and loads of exposition to provide, Born Wicked does feel slow at parts. Cate is reluctant to allow a governess into their home in the absence of their father and, while this conflict is one of the central conflicts of the story, its arrival in the narrative is a late one. Meanwhile, the threat of the Brotherhood, while certainly real, does not feel terribly heightened. The reality is the Cahill sisters have managed their threat for the duration of their lives, including three years without the protection and guidance of their mother — why is this threat suddenly so much greater? The Brotherhood does scrutinize Cate a little more carefully now that she is nearing their prescribed age of marriage and the uncertain presence of the governess makes the sisters uneasy, but neither of these things seem to quite warrant the panic Cate seems to feel around being found out.

Naturally, with a prescribed age of marriage comes potential suitors. Somewhat predictably, Cate finds herself at the center of a love triangle involving an old friend and a young man Cate’s acquainted with but doesn’t know well until he begins working on her land at the direction of Cate’s father. Despite the predictability of the existence of the love triangle itself, Spotswood executes it in such a way so as to make it feel somewhat new. The dynamics of the characters work in a way that freshens the trope in some aspects and does cast doubt as to with whom Cate will end up.

Character dynamics are something Spotswood does well in a variety of places. Known for her stories of sisters, Spotswood doesn’t make an exception here. For all its romantic love, witchcraft, and ostracism, Born Wicked is primarily a story about sisterhood. Each sister is uniquely developed and has her own interests. While Cate is the focus of the story, her sisters play interesting and important roles nonetheless and Cate is well aware of it. Other characters, too, have their own personalities and motivations with well-developed and defined characteristics.

Cate’s narration style does provide some roadblocks. Employing a vocabulary and sentence structure that attempts to indicate an antiquated world with various inflections and exclamations, the prose often feels put-on. Taking on this kind of stylized speech is a challenge, no doubt, and it didn’t always work in Born Wicked. A book written in speech more typical of modern times, however, might have more easily confused readers, so there might not be a “right” answer here.

Born Wicked is a fun read, if slow in parts, for readers who are looking for witchcraft without a dark or spooky element. It’s a novel of pastels and lace from the start, so if you’re looking for something a little more lighthearted, if in some ways heavily political (and politically relevant), this is a good place to start.

❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Ever by Gail Carson Levine

Ever by Gail Carson Levine
HarperCollins, 2011, 288 pages
Juvenile Fantasy

When her mother is sick and nearing death in Gail Carson Levine’s Ever, Kezi and her family will do just about anything to spare her. When her father makes a promise to sacrifice the first person who congratulates him on his wife’s healing — assuming their god grants them Kezi’s mother’s health — it’s not long before the mother improves and Kezi’s aunt visits. Just as she’s about to congratulate Kezi’s father, Kezi jumps in and does it herself, thus 2204464dooming herself as a sacrifice. But nearby is the self-made outcast known as Olus who is a god unknown to Kezi and her family. His presence has been periphery since his arrival as a tenant of Kezi’s father, but he’s about to become more.

Apparently drawing from many existing mythologies, Levine does an impressive job building her world and new mythology. Though the reader isn’t overwhelmed with details (this is, after all, a juvenile novel), the universe and explanations for it still seem quite complete. I don’t pretend to know of every religion or mythology out there and, in fact, checked quickly to be sure that Levine was not pulling solely from one existing faith or cast of gods. The world in which she works here feels well-established and seems to exist beyond the pages the reader is given.

Levine lacks this skill in her development of Kezi and Olus’s relationship. Perhaps due to the target audience of the book, the chemistry between Kezi and Olus is practically nonexistent. Neither character, it seems, is developed enough to warrant feelings for the other. Kezi’s character is wrapped up in her love for her family and dance while Olus is mostly concerned with his identity of a god. Beyond this, neither character has a personality enough that there’s any substance for the other to fall in love with. While both characters are young, this does not fully explain the lack of character development and the consequential lack of chemistry. Though mythology and fables are often populated by characters with little definition as characters, for a novel-length work, this shortcoming has bigger consequences.

