Sunday, August 31, 2008


At the movies last weekend, there was a preview for the film version of Towelhead. The preview made the movie seem smart and funny--it reminded me somewhat of Little Miss Sunshine--so I requested the book through the library system and happily got it within four days.

I finished the book in hours, but it made me so, so sad. Sure, it was funny in many places--mainly because the main character, Jasira, the first-person narrator, has absolutely no irony in how she perceives the world. But the book still made me so sad, because I could hardly bear the loneliness and lack of affection she seemed doomed to live with.

Jasira is half-Lebanese, half-Irish-American. At the age of 13, she has become so physically precocious that her mother's boyfriend has a crush on her, so that her mother sends her to her father in Houston. Jasira dreads the new situation, based on her one-month-a-year visits with her father who has rules he shares with her only after she's broken them, and uses his hands freely on her and doesn't give her the assurance and affection an awkward adolescent needs.

Jasira keeps trying find someone to love her, make her feel special and safe. With pretty disastrous consequences. Luckily, she finds a new family of sorts in another set of neighbors, Gil & Melina. They provide a safe haven for her when her father threatens a serious beating, after he finds a Playboy magazine in her room. They also give her the courage to confront her molester.

What made me so sad was how alone she was, how she developed all these false emotions because no one loved her enough to say to her "This is love, that is not" or "This is real, that isn't". How confused she was by her own body, and out of her lack of knowledge and people to trust in, she decides to listen to her body, to do what made her body feel good, because "anything that could give me an orgasm was good."

It also made me sad to think of my children's bodies changing, when they become adolescents. Would they come to us with their questions and confusion? Would their friends be reliable sources for information? Will we have a good enough relationship that they could feel secure in asking us anything about sex and sexuality?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Certain Girls

Certain Girls
by Jennifer Weiner

I love me some Jennifer Weiner. She writes beautiful, believable stories that happen to be about women--good, smart, real women.

I just finished her newest book, a sequel to Good in Bed, picking up 12 years where it left off. I loved meeting Cannie again, and knowing that her preemie daughter Joy is 12 and beautiful, with only moderate after-effects to her calamitous birth. I loved seeing Peter, Ann & Lucy/Elle and Samantha and Maxie again (though I didn't get enough Maxie this time). And even Bruce, though I still wanted to reach through the pages and squeeze his Hairy Acorn for being such a bastard to Cannie the first time around.

This book is way sadder than the first. While good things happen in it, I don't think I could bear to read it again for a few months. (And I love reading JW's books over and over.) Part of me feels the big tragedy in the book is a bit of a cheat...a dramatic way to end the book, equivalent to the tragedy around Joy's arrival. But because Jennifer is as big a fan of Stephen King as I am (King writes about the idea of cheating in novels in Misery), I choose to believe that she wrote the story as honestly as she could, and that she was as surprised by the turn of events as I was.

But I'm certain that in a few months, I'll want to read this again. And again. Especially to savor the way she captured Cannie's relationship with Joy.

I doubt that Jennifer would ever write another sequel, but if she does, I hope she hires me as continuity editor. (At least, for In Her Shoes or Little Earthquakes, since I know those novels really, really well.) Some details in this book just didn't jibe with Good in Bed, and it makes me really, really crazy.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

If Today Be Sweet

by Thrity Umrigar

In spite of how much I like her name (seriously, I can go hours just chanting "Thrity Umrigar" in my head like it's a koan), I'm not that crazy about her work. I enjoyed her first book, The Spaces Between Us, very much--it reminded me a lot of Rohinton Mistry's books, though less complex, less layered. But very authentic, and very moving.

This book was a fun, easy read. But in comparison with the first book, maybe a little less believable? Not that the characters weren't well-thought out or inconsistent...but this book did strike me as more of a modern-day immigrant fairy tale.

Maybe it's because it's a happy book, and the first one was so tragic.

Recently-widowed Tehmina is visiting her son in suburban Ohio (he's married to a "midwestern white girl"), trying to decide whether to live in America with them or go back to Bombay. She's torn between her love for her family and her love for her familiar life. She finds herself drifting from day to day in Ohio--finding herself unhappy in spite of all that she has.

A great deal of her unhappiness comes from the cultural divide, and the tensions she feels she brings into her son's home.

What changes her is a small act of bravery that would be considered inconsequential in Bombay where everyone knows everyone else's business, but in the US could be perceived as both interfering and heroic. This small deed and its consequences help Tehmina to see that she has worth, even as an "old" lady in a foreign country, and makes it clear what her decision about the rest of her life needs to be.

What I liked most about the book was how Thrity got into Tehmina & Sorab (her son)'s heads, and their thoughts about their different experiences of immgrating to the US. I also loved the little descriptions of Parsi culture and wish I knew a bit more about it beyond what I've read in Thrity's books.

Friday, November 02, 2007


by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus

The third offering from the pair that brought us The Nanny Diaries is a big, big improvement over their second (Citizen Girl).

For one thing, they've given up that cute little device they had in their first two books of calling their characters by a generic name.

