Book Review: Annie on my Mind

Annie on my Mind

Nancy Garden

Farrar, Straus & Giroux

272 pages

YA coming of age novels are my kryptonite.  As much as I would not want to go back to those angst riddled years myself, I have no qualms about reading about others going through it.  Lesbian coming of age stories are not as easy to come by though, so Annie on my Mind was new to me in that sense.

Liza Winthrop is a high school senior at a small, private school in Brooklyn Heights when she meets fellow teenager Annie Kenyon at the Metropolitan Museum or Art.  Both girls are visiting the museum on their own and the quickly strike up a friendship.  As teenage girls are wont to do, they become close, fast.  Liza, the narrator, confuses her feelings for Annie at first as just being friendly, but both girls realize that they have developed romantic, sexual feelings for one another.  Annie has suspected before that she was a lesbian, but the concept of being attracted to girls is new for Liza and she is terrified of acting on her feelings.

As the relationship grows between Annie and Liza, their reactions become more raw and believable.  I have never been in the situation in which they were faced, but I could completely understand the tug of rope they were playing between what was accepted and expected of them and what their heart’s desired.  Eventually, one day, they are caught in a compromising situation and the ramifications of their sexual orientations comes into play.

First off, can I just say, heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual—whatever, the “situation” they were caught in made me so embarrassed for them.  I think that is a testament to how well the book was written, because I was literally cringing as I read it.  I would have been absolutely mortified had it happened to me, and it is not often that I will have such a reaction to a book.  It is, after all, fiction and there are countless times where something happens to a character that is shameful or embarrassing.  It just doesn’t usually give me the visceral reaction that I had to this particular instance.

The book takes place in the early eighties, so I would hope that the social climate would be more tolerant now.  Liza’s school, Foster Academy , takes action against her once they find out about her proclivities, and she is forced to go in front of the school board to defend herself.  Yes, I am serious!  The “situation” that I mentioned before that was so embarrassing—well, imagine now recounting it in detail before the adults on your school board.  I can’t even fathom how Liza was able to hold it together.

The edition of the book I had included a question and answer section with the author in the back.  Once I finished the book, I was not surprised that Garden is a lesbian.  The portrayal of the blossoming romance and Liza’s realization that she is a lesbian was so tangible to me that I couldn’t imagine that it had not been written by someone who had not gone through it herself.  Annie on my Mind mentions a lot of lesbian fiction, none of which I have read, and Garden explained that her purpose in writing the book was so that girls in her situation would have a literary resource to turn to.  I think that she accomplished what she set out to do in that aspect.

I was a little worried that the book would be a bit dated, being almost thirty years since it was written, but I was pleasantly surprised.  I think Garden did a wonderful job creating a timeless book and I think it is a great book for teenagers of today to read, whether they are questioning their own sexuality or just to show them how imperative tolerance is.

Other Reviews:

Amy Reads

things mean a lot

I borrowed this book from my local library.

This book counts towards the GLBT challenge.


Book Review: Fingersmith

Fingersmith

Sarah Waters

Penguin Group

592 pages

Sue Trinder lives in Victorian London with her “adopted” family, who makes a living by thieving, a trade which Sue is readily a part of.  Sue’s mother was out to death by hanging, so Sue has always considered herself part of a seedier society.  She is close to Mrs Sucksby, who she considers a mother figure, and other than their profession, life is pretty normal for Sue.  Or at least relatively so!  That all changes when Gentleman comes along.

Gentleman is known by Sue, Mrs Sucksby and the rest of the “family” as he dabbles in their trade and shows up quite often at their home.  One particular night when he shows up though, his objective is to get Sue on board with a scheme of his.  Gentleman is currently working as a tutor in the country home of a man and his wealthy niece, Maud Lilly.  Maud cannot receive her inheritance unless she is married.  As is well known of the time period, this really means her husband will inherit the money, which is all a part of Gentleman’s grand plan.  He wants Sue to come to the home as Maud’s maid and act as a go between for himself and Maud, all the while encouraging Maud to accept his favor.  In turn, he will convince Maud to marry him and become the controller of her fortune.  For her part, Sue will be rewarded with a fraction of the Lilly fortune.