Throughout the entirety of the story, Levine uses a stylized prose which helps to build the world and explain the lives of the characters. In alternating first-person perspective, both Kezi and Olus have similar — though not identical — voices. That said, the style is a little distracting and melodramatic. Though its richness might be appropriate for a less observant, younger audience who needs something with a stronger flavor, the strength of the prose style is such that it might be distracting for older readers.

Ever likely would have worked better for a young adult audience, though the plot might have been a little more trite in that space. While the world is well-developed, Levine falls short with her characterization, chemistry, and, in some ways, the prose. The conflict at times feels contrived rather than natural and this is underlined by a similarly contrived-feeling solution to the conflict. Ever is pleasant enough, but isn’t a stellar novel for any audience.

❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books (and Two Not-So-Great Ones) Saved My Life by Andy Miller

The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books (and Two Not-So-Great Ones) Saved My Life by Andy Miller
Harper Perenniel, 2014, 352 pages
Nonfiction

When he realized he had effectively stopped reading for pleasure, Andy Miller knew he had to do something about it. He began a short list of novels he’d always wanted to read, from classics to popular fiction, and started in on it. Before long, he’d caught the reading bug again and added to his list, deeming it 20910034the List of Betterment. In The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books (and Two Not-So-Great Ones) Saved My Life, Andy Miller discusses his journey through literature, espousing his feelings on classics such as Moby Dick and War and Peace alongside his disdain for The Da Vinci Code and Middlemarch.

The Year of Reading Dangerously is, sadly, poorly titled. Miller’s stories about books are hardly tales of how they saved his life and he refrains from visiting each of the fifty-two books promised in the title. While the discussion of how Miller came to read the books featured is engaging enough, Miller doesn’t deliver on the title, if that’s what you’re looking for.

But moving on. In terms of the actual content of the book, it’s decidedly British. Full of dry humor, Miller’s anecdotes are sometimes self-deprecating, sometimes depreciative of the material he reads. That he’s able to maintain the humor throughout the book — which is fairly lengthy, given how he chooses to go about the topic — is impressive. Both in-text and in footnotes, Miller injects dry, and often sarcastic humor throughout, both at his own expense and at the expense of the books he reads. While I’m not one to usually pick up on humor in books — to give you a sense of how bad it is, I really didn’t get The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy — it was well-placed and written here, allowing even me to laugh at passages.

Speaking of the footnotes, they did become a bit much. Though some of them certainly add to the book as a whole, many of them felt egregious and superfluous. Plus, two chapters themselves felt like footnotes. The first of these is a fan letter to an author Miller admires. He admits in this chapter that, were he the editor of the book, he would cut it. It’s long and rambling and doesn’t seem to connect well with the rest of the material and I have to say I agree that it didn’t belong in this work. Another chapter — the last — is an epilogue about Miller’s relationship with Douglas Adams and his most famous work, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. While the content of this chapter was a lovely tribute to Adams and his novel, it ultimately felt out of place and far more specific than all the other sections of the book.

Overall, reading about books with which you’re already familiar is more fun — at least, this was what I found in The Year of Reading Dangerously. Chapters about books I hadn’t read myself felt tedious and long, as I couldn’t pick up on much of what Miller described. Although he does a decent job at providing what information the reader needs to get through those chapters where they haven’t read that book, there still seems to be something missing that can only be gained by reading the original material.

The Year of Reading Dangerously might not deliver on its title, but it’s a reasonably fun read for book-lovers who will see themselves reflected in Miller’s descriptions of himself, even as he laments the challenges of reading. Though it’s a bit on the long side, it generally reads quickly and might give you some inspiration to pick up a book that’s been hanging over your head for years or avoid ones you thought you’d always want to get your hands on.

❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova
Sourcebooks Fire, 2016, 336 pages
YA Fantasy

When her powers finally arrive in Zoraida Córdova’s Labyrinth Lost, Alex couldn’t be more upset. It seems magic has only caused her family trouble since her aunt’s death and her father’s disappearance. After a boy, Nova, tells her there might be a way to reject her new bruja magic, Alex is on board. All she 27969087has to do is refuse her family’s blessing during her Deathday celebration. But as it turns out, there are consequences bigger than she’s willing to pay to live a life without magic, and it sends her on a journey in another realm where she’ll be tested at every turn.

