Perhaps Wendy Lesser has a point. There are lots of books that are, well, mediocre. Exhibit A: After Her, which strains to recreate the frisson of a (real) serial killer’s spree, although to be fair it paints a sweet picture of a loving detective-father’s relationship with his daughters. The plucky heroine could not save it for me. I recommend Labor Day instead (the book).
The Girl Who Fell to Earth: A Memoir may be the ultimate culture-straddling story of a childhood spent partly in rural Washington state, with the author’s mother and partly in Qatar, with her father and his extended family. The nuanced descriptions of Qatari (or, more precisely in this case, Beduin) society, where women’s freedoms are severely circumscribed but arrangements can be made, and girls’ lives are remarkably free, were to me the best part of the book. In the second half, the author grows into a self-obsessed teenager and the tone and contents become both insipid and strident, unfortunately, but not before she manages a funny description of the cliques in the international high school in Doha.
A delightful, understated novel, Mice is a story of school bullying cured by… murder! Its ambitions are modest and amply met. I don’t want to give away too much of the story but if you like British novels about quiet small towns with a mix of Agatha Christie detective work, this book is for you. A lovely, carefully exact narrative told in a sixteen year old’s voice.
Do all books about Tasmania have to include search and rescue teams in a spectacular physical setting (see Death of a River Guide)? The crisis of The World Beneath takes place on the Cradle Mountain trail rather than the Franklin River (but the parents of the heroine met during environmental protests on, you guessed it, the Franklin River). 15-year old Sophie is hiking with her heretofore estranged father who proceeds to get them lost, hence the search and rescue ending. The hippie mother, meanwhile, is trying to reinvent herself and worries, as she should, about her daughter and her irresponsible ex-husband. I found the relationship between the daughter and both parents very nicely told — until late in the story, when that 15-year old behaves with a strength and purpose that seems hard to believe in someone so young. The scenery is awesome and, at least for the portions of the trail that I know, felt absolutely faithful to the real thing, down to the boardwalk that is the first part of the trail.
So what didn’t work so well for me? That uber worldly 15-year old, for one thing, and way too much foreshadowing.
Feeling rather inadequate with a grand total of one significant fight with my two daughters (the younger one is 14, so I suppose there’s still hope), I decided to see how the other side lives and to read You Don’t Really Know Me, a book about mother-daughter fights. I came away unimpressed. The author’s point of view is that teenagers want to differentiate themselves from their mothers and create a new relationship with them, but the examples she gave seem to suggest it’s the moms who are struggling — like the one who could not understand why her teenage daughter simply needs to be alone from time to time, or the one whose greatest goal is to be best friends with her daughter.
Come on ladies, let’s give the girls some room and let’s not hesitate to lay down the law when needed. One good fight at the right time will save hundreds down the line.
The subtitle of You’d Be So Pretty If is Teaching our daughters to love their bodies — even when we don’t love our own, which should have been a clear warning sign that this book was not for me. Now I have daughters, two of them, but I’m not so sure mothers can, or should, attempt to teach their daughters to love their bodies. What does it mean to love one’s body, anyway? And, without taking away any of the powerful influence we must have on our daughters (hmm…) I can’t quite believe that body love or lack thereof is a mom-induced phenomenon. The author thinks so, and I quote “Our moms teach us what being a woman is all about, including the importance – or unimportance – of our appearance.” Not true for me and my mom, and as for my daughters, I’m not so sure, having been told firmly by a certain young teenager just last week that her friends were a better source of advice than parents because they had similar experiences to hers. And in the frightening event that daughters do learn about body love exclusively from their moms, I do wonder what mine are learning from me. Certainly not proper makeup application techniques. What if I scarred them for life?
OK, I did not think this book was worth reading — in case my opinion was unclear.
It’s probably unfair to write a review of a book from which I only read 45 pages, but I could not go any further. It’s not that I disagreed with the topic of Girls Gone Mild (the destructive influence on girls of an hypersexual culture.) It’s not that I disagreed that Bratz dolls are inappropriate. It’s not that I disagreed that Abercrombie and Fitch ads are obscene. It’s not that I disagreed that mothers who push their daughters to have sex early are crazy…. Wait a minute! I don’t know any mothers like that. I also doubt that high-school sex-ed teachers are making fun of kids who have not had sex.
Girls Gone Mild reads like one of those women magazine articles about dreaded diseases: see, it happened once so it could happen to you and you’d better watch out. How about some common sense instead of scare tactics? It is possible to avoid buying thongs for 7-year olds. It is also possible to raise daughters who don’t measure their success through their sexual conquests. Get real!