The synopsis I gave you only begins to cover a few pages of what becomes one of the most plot riddled books of all time.  I mean that only in a good way.  Fingersmith can easily be equated to a roller coaster ride, because that is what it feels like.  The twists and turns that are thrown at the reader make it a thrilling book, with the reader having absolutely no idea what will be hurtled their way next.  It was the type of book that I would be gasping in shock through, which, who doesn’t love that!

The gothic element in Fingersmith is unparallel and is what Waters does best.  The grittiness of living in Victorian London coupled by the gloominess of Maud’s mansion was so palpable.  I felt like I was actually living there, completely involved in the story.  And I wanted to be there!

Sue and Maud were both such real characters.  The development was superb and they were both sympathetic despite their obvious faults.  In fact, I couldn’t decide who I cared for more.  I am pretty sure the honor would have to go to Sue though, as she was so misguided yet she never gave up.  Gentleman, on the other hand, was a complete lost cause.  You would be hard pressed to find a villain more vile than he.

Is it just me, or does it seem like I write the shortest reviews for the books I love the most?  The problem with writing a review for Fingersmith is that it is so good, you want to encourage everyone to read it, while not spoiling any of it.  I feel like it is best to write the barest of reviews while just expounding, over and over again, the fact that this is an excellent, phenomenal book.  This one will definitely be included in my Best of 2010 category.

Other Reviews:

Caribous Mom

You’ve GOTTA Read This!

Care’s Online Book Club

Rhapsody in Books

Fyrefly’s Book Blog

Book Lust

things mean a lot

A Guy’s Moleskin Notebook

Eclectic/Eccentric

The Zen Leaf

I bought this book from Barnes & Noble.

This book counts towards the Women Unbound challenge and the GLBT challenge.


Book Review: The Sealed Letter

The Sealed Letter

Emma Donoghue

Mariner Books

416 pages

Helen Codrington and Emily “Fido” Faithfull are the best of friends.  They’ve certainly had ups and downs in their friendship, but who hasn’t? Helen has been away in Malta for seven years when she returns in 1864 and runs into Fido in England .  The two pick up right where they left off and quickly become close again.  Fido is well aware that Helen’s marriage to Admiral Codrington was on rocky territory when she last saw the couple in 1857, but she is hopeful that they have turned over a new leaf.  Oh, how wrong she was!

Fido soon discovers that not only has the marriage not improved, but Helen has started behaving in a licentious way.  She is having an affair with one of her husband’s colleagues and goes so far as to have relations with him in Fido’s own home.  Fido has long been for the rights of women, especially when it comes to the idea of women having gainful employment.  She owns a press that runs a women’s magazine and thus seems to be someone ahead of the fold.  However, when it comes to real life, Fido is pretty innocent and naïve.  She is shocked at Helen’s behavior but is quick to believe all of the rigmarole and excuses that Helen tosses to her left and right.  Helen’s husband, the Admiral Codrington, is a tad brighter than Fido however, and he begins to see Helen for the master manipulator that she is.

Admiral Codrington catches Helen in a lie one night, and instantly his suspicion is alight.  He has someone follow her for days in the hopes of discovering whether or not she has retained her virtue.  As I am sure you can imagine, he hits pay dirt.  Enter one of the more notorious divorce trials of the Victorian era.  Once the Admiral discovers the siren ways of his wife, he wants a divorce.  It’s not that easy in Victorian England though.  While the man obviously has the upper hand, he has to prove his wife’s ills without himself being guilty of causing her behavior.  If the Admiral can convince the jury that Helen behaved the way she did through no fault of his own, he would be granted a divorce and never have to pay Helen a dime, nor let her see their two daughters.  Should it be found that his actions did, at least somewhat, warrants Helen’s behavior, then they would only be granted a legal separation.  Obviously the latter is much more beneficial to Helen, and she sets about doing whatever she can to ensure that her husband will not be 

Fido gets caught in the middle of the warring couple and is forced to discover that her true friend may not be the person Fido originally thought she was.

I finished this book in bed one night.  I was tired and should have fallen fast asleep the second my eyes closed, but I could not stop thinking about this book.  It was such a catch-22.  I loathed Helen.  It would be impossible not to.  She willingly steps all over anyone she can in order to get what she wants.  She knows Fido is a faithful friend, and she uses that to her best advantage.  And yet . . . maybe Helen has no other choice.  Is she not just a product of her times?  She has absolutely no options open to her.  She’s unhappy in her marriage and seeks contentment elsewhere.  For that, she is cut off from her lifestyle and children forever.  It seems grossly unfair to me.  That being said, she put herself in an even worse position by casting out everyone that loved and cared for her.  Even her husband wasn’t a bad guy.  So as you can see, either way Helen was damned.  That doesn’t excuse her behavior, but maybe it mitigates it just a little.