Labyrinth Lost starts off strong.  Córdova’s weaving of magic into the real-life setting of Brooklyn, NY is a spectacular thing to behold. Though the bruja and brujo community may be small, its family-like structure is reminiscent of ethnic communities around the country with a strong root in tradition. This world-building brings readers right into Alex’s life and allows them to buy right into her story despite the fantastical elements. Once Alex and Nova cross into another realm, Córdova seems to stagger somewhat. Each layer of the new universe represents new challenges for Alex and Nova, much like the seven circles of hell. But each new location is underdeveloped and never comes well together as a whole, leaving the new world feeling un-built. Chapters following Alex and Nova’s descent into the magical realm frequently feel more like getting through a list of locations rather than experiencing a connected narrative.

Córdova begins strong with an explanation of the magical universe she’s created, too, but this soon falters when the magical realm becomes Alex’s new reality. Rituals and other features of Alex’s magic are dropped away once she leaves Earth, leaving readers wondering about the particulars of bruja magic and, by some extension, Alex, her family, and her culture. Labyrinth Lost is missing out on layers again and again: in world building, plot, relationships, and characters. Each of these somewhat flat, it’s difficult to invest in Alex and her story even when the stakes of losing her family permanently are so high.

Sections of prose in Labyrinth Lost are great examples of solid, atmospheric writing. Often, Córdova writes with vivid and visceral language that helps to describe the scene, even if the events of a moment are foggy — which they often are. Other times, the writing is clunky and doesn’t suit the larger, more general feel of the novel.

Labyrinth Lost feels paradoxical a lot of the time. Though Córdova begins with a great deal of confidence, by the end the novel she is more shaken — not just due to the hazy events that never felt especially clear, but also due to inconsistent writing and a lack of support for the big ideas of the book. Though Alex is one-of-a-kind as far as I’m concerned when it comes to young adult heroines, there were pieces of her that felt essentially missing. A reveal regarding her good friend, for example, seemed to come out of nowhere and jolt the book in a way that didn’t serve it well. This information felt far more throwaway than it deserved to be, and left me with more questions than I had answers. With all the Labyrinth Lost hype, I’m not sure I was as impressed as I expected to be. It’s an important piece in terms of diversity for young adult fantasy literature, but left lots to be desired.

❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Dear Ijeawele, Or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Dear Ijeawele, Or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Knopf, 2017, 80 pages
Essays

Drawing from her personal life and what she’s learned as a scholar, popular author and essayist (and famed TEDxTalk speaker) Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie writes a letter to her friend who has newly given birth to a daughter in response to a request on advice in raising a child in a feminist manner. With fifteen short parts, Dear Ijeawele, Or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions offers practical and evidence-based ideas to her friend and the world Image result for dear ijeawelebeyond, using examples from their shared experiences and beyond.

In one of the most succinct introductions to Gender and Women’s Studies I’ve ever encountered, Dear Ijeawele is absolutely a useful text for the novice feminist or pre-feminist. Certainly the collection of essays (most no more than a few paragraphs) lays out the very basics of feminism as it addresses things such as wage inequality between men and women, domestic abuse, gendered clothing, and workplace discrimination among other topics.

Adichie writes in a fashion that is superbly accessible and keeps from getting too into the weeds and thus keeps from scaring off potential new feminists with jargon and assertions which require an understanding of intersectionality and interconnectedness (for example, this is not the book for examining how poverty or a disregard for the environment also contributes to misogyny and vice versa). The unwillingness to dive into the depths of feminist theory — fine, of course, for Adiche’s stated purpose is a basic guide for a friend raising a daughter — does mean, however, that there is nothing new here. Adichie revisits old ideas that might just as well be found in Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, perhaps with the added context of the Internet and other modern influences.

While Dear Ijeawele is one of the most simple feminist texts I’ve encountered, its prose does little to sway those who are not already feminists. And, frankly, if a reader already is a feminist, they won’t find anything here that is new to them. This can only mean, for me, that the work — while concise, simple, easy to read, well-written and organized, and all of that — is somewhat extraneous at the end of the day, and supplementary at best. Though perhaps useful in a classroom setting for an Introduction to Gender and Women’s Studies class, the book has little other use. Those seeking the advice Ijeawele seeks are not likely to see anything in the text they have not already realized for themselves. And while Adichie has a great opportunity here to explore intersectional feminism, she outright rejects it, and states in no uncertain terms that she believes sexism is a bigger problem in the world than is racism. She doesn’t explore the particulars on that opinion, even, so I am unconvinced there as well.

