Monday, June 28, 2010

The Secret

The Secret The Secret by Rhonda Byrne

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
“The Secret” is one of those cultural phenomenons that I knew I would eventually give into and read. What is written in this book is not new information – the ideas are simple, and the life lessons are solid. As is to be expected with self-help books, the author is dramatic and takes too much liberty with the connections she says all boil down to the “law of attraction.” Also, as C.J. brought up (see blog comments), all the positive thinking in the world does not change some life circumstances no matter how much we think about things changing. How we react to them is the key. That said, I am adopting some of the basic principles, a lot of which have to do with positive thinking, into my own life. I am always up for ways to be better and to live a more fulfilled life.

Under This Unbroken Sky

Under This Unbroken Sky: A Novel Under This Unbroken Sky: A Novel by Shandi Mitchell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
In the opening pages of Shandi Mitchell’s novel “Under This Unbroken Sky,” Mitchell presents a picture of our characters – a family in 1933 living on the Canadian prairie – and tells their futures without hesitation. Just a year into the future, this family’s farm will be foreclosed, one family member will be dead, and two family members who are not pictured will be murdered. Not quite the “year in the life” that you were expecting, but in this novel, only the sky remains unbroken. Everyone else cracks and crumbles with only a few people strong enough to bear the strain.

“Under This Unbroken Sky” is not a brilliant novel. It has powerful moments and dramatic symbolism. It has lovable characters and imagery strong enough to make you rub your hands together because you think you too are standing on the frozen tundra in the winter. Overall though, the story never lives up to that opening page. I expected more action packed moments, less staring into the fire and wondering how the children were going to be fed.

The story reads like “Grapes of Wrath” meets “The Jungle” meets “My Antonia” but with a more modern style of prose. The era certainly is an interesting one. The plight of immigrants is one that we probably ignore too often. However, at the end of this reading experience, I found myself wishing that instead I had picked up another Steinbeck novel, and slipped into the 1930s with a different set of characters.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Emerald City

I have not been to Oz with Elphaba and Glinda, but I have been to Seattle aka The Emerald City recently with Jewels on our second annual summer adventure. Stay tuned for for more stories about flying fish, driving ducks, pink doors, and burning cities.

The Madonnas of Leningrad

The Madonnas of Leningrad: A Novel (P.S.) The Madonnas of Leningrad: A Novel by Debra Dean

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The first time that I saw the Mona Lisa, I almost cried. It is not even a beautiful painting, but in that moment I sensed its significance – I felt in an instant how many people had stood in front of this mysterious woman and wanted to know her secret or maybe I felt like she somehow understood my secrets. I saw in the subtle strokes of green and brown, the touch of a master’s loving hand and saw perhaps a glimpse of his vision. Reading “The Madonnas of Leningrad” is to experience someone else’s glimpse of grandeur over and over again. The main character, Marina, of Debra Dean’s story is a tour guide in the Hermitage Museum in Stalin’s Russia in 1941. She is also lost in her own mind in present day Seattle. With her, we ponder the use of a pale blue for Mary’s dress while the Christ child looks up as if knowing what fate awaits him. We wait in terror as Germany’s bombs destroy hope and what little hope is left. We also get lost in Marina’s confusion as mental illness claims her peace of mind and her familiarity with the people she has cared for all her life. Throughout the book, Marina slips back into memories of the paintings she loved and the war torn country that shaped the strokes of her life as her ability to stay in the here and now deteriorates.

Though there are no paintings in the pages of this story, it too is a work of art. Dean’s words lyrically take you from the eastern front of World War II to drizzly days in the Evergreen state. My only complaint about this book is the random confusion the reader experiences throughout. While, the lack of detail may have intentional on Dean’s part in order to mirror Marina’s altered mental state, it is frustrating. I finished the story slightly unfulfilled because I did not understand all the intricacies of the plot. That said, it is worth reading and worth appreciating no matter what our individual experiences with war, mental illness, love, and/or art are, afterwards, we are never the same.

The Glass Castle

The Glass Castle The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Sometimes, I think my life is hard. Then I read a book like “The Glass Castle”, a memoir by Jeanette Walls, and I realize how charmed a life I live. Her childhood and adolescence are one continual experience in chaos and terror. Under the supervision of two self-absorbed, somewhat delusional parents, Walls and her siblings were left to figure out how the world worked on their own. It is a wonder that any of the children lived to adulthood. Walls’ early years included being thrown from a car, burned, beat up, sexually assaulted, and starved –all due to the negligence of her parents. Walls’ candor about her and family’s experiences and detailed accounts are startling and disturbing.

I have a hard time believing that Walls recalled all these details on her own. Three-year-olds cannot describe with perfect clarity how so many things happened, but Walls does paint vivid pictures. This is not a book I will ever revisit, and I do not think it is a book for everyone. That said, it is a powerful account of the effect our choices have on other people and the incredible ability we have to overcome the all sadness, disappointment, and injustice we experience in our lives.

(ps. If I had my way, this would be a 3.5 - not a 4, but I don't make the goodreads rules...)


Wintergirls Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Imagine a girl with thick, dark hair with a face that you know could be beautiful, but instead she has a haunted, empty look in her eyes – a look so disconcerting that you can’t keep her gaze because you know there’s something wrong in her life. Then you notice her collarbone jutting out, threatening to break the skin and you realize how unbearably thin she is. 94 pounds at 5’5’’, and still when that girl looks in the mirror, she sees cellulite, misshapen thighs, and failure. Anderson’s “Wintergirls” is two hundred plus pages of looking that painfully skinny girl and the fine line she walks between life and death. Not only is our main character, Lia, anorexic, but she is also a cutter – using incisions from sharp objects to release the pain and guilt she feels inside over a friend’s recent death and over her failure to be thin enough.

As a young adult, I would have devoured this book because it would have seemed tragic and dramatic. As an adult, a friend, and a teacher, I reluctantly turned each page because there are girls who live like this and who have almost given their life away in pursuit of a few less pounds on their already emaciated frame. I did not love the book like I loved Anderson’s “Speak”, but I appreciated her sensitivity and her raw approach. The story’s resolution was unfulfilling, but most stories about eating disorders are. This is Anderson’s best book in years with clever writing and clever narrative structure, but I cannot bring myself to rate it higher than a three. There’s something about that disconcerting look into that girl’s eyes that leaves me thinking this reads too much like a how-to on being anorexic rather than a being a “you’re beautiful just the way you are” story. Whether you read it or not is purely your choice, but I would not put this in the hands of an impressionable young teenage girl.