Monday, September 15, 2014

Fourth of July Creek

Fourth of July Creek
by Smith Henderson

Genre: Fiction
Published: 5/27/14 by Harper Collins
Pages:  480
Format:  Hardcover

My rating:
3.75 out of 5 stars
(or you can just round that up to 4 stars!)

First, a few warnings about this book.

If you are looking for a cheerful, uplifting story of redemption, this is not your book.

If you re looking for something to give you a glimmer of hope in this broken world, this is not your book.

If you are offended by bad language, this is not your book.

If you have difficulty reading stories about child abuse, this is not your book.

If you have made it through all of this list without shying away, then maybe this could be a book for you.

It's dark and edgy and grim and gritty. It's not a pretty story, and the writing spares no details when it comes to some of the horrors and tragedies experienced by these characters. 

Yet, despite all the disclaimers above, I did find this to be an intriguing story. I've never been one to shy away from dark stories, and I think that is because they are usually so different from my own life experiences. I enjoy being able to get a glimpse of what life is like for people who are not like me. And these characters from rural Montana are definitely not like me!

Pete Snow, the main character in Fourth of July Creek, is a social worker trying to help kids in his rural Montana town of Tenmile. But just like the kids he is trying to help, Pete has plenty of problems of his own. When Pete tries to help a boy living in the woods, he comes face to face with the boy's father, Jeremiah Pearl, a conspiracy theorist who is anxiously and eagerly awaiting the End Times. As Pete's own family falls apart, he also begins to form a cautious and unlikely friendship with the Pearls, and he gets caught in the middle when the FBI come to town on the hunt for Pearl.

The idea that "abuse leads to more abuse" was illustrated clearly in this grim tale. I just felt so incredibly sad for all of these characters. They all appear to be stuck in the rut of following what their parents and grandparents have done before them, of living a life filled with abuse, pain, alcohol, drugs, sex, and regret. No one was happy. At all. I know this story is fiction and not based on real people, but I know there are many people in the world who live this way. It is terribly sad to think that people could spend their whole lives living like theses characters, without joy and without hope. I also found it interesting that the social workers in this story seemed to have the same problems and issues as the clients that they are trying to help. Pete said something to this effect in the story, "we take kids away from people like us." Yet, I still found myself rooting for Pete and wanting him to succeed, despite his flaws. He was far from perfect, but still he was trying to do good. I appreciated the real humanity of his character.

So while this story didn't make me feel good in any way, it was still captivating. It's hard to say I enjoyed reading it because of some of the tough content, but I still would say I liked the book quite a bit. I especially liked the parts when Pete interacted with Jeremiah Pearl and his son Benjamin, and when we were given glimpses into what their life was like before Pete met them. I also liked the "interviews" (I put that in quotes because I'm not convinced that they were really interviews...kind of wish there was a little more closure there) with Rachel, Pete's daughter. Although having two daughters of my own, those interviews were also terrifying for me to read!

I would recommend this book with a lot of caution, because it is definitely not for everyone. But if you are up for this gritty story full of flawed, troubled characters, it is well written and engaging and one that I won't forget for a while.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Five Days Left

Five Days Left
by Julie Lawson Timmer

Genre: Fiction
Published: 9/9/14 by Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam
Pages:  352
Format: ARC

My rating:
3.5 out of 5 stars

I received an advance copy of this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewer's program.

Mara has only five days left until she hits the deadline she has set to take her own life.  Suffering from a sudden onset of Huntington's Disease, Mara believes that she, her husband and daughter will all be better off when she is dead.  Her internet friend Scott is also up against a five day deadline.  Scott only has five days left before the foster boy he has grown to love and cherish will be taken away and sent back to his mother.  This novel alternates the stories of Mara and Scott as they move through these five days.

Mara's story was probably most compelling for me to read.  I can't hardly imagine what it would be like to go from being a successful business woman to someone who could barely manage to complete the simplest of tasks.  It makes for fascinating reading.  Reading about Mara's struggle with this disease and the affects it had on her family reminded me a lot of Still Alice by Lisa Genova.  I had a lot more sympathy for Alice in that book though than I did for Mara in this book.  I didn't really like Mara's character, and I didn't agree with a lot of her points of view.  So while I found her story interesting, I just didn't care much for her as a character. 

Scott's story was also interesting for me to read.  As a parent, it is hard to imagine what it would be like to take in a child for a year, treat that child as your own, and then have to give the child away. 

So both stories are fairly captivating, for me at least, and they easily held my attention through the book.  I just didn't really understand the need to tell BOTH stories in this novel.  I think the novel could have stood by itself with just one of the stories.  Was it necessary to tell them both side by side?  The whole concept just felt a little forced to me, like the author came up the idea of telling dual stories about having five days left and then had to come up with the stories that would fit this theme.  I'm just not sure the concept was really needed in this case.  A novel simply about a woman with Huntington's disease or the struggles of being a foster parent might have been enough.

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Sky is Everywhere

The Sky is Everywhere
by Jandy Nelson

Genre: Young Adult
Published:  3/9/2010 by Brilliance Audio
Length:  7 hours, 14 minutes
Format: Audiobook

My rating:
2 out of 5 stars

The Sky is Everywhere is about Lennie Walker, a 17 year old girl who has just lost her sister Bailey.  As she deals with her grief, Lennie meets and falls in love with the new boy in school, Joe Fontaine, a fabulous musician who sweeps her off her feet and helps her forget her sorrow.  However, her relationship with Joe is complicated by the strange feelings of attraction she has for her (dead) sister's boyfriend Toby.

And so begins my problem with this novel.  I just could not buy into the two main points of the plot:  1) that Lennie could fall madly in love with Joe, who she really doesn't know at all, in just a couple of days time and 2) that Lennie would be attracted (and act on her attraction) to her dead sister's boyfriend.  I just found these plot points to be extremely annoying, and I really could not enjoy anything else in the novel.  I gave it 2 stars only because I did stay interested enough to finish, but just barely.

To expand on those points, I realize that this is a novel written for teenagers.  So as a 33 year old, I am definitely not the target audience.  So that could be my problem.  However, I have read many, many young adult books that I truly loved.  Just not this one.  The idea of Lennie "thinking" she is in head over heels in love with this boy Joe who she just met is probably realistic for many teenagers.  But the romance in the story had no build up; there was no explanation of how the two characters grew to know each other or how their love blossomed.  They just met and then suddenly they were in love, except that Lennie kept making out with her sister's boyfriend Toby as well.  Enter annoying plot point number two.  And I was just continually annoyed as I turned the pages.  

Reading other reviews, many people seemed to connect with these characters and this story. So maybe I am missing something in this book.  For me, it didn't feel real and I didn't feel a connection to anyone in the story.  Perhaps it was well written as many others have said?  I was too annoyed by the story to pay much attention to the writing!