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review: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

Written By: Word Nerd - Mar• 26•13

WintergirlsWintergirls

Laurie Halse Anderson

Penguin/YA

Release Date: March 19, 2009

Lia and Cassie are best friends, wintergirls frozen in fragile bodies, competitors in a deadly contest to see who can be the thinnest. But then Cassie suffers the ultimate loss-her life-and Lia is left behind, haunted by her friend’s memory and racked with guilt for not being able to help save her. In her most powerfully moving novel since Speak, award-winning author Laurie Halse Anderson explores Lia’s struggle, her painful path to recovery, and her desperate attempts to hold on to the most important thing of all: hope.

 

SPOILER WARNING!! THIS REVIEW WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS–I CAN’T HELP IT!

Did you read the previous sentence? Do you understand that this review will contain spoilers? SPOILERS AHEAD!

I picked up this book on the recommendation of a friend during my search to find titles with the same emotional pull as John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. (Someday I will review it, or Teen Nerd will review it, once we can discuss it without bursting into tears.)  Normally I would not read a book about eating disorders because they just make me mad.  It is such a complicated disease – there are mental components and physical components, you can have one or both, you can be morbidly obese and anorexic, you can eat 5000 calories a day and still be, technically speaking, anorexic.  Throw in bulimia, orthorexia and all the other mutations…how can you treat it accurately in 80,000 words?

I feel like this book veers dangerously close to being a “how to” manual for eating disorders.  Yes, we see horrible consequences from Cassie’s bulimia/alcohol abuse and Lia’s anorexia.  Cassie’s painful and lonely death is heartwrenching.  But, it isn’t enough to compensate for the tricks of the trade that are discussed.  Tricks, I will add, that would never work for someone who has been to inpatient care twice, but would prove useful to someone just starting down that dangerous path. The truth is, Lia likely would not have made it out of her car wreck without fractures caused by the de-mineralization in her bones.  Her hair would be dull and falling out, she would be in near constant pain from pushing her body beyond the fuel she was providing.  And the plotting, the schemes?  Clear thought is one of the first things to go in dehydration and starvation.

The best thing I can say about this book is that (YES, ANOTHER SPOILER ALERT!) in the end, Lia seems to come around and realize that she is slowly killing herself.  She will enter inpatient treatment for a third time– this time, with a changed attitude.

My verdict:  Skip it.  Perhaps others see this book as a cautionary tale; I see it as a training manual.

If you, or someone you love, is dealing with body issues and/or eating disorders, please visit here to find help.

 

Main St. Book Club: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Written By: Word Nerd - Mar• 19•13

Ender’s Game

Orson Scott Card

Tor Science Fiction/Science Fiction

Release Date:  1985

In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race’s next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the person he loves more than anyone else, his sister Valentine. Peter and Valentine were candidates for the soldier-training program but didn’t make the cut–young Ender is the Wiggin drafted to the orbiting Battle School for rigorous military training.

Ender’s skills make him a leader in school and respected in the Battle Room, where children play at mock battles in zero gravity. Yet growing up in an artificial community of young soldiers, Ender suffers greatly from isolation, rivalry from his peers, pressure from the adult teachers, and an unsettling fear of the alien invaders. His psychological battles include loneliness, fear that he is becoming like the cruel brother he remembers, and fanning the flames of devotion to his beloved sister.

Is Ender the general Earth needs? But Ender is not the only result of the genetic experiments. The war with the Buggers has been raging for a hundred years, and the quest for the perfect general has been underway for almost as long. Ender’s two older siblings are every bit as unusual as he is, but in very different ways. Between the three of them lie the abilities to remake a world. If the world survives, that is.

Ender’s Game was chosen for this month in preparation for another book club movie field trip.  The book has a pretty rabid following and the cast has some big names, so I expect it will have a blowout release weekend– who knows after that?

The most surprising thing about Ender’s Game was that I didn’t hate it.  I put off reading the book until the very last minute, just because it just sounded awful to me.  While pleasantly surprised that I didn’t hate it, I didn’t exactly find the book engaging.  For fully three-quarters of the book, I could have put it down and walked away without a second thought.  I didn’t care about the characters; I wasn’t wondering where the story would go next.  There is a small section near the end where it all comes together and you must find out what happens next, but it is over much too quickly and then the story devolves into set-up for future books.

