Good god, I read a lot of books this week. A whopping thirteen books. Sometimes, even I don’t know how I do it! (Although really half of them happened because I had a thing to do last week that allowed for on-the-job reading. Five books. BAM.)
The End of Alice, by A.M. Homes (Scribner, 1996, 271 pages, paperback). I really enjoyed Homes’ 2013 critically acclaimed May We Be Forgiven; she examines and exposes family intimacies and complications and the ways in which we sabotage and short circuit our relationships as good as anyone I’ve ever read. Indeed, I thought May We was better, even, that Franzen’s The Corrections, and I admired that book as much as I loathed its author. With Alice, though, I didn’t get that same peeking-through-the-keyhole sensation. It’s the story of a jailed pedophile corresponding with a suburban teenage girl, each of them using the other for thrills. Homes is at her best when she slowly peels back layers, always fuzzing the borders and complicating the picture we thought we understood. With Alice, I think she missed the mark. (Although that cover! Gorgeous.) 1 of 5 stars.
The Turner House, by Angela Fournoy (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015, 352 pages, ebook). I picked up The Turner House because it’s a Tournament of Books finalist, and I’m really hoping it gets the Rooster. A generational story of a hardworking, very large family who have lived on Yarrow Street in Detroit’s East Side for 50 years, Mama Violet is forced out of the house by old age and ill health, only to find their home is “worthless.” Flournoy’s talents at examining hard, real-life truths are reminiscent of Jeffrey Eugenides meets ToMo meets The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavendar. Or maybe it’s The Twelve Tribes of Hattie. Either way, I’m thinking new classic. It’s not what I’d call a quick, warm read, but it’s an important, interesting one that makes you care, all the same. 4 of 5 stars.
Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson (HarperTeen, 2015, 266 pages, hardcover). I’d heard so many wonderful raves about this graphic novel last year – I couldn’t turn around without hearing from someone new! – so Santa brought this to my comics-loving (formerly) reluctant reader. And then she and I devoured it together. Which, by the way, is my new favorite thing. It’s a tale of good guys vs. bad guys, but turned on its head, so you’re not really sure who is good and who is bad because you’re rooting for all the “wrong” guys, only it’s really the shapeshifting joy of a sidekick, Nimona, who will absolutely steal your heart starting at, oh, the second frame. I loved how meta and snarky and quick-witted and irreverent Nimona was. It’s the book you want to pitch in the face of anyone who says graphic novels/comics aren’t “real” literature. This book had more storytelling elements in it than many traditional novels I’ve read. Most importantly, the story had me crying (almost literally), in dire need for moooooore. It’s perfectly positioned for a sequel; let’s hope Stevenson obliges! 4 of 5 stars from me, 5 of 5 stars from Bee-girl.
The Memory of Light, by Francisco X. Stork (Arthur A. Levine Books, 2016, 336 pages, hardcover). I pre-ordered this book on the strength of the other Stork book that’s one of my all-time favorites, Marcelo in the Real World. I didn’t quite feel the same magic, but I still really enjoyed the book, in spite of its different feel. About a girl who wakes up in the hospital after a failed suicide attempt, Memory of Light follows Vicky as she learns to stand up for herself to her demanding father, make new friends with fellow “mentals” in the hospital, learn how to figure out what’s going on in her mind and heart, and what to do when she’s on her own, back in the situation she was when she did “the deed.” I really liked that Stork gave us the “but then what happened?” What happens after a mother dies from a terminal illness? How do the family members handle their grief? What happens after the suicide attempt? What happens after the leading character is released to the “real” world? If more of those books are out there, I haven’t read them yet, and it’s important that they are easily found, for middle school kids and high schoolers – and yes, even adults – the find and identify with. To learn from. The ending was a leeeeetle crazily convenient, but I was willing to overlook it with so many flashes of brilliance. 4 of 5 stars.
