Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Review: When We Collided

When We Collided by Emery Lord. Bloomsbury. 2016. Review copy from publisher.

Media of When We CollidedThe Plot: Vivi is spending the summer at the California beach town of Verona Cove. She's there only a week and she's in love with every thing about it. And when she goes to work one day and sees a cute boy sitting outside the place she works, well, it's about to get even more perfect.

Jonah has always lived in Verona Cove, just as his parents did. Everyone knows him, and his parents, and his siblings. And his dad's restaurant. And that his dad died of a heart attack six months ago, shattering everything.

Vivi knows none of this; she doesn't look at him with pity.

And Jonah doesn't know Vivi's secrets, and she's glad about that, so she won't push him with questions.

Jonah and Vivi meet; and the collision shakes them both up, shaking secrets free.

The Good:I love this book! It's told in two voices, that of Vivi and Jonah. And it's a great summer romance, as these two opposites attract. Jonah is part of a large family, and lives in the town where his family has always lived  -- his roots are deep and strong. He's the sort of teenager that when his dad died, and his mom stopped getting out of bed, he quit sports to help his older sister and brother (both also still in their teens) take care of their younger siblings, as well as help at the restaurant. And he doesn't complain and he doesn't seek sympathy, he just gets it done.

And Vivi is the daughter of an artist, used to moving around -- like this summer, when they are staying in the house of a friend while her mother paints. And it's always just been the two of them, not even a father to see on weekends. Vivi is creative and extroverted, seeing the world as one big adventure. When she sees Jonah, she's attracted to both his looks but also to his "normalness," his typical teen boy looks. Jonah, also, at first, is attracted to Vivi's external qualities: she's pretty and lively.

And they complement and complete each other; and they help each other; and they fall in love.

OK, spoilers. Because the reason I love the book are spoilers.

Vivi has bipolar disorder. No, that's not a secret, but it's not something she tells Jonah because she doesn't want him to see her differently or judge her. She doesn't want to defend her actions as being her, not her disease. (And her secrets, well, it's why she respects that Jonah may not want to tell everything.) Vivi also has depression, and she's been given medicine for both, and at the start of the book she's decided to stop taking one of her pills.

Uh oh, I thought. I hope this isn't a book about how pills are bad because they make one "less" or some such. And it isn't -- it's the opposite. What it is, if anything, is a novel's worth of showing that Vivi does need, well, if not that pill, some pill -- maybe a different one, maybe a different dosage, but that she has a disease that needs treatment. Yes, Vivi is, always has been, outgoing and creative; she's a people person who always is doing something and thrives when others are around. But, as the book goes on, the reader, if not Vivi, can see, well, when things are different. Sometimes, yes, it's because of the chapter's in Jonah's perspective, or it's something Jonah has said, but other times it's Vivi's own words, the words and sentences and paragraphs that Lord uses changing.

Vivi, as I've said a few times, is creative and outgoing. She's in some ways bigger than life. She's dyed her hair and looks like Marilyn Monroe; she wears vintage clothes, often taking them apart to create something new; she's the girl who turns a regular day into an adventure. Uh oh, I thought.... not a manic pixie dream girl, please, no. And she isn't, in part because her voice is so strong, in both her chapters and in Jonah's. In part because she is a full, whole person, with her own story and dreams and plot and not just there to help Jonah get over his own grief and depression because of his father's death. But mostly because Vivi is always her own person, and doing her own thing -- she is someone who has a strong sense of self. At times, I have to say, that strength of Vivi, that strength of her personality, annoyed me. It veered towards self-centeredness and selfishness, but you know what? That's OK. Because it's human, and it's real, whether one is sixteen or seventeen or thirty-seven.

And Jonah. In some ways he's almost Vivi's dream boy, with his good looks and kindness; his understanding; his loving family for Vivi to fall in love with. But he isn't -- because he's angry, he's just pretty good at hiding it. Angry at his father's death and his mother's withdrawal, and angry at having to take care of his younger siblings, and having to balance adult responsibilities with his older siblings. But his anger is tempered with the truth that he also wants to do what's he doing: he wants to take care of them. He wants to help. He loves his family.

One of the things I really liked about Jonah, or rather, Jonah and Vivi, is their oppositeness sometimes caused friction. At it's best, it was "oh I love her outgoingness, I love his reserve," but at other times, frankly, they became annoyed or frustrated with one another. And sometimes, yes, Jonah needed to shaken out of his premature adulting; and sometimes Vivi needed to be reminded that rip tides do exist. But other times, it's just their personalities. Like a skinny dipping scene, where Vivi is one of the group jumping into the water and Jonah is not. Neither is wrong, both are true to themselves, and it's the scene where I thought -- ah, these two are not going to stay together. And they shouldn't.

