Thursday, February 26, 2009

"The Lovely Bones" by Alice Sebold

Summary: 14-year-old Susie is raped and murdered by a neighbor. From heaven, Susie narrates the story as her family and friends--and Susie herself--struggle to move on and survive from the horrific tragedy.

Musings: I was a little nervous jumping into this book since I didn't really enjoy The Memory Keeper's Daughter, the last book I read that dealt with grief. In this book, I felt like the characters had more realistic and believable responses to Susie's death. Although they were all upset, they continued on with life. Some characters had a harder time letting go than others, but, with time, they found themselves able to move on in life. In the end, the family members found a way to reunite again as a family; it may have been an overly optimistic ending, but it did give welcome conclusion to the reader.

One of the strangest parts of the book was the details about Susie's (sort-of) friends prior to her death, Ray and Ruth. Ray played a very small part in the book, but I liked his character a lot. It was especially neat to see an Indian-American character in a book not about India or Indian culture. His sexual relationship with Susie, however, seemed a little out of place. Ruth finds herself (happily?) obsessed with Susie and makes Susie's death a cornerstone of her life. Should this not be thought strange?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

"Abarat: Days of Magic, Nights of War" by Clive Barker

Summary: Candy Quackenbush, our heroine from the first Abarat book, continues her journey in the mystical land. With some of her newfound friends, Candy tries to escape the clutches of Christopher Carrion and his henchmen and learn more about her identity and relationship to the Abarat.

Musings: The second Abarat book picks up where the other left off, with Candy and Malingo traveling around the islands and avoiding capture. From the beginning, the book seemed to lack focus. Candy and Malingo were constantly being chased, almost being caught, then--surprise!--narrowly escaping capture. I imagine this was supposed to create tension, but I felt bored. Candy didn't seem particularly worried about being chased, and the creatures chasing her didn't seem all that determined to capture her. The hunters were always "just ten strides away" (a phrase I grew very tired of) before Candy miraculously got away. I kept picturing a bad horror movie in my head where the bad guy slowly walks toward his screaming victim.

The book did pick up momentum toward the end as Candy makes the not-so-shocking discovery about her true identity, and the reader meets a few new characters who will undoubtedly be important in later books. The characters are starting to pile up, however, which causes me concern that future books will also lack focus from the need to talk about so many people.

Barker has already decided this will be a five-book series, and I got the feeling that in setting out a specific length he's grappling for filler in between the two more engrossing parts of the story--Candy's discovery of the Abarat (book 1) and the final war between the day and night (presumably book 5).

All the criticism isn't to say I didn't, as a whole, enjoy the book. It was still a fun adventure novel, Candy is still endearing, and the paintings are a lot of fun. In reading Wikipedia, I came across an article where Barker said he's on page 1,808 of his draft for the third book. I can only hope some very judicious editors will whittle that down to a palatable amount. Although I'm interested in the story and what happens to Candy, count me out if it means reading a 12-pound unnecessary behemoth.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

"March" by Geraldine Brooks

Summary: Mr. March, a chaplain serving the Union forces in the Civil War, describes his time working to serve soldiers and assisting former slaves. As he does, he recounts his experiences as a younger man. The novel is Brooks' re-imagining of the absent Mr. March, the father in Louisa May Alcott's Little Women.

Musings: This is my third book recently to address the subject of slavery, although I had not purposefully set out with that topic in mind. In a way, March serves to complete a triumvirate of viewpoints on the subject of American slavery. First, Octavian Nothing described a young slave boy's awareness of bondage; A Mercy centered on various slave women's experiences, and March addresses slavery from the view of a white abolitionist. Although each book covers a distinctly different time period (A Mercy in the early days of slavery in what would be America, Octavian in the American Revolution, and March in the Civil War), many of the same themes are apparent. One of the most notable is the hypocrisy and uncertainty of the country. Although whites in all three books struggled with the fairness of slavery, they also have difficulty instituting their ideals into practical reality. In March, Mr. March finds his fervent abolitionist ideals challenged even by the Union forces, which are unprepared to make the sacrifices (both personally and materially) to allow free slaves to exist as free people.

Mr. March is an admirable character, and he makes the right choices even when the other characters in the book do not. Throughout the first part of the book, I found his character and others somewhat flat. They seemed to fit ideals that are comforting, but perhaps not realistic. Mr. March does not sway in his abolitionist beliefs, even when others do. He is, in turn, rewarded by eager former slaves who are forever grateful for what he has given them. I think I would have found the story more convincing if March had made selfish choices and paid the price (he claims he did, but I don't know if I agree), or if March had met freed slaves who were not just profusely grateful for any small kindness, but expected more.

Fortunately, my concerns about character were alleviated somewhat in the final chapters of the book which give insight into the thoughts of Mr. March's wife, Marmee, and a former slave he had been acquainted with, Grace. Marmee exposes Mr. March's idealism as perhaps less heroic than he made it out to be throughout the part of the book told from his point of view. For me, Grace has the most effective line when she tells Mr. March, who is insisting he continue to help Grace and other freed slaves, "We have had enough of white people ordering our existence! There are men of my own race more versed in how to fetch and carry than you will ever be. And there are Negro preachers aplenty who know the true language of our souls. A free people must learn to manage its own destiny" (268).

Because the novel is a retelling of Little Women, I think being familiar with Alcott's novel is a big help. I read Little Women a very long time ago, and although I remembered some basic plot points, I imagine many details in Brooks' version were lost on me.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

"Abarat" by Clive Barker

Summary: An ordinary girl, Candy Quackenbush, suddenly finds herself gone from her boring hometown of Chickentown, Minnesota and thrust into the magical world of the Abarat. The Abarat is a series of islands, each of which contains an hour of the day--all except the mysterious twenty-fifth hour island. Candy quickly finds herself thrust into danger as she seeks to escape the dark Christopher Carrion and the greedy Rojo Pixler while meeting friends along the way.

Musings: One of the English teachers in my department proposed this as a potential summer reading book for our incoming 9th graders, so I picked it up at the library. Although only about 300 pages, the book is immensely heavy because it is printed on thick, glossy paper to best show off Barker's colorful illustrations that accompany the book. I found the weight cumbersome when reading, but it was worth it to see the fantastic illustrations that add to the story and do not give the book a feeling of childishness, which I had feared.

After complaining in previous posts about the women characters, I was absolutely in love with the plucky (no pun intended) heroine Candy. Candy has had a rough upbringing, but she is confident, resourceful, and self-assured of her own decisions. She is not plagued by self-doubt, and although she cares for other characters, she remains her own independent spirit.

Barker has created a world full of crazy places, unexpected magic, and creatures of multitudes of undefined species. I liked the creativity and unique places, but the Abarat did seem to lack a cohesive whole that makes a fantasy society seem real. One of the things I best liked about The Golden Compass, for example, was the world Pullman created; there were rules the world followed and I wanted to be a part of it. Barker's world seems governed solely by whatever strange things Barker can think up.

Overall, though, a fun read.

Friday, February 20, 2009

100 Books - from BBC (?)

Update: December 8, 2010--Thought I'd see if I'd added any. Turns out I'd read four more.

Update: November 16, 2009--After half a year and no particular intent, I've read three more books on the list, so I'm updating!

I saw this posted on Facebook and it immediately peaked my interest. After reading it, I don't think the list makes a lot of sense. Some repeats (at least, in my opinion) and other random entries or omissions. I believe it's a list of "best-loved books," which I guess accounts for the lack of cohesion. Nevertheless, here's me:

Apparently the BBC reckons most people will have only read 6 of the 100 books here.

1) Look at the list and put an 'x' after those you have read.
2) Add a '+' to the ones you LOVE.
3) Star (*) those you plan on reading.
4) Tally your total at the bottom.

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen - X
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien - X
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte - X
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling - X+
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee - X
6 The Bible - X (not all, but enough)
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte - X
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwel - X
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman - X
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens - X
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott - X
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller - X (well, half of it anyway)
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare - X (complete might be a little excessive...)
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier - X
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien - X
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger - X
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger - X
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald - X
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy (I started but didn't get far)
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams - X (on audio CD - does that count?)
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky - X
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck - X
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll - X
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis - X
34 Emma - Jane Austen - X
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis - X (is this different than Chronicles?)
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini - X
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden - X
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell - X+
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown - X
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez - X
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving - X
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery - X
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood - X
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding - X
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel - X
52 Dune - Frank Herbert - X
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen - X
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon - X
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens - X
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley - X+
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon - X
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck - X
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov - X
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold - X
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas - X
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding - X (on audio CD, again)
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hogson Burnett - X
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson - X
75 Ulysses - James Joyce - X
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath - X
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray - X
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker - X
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro - X
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert - X
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White - X
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - X
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare - X (how is this different than the complete works?)
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl - X+
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

So that gives me a total of 51 54 58! Just over half. I think that's respectable...

Thursday, February 19, 2009

"For Whom the Bell Tolls" by Ernest Hemingway

Summary: An American professor, Robert Jordan, is fighting in Spain during their civil war. He has been assigned to blow up a bridge along with a small group of native guerrilla fighters. The book takes places over three days as Robert prepares for the bridge's destruction and falls in love with the woman Maria.

Musings: On my own, I probably would never have picked up this book. The only other Hemingway I've read was The Sun Also Rises in high school, and all I remember from that is Spain, absinthe, and bull fighting as a sexual metaphor (all of which make reappearances here). However, one of my 9th grade students voluntarily chose to read it for an independent book review assignment, and I figured if he could get through it, so could I. Besides, as an English teacher it's always helpful to improve upon my canonical literature parlor talk.

I feel somewhat foolish for "reviewing" such a well-known piece of literature--but here goes. From the beginning, the book is difficult for even the most dedicated readers. It covers only three days in over five hundred pages, which means large amounts of time are spent on repetitious dialogue and inner thought. In addition, Hemingway, in a desire to make the dialogue seem more authentically "Spanish," has the characters speak in a jilted archaic manner ("thee's" and "thou's" peppered throughout). It's supposed to sound as if the dialogue has been (badly) translated into English, but the effect is primarily tiresome.

I've been disappointed in the female characters of many of the books I've read recently. Where can I find a woman character who can fall in love without losing herself (or, heck, not fall in love at all?). For Whom the Bell Tolls provides both types of women, but each woman fits into an obvious mold. Maria, the young woman Robert falls in love with, is frail and delicate. She had been rescued by the guerrilla band after being severely raped, and it is only through her relationship with Robert that she feels whole again. She gives herself to Robert fully and desires nothing else but to provide for his needs. Fortunately, Robert returns the love in a way that at least makes the relationship palatable. On the other side is Pilar, the older, "ugly" matriarch of the clan who overturns her husband Pablo's leadership of the clan and commands the respect of the other men. Pilar is powerful and confident, but only because she is old and matronly; she is not a threat because she appears masculine.

As annoyed as I was with the "I'll do anything for you" relationship of Maria and Robert, I'll admit I did find their final parting at the end of the book quite moving. Both were brave in the end and confident in their relationship. In fact, the end as the whole was surprisingly touching and emotional. Hemingway traces Robert's racing thoughts as he works to blow the bridge, escape, and make his final stand. His thoughts felt very realistic and powerful.

The novel is broad in scope, addressing what it means to live a full life and what it means to be truly connected to another person or people. The length does mean the book takes time to pause and savor each moment in time, reminding the reader that such moments will not last forever.

Friday, February 13, 2009

"The Time Traveler's Wife" by Audrey Niffenegger

Summary: Henry travels through time without warning his entire life. Told through the eyes of Henry and his wife Clare at all ages of their lives, the novel describes the somewhat backwards development of their relationship and growth as a couple.

Musings: I've been reading a lot of books recently (or, at least it feels like a lot) about "ordinary" people dealing with the stress and pressures of life. I was getting bored of the intricacies of normal suffering and have been itching for books in the science/fantasy category in order to escape. With that in mind, I turned to the Time Traveler's Wife. Although classified in the science fiction genre, and despite the obvious fantasy in time traveling, the book focuses more on the people than the fantasy. Nevertheless, the fantasy is well done. In one of the best moves, whenever Henry time travels, he arrives in the new time naked. This not only makes sense, but it also adds relevant difficulty and danger to each of his travels.

Clare first meets Henry when she is 6 and he is 36. She grows up knowing him and knowing she will marry him. Although their life together is in the future, she is irrevocably changed by knowing Henry is her future.

Henry, however, does not first meet Clare until he is 28. When he meets her and learns of their future life together, he accepts it openly. But as he grows, he is being shaped into the man Clare knew him to be when she was younger.

In essence, are Clare and Henry their own person? They are both shaped by each other's knowledge of one another from another time. They live life looking forward to experiencing what they already know will happen. Henry argues that free will is possible, but the book does not seem to support him. Clare and Henry cannot change the future; regardless of their actions, they move toward a predetermined future--even though it is a future predetermined by them.

