Thursday, May 29, 2014

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

More a stream of consciousness than a true narrative novel, this small volume offers one view of a marriage - in fits and starts, with pieces missing, and up to your read-between-the-lines interpretation.

The wife tells this story, presented in a kind of journal. In short bites - one or two paragraphs - she give her view: her thoughts, anecdotes, and her side of the story. She's not telling the reader about her life, it's more like she's talking to herself, writing notes in her journal, putting thoughts and emotions to the pen. This means a lot is left for you the reader to assume and infer.

She (the narrator-wife is never named) talks about her students and her child, but the book is really more about her relationship with her husband and her internal dialog.

It's a hard book to explain, and I'm finding it hard to even summarize what I thought. I felt a little voyeuristic, reading about her marriage and thoughts this way. Also, probably lots of deep meaning if you think about it ... but I didn't.

Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier

Photographer and American teenage girl Dimple Lala is most at home when she's shooting the world around her - especially her glamorous best friend Gwyn. But for all the focus Dimple has through the lens, she's hilariously unaware of her surroundings: her Indian family, her self-absorbed friend, the boys she has dated.

It isn't until Gwyn becomes obsessed with Indian culture (and an Indian boy) that Dimple realizes her cultural heritage is much more interesting than she'd believed - and maybe, it's also a bigger part of her identity than she'd realized.

This book takes a slightly unusual twist to an identity story: more about a first-generation American rediscovering her Indian culture, rather than the more-common story of trying to fit into white America. Teens will recognize Dimple's struggle to find herself, even if they don't identify with her race.

I don't know much about India and I was sometimes a bit lost in the descriptions, but also intrigued enough to research my lackings. It's a book full of colorful, busy descriptions of food, fabrics, sounds, and sights.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Intern's Handbook by Shane Kuhn

John is about to work his final job - he's retiring at the ripe old age of 25. But since he's a hired assassin, that final job requires starting at the bottom (as an intern at the law office), navigating his way through office politics while staying anonymous and completely forgettable, then creatively murdering his eventual target waaay up at the tippy top of the company food chain.

Along the way there are crosses and double-crosses, shifting alliances at every turn, and a spook over every shoulder. Oh, and romance. Or maybe it's just fake romance to get office intel. But maybe not. How would a guy who's never seen love even know for sure?

This book moves at lightening pace, and I just couldn't put it down. It's like a movie on the page. It's funny at times, a little sad in the way John became the heartless killing machine he is, and absolutely impossible to predict what will happen next. Loved this book!

(On a side note - this book has one of the best covers I've ever seen. Ever.)

Monday, May 5, 2014

See You at Harry's by Jo Knowles

Twelve-year-old Fern has a crazy, big family: she's the third of four kids, and feels invisible. Her older brother may be gay but hasn't admitted it yet, her younger baby brother's just a spoiled pain, and her sister (the oldest) is angry with the world and working at the family's restaurant during a gap-year before college. Dad is always coming up with embarrassing, loony promotional ideas for the restaurant, and as a result, Mom's continually striving to tune out the chaos in favor of inner peace.

But in a mere moment, everything changes. Life will never be the same.

This is an excellent book, and also gut wrenching. Emotionally draining. I listened to the audiobook on a car trip and considered quitting because it was putting such a pall over my drive. But I also so badly wanted to know what happened that I persevered.

It's not too heavy a story for kids - every day, real-life kids deal with these same issues and more, and I'm glad books like this (and many others, too) illustrate they are not alone. It's exceptionally written, and worth reading. But it's also not a light novel, and I think it would be best accompanied by a discussion with a kid who reads it, to help iron out their emotions and thoughts about the events of the tale. I know I spent some quiet time, contemplating, at its completion.