Sunday, March 24, 2013

eleanore & park by Rainbow Rowell

From time to time, I come across a recommend on one of the book blogs I follow that is so convincing I just have to take it.  This book, eleanore & park  by Rainbow Rowell, was one of those books.  I don't always enjoy YA fiction because sometimes I feel like the writer just scratches the surface and doesn't really create a strong enough storyline.  This book was not like that.  I will admit that eleanore & park  did not make a great first impression.  I read the first few pages and seriously considered just returning it to the library.  Right away there is a lot of foul language and I mean a lot.  This is a book about teenagers and I know that a large percentage of teenagers curse, but it's still not my favorite thing to read.  I pressed on, fueled by that glowing review I had read, and I'm so glad that I did. 
eleanore & park is, not surprisingly, about two teenagers named Eleanore and Park.  They live in a not-so-nice part of Omaha, Nebraska in 1986-87.  The book begins with Eleanore, the new kid who doesn't look like she is going to have an easy time fitting in with the other kids, boarding the school bus for the first time.  She gets on the bus and no one will let her sit down.  The other kids scoot to the edge of the seat or place their bags so that there is no room.  The bus driver is screaming at her to sit down when Park, the only Asian kid who has his own troubles fitting in, finally moves over and tells her to sit down, but not exactly in the nicest fashion.  For weeks, Eleanore sits with Park, never speaking, never even looking up.  She is picked on and called names and becomes the new favorite target of all teenage cruelty.  The bus and gym class are where she suffers the most.
Unfortunately for Eleanore, school is not the worst of her problems.  She lives in a very small home, sharing a very small bedroom with her three younger siblings.  The bunk bed is so small that the boys have to sleep on the floor. The bathroom is in the kitchen and doesn't even have a door.  They have very little food and she has only two or three sets of clothes, all purchased at the thrift store and either stretched out or filled with holes.  Her stepfather is a drunk who beats her mother and hates Eleanore.  The children live in a state of constant fear and hunger.  It is not a good situation, to say the least.
Gradually, Eleanore and Park become friends and then more.  It is so sweet watching two outcasts find someone with whom they have so much in common.  I had so much fun experiencing the beginning of a teen romance with them, but I also cried.  It is so hard to be a teenager, especially when there is so much else working against said teenager.
This is a book I would almost add to my Teen Required Reading list, but I would have to do so with caution.  The language and a few make out scenes may cause some parents to pause before passing this to their child.  On the other hand, the topics of bullying and domestic violence are important as well as the need to understand that some people have much more difficult circumstances than we might realize.  One of my favorite quotes is "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."  If we could somehow help our teenagers, and ourselves, understand this, the world would be filled with so much more compassion.  I will recommend this book to you, adult Smart Girls, and if you so desire, pass it along. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman

This week, I finished reading Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman.  The first I read about this book was that it was Steel Magnolias meets The Help .  I must say that review left me a bit wary.  I love Steel Magnolias  and I adored The Help , but that doesn't mean that a combination of the two would necessarily be good.  Also, saying something like that serves only to raise expectations and possibly leave the reader disappointed.  Perhaps my low expectations played a factor in how much I enjoyed this book, but I really don't believe it did. 
Cecilia Honeycutt, or CeeCee as she prefers, is a twelve-year-old girl living in 1967 Ohio with a father who is away most of the time on business and a mother who is losing her grip on reality.  Due to tragic circumstances, at the beginning of the summer, CeeCee goes to live in Savannah with her Great-Aunt Tallulah, or Aunt Tootie as she prefers.  CeeCee is a wonderful character.  She is smart and determined and, perhaps my favorite quality in a character, a tremendous reader.  "Books became my life, or maybe I should say books became the way I escaped from my life." 
Perhaps taking a cue from the 1939 film, The Women, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt has almost no male characters.  It is lovely to read about all the women surrounding CeeCee and how much wisdom and enrichment they bring to her life.  A twelve-year-old girl can use all the female enlightenment she can get and CeeCee finds it in spades.  The women influences rang in age from ninety-one to a new-found friend CeeCee's very own age.  The women are white, black, wealthy and poor.  The end of the novel culminates in a garden party with each of these wonderful characters and I must say it's a party I wish I could attend.  I adored these women and I think you will as well.  I wish I could share all the wonderful bits of sage advice, but I will just leave you with this one:
"It's what we believe about ourselves that determines how others see us."

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Still Life by Louise Penny

Being a reader, I seek out other readers.  Sometimes we share the same taste in books and sometimes we don't.  I have a very dear friend and she has gushed and gushed to me about Louise Penny.  She has been reading the Inspector Gamache novels for a long while and has been telling me how much I will love them.  I will say that by the last third of the book, I couldn't put it down, but for me Still Life  by Louise Penny had a slow start. 

Still Life  is set in a very small village, Three Pines, outside of Montreal.  The inhabitants of Three Pines are shocked when an elderly woman whom everyone in town loves is found dead in the woods.  Is it a hunting accident or something more frightening?  Chief Inspector Gamache is determined to find out. 

Perhaps I wasn't in the right frame of mind to read this book, perhaps it is because mysteries and crime fiction aren't really my favorite genre, perhaps it takes more than one novel in this series to become attached to the characters, either way it took me a long time to get into this book and to be able to remember which character was which.  I was pleased to see that the author's website offers a pronunciation guide for the many French words and names included in the books as well as a good deal more information.  While I didn't enjoy this book as much as I had hoped I would, there were, several quotes I particularly appreciated.

Clara, on how much she loves her husband Peter:  "Clara would wake up and watch while he slept, and want to crawl inside his skin and wrap herself around his heart and keep him safe."

Jane quoting the poet W. H. Auden:  "Evil is unspectacular and always human, and shares our bed and eats at our own table."

And finally, Inspector Gamache paraphrasing Abbie Hoffman, "Abbie Hoffman said we should all eat what we kill.  That would put an end to war."

Still Life is the first in a series which so far includes eight books.  I would like to try reading the next one to see if it will grip me like it has done my dear friend, but I think I'll give it a little while.  So many books, so little time.