Review: The Good Girl

I’ve picked up an unusual amount of crime fiction, lately, and I keep finding myself surprised at this development. The latest selection in this parade of mystery novels: The Good Girl, debut novel from author Mary Kubica.

The Good Girl tells the story of Mia Dennett, the youngest daughter of the affluent Judge Dennett and his somewhat disconnected wife, Eve. After a reckless encounter with a stranger in a bar, Mia goes home with the mystery man — Colin Thatcher — in anticipation of a one-night stand after she is stood up by her less-than-stellar boyfriend. Mia soon realizes this encounter is more than chance, though, as the man makes it clear they won’t be engaging in any sort of . . . extracurricular . . . activities. She is hauled to a cabin in the remote woods of northern Minnesota where the two weather the swiftly dropping temperatures of fall while each wonders what will become of the situation and themselves.

Meanwhile, back home, Eve frantically pursues her daughter’s case as her husband and eldest daughter (Grace) remain infuriatingly skeptical and distant. Eve’s only solace is Gabe, the relatively nondescript detective who’s been assigned to the case. As weeks slide by and little new information comes to light, Eve’s desperation grows, as well as her discontent.

The novel, like maaaaaany other recently published crime fiction works, is arranged into short chapters told from the perspectives of a few major characters: Eve, Gabe, and Colin. Although the story is about Mia, the author makes a wise choice in revealing the actual timeline of events through the perspectives of everyone but Mia.

The Good: The novel is a quick, easy read. There aren’t a lot of complicated storylines to follow, or characters to track, and the story itself is interesting enough that the short chapters and building tension make the novel a page-turner.

The Bad: Initially, the story’s timeline is a bit muddy. Some chapters are written from before a specific date, while others come after that date; though easy to keep track of later in the story, this arrangement is a bit irksome at the start. I also found Kubica’s character development to be a bit lacking. Gabe felt like a halfway constructed character who was supposed to have had revisions made . . . only to be forgotten prior to publication. He often comes across as a power-hungry, insecure, dopey investigator, and that’s just unfortunate. Additionally, one particular relationship in this novel is rather contrived, and nobody likes those kinds of relationships. Right?

The Verdict: 2.5/5 stars. Somewhat predictable and somewhat underdeveloped, this novel left me with a pretty in-the-middle reaction: it’s good, but definitely not great. Certainly a viable “palate-cleanser” for those reading slumps and lazy weekends when you’re not in the mood to dive into something with layers and complexity.

Review: Celine

He laughed too, but what he felt was alarm. He looked past Amana and Gabriela to the outer rocks and saw the dark swell. It was the next wave and it was the second in a set and he watched it as if in slow motion: the wall lightening to green as it rose, rising impossibly tall, the guarding boulders out in the cove dwarfed beneath it, the quivering top frayed by wind and then a piece of it curled and collapsed and the water fell: a surge of whitewater chest-high roared in over the black slack of water of the inner cove and he was slugged and knocked over, his shoulder and neck hit rock, he came up lunging out of ice foam to see the tumult sucking back.

Last week, I made my first trip to a public library in over two years (for two years, I walked my classes to the library to check out books, but never got any for myself); and checked out books for myself for the first time in I-don’t-know-how-many-years. In truth, I only went to the library because I needed to check out the movie version of Of Mice and Men for my senior English class, which had recently finished studying the novel; but while I was there, I decided perhaps I could look into a few books I’d been eyeing on Litsy.

One of my four selections: Celine, a March 2017 fiction novel by author Peter Heller. Wedged neatly between two white spines on the New Releases shelf, Celine‘s lush green cover immediately drew my eye and I knew I’d heard of this mystery before. (A quick review of Litsy confirmed this suspicion.)

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CELINE FTW!

The novel opens in the past with an exquisitely crafted piece of prose that sets the stage for the rest of the story. It is here that young Gabriela is introduced to readers, before meeting her again some forty years in the future when she enlists the help of the novel’s title character, Celine: a 68-year-old private investigator born and bred of the upper crust society that is bourgeoise New York in the 1930s-40s. An anomaly for her breed, Celine challenges the expected roles of the jewel-encrusted “old wealth” families of her time period, bucking tradition to attend a boarding school that encourages students to work like farm hands; enroll and study at college; work for the FBI; and establish her own mostly-pro bono business as a private eye. Celine is everything society raised her not to be — and for that, readers will love getting to know her decadently-layered character.

Anyway. Gabriela, tied to Celine through their alumni status at the same college, seeks out Celine for help locating her father who has been missing for more than twenty years. Although Gabriela’s photographer father is assumed to have been mauled by a bear in the wilderness of Yellowstone National Park, a body was never recovered and more than a few details point to possible alternatives to the conclusions investigators came to just a few short days following her father’s disappearance. Celine is immediately enamored with the graceful, intelligent, and beautiful young woman who shows up at her door with a heartbreaking story of an unbelievable childhood, and she agrees to take the case. After arrangements are made, Celine and her husband (Paul) head to Yellowstone to sift through the puzzle that is not quite as open-and-close as investigators led Gabriela to believe decades ago.

As Celine and Paul work together to uncover the truth, Heller reveals nuggets of Celine’s own past to readers in a teasing manner . . . one tidbit at a time. Readers will race to finish this puzzle of a novel (and then regret not savoring it a bit more slowly, as several early details become important later on, as the mystery unravels).

The Good: Heller’s prose is to. die. for. (See the opening quote and try not to love it.) Although fragments bugged me in a nagging sort of way off and on throughout the novel, I quickly determined Heller is a Writer of Esteem. The opening scenes at the ocean completely drew me in; so much so that I raced through the rest of the novel and wanted to cry a bit when the story was all over. Another reader on Litsy noted that the ending felt a bit like an opportunity for continuation or a series, and though this is purely speculation, I’m happy to imagine a world in which Heller publishes more novels in the Celine vein. The plot of this work is enticing and not overly-populated with characters, which makes for a more intimate knowing of the individuals most central to the story. And, of course, Celine is a total grandmotherly badass. What’s not to love about that?

The (Not Actually) Bad: I read this one too quickly. Seriously. I started it Sunday night and was finished by Tuesday morning — and no, I did not skip work to read. It was just. that. good. My advice to readers: savor it, slowly. This one is definitely going on my to-be-purchased list, and I anticipate a reread in the near future.

The Verdict: 4.5/5 stars. Really, y’all: I just loved this book. I want to be Celine when I grow up, and I don’t doubt you’ll feel the same way.

Reading Roundup: March 2017

People of WordPress: March. Was. FANTASTIC! I somehow managed to finish nine novels this month, thoroughly surpassing my goal of one book per week! As a high school English teacher whose time is rarely my own, I am going to just revel in the glory of those nine books for a hot minute.

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Because your time is precious — and my time is limited — here’s a quick look at the books I enjoyed this month, in order from least favored to most favored.

  1. The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult. Fiction. Picoult is one of my go-to authors when I’m craving a palate cleanse and quick but engaging read. I love her novels because each focuses on a different family complexity — betrayal, abuse, deceit, forgiveness, etc. The Tenth Circle tells the story of a 14-year-old girl who is raped at a party — and the incredible toll this experience takes on her mother and father as the family attempts to keep their unit whole. Picoult handles the challenging topic with finesse, but this novel falls short of her other works. Rating: 3 stars.
  2. The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith. Mystery, crime fiction. This second member of the Cormoran Strike series (see #3) is gruesome — but provides readers with another solid mystery to ruminate over as the book lopes along. Strike and Robin return to their sleuthing when a frumpy (and somewhat batty) woman asks them to search for her husband — a moody author who has been missing for ten days. Though the wife is certain her husband is merely hiding away to nurse his wounds, and acquaintances at the publishing house assume the author’s disappearance is a thinly-veiled publicity stint, Strike quickly discovers a much darker truth. This novel was more difficult to follow than the first, and was peppered with characters that were difficult to keep track of, as well as book plot within the book — making for a read that required much more focus on my part. I didn’t dislike The Silkworm, but didn’t love it nearly as much as The Cuckoo’s CallingRating: 3 stars.
  3. My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman. Fiction. Almost-8-year-old Elsa embarks on an adventure after her grandmother’s death — one that involves several grumpy and/or reclusive neighbors, a wurse, numerous Harry Potter references, and a whole heap of fairy tales. Elsa struggles to come to terms with the truth about her grandma’s identity and learns to share her best (read: only) friend with dozens of others, all while dealing with the challenges that arise when one’s parents are divorced and a new sibling is on the way. Read this book for its endearing characters, bittersweet life lessons, and refreshingly childlike bursts of imagination. Rating: 3.5 stars.
  4. Perfect Little World by Kevin Wilson. Utopian fiction. A utopian tale in a world full of dystopias, Perfect Little World operates under an intriguing premise: 10 families with newborn children move into a complex to raise their children collectively and function as a communal family of sorts. The novel becomes an engaging examination of family and normalcy, asking readers to reexamine traditional beliefs. Although the experiment starts out with a great deal of promise, all good things must come to an end. . . . The conclusion falls a bit flat, but readers will fly through this fascinating book, all while grappling with personal judgments and preconceived notions of what “good parenting” looks like. Rating: 4 stars. (A more in-depth review can be found here.)
  5. The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith. Mystery, crime fiction. The first in a series of detective novels featuring British war-veteran Cormoran Strike and his trusty sidekick Robin, The Cuckoo’s Calling is a masterfully woven mystery and race against time to find the truth about the tragic suicide (or murder?) of supermodel Lula Landry. Read it for the well-constructed characters and puzzling plot; even if whodunits aren’t your thing, this read won’t disappoint. Rating: 4.5 stars. (A more in-depth review can be found here.)
  6. The Eighty-Dollar Champion by Elizabeth Letts. Nonfiction. This charming nonfiction read is about an underdog horse. Once doomed for slaughter, former plowhorse Snowman is purchased for $80 by Dutch immigrant Harry de Leyer with the intent of making the four-legged creature into a gentle lesson horse for his students at an all-girls boarding school in the Northeast. Against all odds — seriously, this horse beat death — Snowman becomes a legend and national pet. Touted as an inspirational Cinderella story, this novel doesn’t disappoint. Read it for the historical context on an era that gets skimmed over a bit (1950s) and the feel-good vibes that buzz with each turned page. Rating: 4.5 stars.

Rereads & lifetime favorites (don’t want to skew the monthly rankings, folks):

  1. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. Fiction, literature. Set in Great Depression-era Southern California, Steinbeck’s novella about friendship, loneliness, and power (or a lack thereof) is a quick and heart-wrenching read. George and Lennie form an unlikely pair, navigating the dangerous waters of a world that is often unkind — especially to those who are different. Read this 100-page masterpiece for Steinbeck’s strong prose and powerful symbolism; love it for its ability to transport readers to a hopeless nation in the midst of great strife. Rating: 4.5 stars.
  2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Historical fiction. Just read it — it’s timeless and perfect, even the sixth or seventh or eighth read through. . . . Rating: 5 stars.
  3. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (illustrated by Jim McKay). Fantasy. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve read this book, and I’m not sad about it. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is my greatest book love, no matter how much I age. Rereading the novel in its illustrated form was a treat! If you are a fan of the series, I highly recommend picking up a copy of the illustrated version here. Rating: 5 (billion) stars.

Read anything great in March? Let me know in the comments section below.