The Sealed Letter is based on a true story.  Donoghue did a fantastic job weaving fact and fiction together.  It can be difficult to tell a true story while still injecting enough fiction into it to interest the reader.  In comparing this book to another book of the same nature, 31 Bond Street , by Ellen Horan, Donoghue’s effort is much greater and more successful.  I just felt that she used every scrap of truth when possible, and I really appreciate that.

If you’re a fan of Victorian based literature, you must check out Donoghue.  She reminds me a bit of Sarah Waters and the other book I’ve read of hers, Slammerkin, is exceptional.  I can’t wait now to read Room!

Other Reviews:

A Bookworm’s World

So Many Books, So Little Time

Tiny Little Reading Room

I bought this book, most likely from Barnes & Noble, although I can’t be 100% sure.

This book counts towards the Women Unbound Challenge.  Given that it won the 2009 Lambda Literary Award for best lesbian fiction, I suppose it also counts towards the GLBT challenge.



Book Review: Shortcomings

Shortcomings

Adrian Tomine

Drawn & Quarterly

104 pages

Ben Tanaka is a your typical twenty something.  He lives with his girlfriend Miko in San Francisco and works as a manager in a move theater.  He is not quite content with his life though.  Miko is doing her best to keep their relationship alive, but Ben is having none of it. He puts no effort into his relationship, yet is suprised when Miko decides to move to New York for film school.

Although he was against her leaving, Ben is quite the playboy.  In fact, one of the issues in his relationship with Miko is the fact that he has an attraction to “white” girls, ie non Asians. He quickly tries to pick up a young girl who works in the same movie theater as he does.  When that doesn’t work, he moves onto a bisexual woman, who ends up dumping him to return to her ex girlfriend.  Eventually Ben realizes he misses Miko, so he follows her to New York . . .

My experience with graphic novels is extremely minimal, so I am still finding my ground and discovering what I enjoy.  I enjoyed Shortcomings immensly.  I am always amazed at how much can be conveyed through a short graphic novel, and this was no exception.  I was completely drawn into Ben’s life and his relationships.  I rooted for him but I also chastised him.  Like a lot of twenty something men, Ben had no idea of what he wanted and was not mature enough to give Miko the respect she deserved, even if he was unable to provide her with a loving relationship.

Shortcomings has only whetted my appetite for more graphic novels.  I would also be interested in reading more of Tomine.

Other Reviews:

Avid Book Reader

Booklust

The Zen Leaf

Jenny’s Books

I borrowed this book from my local library.

This book counts towards the GLBT challenge.

Book Review: Rubyfruit Jungle

Ruby Fruit Jungle

Rita Mae Brown

Bantam

256 pages

Where to start with this one . . . ?  I can’t say what drew me in about this book but it has been on my radar for years.  I have never really read a book focused entirely on a woman who is coming into her sexuality and discovers she is a lesbian.  Such is the case with Molly Bolt.  Molly is growing up in a rural area and from the start of the book, despite the fact that she is not even a teenager yet, she is a very sexual person.  Her actual experience begins when she has sex with her cousin Leroy, although, not to worry, they are not technically related since Molly is adopted.  Molly doesn’t seem to get much pleasure out of her trysts with Leroy and she begins to also hook up with a girl her age, which she finds much more appealing.  Eventually, right before Molly moves to FL at the end of sixth grade, she is able to spend the night at her friend’s house and things turn even more heated.

Eventually, during college, Molly’s sexuality is thrown out into the open after she and her roommate are caught in a compromising situation.  This being a few decades ago, her college does not take the matter lightly and they withdraw Molly’s scholarships so that she is unable to continue with her schooling.  She returns home to her mother in FL but is immediately thrown out onto the streets because her mother is unable to abide by Molly’s sexuality.  Molly moves to NY and meets women while working to make ends meet and hopefully fulfill her dreams of being a film maker.