I had hoped for an optimistic ending. Henry in some ways accepts his death and his daughter is able to move through life by time traveling as well and reuniting with her father at various ages (although we never see her past the age of ten). Clare, however, is left out of the picture. She cannot move past waiting for Henry and seems to give up on life.

Niffenegger also seems unsure of her characters at time. Henry is caring to his family, but during a time traveling episode he severely beats a man for calling him a homophobic slur without much regret. When young, Henry is a heavy alcoholic, but that issue seems wrapped up (or missing) later on with little commentary. Henry’s a librarian and who manages to stay employed the entire novel (despite frequent disappearances and naked reappearances). Henry never drives (for fear he will suddenly time travel while at the wheel), but he is allowed to take his daughter out alone. A man who is in love with Clare is mentioned several times, but almost nothing comes of it. In a late chapter Clare is ruminating over a previously never-mentioned "secret" she's had for years, but when she reveals it to Henry, it's inconsequential.

The book quickly changes viewpoints, ages, and time periods, which could sometimes be confusing. It became important to be aware of the narrator/age/time stamp at the top of each mini "chapter" in order to avoid being confused. I did find the double narrator less distracting than in other books, though.

Monday, February 9, 2009

"A Mercy" by Toni Morrison

Summary: Set in the 1680's, A Mercy follows the lives of three slave women (Florens, Lina, and Sorrow), their mistress, Rebekkah, her husband, Jacob, and a free African man. The book alters point of view as the women struggle to understand themselves within the context of men and slavery.

Musings: A Mercy begins in the voice of Florens and frequently returns to Florens' voice as the novel progresses. Florens has a lyrical, child-like quality to her speech, which is both confusing and poetic. Florens begins with a confession to an unknown person: "Don't be afraid. My telling can't hurt you in spite of what I have done and I promise to lie quietly in the dark--weeping perhaps or occasionally seeing the blood once more--but I will never again unfold my limbs to rise up and bare teeth. I explain" (Morrison 3). Florens' words have only bits of meaning when she first tells them, and it is not until the very end of the book that much of her beginning story makes sense. In fact, rereading the first chapter now as I write this review I find myself understanding much more than before. Particularly when it comes to Florens' chapters, I think rereading is necessary to truly understand what she is saying.

Morrison slowly addresses the meaning of freedom, but not in the traditional slave versus free way. Each of the three women is doubly enslaved--first by her skin color and second by her status as a woman. They are "women of and for men" first (Morrison 85). Florens, in particular, has thrown herself at the free African blacksmith and is unable to understand the slavery in that action. Although the women view themselves as some sort of unity while Jacob is alive, when he dies, the women realize they cannot operate in harmony without him. They are not in a time nor a place where "women for men" can be women without men.

Each woman has been shaped by suffering but strives to make some place in the world. None is particularly successful. What does it mean to have dominion over oneself? Is such dominion possible in a world that saw slave women as nothing? Florens seeks some final freedom in her wild confession, and Sorrow seems to find release in motherhood, but none of the characters find final resolution.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

"Flowers for Algernon" by Daniel Keyes

Summary: A mentally retarded man, Charlie, undergoes an experiment which rapidly makes him a genius. Through personal diary-type entries entries, Charlie relays his feelings as he becomes aware, for the first time, of the personal abuse and discrimination he has faced. He finds his increased intelligence does not, however, help him be more accepted or less lonely.

Musings: The first thing that struck me in the book was the treatment of learning disabled people. Published over forty years ago, Flowers for Algernon certainly portrays the harsh reality for people living with mental disabilities in the 1960s. On a political level, we're much more sensitive to these issues today, and terms like "retarded" are no longer accepted in the scientific lexicon. However, although the official terms and academic understandings have changed significantly, many of the abuses Charlie faces at the hands of his mother and peers certainly have not. Just one day inside the classroom of my 14-year-olds shows me how cruel and uncaring teenagers can be. I can't imagine children and adults with mental disabilities have it much better today.

The book was sad and difficult to get through. Charlie is "happy" when he is mentally retarded, but only because he unaware that others use his naivete and desire to please to make fun and take advantage of him. When his intelligence increases, Charlie becomes aware of his mistreatment. He finds himself angry and equally as lonely as he was before the experiment--only this time, he's acutely aware of every injustice.