Review: Perfect Little World

I had just finished reading The Giver (for the umpteenth time) with my middle school English class when Book of the Month Club revealed its February selections — which included the new release and work of utopian fiction, Perfect Little World by Kevin Wilson.

I’m a major fan of dystopian fiction, primarily because the genre provides so many futuristic possibilities for the society we could crumble to in our increasingly dysfunctional world. However, I’ll also be the first to admit that the trope is becoming increasingly trite, especially within the realm of YA fiction. Utopian fiction, though? That is something rare in the world of adult novels, and such an optimistic digression from the herd. Naturally, I had to have the book.

Perfect Little World opens on a vignette of main character Isabelle (Izzy) Poole’s dramatically messy life. A recent high school graduate (like, she graduates that day), Izzy should have the world at her feet. She’s smart — valedictorian, straight-A smart — with a penchant for artwork and literature. She’s also pregnant . . . with her art teacher’s child. Without the guidance of her mother (long deceased) or her father (long drunk), Izzy grapples with her choices for the future, the picture of which grows increasingly tedious, lonely, and impossible. When Izzy is approached with an offer to participate in a scientific experiment of sorts — one that focuses on communal child-rearing and erased boundaries between families — she jumps at the opportunity to create a better life for her unborn child.

The premise appears simple, but of course, is exceptionally complex: ten couples (well, nine plus Izzy) move into a fully staffed living complex isolated from the rest of society, following the birth of their children. As a single parent, Izzy experiences some expected twangs of jealousy: in every difficult situation, she is left to deal with her emotions and doubts on her own, despite the community of parents that should theoretically serve as family members to one another, in addition to their roles as parents for each child. For ten years, the couples will live together, the first five years of which the children will be tended to in a way so as to avoid attachment to any one parent. At the five-year mark, the children will meet their biological parent(s), while hopefully retaining a communal attachment to the rest of the parents and children in the complex.

What could possibly go wrong with a plan like that?

From the beginning, Wilson draws readers in with an unconventional lead character and a problem that hits so close to home, one can’t help but root for the positive outcome of a social experiment that is so frequently difficult to reconcile with centuries of traditional family values that have been ingrained in the deepest parts of our brains.

The Good: This novel is a fast read — I devoured most of it in one afternoon, as I waited in doctors’ offices and coffee shops. However, it’s probably better consumed over the course of a week, savored bit by glorious bit. The main character — Izzy — is down-to-earth, flawed, and relatable. Her relationship with Mr. Tannehill is one element of the novel that I especially cherished, though at times it was a bit trite. The psychological aspects of the novel are intriguing, and as a parent-to-be, I found myself ruminating over the methods in which society has been taught to raise children. (That said, I have no intention of moving my family into a commune.)

The Bad: The cast in this novel is extensive, and seems more so by the lack of development in supporting characters. If you’re capable of reading through the novel without ever really being able to match a parent to child or particular personality trait, this quality of the writing can be overlooked. (I didn’t let it bother me too much, though I can see why some would complain.) The ending didn’t blow me away, but I was okay with the way the story concluded.

The Verdict: 4/5 stars. I enjoyed this novel a great deal, and would highly recommend to anyone looking for an alternative to the heaps of dystopian fiction that have crowded the market over the past few years.

Review: The Cuckoo’s Calling

I first read J.K. Rowling’s adult mystery novel — published under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith — in 2013 when it was released. I remember enjoying the novel, despite backlash from naysayers who wanted Rowling to ride the Hogwarts Express for her lifetime. That aside, I don’t remember much else. I later acquired the other two novels in the Cormoran Strike series, but never got around to reading either. With rumors (confirmed by the Queen herself) that Strike would be making a return to the literary world in 2017, I decided it was well past time to reread the first book and finish the other two.

The Cuckoo’s Calling is the first in a series of detective fiction novels. While I don’t typically seek out crime fiction or detective novels, I can’t resist anything penned by Rowling . . . and I was pleasantly engrossed in this contemporary whodunit book — even the second time around.