And finally -- the last thing I loved about this book. Such a spoiler. But let's just say, Lord wrote a love story about two teens who are perfect for each other at this point in time -- not forever.

A Favorite Book of 2016.

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Review: The Girls

The Girls by Emma Cline. Random House. 2016. Review copy from publisher.

The Girls by Emma Cline
The Plot: It begins with a girl. A woman. Evie.

And the first time Evie saw the girls -- the girls that led her to Russell and, almost, to a night of death and blood.

And now. Now, that teenage girl is so far in the past -- that girl is a woman, a middle aged woman with a job who floats through her own life. She's house sitting for an old lover, in a shabby house, and the ex-lovers son and girlfriend show up. And they know who Evie is, who she was, and about Russell.

The whole world, of course, knows about Russell.

And Evie in the present looks back at a past world, and a past child, and that child who yearned for adulthood.

The Good: Much has already been written about Cline's debut novel, and how Russell and his followers, and the night of blood, are inspired by the Manson Family and the Tate-LaBianca murders.

The Girls is not about Russell, not about the male cult leader. Rather, it is about the "girls," the young women who gather around Russell. Or, around any Russell, any charismatic male cult leader. Suzanne, the one who first captures Evie's attention, is only nineteen. Evie is fourteen. While it is tempting to say, oh, this is Leslie, this is Squeaky, this is -- no. There are some scattered, overlapping details, but these girls are not Manson's Girls. They are Evie's.

When Evie first sees Suzanne and the other girls, it is across a park. Their hair is "long and uncombed," their jewelry catches the sun, they were "different." "These long-haired girls seemed to glide above all that was happening around them, tragic and separate. Like royalty in exile." In another book, in another story, these would be the fey, fairies who lead Evie from her everyday life into a world of fantasy and adventure.

And these girls do lead Evie away. And they are indeed "sleek and thoughtless as sharks breaching the water."

For Evie, this is the summer before high school. It's the summer after her father moving out and away, moving in with a girlfriend, while her mother tries to deal with the loss of him by focusing on herself. It's the summer when she feels a disconnect from her friends; when she is trying to figure out herself. 

Evie is looking and she doesn't even know what she is looking for, and she finds it in the girls. In Suzanne, especially. Suzanne is older, and to Evie she becomes everything. Part of it is that Suzanne is older, of course; part of it is the glamour. And yes, it is glamour, and Evie, in her safe, clean, sanitized upper middle class life sees the shared and faded and dirty clothes, the sex, the messy communal living, the dirt, as more authentic and real and raw than her own life, and so it's more attractive than her own life. More appealing. An escape. And, as she flits between her home and the place where Russell and his group live, she tries on parts of their lives, as she tries on Suzanne's clothes.

Suzanne -- the attraction Evie feels for her is one that Evie can't even name. She wants to be like Suzanne, she wants to be friends with Suzanne, she wants to be liked by Suzanne, she wants to be Suzanne, she wants .... She wants. And that want, all focused on Suzanne, leads her to almost, almost be in the car the night that Suzanne and others drive away to their night of blood. And I love Constance Grady's review at Vox, which focuses on the friendship aspect by comparing this to My-So Called Life, and the friendship between Rayanne and Angela. Which totally gets that this book is not about a cult's leader, but about what the cult offers, or appears to offer. And part of that is community.

As Grady says, and as some reviewers miss, the point is not Russell. The point is Suzanne, and the girls, and in Evie being pulled in by them. Wanting to be accepted by them. And seeing her own needs and wants written in their lives.

And the book starts and ends with the older, but not necessarily wiser, Evie. She was left out of that night, left behind, protected by her casual relationship to them, protected by money, protected by her age, from being seen as a true member of that family. Yet, in some ways, that initial attraction still impacts her life. She is haunted not so much by what they did, but how close she came to doing it, also. Evie is in many ways frozen in time. She is middle aged, with no family or home, living in the house of a friend. In her own way, her current life is as rootless and "free" as the life she saw, wanted, and envied. Except it no longer has that community of women; and one of the lessons she's learned is that she cannot trust herself to judge others, who is safe, who is not, who can be her family.

A Favorite Book Read in 2016.

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy