Monday, June 25, 2007

I finished Loving Che on Sunday. I liked it but it felt very light, nebulous and kind of hazy. Not an amazing book, but it sketched a lovely romantic picture of Cuba in the 1950's and 60's. Lovely until Cuba collapses into chaos, destruction and communism, of course. The hazy romance of the book is the love affair between a young married upper middle class woman and Che Guevera. The product of their love affair is a baby girl, who is shipped off with her grandfather when the Cuban people begin their mass immigration to the US in the 1960's. The mystery of the book is that the baby girl grows up with no knowledge of her parents or their history and the only family member she knows is her silent and steady grandfather. Years later, after her grandfathers death, and many investigative trips to Cuba in search of her mother, the daughter receives a random package filled with photos and letters from her mother. These letters, which make up over half of the book, lend some insight into the family history and the girl's possible parentage. The book never quite clarifies whether the love story is true or whether Che is actually the girl's father, and it doesn't really matter in the long run. But its a romantic and beautifully written story. Next up is Basilica by R. A Scotti, about the building of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, really good so far, especially since I've visiting there so recently.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

So let's get to Prep. I really liked this book. It was a fun, fast, and an entertaining read. And though it also followed a high school girl's daily life, it was a much different book than The Cheerleader. Prep follows the high school career of Lee, a 14 year old middle class girl from Indiana, who one day just decides that she would like to attend a boarding school. She applies, gets accepted, gets a scholarship and then has to convince her family to let her go. They acquiesce and so she packs up and drives out with her parents to her new private boarding school right outside of Boston. She is immediately overwhelmed by the massive changes her life undergoes as soon as she arrives at school. She's one of the poor kids, she's not into sports, she's not beautiful and because she is a bit shy she becomes extremely isolated and alienates herself, making very little effort to get to know her classmates or teachers. She warms up over the first year and starts to make some real friends but its a struggle for her during her entire high school career. She never feels like a part of a group, always feels like an outsider, and holds herself back too much. She begins to loosen up later in her high school years and its just so fun and entertaining to read about the ups and downs of her life. Takes me back to high school and makes me think of the things I would do differently if I ever had to go back. But thank god I don't have to! High school sucked! On to the next book, Loving Che.
Ok, things have been super busy the last few days and I haven't had a chance to post my two new book reviews. Last Saturday I finished The Cheerleader (don't have the book in front of me and can't find anything but young adult books called The Cheerleader on Amazon!) and last Sunday I read Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld. Both fit together pretty well since they both chronicle the craziness, chaos and joy of high school life for two teenage girls.

The Cheerleader was the book that I finished on Saturday. Honestly I didn't like this book for the first 25 pages. I found it depressing, melancholy and rather a bit too familiar to my own struggles with depression. But once I got into the book, it moves from short monologues into a more narrative style, I felt more like an observant, worried adult watching this girl as her hold on sanity collapses. Part of that is certainly the fact that I'm now in my thirties and able to look back on my late teens and early twenties with a little perspective. But as I read about the struggles of this young, sensitive, high school girl. No one seems to see through her facade of health and happiness. She gets stuck in an abusive relationship, she has such insecurities and doubts while the outside world can only see a beautiful, popular cheerleader. I liked the first person narrative aspect of the book. You are right inside Jo's head, hearing her thoughts, witnessing her interactions with friends and family, and seeing the discrepancies and pretense in her inner voice versus her outer actions. She covers up so much of her depression and anxiety that things really start to unravel in her freshman year at college when her entire support system is gone. This book touched me with the author's ability to really get inside Jo's head and present her in such a way that you empathize with her, understand her and only want to protect her. Thankfully the book wraps things up a bit and catches up with Jo in her twenties, feeling healthier and able to function as a stable adult in graduate school. Honest, painful and well written. But still hits a bit too close to home for me personally to really enjoy reading it.

I'll write my little Prep review a little later.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

So the next book I'm reading, started yesterday actually, is The Cheerleader. A complete 180 from Handling Sin. This book is not funny. This book is not absurd. So far its just rather bleak, a bit depressing and sad. But I'm giving it a try. Interesting format actually, each entry in the book is just a couple paragraphs so far and the narrator is looking at photos of herself and her family explaining what's happening in the photo. The Cheerleader (the narrator) is leading up to a mental breakdown, so I'm just anticipating it. It should be a fast read, very short.
Ok, so I finally finished Handling Sin a couple of days ago. That book took me two solid weeks, it was long but not that long! With all the job hunting and jewelry show stuff I just haven't read as much the last couple of weeks. I really liked this book. I found it a bit hard to get into, I think because of the variety of characters, constant action and chaos, and Southern banter, it just took a bit to slide into the flow of the story. I laughed out loud during some of the ridiculous escapades, teared up during the tender moments, and generally just had a good time, would have been a great beach read. It reminded me of A Confederacy of Dunces. Both are absurd, over the top, quirkly, loveable and endearing. Raleigh is the main character and with the help of his father, a former pastor and musician with a serious heart condition, Raleigh learns to let loose, meets a wild cast of characters, finally creates a friendship with his half brother, realizes how much he loves his family, follows a treasure map in search of non-existant Confederate gold, and learns some deep dark family secrets. This is the kind of book that hides its depth and the talent of the writer under the fun and chaos. Its such a smooth easy read that you don't even realize how difficult it is to create this type of book. Raleigh has such a profound experience and it creates such change in his life without beating you over the head with its message. I could read this book 5 more times and still find new things in it. Quite great!