Molly is a likeable character.  She is full of sass and very headstrong—definitely a leader.  She is very matter-of-fact and doesn’t take crap from anyone, which constantly causes her to butt heads with her mother Carrie.  The ridicule Molly faces for being a lesbian would get most people down but she didn’t even flinch.  Her devil may care attitude really helped her achieve her dreams and continue living the way she wanted to live despite the oppressiveness she faced due to her sexuality.  However, she is very cavalier about sex to the point where she never really has a relationship with anyone—it’s just all about the sex.

Rubyfruit Jungle was kind of like soft core porn in the sense that the whole book revolved around sex.  It was as if the entire book were written around the sex scenes.  Personally, I have no issues with sex scenes in books—it makes no difference to me whether there is sex or not but in this book, there just didn’t seem to be much substance.  That is a shame because Brown touched on so many issues that really affect the GLBT community but none of those themes were really built up in the book.

Rubyfruit Jungle left much to be desired.   It is worth reading if you are interested in GLBT issues and it is a great choice for the GLBT challenge but the execution just wasn’t there.

Other Reviews:

Bryan’s Book Blog

I borrowed this book from my local library.


This book counts towards the GLBT challenge hosted by Amanda at The Zen Leaf.

Book Review: The 19th Wife

The 19th Wife

David Ebershoff

Random House Trade Paperbacks

544 pages

The 19th Wife is told with two separate but parallel narratives.  The first portion is narrated by Jordan, a young gay man who had been abandoned by his mother on the side of the freeway a few years earlier because she believed that God was telling her do so.  Jordan has never looked back and has completely abandoned the Mormon faith but he returns to Utah because his mother, wife #19, has been accused of murdering Jordan ’s father.  Even after returning home to aid his mother in jail, Jordan attempts to escape his family and faith but is ultimately unable to leave his mother.

The other narrative is the story of Ann Eliza Young, the 19th wife of Brigham Young, one of the leaders of the Mormon faith.  Ann Eliza has grown up in the Mormon faith but she has always been aware of her mother’s disapproval on polygamy, despite the fact that her mother is in a polygamous marriage.  However, Ann Eliza is eventually coerced in to marrying Brigham Young.  Unfortunately for him, Ann Eliza flees the marriage after a few years and begins speaking out against Brigham and polygamy all over the country, drawing negative attention towards Mormonism.

I loved Ann Eliza’s account—unlike Jordan ’s sections, Ann Eliza’s story is not narrated entirely by her and it also added a lot of historical elements.  Ann Eliza really was married to Brigham Young and she really did abandon him and become a political figure fighting to end polygamy.  Her story is told through her autobiography, as well as her father’s autobiography.  The reader is aware that Ann Eliza’s story is biased and one-sided—she is unable to hold herself accountable for her own actions.  This is made all the more interesting by the fact that some of the story is even narrated by Brigham himself.  In the end you are unsure of whom to believe and what really occurred.  Despite the ambiguity, The 19th Wife is obviously not portraying polygamy in a generous light and polygamy is thoroughly denounced.

As for Jordan ’s sections, I have to admit I was not impressed.  The whole attempt seemed juvenile to me and I couldn’t really sympathize with Jordan because he seemed more two-dimensional to me.  I understand Ebershoff’s point in making him gay, but it seemed like he was the token Mormon gay guy and that made it even harder for me to take that part of the story seriously.  The mystery of who really killed his father was lackluster for me as well.  Although it was a mystery and Jordan was sleuthing to attempt to put the pieces of the puzzle together, the suspense was never really there for me.  I didn’t really care who killed his father or why or how, etc etc.

In the end, I thought The 19th Wife was phenomenal in part and deeply flawed in part.  I love the idea of a duel narrative and I think the structure would have worked so well for this book if Jordan ’s narrative had been more refined and believable.  I would still recommend this one though because despite the issues I had with it, The 19th Wife is an engaging read and very educational if you are not too familiar with the Mormon faith, not to mention mine is the only review I have read thus far (I think) that is not completely loving this book.

Other Reviews:

Musings of a Bookish Kitty

Becky’s Book Reviews

Devourer of Books

Caribous Mom

She is too Fond of Books

Presenting Lenore

Fyrefly’s Book Blog

Capricious Reader

I received this book from the published for review.

This book counts towards the GLBT challenge hosted by Amanda at The Zen Leaf.

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