Where the Crawdads Sing Review

Book: Where the Crawdads Sing
Author: Delia Owens
Publisher: Putnam
Year: 2018
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Synopsis: “For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl.
But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life – until the unthinkable happens.
Perfect for fans of Barbara Kingsolver and Karen Russell, Where the Crawdads Sing is at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder. Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject the the beautiful and violent secrets nature keeps.”

Review: Where the Crawdads Sing came highly recommended and it was absolutely without question as to why my book club chose this title to read. It is a New York Times Bestseller, it’s a book in Reese’s book Club, and it’s been highly praised. A quick online search shows it ranks between 4.5 and 5 stars from multiple rating sources. I began reading this book truly uncertain about how I would feel – I waited until the last minute to cram it in before our bookclub meeting and never actually read the synopsis. The story begins in 1952 when Kya, the “Marsh Girl”, is six years old and jumps back and forth between the years leading up to 1969 and 1969 itself. Crawdads is Owens’ debut novel, though it is not her first publication. As a native to North Carolina herself, Owens has a unique perspective of the swampy, marshy areas along the coast, and in fact she has written several books on wildlife (though, notably not about her time in NC). The writing of Crawdads is gorgeous and striking, at no point during the novel are you lost in imagining the marsh and the amazing creatures who call it home. This, at the very least, warrants Crawdads 50% of it’s rating. However, while Owens’ writing skills are clearly well developed, her novel writing skills are not. The conversation is stilted and unbelievable – most townsfolk speaking as Owens writes: in prolific, beautiful language, describing things people would likely think rather than say. She weaves an intricate tale of murder throughout the novel, something that the entirety of the plot relies upon, yet when it comes time to reveal who the murderer really was (gasp! plot twist??) we are left with an incomplete story, a predictable ending, and a story that would absolutely never have happened. And maybe that’s my fault for hoping that a realistic book would have a realistic plot line, but I’d rather read something realistic and deeply moving than something that Nicholas Sparks himself might have written and written better.
The ending leaves the story with gaping holes and I find myself stewing over this days after having finished the book. If what the novel was aiming for was a purely romantic plot line with absolutely no need for reality, it could have and should have been written differently. If, what I suspect Owens was trying to do, the novel was written to be poignant, address prejudices, and introduce the reader to the amazing wildlife and human life that reside within a marsh, it should have absolutely taken about three different turns and concluded in a much different manner. But what I’m left with is disappointment and frustration that I spent $25 on a hardcover copy of what ultimately turned out to be a Nicholas Sparks book in disguise and for that I would have passed it up.

Advice: If you are interested in a slow moving and deeply unrealistic love story, first of all, no judgement. Secondly, this is the book for you. It is a gorgeous book with amazing tales of wildlife and a truly remarkable coming-of-age story that turns on its head and becomes a sappy love story at the end. I can admit that this is not at all my style but is the style of many a summer book reader. If you are not looking to think deeply about the plot or the potential holes in it, definitely pick this book up. Again, I can’t say enough about the gorgeous imagery Crawdads provides, it is striking and compels you to continue reading without putting the book down. It’s a 50/50 for me, some good with a lot of, in my opinion, bad.

Amateur Review

Book: Amateur
Author: Thomas Page McBee
Publisher: Scribner
Year: 2018
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Synopsis : “Amateur follows the author, a trans man, as he trains to fight in a charity match at Madison Square Garden while struggling to untangle the vexed relationship between masculinity and violence. Through his experience boxing — learning to get hit and to hit back, wrestling with the camaraderie of the gym, confronting the betrayals and strength of his own body — McBee examines the weight of male violence, the pervasiveness of gender stereotypes, and the limitations of conventional manhood. Interrogating masculinity as emotional landscape and cultural positioning, he binds his experience to a free-ranging examination of the ways in which men fail and are failed by our society.
At once a deeply reported narrative and an intensely personal journey, Amateur is ultimately a story of hope, as McBee traces a new way forward, a new way of being a man, in the ring and outside of it.”

Review: Thomas Page McBee’s Amateur is at once a study of masculinity within the boxing ring and a deeply moving study of gender in and out of the context of boxing. McBee struggles with the concept of manhood and embarks on this boxing journey to further understand his role in the world as a man. Sharing a unique perspective on toxic masculinity, McBee provides the reader with a deep understanding of the paradoxical world in which he lives; having once lived as a female and now living as a male in a time where men are viewed often as aggressive and dangerous, he finds himself fearful and apologetic.

