Friday, April 30, 2010

Hold Tight Falls Short

Any reader of this blog knows that I love a good mystery, so I had high hopes for Harlan Coben's Hold Tight, even though I had been disappointed by another of his thrillers Tell No One. Hold Tight begins promisingly enough, with concerned parents installing spyware on their teenage son Adam's computer. They reluctantly decide to spy on Adam because one of his friends had recently committed suicide, and Adam had continued to withdraw from the family. The spyware reveals that he is planning to go to a party with drinking and drugs on Friday night so Mike, Adam's father, buys hockey tickets for that same night and won't let Adam refuse to come. When Adam does not show up at home the night of the game, however, his parents become terrified that something has happened. What follows is an adventure deep into the underground of blackmarket pharmaceuticals, with a healthy dose of revenge, insanity and betrayal to make things more interesting.
Each chapter is told from a different character's point of view, and several seemingly unrelated storylines are brought together for a surprising conclusion. What I liked about this is that Coben's characters use a lot of current cell phone and computer technology, which will probably render the novel outdated in a few years, but makes it seem cutting edge in 2010. What I didn't like is Coben's writing, which is not very interesting (to me, but maybe that's snobbish), or his storyline which seemed contrived. However, this novel received enough student, teacher and librarian votes to land on the 2011 Abraham Lincoln High School Book Award list, so what do I know? 2 out of 4 Bananas

Abraham Lincoln Illinois High School Book Award 2011 Nominee

Monday, April 19, 2010

House Rules: a Memoir of Emotional Abuse

Rachel Sontag's House Rules: A Memoir is a troubling glimpse into the absolute physical and emotional control a parent can exercise over a child's life, and the way that such emotional abuse can have effects that last a lifetime. Sontag, now in her thirties, describes how as a teenager she became the focus of her father's wrath and disturbing brand of mental illness, which prompted him to awaken her in the middle of the night for hours-long diatribes about how she's a disappointment, how he wished she was never born, and how she needs to make amends for all of the imagined wrongs she's committed. Rachel's mother refused to confront her father, however, and instead asked Rachel to go along with him in the interest of keeping the peace, ultimately failing in her role as protector. Once Rachel had left home for college, she began to disentangle herself from her father's control. She also began to sort through and identify many of the personal issues she had when forming and maintaining relationships, issues which she had developed as coping mechanisms. I'm not usually a fan of the "abusive childhood memoir" genre, but I found hope in Rachel's eventual freedom from her father's delusional demands and emotional sabotage. 3 out of 4 Bananas!

Abraham Lincoln Illinois High School Book Award 2011 Nominee

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Help: Race Relations in the 1960s

I was really surprised to like this book as much as I did. I wasn't a big fan of *Secret Life of Bees*, and in my mind I had lumped the two into the same genre due to their historical setting and general subject matter (race relations, 1960s). For me, *The Help* was far superior, even though I started off prepared to dislike it as soon as I started reading the first chapter, which is told in the voice of an African American maid named Aibileen. I struggle with white authors who write using colloquial African American voices, because I think it's almost impossible to get it right without getting it very, very wrong. I think Stockett did a great job with a precarious, yet important topic, and I appreciated her commentary in the Afterword describing her personal family experiences with "the help."

The novel is set in the early 1960s and explores the relationship between black household maids and their affluent white employers, told in alternating chapters from the perspectives of maids, employers, and the white woman who becomes compelled to tell the maids' stories. What I liked about the book was that the African American characters are so vividly and warmly developed, that not all of the white characters are bad, and that the story is fast-paced and compelling. What I didn't like so much was that Skeeter, the white character who writes the maids' stories, is portrayed a little too much like a white savior, assisting the poor and weak black characters. I'm sure a lot of people will reject this assessment and argue that the black characters are NOT weak- they're not, no, but they do rely on Skeeter to gain power over their white employers. Race is a complicated issue in this country, so there are no "safe", comfortable or easy ways to write about race relations. Kathryn Stockett comes fairly close, however, and since I enjoyed the story so much I am giving *The Help*
3 out of 4 Bananas!