When pressed to describe Ender’s Game, I would say Lord of the Flies in space.  That pretty much sums it up.  Kids do bad things when they are left unsupervised.  Those bad things make you stronger, unless they kill you.

My verdict:  Skip it. It is just okay. That’s all.  Very popular, but just okay.

 

review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Written By: Word Nerd - Mar• 05•13

Gone Girl

Gillian Flynn

Crown

Release Date: June 5, 2012

Marriage can be a real killer.  On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?    As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?

Gone Girl exploded onto the book scene.  Rated the best book of the year by a number of sources (including my favorite, BookPage) and the darling of book clubs around the nation, I felt like I was missing a huge cultural touchstone by not reading it.

My first clue that it might not live up to the hype was when, after a six week wait at the library, I was able to read a bit and then put it down when bedtime arrived.  It was interesting, but not un-put-down-able.  I had read about 5% of the book when I said, “I wonder if….” and, yep, I had figured out the big twist.

Was the book fast paced? Yes. Did it have a lot of psycho twists in it? Yes.  Was it a good book? No.

My verdict:  Skip it.  In addition to a complete WTH ending, Gone Girl positively glamorizes an abusive relationship.  If you issued this book with a main character gender flip, you would have a torch waving, pitchfork wielding crowd calling for a boycott.  I understand that it is fiction, but reprehensible behaviour in fiction is still reprehensible.

review: Someone Like You by Sarah Dessen

Written By: Word Nerd - Feb• 28•13

someone like youSomeone Like You

Sarah Dessen

Puffin Books/YA

Release Date: May 11, 2004

Halley has always followed in the wake of her best friend, Scarlett. But when Scarlett learns that her boyfriend has been killed in a motorcycle accident, and that she’s carrying his baby, she’s devastated. For the first time ever, Scarlett really needs Halley. Though their friendship may be tested by the strain, like a true friendship, it will endure.

I picked this book from a “new releases” endcap, so I was very surprised to find that the “new” is the cover.  It has been around for quite awhile and has even been made into a movie.  Oh, well, I guess that is a lesson learned about trusting bookstore signs.

The first half of the book sucked me in completely.  The relationship between the best friends feels so real to the reader.  The delicate balance as one mourns a dead boyfriend and the other begins to fall in love…it is just wonderful.

Sadly, the book starts to lose its appeal after Scarlett discovers her pregnancy.  There are a few tense moments as parents are told and choices are made, but then the realism begins to fade.  The story alternates between preachy passages elucidating that “bad things happen when you have sex” and the wholly unbelievable “look at all these cute baby things I can buy as a part-time grocery store cashier.”  The take away is that bad things happen, unless you and your friend really believe in good things.  Huh?!

My verdict:  Read it–maybe.  I really enjoyed the first half, so perhaps a less cynical person might also enjoy the end.  I would keep this book far away from teen girls who think “having a baby to love them forever would be so cool.”  This book definitely supports the idea that they can make it work as long as they have a best friend and a minimum wage, part-time job.

 

review: The Dinner by Herman Koch

Written By: Word Nerd - Feb• 26•13

The Dinner: A Novel

Herman Koch

Hogarth

Release Date: February 12, 2013

It’s a summer’s evening in Amsterdam, and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant for dinner. Between mouthfuls of food and over the polite scrapings of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of polite discourse — the banality of work, the triviality of the holidays. But behind the empty words, terrible things need to be said, and with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened.     

Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son. The two boys are united by their accountability for a single horrific act; an act that has triggered a police investigation and shattered the comfortable, insulated worlds of their families. As the dinner reaches its culinary climax, the conversation finally touches on their children. As civility and friendship disintegrate, each couple show just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love.

At first glance, The Dinner seems like another go down the dysfunctional family road.  Little brother lives in the shadow of big brother, wives and children flail in the tsunami created by birth order angst.  A story that has been told a thousand times.

Fortunately, Koch takes us much deeper than the first pages hint.  Each course of the dinner reveals another layer in this tense thriller.  Dessert arrives and you think it is done, you think you have it figured out…and then the story really begins.

My verdict:  Read it.  This is a book that sneaks up and grabs you by surprise.  It touches on a variety of social issues that will keep you thinking long after the final page.