Stay Up with Me, by Tom Barbush (Ecco, 2013, 224 pages, ebook). You know how I’m always saying I’m not a short story person? This is one of the collections that proves the rule. I mean, the writing was meh…okay, but nothing special. The stories were all something I felt I could have read a hundred different places. Nothing stood out. At all. 2 of 5 stars.
A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman (Atria Books, 2014, 337 pages, paperback). I broke my book-buying ban and bought myself this book for Valentine’s Day because I loved the stuffing out of My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry. And…well, Ove is okay, but… it’s just nothing like My Grandmother Asked Me. The storytelling is there, and a solid plot, and Backman even got me to like an unlikable character. But I wanted the same kind of magic and I just didn’t find it, no matter how many story stones I turned over. Sigh. That’s okay, right? To be disappointed by a perfectly fine story more like The Unlikely Pilgrimmage of Harold Fry than Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood? 3 of 5 stars.
The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck!, by Sarah Knight (Little, Brown and Company, 2015, 224 pages, hardcover). Andi, one of my favorite people, recommended this book up and down to anyone who would listen, and you guys, SHE IS SO RIGHT! I have this weird dichotomy where I have absolutely no problem telling people what I think, telling them no if I mean no, and being selfish, and yet need for people to like me and need to avoid conflict. So reading this book was like reading a bunch of things I already know, but sometimes need to hear again. And getting permission is a beautiful, wonderfully freeing thing. Read this book. And then know how to budget your fucks accordingly. 4 of 5 stars.
Mortality, by Christopher Hitchens (Atlantic, 2012, 102 pages, paperback). I got this book for Christmas and then couldn’t picture reading it, despite the fact that I maybe had bought it for myself. I mean, it’s a philosophical and existential examination of a world-class journalist living his final days with a terminal illness. Of course I read it in the middle of the night, doubled over with pain from food poisoning. Instead of awakening my anxiety, as I feared, I found Hitchens meandering journeys through several topics peaceful, soothing, and even downright funny at times. Don’t be fooled; it’s not without angst and sorrow because you know from the beginning that this doesn’t end well. But I can say I am better read, and better lived, for having read it. 4 1/2 of 5 stars.
Columbine, by Dave Cullen (Twelve Books, 2009, 417 pages, hardcover) and A Mother’s Reckoning, by Sue Klebold (Crown, 2016, 336 pages, hardcover). I re-read Columbine last week as a jumping-off point for Klebold’s book, which I knew I’d be reading. Columbine remains the most comprehensive and well-researched presentation of events of the horrible tragedy that I’ve read. It’s a difficult read, but I think hits the perfect note between impersonal journalism and making the events feel real from several different perspectives. A Mother’s Reckoning, on the other hand, is intentionally the opposite. Yes, it’s still well-researched and constructed particularly well, but it is hyper-personalized, as it’s written by the mother of one of the shooters. All proceeds in any way connected with the book will go towards mental health efforts, and for that, I applaud Ms. Klebold. It’s one of the reasons I bought the book. I’m glad I bought the book rather than going through a library loan, because I’ve decided to put the book down for awhile. It’s a much, much harder read than I was anticipating. Every night since I picked the book up, I’ve had haunting, emotional nightmares that have wrecked me. I like what Klebold has done, I like how honest she is, that she’s putting forth her story of how and what and when of figuring out who she was and how to be after such a gutting tragedy. She has many brave and valuable things to say about parenting and being a person and about mental health in our country. But the rest of it will have to wait. Columbine: 5 of 5 stars, still. A Mother’s Reckoning: 4 of 5 stars, so far.
Tags: A Man Called Ove, A Mother's Reckoning, Angela Flournoy, Christopher Hitchens, Columbine, Dave Cullen, Francisco X. Stork, Fredrik Backman, Homes, Memory of Light, Mortality, Nimona, Noelle Stevenson, Sarah Knight, Stay Up with Me, Sue Klebold, The End of Alice, The Life-Changing Magic, The Turner House, Tom Barbush