Cormoran Strike is a down-and-out private investigator with a mound of debt up to his hairy ears and a failing love life to match. The detective, who is described in such a way as to evoke images of a great hulking brute, is hired by John Bristow, brother to the recently deceased supermodel Lula Landry. The police believe Lula has committed suicide, but Bristow thinks there’s more to her untimely death than that. While Strike juggles his new living arrangements (read: longterm camping in his cramped office), a new temp secretary (Robin, whose own blossoming relationship and new fiance are in stark contrast to Strike’s loneliness), and initial doubts about Bristow’s sanity, the case morphs from something laughable to something with far greater complexity and potential to disrupt more than a few lives.

Strike’s interviews with witnesses reveal excellent character development on the author’s part. True to Rowling form, the novel is packed with a number of key characters — none of whom escape the detective’s scrutiny. Where most novels featuring a large cast fall woefully short of development, leaving the reader confused about who’s who and why they’re important, The Cuckoo’s Calling unravels each individual bit by bit until readers are left with a host of sneaking suspicions based on a number of untrustworthy individuals and a masterfully constructed trail of breadcrumbs.

The Good: Um . . . everything? 🙃 When a novel can be enjoyed a second time around (or a third, or fourth, or fifth . . . ), especially those in the mystery genre, you know you’ve found a gem. This novel is jam-packed with details that serve a purpose. There is no character or encounter or detail that doesn’t serve some end — character development, plot progression, background establishment. As mentioned before, characters are beautifully constructed, each flawed in his or her own way — something writers often overlook or overdo. (Some take character flaws unnecessarily far, resulting in ridiculously unlikeable or relatable individuals; others create maddeningly perfect characters that flawed readers cannot truly connect with. This novel: the perfect blend.) And another merit to this work: its ability to place a lead male character (Strike) next to a young, attractive supporting female (Robin) without forcing some sort of adulterous love triangle. Rowling’s work is truly centered on the mystery surrounding Lula’s death, with no time for deviations into a romantic tryst that has no place in The Cuckoo’s Calling.

The Bad: Honestly, I’ve got no complaints. The epilogue establishes the perfect circumstances for a continuation of the series, which I look forward to reading in the coming weeks.

The Verdict: 4.5/5 stars. This work isn’t life changing, nor will it become a centuries-old classic read and beloved by the masses; but it is great contemporary detective fiction. And that, I can appreciate.

 

Review: Behind Her Eyes

Disclaimer: There will be spoilers at the end of this post. These spoilers will be preceded by a warning — do not read past that warning if you do not wish to discover the spoilers! The bulk of this post — including the verdict/rating at the end — is safe for those who have not yet read the novel.

Well, friends — I did it. I bought another thriller, despite the fact that I’d adamantly decided against doing so in 2017. Book of the Month Club’s February selections included a mysterious-looking thriller titled Behind Her Eyes, by author Sarah Pinborough. The novel has been touted by many as the closest rival to Gone Girl, a masterful piece of domestic noir fiction, and a thriller that will keep readers guessing until the end.

Only one of those is accurate.

Behind Her Eyes opens in modern-day England with a some very cryptic quips from “then” and “later” and “now.” The novel then switches back and forth between past and present, as well as main characters Louise and Adele. Louise, a divorced mother of a young son, lives a woefully mediocre life. Though she works only a few days per week, she is still supported financially by her ex-husband. One evening, Louise meets a handsome stranger in a bar, shares a stolen kiss, and arrives at work the next morning to discover the man is her new boss, David. To make matters more awkward, David is accompanied on his tour of his new workplace by none other than his flawlessly beautiful wife, Adele.

