Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Mini-Reviews: Another Brooklyn, Eight Hundred Grapes, and The Rosie Project

The Rosie Project by Grame Simsion was my book club's January pick. My hubby read it before e, and frankly, his constant guffaws and laughter reverberated throughout the house, and he frequently interrupted my reading to share a scene with me. He was having a great time. So, I knew it was a funny book before I opened it up.

And it is a very funny book. It is a romantic comedy with a happy, tied-up-with-a-bow ending. It is a nice anodyne to the worries of the world.

Still...I have to say the ending seems too idealized and improbable, and I had great concern about laughing at a man with Asperger's syndrome. I felt it was in bad taste to laugh at Don.

If the author hoped to make Asperger's a relatable and charming personality trait to promote understanding I might feel differently, but I don't know his motivation for creating Don Tillman. I wondered how the book would be received by those who treat Asperger's or have a family member with Asperger's. At book group a friend shared the story of her daughter who has Asperger's. She loved the book. Frankly, she admitted a lot of things her daughter did were funny.

The group gave the book high ratings and discussion was lively.

I had heard so much about Another Brooklyn by Jaqueline Woodson that when I saw it at the library I brought it home. The librarian's eyes shot up--did I have time to read it? she asked. Its a small book; I'll fit it in, I replied. 

I read it in an evening. 

What a beautiful book. I loved it. Woodson wanted to write about growing up a girl in this country, drawing from memories of her teenage years. She created four girls whose friendship creates a safe haven.

August came north to Brooklyn with her father and little brother. She watches and envies the girls who play on the street below their apartment. When she finally meets them, they claim her, saying, "You belong to us now."

 "And for so many years, it was true," Woodson writes. 

"What did you see in me? I'd ask years later.

You looked lost, Gigi whispered. Lost and beautiful. 

And hungry, Angela added. You looked so hungry. 

And as we stood half circle in the bright school yard, we saw the lost and beautiful and hungry in each of us. We saw home."

And with that scene I was caught in Woodson's story-web, wishing I had been one of those girls who had so early found a home in a threatening and changing world.

Adult August returns to Brooklyn for her father's dying and death, the memories return of growing up, of changing bodies attracting men, the discover of hidden talents and gifts. It is a story of 'white flight', addict war vets lurking in hallways and accosting young girls, and of parents who want the best for their daughter or who are incapable of caring for their children. The girls grow up, imagining 'another Brooklyn,' another reality to be claimed.

Woodson writes. "Creating a novel means moving into the past, the hoped for, the imagined. It is an emotional journey fraught at times with characters who don't always do or say what a writer wishes...in many ways, the characters a writer creates have always existed somewhere." 

These girls will live in my heart for a long time.

When Off the Shelf offered a giveaway for a book they promised would make me feel good, I entered. I really, really needed an escape for a bit. They understood, and I won Laura Dave's Eight Hundred Grapes.

So many on Goodreads call this novel a "beach read,"  which usually sounds an alarm for me, being (in my head) short for a plot driven romance with little staying power, the literary equivalent of hooking up. 

Instead I discovered a solid Literary Romance with good writing, nice characterization, an interesting family, and a heroine who at the tender age of twenty-five discovers what her "has to have" is in life. The importance of family is the enduring message. 

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