Katie is 30, a sustainable development worker who is shadowed by her great childhood/teenage love, Jake Sharpe, who left town right before their prom and has become a celebrity rock star--perhaps a cross between Bono & Brad Pitt, but younger. Since she last saw him, he has written and sung many hit songs, most of which are about her and their relationship.

Katie vows on her best friend's wedding day to one day confront Jake about their past--why he left, why he never got in touch, why he keeps writing about her, and most important to their friends, why he never gave them songwriting credit for the first big hit he had.

She finally has the chance, Christmas 2005. Jake's come home to their small Vermont town with his fiancee. Katie flies up from North Carolina to get the closure she's needed for the last 13 years.

The story is told over many flashbacks that sandwich the present. With them, the picture we build of Katie is clear: she's strong and smart. She's honest. She's good at what she does.

But in spite of all she has going for her, Katie needs closure because she hasn't been able to move on from her 17-year old self. Jake's songs about her have made her wonder what they could've had, and how he could've just walked away from it.

Satisfyingly, Katie gets her closure. And she gets some romance, too. But not in a "happy ever after" kind of way, although I think the book had a happy ending, nonetheless.

As much as I enjoyed the plot and the narrative, this book didn't engage me as much as The Nanny Diaries did. Part of the problem for me was I often felt like I just fell into the middle of a conversation among Katie and her friends, and by the time I'd caught up with it, they'd moved on to something else, and I was scrambling once again.

I'm not sure why I felt that way--the characters spoke a familiar language, and it was actually nice to find myself trying to figure out what the characters were up to instead of everything being revealed in the narrative.

But this is certainly not a book that I'd read again just for the fun of it, because it felt like too much work for something that's supposed to be easy reading.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Thank you, Mado

Madeleine L'Engle

While I'm very sad that there will be no more stories about the Austins, Murrys or O'Keefes, I am happy she has rejoined her Hugh.

I didn't fall in love with her work till I was in my 20s. I love her adult books and her books "for kids" and her book about her marriage, Two-Part Invention.

I will always want to have copies of her books wherever I live, and I hope that Teo will enjoy them as much as Benjie and I do.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

(Sue me. It's not a book. But it's only the second movie I've seen this year!)

(And sorry for this very late post--I saw the movie about 3 weeks ago but just didn't have the energy to write about anything.)

I had very low expectations of this movie since I'd heard it was relatively short, and the writers had been ruthless in the cuts they made.

First, I have to give props for the brevity of the film. In spite of my overall disappointment with the film, I think the choices the writers & director made were fair. NOT fantastic, but fair.

Second, the film is great enough for non-readers--it convinced one of my dearest friends, the one person who turned me on to Harry Potter in the first place but gave up the series because she couldn't make it thought the 5th book, to go back to reading the books. (She actually managed to read books 6 & 7 in the 3 weeks we didn't manage to talk to each other on the phone, and she's considering giving book 5 a second go.)

But I was actually disappointed in Imelda Staunton--everyone went on and on about how brilliant she was, but I didn't think she was all that.

The biggest disappointment for me was how the DA was discovered. It just didn't make sense. Why would Cho have been the one to betray them, when all the students were being interrogated by Umbridge with the use of veritaserum??? Why did it take so long, then?

Plus the portrayal of the Room of Requirement was a letdown too--it didn't live up enough to its name.

And while I got annoyed at times with the books and how Harry took forever to understand his power over Voldemort, I thought that was a necessary process. So I didn't appreciate the scene that includes Harry telling Voldemort, "You don't even have any friends" (or was it "You don't know how to love"?).

Feh! I just hope the next movies are much better!!!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Second Chance

by Jane Green

I feel that Jane Green lost the inventiveness in her fiction quite a while back. I became a fan of her work when I read Jemima J. But so far, from her impressively-sized backlist, I've really only enjoyed The Other Woman.

Second Chance had an interesting premise: the death of Tom in a terrorist attack compels the rest of the gang (Holly, Olivia, Saffron & Paul) take a long hard look at their lives and wonder whether they're making the most of their time. However, I feel like JG didn't spin out anyone's storyline very well except for Holly (had a thing with Tom in their youth, now married to a very stuffy, pretentious divorce lawyer). The others' stories felt like filler. (Paul & his wife struggle with infertility, Olivia has been burned by a long-term relationship that ended badly, Saffron is an actress involved with a very successful, married Hollywood star.)

Plus the resolution just annoyed the heck out of me.


OK, clearly I don't care too much about upsetting you if you get to this paragraph (you really shouldn't allocate time to this book, if time is a valuable commodity over where you are). But Holly ends up leaving her husband after spending the first 95% of the book bemoaning how little time he spends with them, how pretentious and stuck-up he is, how he belittles her; after comparing him unfavorably with both Tom and his brother Will (who she develops a crush on!). What killed me though was that she basically bitched about all these issues, only to suddenly realize toward the end that she was also to blame since didn't try to help him or talk to him enough and fought him instead of trying to find a solution to their problems.


I mean she acted and talked like a victim the whole time. She never gave the impression that she tried to fight and tried to assert herself more, in that first 95% of the book.

Reading this book brought me to one conclusion: no one writes ChickLit like this gal.