David and Louise struggle to resist temptation as their work environment draws them closer to one another. Meanwhile, Louise has formed an extremely unlikely (and idiotic) friendship with — you guessed it — Adele. Louise becomes trapped in a double life of sorts, unable to resist the companionship both David and Adele bring to her formerly lonely existence. Although she is guilt-ridden by both relationships, Louise’s need for intimacy overrides her conscience. Her desperation for friendship, coupled with David’s unhappiness in his own marriage and Adele’s equally intense need for companionship, creates a perfect storm of events that lead to the story’s unforeseeable climax.

The GoodBehind Her Eyes certainly delivers on the promise that readers will not foresee the story’s conclusion.

The Bad: The novel’s writing felt sub-par at best, to me. I condede that Pinborough manages to establish an unpredictable plot and three extraordinarily unlikeable characters (who still manage to spark readers’ curiosity); however, the diction itself is infuriatingly simple. Often, I felt like I was reading the diary of a teenager, or a poorly educated adult. This sounds harsh — I know — but when I read adult novels, I want to be inspired by the beauty and complexity of the author’s writing. As a high school student, I adored classical literature for the depth and vibrancy of the writing; as an adult, I am still enchanted by the world J.K. Rowling creates in her Harry Potter series, because the writing is vivid, descriptive, and beautiful. Pinborough’s book brought none of that to the table (which is mostly true to contemporary thriller form), and I had a hard time getting past my annoyance with this aspect of the novel. This was compounded by the frequent use of the F-bomb, which lost its weight with excessive utterances. Other frustrations: see spoilers.

The Verdict: 2/5. Nope, nope, nope. This BOTM pick was a miss for me. I was never truly absorbed by the story — the first half was tediously slow and I struggled to become invested in the plot. When the plot finally picks up at the end, the author makes choices that seem ridiculously over-the-top and woefully forced to achieve that #WTFThatEnding reaction.

 

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Caution: Spoilers ahead! Discontinue reading if you plan to read the book and don’t want the ending spoiled.

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The supernatural elements woven into the novel were a major miss for me. Louise suffers from night terrors, and is counseled on how to take control of her dreams by Adele, who suffered from the same affliction as a young child. With practice, the two characters are able to exit their bodies during sleep, and wander the outside world. Their abilities play a dark role in the outcome of the novel — a body swap, of sorts. This thread is strikingly similar to the concepts of Audrey Niffenegger’s novel, Her Fearful Symmetry, which also just didn’t do it for me.

Louise’s character was also far too pathetic for me to enjoy or relate to. I had a hard time connecting to an individual who is lonely, but unwilling to find a job that would introduce her to more friends/provide more stimulation throughout the week. Louise’s perpetual wine drinking is also eye-roll worthy. Nearly every scene that includes Louise also includes a bottle — or two — of wine. While this all contributes to the development of her unhappy and pathetic existence, I have developed a strong sense of distaste for our generation’s glorification of women who love nothing but drinking wine in excess and grumbling about how much they hate their lives. Louise falls a bit into that category and was simply far too annoying for me to connect to or even sympathize with.

And finally, as I mentioned previously, the ending of the novel just felt completely forced and ridiculous to me. Perhaps this is largely due to the fact that I wasn’t a fan of the dream-state body-switching element of the story; perhaps my annoyance is due to the fact that I found all of the characters over-dramatized and unenjoyable. Either way, while I was surprised to learn of Adele’s true nature, I wasn’t invested enough in the characters or plot to truly experience that “WTF” reaction that apparently so many of the novel’s readers so greatly relished. Guess I’m in the minority, on this one!

Review: Behold the Dreamers

Disclaimer: At the end of this post, after the rating/verdict, there are spoilers. These spoilers are made completely separate from the bulk of my review. If you do not want to read the spoilers, do not scroll past the little bit that says, “Caution! Spoilers ahead!” 🙂 

One of my goals for 2017: read one book per week this entire year. Five weeks in, I thought I was going to crash and burn. 😥 Luckily, my husband is all too happy to let me spend entire weekends reading — because that means he gets to spend his weekends in the shop, or playing PS4 with Derrick. (I love when we both crave Me Time at the same time.) Anyway . . . on with the review.