The book offers no answers. Intelligence does not bring Charlie happiness, but mental retardation isn't better either (after all, can ignorance be bliss?).

Thursday, February 5, 2009

"Octavian Nothing" by M.T. Anderson

Or, more accurately: The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing: Traitor to the Nation (Volume #1: The Pox Party)

Summary: Octavian is raised with his mother in the College of Lucidity, a house of scholars. Slowly, Octavian and the reader learn that Octavian is there not as an academic, but as a research subject. He is a slave in the time shortly before the American Revolution and the scholars are raising him in a full "European" education to analyze the mental capacities of an African. As Octavian becomes aware of the reality of his position, the house begins to fail and Octavian is thrust fully into the life of a slave.

Musings: Octavian Nothing is presented as a children's (young adult) book, but I found it much the opposite. The first half of the book is recounted from Octavian's point of view, and his writing, a combination of his scholarly upbringing and the time period, is vocabulary-dense and philosophical. The second half is a collection of letters from soldiers, also written in a colonial style, this time with the added hazard of colonial punctuation. I find it hard to believe any but a very advanced high school student would be able to enjoy the book. Even I had occasionally had difficulty and had to reread sections.

Octavian is raised by the scholars as an Observant, and because of this, he maintains a calm detachment from much of what happens. Although this gives the reader insight into the way in which his upbringing has affected him, it also results in Octavian appearing to lack personality for much of the novel. Because he's the protagonist of the book, I wanted him to succeed, but I felt like I knew little of him as a round character. He was a mirror in which he reflected what happened to him with little emotion or biased commentary.

The most compelling part of the novel was its description of the hypocrisy of the budding American nation. Whereas the College scholars support the American Revolution and denounce the unjust repression of the American people by the British government, they also vigorously maintain the institution of slavery and their entitlement to their human "property." Octavian is only dimly aware of this paradox in the first half of the book, but his resentment and anger gradually build with his and the reader's increased awareness. For me, he came more alive toward the end.

The book has a very interesting premise and is an excellent commentary on some of the harsh truths of the American revolutionaries we so typically glorify. Nonetheless, I sometimes found the beginning difficult to get through and found myself aggravated by the roundabout speech and wording. I was much more drawn in by the end of the novel, and because of that, I will likely pick up the sequel.

- See my review of Octavian Nothing: Volume II.

Monday, February 2, 2009

"The Memory Keeper's Daughter" by Kim Edwards

Summary: A doctor delivers his wife's child and is surprised to find twins: a healthy baby boy and a baby girl with the unmistakable signs of Down Syndrome. Fearful for the girl's prospects and aware of his own mother's grief over his sickly sister (who later died), the doctor instructs his nurse to secretly take the girl to a group home. He tells his wife the baby girl died. The nurse, however, cannot leave the child, and she runs away to Pittsburgh where she raises the girl herself. Spanning several decades, the novel chronicles the lives of David Henry (the doctor), Norah (his wife), Paul (their son), Caroline (the nurse), and Phoebe (the daughter David gave away).

In some ways, I felt irritated by the grief David and Norah carried with them. David understandably carried a large burden by keeping this terrible secret from his family, but would such guilt never dissipate? Norah, on the other hand, mourns for a daughter she thought died. Would she continue to be haunted by the daughter that never was 5, 10, 15, and 20 years later? Having never experienced such grief myself, I suppose I'm not in a position to judge, but I found the constant fixation on unrelenting and unreasonable grief and loss irritating (and boring).

The novel frequently changes viewpoint so you see the events unfolding from the minds of David, Norah, Caroline, and Paul. The novel is less action and more the thoughts of each character as he/she grows and changes with those around him/her. This allows for an intimate glimpse into each character but makes it hard to picture the characters interacting with one another. Many times the characters' perspectives seemed at odds with one another, and I wanted to shout to the characters to just speak to one another! This was probably intentional, as it gives the reader an infuriating look into the way in which people hide emotions and destroy relationships in the process.

The book is on the long side, and the addition of a new character late in the book seems oddly placed. The melodrama and suppression of emotion can be draining; I found myself looking most forward to the chapters about Caroline and Phoebe because, unlike the Henry family, they were freer, more open, and less burdened. Phoebe, with her Down Syndrome, at least saw the world as a place full of possibility and opportunity.