So, truly, Dear Ijeawele is hardly more than an introduction, if that. There’s no doubt Adichie makes important points and feminism is both relevant and crucial in modern times, but Adichie brings nothing new to the table in Dear Ijeawele, opting instead to reissue old favorites. The essays have value as ones that are well-written and as pieces that cover the basics, but there’s no incentive to read this over any other established feminist text. Many readers may well be better off with bell hooks or any other number of canon feminist writers.

❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2010, 320 pages
Juvenile Fiction

In Sharon Draper’s Out of My Mind, Melody Brooks is eleven years old and has never spoken a word. In her wheelchair, she often meets issues of inaccessibility, but as she tells readers in her first-person narrative, she thinks things could be just a little easier if she could express herself with words. Image result for out of my mind sharon draperThough she has some very basic tools to communicate about things like needing the bathroom and being hungry, she’s been unable to make many deep connections outside herself due to her cerebral palsy. When a new technology comes into her life, Melody is suddenly able to get more involved than ever before, but there are challenges she perhaps didn’t anticipate that must be met.

There’s no getting away with writing a review for Out of My Mind without mentioning R. J. Palacio’s Wonder. Both telling the story of a child with physical challenges (one more cosmetic than the other), both novels were published within the last seven years. While Out of My Mind appeared in 2010, Wonder came out in 2012. Between the two, Out of My Mind is superior for the simple fact that it does better work in not falling into the trap of being inspiration porn. Melody is angry and not afraid to show it. She is not always kind, she is not always understanding. And it is this that makes her a sympathetic character, paradoxically enough. Where Auggie of Wonder is known for being extra kind (and certainly this is admirable), he is also essentially awarded for having a disability, which boils down to something offensive — people with disabilities are more than their disabilities, and it is exactly Melody’s negative traits that demonstrate this so clearly.

Another success of Out of My Mind is Draper’s refusal to treat ten-year-olds like toddlers. Frequently, Melody’s peers do things that are cruel, even as they know they are wrong for it. Draper makes no excuses here, heightening the realism of the novel, which again further brings home the point. Even adults are not immune to mistreating Melody, though sometimes this happens — as in real life — with good intentions. The discomfort Draper brings out on the page is excellently handled because she does not suppose that this behavior is cartoonish or the result of a lack of realizing the action is wrong. Sometimes, people are just cruel, and where Palacio tip-toes around this concept, Draper takes it head on in a much more effective manner.

There are some shortcomings in Out of My Mind. On top of being a difficult topic, the first half of the narrative is startlingly slow and repetitive. This serves Melody as a character, of course, and readers’ empathy for her — just as Melody’s life has been monotonous and frustrating in part, as a result of her inability to communicate as others do, so is the reading experience prior to her acquisition of communication assistant technology. Too, Melody is said to have a photographic memory, but this trait doesn’t seem to play out in the reality of the story — perhaps this is a miscommunication of what exactly “photographic memory” means in Melody’s case, but she still must drill trivia questions as she prepares for a tournament in a series of study sessions with her neighbor/caretaker.

I can’t outright say that I loved Out of My Mind. Stylistically, I struggled with Draper’s writing and found it to be slogging in many places. There’s no doubt that the novel touches on a difficult and important topic, but this alone does not a great or enjoyable book make. Though certainly a useful story for a classroom, book club, or heart-to-heart discussion, Out of My Mind is not the thing to reach for if you’re looking for a fun, strictly-entertaining read. Still, if you’re between Wonder and Out of My Mind, go with the latter — not only does the book mostly avoid being inspiration porn, but it also was written by a woman of color and touches on life with cerebral palsy in a reflective and no-punches-pulled manner.

❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee
Katherine Tegen Books, 2017, 528 pages
Young Adult Historical Fantasy

Sent off on a journey across Europe, young bachelor Monty with his friend Percy and sister Felicity (along with an escort for the three) begin an adventure they could never begin to guess in The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee. Hailed as groundbreaking for its inclusion of a 29283884bisexual male main character and a love interest of color (and a character with a disability), this epic young adult novel touches on many of the successful genres from over the past several years, tied together in a period piece that evokes images of lace and fine brandy.

As an often-lighthearted epic of sorts, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is often fun and rompy. Monty and his companions encounter all sorts of characters as they make their way across Europe and conjure up their own trouble through theft and daring escapes. But each adventure leads to another, leaving the novel feeling a bit long, ultimately, especially as Lee dives into more serious topics such as slavery and homophobia. While both these (and many other challenging topics that are present) are fine and worthy things for literature, their combination with the otherwise explorative and dashing excitement never seems to fit quite right. Instead, these social justice issues come off as heavy-handed and included for the sake of being inclusive. Though certainly intersectionality is important, the handling of it here often makes the plot drag and doesn’t serve the novel well.

Though both Monty and Percy receive a fair bit of development (as do other more secondary and tertiary characters), Monty’s sister Felicity frequently feels like a sort of trope. I’ve since heard that a sequel will follow and develop Felicity further, so I still have hope there, but I was overall disappointed given the attention to other issues in the novel. Felicity’s simplistic stereotype, while perhaps useful for plot purposes, did nothing to improve the cast of characters. Meanwhile, Monty is decidedly unlikable, which was an interesting strategy for this particular novel. Though his selfishness and other undesirable traits are likely rooted in the poor treatment his father passes off to him via  homophobic reasoning, his unlikability and its roots do not make him terribly interesting. Unlikable is always fine for a character if he or she can be made interesting and worth following. The only way to find any sympathy for Monty, aside from how his father treats him, is through Monty’s feelings for Percy. As neither of these things are aspects of his personality and life that he has much control over, it’s difficult to find an entry point to truly cheer for Monty and his success.

Lee has done an incredible amount of research for the finer details in the novel, including various physical artifacts and vocabulary. It is this work that makes the book interesting and, perhaps, worth the time if you’re up for such a tome. With an apparent background in history, Lee makes an impressive amount of work seem easy and seamless.

While The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is, at times, fun and engaging, it was overall too long for my tastes and not up to the hype. Though diversity and inclusion are crucial to modern literature, it was ultimately overbearing here, feeling more like a contest to fit in as much diversity as possible without conscious thought to it. If you enjoy period pieces and don’t mind a bit of slogging through it, you might enjoy The Gentleman’s Guide, but don’t be afraid to put it down if it doesn’t strike you — you won’t miss anything more.

❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang

The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang
Houghton Mifflin Hartcourt, 2016, 368 pages
Realistic Fiction

Beginning at the end of Charles Wang’s beauty industry fortune, The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang follows four-fifths of the remaining Wang family on a road trip across the country to older sister Saina in New York. When Charles Wang loses his money thanks to a nation-wide The Wangs vs the World by Jade Changfinancial collapse, he gathers his wife Barbra, his younger daughter Grace, and his son Andrew before embarking on a trip which will reveal the priorities and desires of each character. A backdrop of a crushed American Dream sets the stage for this Chinese-American family while characters continue to grapple with the death of Charles’s first wife, now dead for many years.

It’s no surprise The Wangs vs. the World got as much praise as it did when it came out. Though Chang is an already-established journalist, this debut novel gets at the heart of first-generation life and the pressures the idea of America held against the country’s inhabitants — particularly immigrants. While I am not Asian myself, I recognized a lot of Chang’s stories from family stories my Chinese-American partner has shared with me. This prompted a lot of interesting introspection on my part, and opened a world that was somewhat new to me.

Chang’s characters are highly individualized, each dealing with their family’s downfall differently, or not at all. This high level of development is necessary to propel the prose forward as the novel is primarily literary fiction, and one that focuses on how an event impacts a group of people rather than how a group of people enact a plot. Like lots of literary fiction, The Wangs vs. the World does feel slow at times. With chapters alternating perspectives, still in the third-person, the novel sometimes struggles to keep an even rhythm with interruptions to reconnect with characters that have been ignored in favor of others and some characters carrying more weight than others. Chang, however, has something for everyone; one character might be supplementary for one person, but totally central to another. For example, Chang’s depiction of Charles’s second wife, Barbra, often felt secondary to me as we are such opposite people in every way imaginable. However, Barbra could easily find identification in the many women like her who read the book. Meanwhile, I found more connection with the three children of the story (Saina, Andrew, and Grace — all at different stages in their emerging adult lives), whose lives are more similar to my own.