Not only does McBee have a new realm of existence to explore, he discusses the implications of being a “real man” whose male role model growing up was his stepfather, a man under whom he experienced decades of sexual abuse. In exploring this relationship, McBee discusses the impact this understanding has on his siblings as they become parents themselves.

Delving into the world of boxing, McBee explores masculinity in terms of love, connection, emotions, and touch. He grapples with the loss of his mother, with understanding how to interact with the women in his life, and the perception the world holds of him both as a passing male and as an out trans man. We watch as McBee falls and grows, learning how to find himself, rather than the identity he seeks based on his gender.

My Advice: If you have any interest in reading memoirs, snag this book immediately. If you have any interest in gender roles, snag this book immediately. If you have any interest in boxing, snag this book immediately.

Abandon Me Review

Book: Abandon Me
Author: Melissa Febos
Publisher: Bloomsbury, USA
Year: 2017
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Synopsis: “Hailed by the New Yorker, Marie Claire, and Guernica for its “sheer fearlessness,” “ruthless honesty,” and “deep reserves of empathy,” Melissa Febos’s dazzling collection, Abandon Me, captures the intense bonds of love and the need for connection with family, lovers, and oneself. With it “she has emerged as one of our most creative and most unflinching memoirists, essayists, and teachers” (Los Angeles Review of Books).
In these linked essays, Febos tries to reconnect with her birth father and finds that an instinct for self-erasure binds them as surely as their blood. She remains closely tied to the loving sea captain who raised her, absent for months at a time. The hypnotic story of an all-consuming, long-distance affair with a woman marks her exploration of the worship and withdrawal that haunt her love life. Woven throughout is her insatiable hunger for self-knowledge, the difficult kind, and the powerful conviction that universal truths begin there. Abandon Me is at once a courageously vulnerable memoir and an incisive investigation of art, love, and identity.”

Review: Melissa Febos delivers a series of essays that weave her present with her past into a web of self understanding. She opens her wounds wide for the reader to fully experience, laying herself bare upon the pages of her memoirs.
On abandonment, she writes: “I want the people I love to do not as I would or have done, but whatever will keep them safe (…) There is a sorrow in me deeper than the regret of any cruelty for the fact of this: none of us could have protected each other. We could not even have protected ourselves.” (78).
On the early stages of love: “Love is so often a wish to have our wants seen and met, without having to ask” & “It is not easy to be seen, no matter how we crave it. It is not easy to look hard at the ones we love. It is always a little gruesome, as love is: full of contradictions and impossible promises” (103, 106).
On self discovery: “My stories are containers into which I pour myself and the indigestible parts of my experience (…) Once filled, they carry more of us than our lovers can bear, than we can. And sometimes they carry us away” (127).
On soured love: “I sat for hours in therapy sessions, searching for my feelings. I wanted to “get in touch with them.” I thought that when I finally found them it would be like a reunion with a childhood friend – emotional, surely, but also sweet – a reward for all my hard work. I did not think that I was leaving messages for a serial killer. I did not think that my feelings, receiving my invitation, would arrive on my doorstep like a cabal of madwomen and refuse to leave. I though that the host of the party decided when it ended and her guests went home. But feelings have terrible manners – they are like children, or drunks. They are mad. They gorge as the starved will gorge, until they are sick, until their stomach split (…) They do not leave when you want them to. They leave when they are finished” (213).
On her native heritage: “How could I ever know my own motives? The Pilgrims believed God had cleared a path, that the pestilence delivered by other whites was a path the Lord had cleared for them. They called it “The Miraculous Plague”. The natives called it “The Great Dying”” (287).
And on baring your soul to the page: “If you want to write about something, I tell them, you have to look at it. You have to look long enough that your own reflection fades” (292).

Abandon Me is complex and heartbreaking. It meets you in your own space and shows you pieces of your own self through lyrical essays that flow like water. Febos writes with metaphor, comparing the sun to a cup that has spilled onto the table, her emotions to a melon cracked upon the concrete, and her emptiness as a pit that cannot be filled. She invites the reader into her stories, allowing an intimate look at her darkest parts.

My Advice : This book is a must read. It is one of the most well written contemporary books I have read and will stick with me for a long time. It is deep and thoughtful; something to chew on. The book’s first fifteen pages are filled with glowing reviews and it is well deserved.



The Westing Game Review

Book: The Westing Game
Author: Ellen Raskin
Publisher: Puffin Books
Year: 1978
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Synopsis: “A bizarre chain of events begins when sixteen unlikely people gather for the reading of Samuel W. Westing’s will. And though no one knows why the eccentric, game-loving millionaire has chosen a virtual stranger — and a possible murderer — to inherit his vast fortune, one thing’s for sure: Sam Westing may be dead…but that won’t stop him from playing the game!”

