Saturday, February 23, 2013

Frances O'Roark Dowell, TEN MILES PAST NORMAL

Well-written, younger YA, more sweet than edgy, but a very engaging 14-year-old narrator who lives on a farm with goats and feels like an outcast as a freshman in high school. No big surprises here--Janie makes a couple outcasty friends and then meets a cool guy who doesn't care if she's different and offers to teach her bass guitar ... and there's a school project that involves an old man who (of course) dies. But the voice is fresh and honest and funny ... and having a 12-year-old myself, I passed this one right on to her after I finished; she liked it too. Would definitely recommend to the 7th-grade girls my daughter hangs out with ...


My friend Ashley sent me this one. It's a memoir, about a girl with a narcissistic, alcoholic mother (read: wounds, distrust, and enmeshment taken daily with her breakfast), and the girlfriends she makes on her way to age 40-something. I thought it was beautifully written--literary and even poetic rather than pop. The number and range of very deep friendships that Sonnenberg has boggles my mind--and she recognizes and recounts the rhythms and limitations of these kinds of friendships--the plunge, and sometimes (inevitably) a sense of loss. Has anybody out there read her first one, HER LAST DEATH?

Thursday, February 14, 2013


A Viennese Jew comes to England on the eve of WWII as a housemaid at one of the great English houses. Downton Abbeyish ... except this NYT Bestseller didn't really engage me, though I felt it had a lot of potential.
Elise falls in love with the young man of the house, Kit (short for Christopher), and he falls in love with her; so does his father (also Christopher). And what do you know? There's friction between father and son. But that's really all that happens. Despite the historical period--one of the most written-about periods ever, because there's so much tragedy and pain, so much a sense of evil and fear, longing and partings--the novel passes time rather than having a satisfying arc. I felt a lack of plot--the strongest one being the "which one will she love" romance; but I didn't feel the passion build, or retreat, or tantalize, or restrain itself or explode. I don't like novels where the most eligible, wealthy men all fall in love with the heroine. The characters felt flat to me (her friend Polly's flowing red hair is shorthand for her character); Elise's sass feels contrived: she dresses like a man, shakes her fist at an airplane. However, NS has some elegant, lovely language, especially when she is describing the countryside: "Rabbits hurtled through the long grass, white tails flashing in the morning light. In the distance I heard the roar of the sea, the pull and crash of the tide across the pebbles." She also has some wonderful characterizations for minor characters: "Mrs. Ellsworth would not scold me but she'd rub at the mark with a cloth, her stooped back eloquent in reproach." And I did finish the book; as it is a NYT Bestseller, clearly plenty of people enjoyed it.

Megan Abbott, DARE ME

Take cheerleaders, cell phones with cameras, a narcissistically troubled coach, a good looking Army recruiter, and a gun. Mix. I knew Megan years ago in grad school, and read one of her previous noir novels. This is a departure, and a daring, scary one (maybe partly because I have a 12-year-old daughter?). She has some beautiful turns of phrase: "we are all pretty drunk, Coach maybe even a little bit, that bloom to her face and her tongue slipping around words ..." "His year in Afghanistan [was] nothing like the dark hole her loss drilled into him." Definitely worth a read.