Given my goal to read 75 books this year, and that I have already finished 3 books since the start of the year, I plan to post more than once a month to cover my reviews, so that these posts don’t get too long. Hopefully I keep up with these goals and plans of mine!
This was a nice, easy read.
Unfortunately, right before reading it, when I added the book to my “currently reading” shelf on Goodreads, I glimpsed a review that I think affected my opinion. I mean, I already knew I would like Mr. Green’s and Ms. Johnson’s portions more so than Ms. Myracle’s, just because I’m more familiar with their work already and have enjoyed them for a longer time. But the one word in the short review I read that stood out was “weak.” And I have a hard time disagreeing. The third story, Lauren Myracle’s was very weak by comparison.
Johnson’s narrative was a chain of charmingly absurd circumstances – a girl named Jubilee. whose parents get arrested on Christmas Eve. at this bizarre collectors’ riot. and then her train breaks down in the snow on the way to grandma’s house. and she ends up at Waffle House. All ridiculous. All fantastic.
Green’s story wasn’t one unfamiliar or far-fetched; some might think the concept boring or overdone – oh yeah, the two people who have been platonic friends forever suddenly realize that they love each other. At Christmas, no less. But John, as always, finds a way to make it fresh. and his quirkiness always wins me over.
Myracle’s narrative, on the other hand, was quite a trudge. Our main character is a teenage girl who is really selfish and self-centered – SHOCK. Because that’s out of the normal for teenagers. and we’re supposed to believe she’s somehow worse than the average adolescent. but the holidays bring a change of heart! …Ugh. And it’s not even heart-warming to make up for it. The character wasn’t engaging at all. She obviously wasn’t likeable, but she wasn’t bad enough to warrant the reader’s hatred either. In short, I was bored.
Who’s to say if I’d have thought the same if I hadn’t read that review right before. I choose to think I would have had the same opinion. I think maybe this just wasn’t Lauren Myracle’s strong point. I mean, I did enjoy Shine. Shine is not a light-hearted, quirky romance. Maybe she should stay away from this sort of thing.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
I love dystopian novels. I don’t know if I’ve made that obvious yet. But I really do. I like that they’re thought-provoking, and often really intense and uncomfortable. I loved Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451 and The Hunger Games. 1984 is very high on my to-read list. and The Handmaid’s Tale was also super good.
And it’s weird… I didn’t enjoy it in the typical way, of course. This isn’t a light read. No happily ever after. The ending is up in the air; you don’t know for certain what happens to the main character. Which is frustrating. And lacks a sort of catharsis that you often want as a reader.
While I think men can enjoy and learn much from this book, I don’t think there’s any way they could get even close to the same experience reading it as a woman. The term “baby factory” kept popping up in my head. It was rough. I couldn’t help but try to imagine myself in that situation. Would I do as some of them did – try to escape, whether with my life or by taking my life? or would I just accept that this was the way things were and not try to fight it, as others did? It’s easy to read something like this, and be incredibly angry, and think to yourself, “I wouldn’t put up with this! I would DO something! Stick it to the man!” But in reality, I know I’m a total pansy, especially when it comes to authority figures. I would try to run at first, but once they had me, they would probably have me for good. Not much fight in this sad little girl, not in a situation like that.
It struck me strange too that this is the opposite of what society seems to be doing right now. Many people I know – mostly older people, to be honest – lament how “liberal” our world is becoming. But what if we did an about-face? What if we went backward so far that we got to the point illustrated in this novel? No one – at least, I hope no one! – could possibly argue that would be a better situation than we’re in now. (Though truth be told, I think we’re doing pretty great now. There’s a few things I would change, but still. We’ve come SO far!) We just need to find a medium. It’s kind of nice that we have all of these dystopian novels – while it may seem absurd to some people, they really are cautioning us. Authors are giving the world so many warnings of what not to do!
I want to talk about the style too. The narrator flips between the present and several different points in the past – flashbacks. We have the present, when she is currently a handmaid to the Commander, but she flashes back to her time at the Center – a.k.a. Handmaid School – and to the time before everything changed, when she was with her husband and child, and to a time even before that, in college with her friend Moira or interactions with her mom.
This flipping technique kept me on my toes as a reader. Sometimes it wouldn’t immediately be obvious that she wasn’t talking about the present, which was strange, but it made me pay attention. It illuminates too what her life must be like. While she has a few duties/activities, a lot of her life as a handmaid is just sitting around. She probably has far too much time to ponder all that has changed and what she has been through – which to must of us would be a horror. I can’t imagine reliving that every day, with precious little to distract me from the memories and strong emotions in my head.
The book ends too in a different voice from the narrator, where we learn that everything we read previously was a transcription of tapes that this handmaid recorded. We’re listening to a man lecture on this primary source, on this artifact, speaking of this government regime that has presumably, and blessedly, been removed. It’s an interesting move. It gives the reader hope, you know, that this world later changed. But whether it changed during our handmaid’s life or not until long after, isn’t really clear, and that’s sort of disheartening.
I would most definitely recommend this novel to almost anyone. It can definitely take its emotional toll though, and could be triggering for some with past abuses, so be wary.
Messenger by Lois Lowry
This is, of course, the third companion to The Giver, after Gathering Blue. We rejoin Matty, from the second book, and later see Kira again, as well as, whaaat, it’s Jonas! From the first book! Though the reader is never explicitly told his name, the description of his eyes, the “seeing beyond,” and his reference to his first experience doing so with the apple make it pretty clear to anyone who has read The Giver.
I liked this one better than Gathering Blue but still less than The Giver. I’m not sure I could tell you why. Part of it is probably that Matty is a more fun character than Kira, because he’s mischievous.
The most interesting part of the book to me was the Trade Mart. Just like it sounds, it’s an event where people of Village trade things for other things. They might trade for something akin to a video game or slot machine to play, or maybe a fur coat. But they can also trade for slightly more abstract things, and the key is less what they trade for than what they trade with. One man in the village trades away his “deepest self” in order to become more attractive, basically so he can bed the hot widow in town. A kind, patient man with a bald patch and a scar on his face becomes this handsome but very harsh man. A couple trades for a gaming machine and their children grow ill. A woman who trades for something I’ve forgotten becomes very cruel, particularly to her disabled husband.
It’s put rather simply in this story, I mean, this is a YA book – it probably even qualifies as a children’s book. But it’s really thought-provoking. This giving into greed or lust, whether for material things or otherwise, it changes you. Perhaps not as directly as in the world of this book, but it’s similar, and equally discomforting.
I felt rather childish about the ending as well. Let’s just say I was upset. But at the same time, it’s good to show children/young adults that not all stories have happy endings.
This one makes me more likely to read the fourth and final companion, Son, than the second book did.
Next up for me – hopefully finally finishing A Dance with Dragons, and starting In Cold Blood!
Any reading goals for the new year, you guys?