Behold the Dreamers, written by Cameroonian immigrant Imobolo Mbue, is one of the September 2016 Book of the Month Club selections and an intimate portrait of a timeless cliche: the pursuit of the American Dream. The story opens in New York City with a description of Jende Jonga, a Limbe (Cameroon) native who has lived in America for several years. Jende is passionate about and devoted to Becoming American, but there’s a problem: his visa expired years ago. After having lived in America without his wife, Neni, and their child, Liomi, for three long years, Jende is certain that he will become a legal American citizen and fulfill his lifelong dream of achieving a better life.

Jende takes a job chauffeuring Clark Edwards, a wealthy Wall Street magnate who appears to have it all — trophy wife, doting family, a seemingly-endless cash flow, an opulent home, and the respect of his peers. Mr. Edwards quickly becomes a fount of inspiration for Jende, despite the superficial nature of their relationship: Jende begins to regard Mr. Edwards as a young child might adore his father. As the story bounces between sketches of Jende’s interactions with Mr. Edwards and his family members, Neni’s life at school and home, and Neni’s interactions with Mrs. Edwards (who hires her temporarily), readers will find it impossible not to root for the couple whose unrelenting hope propels them through one trial after another.

Unfortunately, as the adage goes — all good things must come to an end, and for Jende and Neni, the threat of deportation looms heavily over their ambitions. In parallel fashion, the Jonga family’s relationship becomes increasingly strained as the Edwards family empire begins to crack under pressures long ignored. The two families frantically struggle to survive (much less, thrive) while Mbue delivers a stark juxtaposition of those who have — and those who do not.

The Good: While others have complained that the novel felt lackluster and did little to draw them in, I was enamored with Jende’s character almost immediately. Mbue’s masterful use of pidgin English makes the language (and characters) come alive. (I was strongly reminded of my collegiate running days and international teammates from Kenya and Nigeria.) The novel is also a fairly quick read: I picked it up Saturday morning, only 50 pages in, and managed to finish the whole novel before nightfall.

The Bad: See spoilers.

The Verdict: 3/5 stars. This novel isn’t a stellar debut, in my humble opinion. At times, the story felt a bit cliche; but the themes of strife and devotion make the novel a worthwhile read.

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Caution! Spoilers ahead! Don’t read any further if you wish to remain surprised.

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The conclusion of this novel felt rushed — and that was significantly disappointing. Here are my two biggest sources of contention with the piece:

  1. The Jonga-Edwards fallout leaves a bit to be desired. The build-up was there, of course, but the tale feels looser and less . . . intentional? . . . as the Jonga family endures its last flailing months in America and the Edwards family merely fades into the background. Part of me feels that Jende had an opportunity for a major character evolution within the walls of Mr. Edwards’ office. Additionally, Jende’s last-minute farewell to Mr. Edwards left me feeling . . . well, nothing, to tell the truth. The scene felt far too contrived and convenient — a dulled Christmas bow slapped hastily on the package that could have been a cherished gift, but fell a little short.
  2. When Jende and Neni return to Africa, they just . . . return. Of course, there’s a father-son generational bonding thing that occurs when the family arrives “home” — and Jende certainly undergoes a significant character change. Though a bit unconventional, the author’s decision for the main character to give up on his dream is, in my mind, a perfectly adequate conclusion to Jende’s years of obstinate refusal to be jilted by the Great America. That being said, Neni’s conclusion feels largely underwhelming. While I understand that the dynamic of their relationship differs from that of my “Western marriage,” I felt that Neni’s story sort of folded underneath her as the author searched for an ending (any ending will do).

I found much to enjoy in this piece of diverse fiction; but the ending fell flat for me. What was your take on this novel (and/or the bones I picked at the end)?