Review: I found The Westing Game on the clearance shelf of my local Half Price Books store for $1. The book is in near perfect condition with the exception of a final page that has come lose and threatens to spoil the ending for the next unsuspecting reader. All of these things made my heart beat faster: I had found a childhood favorite I’d long since forgotten about.
The Westing Game is a young adult book, though when I read it I was about 8 years old so young adult could be a bit of a stretch there. It centers around 6 families who have received anonymous invitations to tour and rent Sunset Towers, a luxury apartment complex with a view of the Westing estate – a mansion with an owner who disappeared years before in the wake of a tragic car crash that left his friend crippled and battered Westing. Not long after the 6 families have moved into Sunset Towers, they are summoned to a reading of the will of Mr. Sam Westing, having each been named as his living heirs following the discovery of his dead body within the Westing mansion. As a man who loved games of all sorts, Westing chose to give his guests clues that must be unscrambled to solve the mystery of his death and discover the alleged murderer or murderess. The winner will receive Westing’s vast fortune: $2 million. What follows is a fun, imaginative Clue type murder mystery complete with explosions, deaths, and secret identities.

My Advice: As a kid, I read this book with great interest, marveling at the clues as they played out and attempting to solve the mystery before it was revealed at the finale. I read it again a few years later, again trying to work out the answer to a puzzling book I love but couldn’t unravel. As an adult, it has been over a decade since I last read The Westing Game and I had no recollection of the result. Reading it again, I found myself once again racing to solve the mystery before the end, only this time I finally solved it..well, mostly.
What I found was a book that moves quickly, keeps the reader captivated, and stuns with a surprise ending and more than a few twists and turns along the way. If you have any interest in children’s lit or young adult lit, I’d suggest going to your nearest library and checking this one out for a light read. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprise.

The Girls Review

Book: The Girls
Author: Emma Cline
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Year: 2016
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Synopsis: “Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, teenager Evie Boyd sees a group of girls in the park and is immediately struck by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. The group’s sprawling ranch is eerie and run-down, but to Evie it is exotic, thrilling, charged – a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence, and to that moment in a girl’s life when everything can go horribly wrong.”

Review: I picked up The Girls because of the hype that had surrounded the book upon it’s release. Cline’s first novel was being read by everyone and being reviewed in publications like the New York Times and NPR; the cover art is simplistic but catchy and inviting, it nearly jumped off the shelf at me. I read the synopsis and against my better judgement decided to give the book a try.
Let me explain.
The year is 2019. We have a white man for president. “Literary geniuses” are more often than not white men. White men dominate the news. In an effort to combat this, I have chosen to read only works from authors who are not white men. I picked up a book by a white woman, Emma Cline, hoping to read a fresh take on an old story. What I was bombarded with, instead, was a stale story about a white man who has been romanticized beyond exhaustion.
How many times have you seen a “new and exciting!” documentary about Charles Manson and the Manson girls? Did you watch John McNamara’s Aquarius when it debuted in 2015? Or perhaps you have noted the movie featured on Netflix “Manson Family Vacation” (again, 2015 release) or the newer documentary “Truth and Lies: The Mason Family” (2018) on Hulu. There is a trend, a fascination, a morbid desire to pick these horrific events apart piece by piece and imagine what could have led people to act the way they did.
Cline writes of a man, Russel, who has a strange hold over the people in his sphere. He speaks of love and a world without race and has seemingly deep and meaningful connections with every girl who lives with and follows him. And as every Manson story goes, if you read just a tiny bit further and delve just a little bit deeper the facade peels away and you’re left with the scum and filth underneath; a sexual predator and young girls who are so lost that they blindly follow the words of their supposed savior.
My hopes for Cline’s novel were less than high, admittedly, but I did wonder if she would perhaps refresh this fascination with Manson and rather than simply retell the story with new names attached would create her own world with new ideas and figures.

My Advice: Perhaps you haven’t seen Charles Manson’s face in the news, a swastika tattooed on his forehead and scraggly hair sprouting from his scalp. Maybe you haven’t watched any of the numerous Manson documentaries, movies, or tv shows that have picked apart the events of the Manson family so such degree that there is nothing left to scavenge. If this is the case, my advise to you is go to your local used book store and pick up a copy for $7.
If, however, this is not the case and you have indeed been privy to this sick obsession with a sexual predator who had no motive beyond his own selfish desires, there are plenty of other books out there that would be better suited for you. And if you still feel like you are missing out, watch Aquarius. It’s the same story.