While each character has a struggle that is specific to them outside of their shared collapse, Saina’s is perhaps the most disappointing. Though her career as an artist also seems to be in trouble, it is her challenges with men in her life that take the spotlight. Despite her otherwise successful adult life, Saina cannot get around the difficulties these men present her, seemingly feeling incomplete without them. Barbra, however, is just the opposite. Although readers might expect a particular mode of operation from the children’s stepmother, they may well be surprised by Barbra’s personality when it is revealed in full. Her complexity is easily one of the most interesting pieces of The Wangs vs. the World.

On top of examining individuals, Chang uses The Wangs vs. the World to inspect family relationships, particularly in the specific Chinese-American cultural context which offers pressures that are different from other cultures.

Ultimately, The Wangs vs. the World is a fascinating study of a myriad of things, juggled wonderfully by Jade Chang. Despite some moments of jerky pacing, the overall novel is definitely worth the read, even for those who typically stay away from literary and character-driven fiction.

I read this book as part of Book Riot’s 2017 Read Harder Challenge, fulfilling challenge #24, “Read a book wherein all point-of-view characters are people of color,” and I leave it behind with three hearts.

❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Witch Child by Celia Rees

Witch Child by Celia Rees
Candlewick, 2000, 288 pages
YA Historical Fiction

After her grandmother is accused of and executed for witchcraft, young Mary is left to fend for herself in Celia Rees’s Witch Child. A mysterious woman collects Mary following her grandmother’s execution advises Mary to make a journey to the New World and start a new life there. With the means to do 803120so and nothing left for her in England, Mary strikes out across the sea. But the suspicions which plagued her grandmother follow her and the relationships she fosters across the community aren’t helping to assuage any fears in her town.

Told in a sort of diary format, Witch Child details its narrator’s life with quite a bit of detail, often straying to the mundane aspects of the characters’ lives even as they make a perilous and fraught journey across the sea and develop a new community from scratch. With Mary being a rather passive character who says little but observes frequently, her narrative is somewhat uneventful. While the potential for much is there — and certainly, action happens in subtle ways — little actually seems to happen on the page that is capable of holding the reader’s attention. The prose is fairly aimless, as real diaries often are, and makes for slow and sometimes frustrating progress.

The conflict around Mary and her relationship with her mother is compelling. Much of it is an enigma, and perhaps it is the lack of information Mary gives about the backstory and what else she learns along the way that makes it especially intriguing, but in a book that is otherwise fairly devoid of riveting narrative, this plot point feels like a missed opportunity. Beyond the first quarter or so of the novel, Mary barely considers her mother or the lack of her mother’s presence, even as she is surrounded by women giving birth, it seems, and families. While another woman steps in to play the role of mother in Mary’s life, this relationship never quite passes as the same thing and, in fact, the woman in this role seems to fade in and out of the narrative. This, I think, is again typical and realistic for the diary format in which the novel is written, but it means potentially interesting thematic elements are, at best, weak.

In another show of dedication to realism, Mary meets many, many people on her journey. As several of them are beholden to Puritanical ideals and their primarily personality traits are condemning those who are different from them, telling each apart can be a challenge. This is especially difficult when the pace of the story moves slowly and the narrative offers few moments of conflict or action to hook the reader’s attention and give them a reason to keep track of so many names.

While I expected something atmospheric and witchy (that cover!), or something similar to Ann Rinaldi’s A Break with Charity, what I got was something rather disappointing. Bland with probably an abundance of subtlety I was too lazy to pick up on, Witch Child was not the late-October kind of read I was looking for when I slogged through it. Mary’s lack of personality and adherence to quiet inaction makes the novel a tough one to be excited about while the strict realism reinforces monotony (real life is boring: that’s why I read). Witch Child is probably one you can skip, but it might be worth the money just for that stunning cover.

❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

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