Tag Archives: coming-of-age

Review: Maine

Recap: Every family has its fair share of drama, and the Kellehers are no exception. Take Alice, the 83-year-old matriarch of the family. She’s a moody widow who holds high standards for others, likes a glass or two (or three) of wine, flirts with her much younger priest and has a secret, which causes her a lot of painstaking guilt. Then there’s her daughter, Kathleen, a 15-years-sober alcoholic, who is divorced, living off her father’s financial legacy that he left almost entirely to her on a “worm poop” farm with her boyfriend in California. There’s Kathleen’s daughter, Maggie. She’s a mess of a 30-something, living in New York City in an apartment she can barely afford, all the while hoping to make it big as a writer and to convince her awful boyfriend to commit to her. Last but not least, there’s Ann Marie — the wife of Kathleen’s brother. Ann Marie is a snooty, condescending do-gooder who doesn’t work, but builds and decorates doll houses and has a shameful secret of her own.

These four women have enough drama individually, in their own houses and apartments. But when they all converge on the family summer beach house in Cape Neddick, Maine for a few weeks in June, sparks are bound to fly, some in a good way, and others in a not-so-good way.

Analysis: Maine is mostly a character study of these four women, but the story goes much deeper than that. It revolves around the inter-generational relationships within a family. With chapters alternating between four narrators — Alice, Kathleen, Ann Marie, and Maggie — we see the differences between three generations — Alice comes from a generation that is more religious and reserved, while Maggie’s is more free-spirited. The generations in which these women were born affect the way they handle the difficult moments in their lives. Alice hides things. Kathleen drank. Maggie relies more on her friends than her family — at first. The generations also affect their relationships with each other. Alice is used to families being private, whereas Maggie wants to talk about her feelings with her family and doesn’t know how to do it.

The inner workings of these women say so much about women and families in the present day. There’s often underlying tension that’s never addressed, until it becomes too much to bear and is released all at once. That’s what happens when these women finally see each other in person. For some, the relationships sever a bit. For others, learning each others’ secrets helps the women to gain respect for each other. But that still doesn’t mean they have to like each other. Women are interesting creatures. We hold grudges and have trouble letting go of the past. Maine is a beautiful, sad and simultaneously funny novel about what happens when four adult women try to move forward when their pasts keep pulling them back. A relatable, gripping, and moving novel for any modern-day woman — young or old.

MVP: Maggie. She’s the youngest, but also becomes one of the strongest. At the end of the novel, it becomes clear that Maggie has grown up a lot in just the short summer in which we read her story, but it also becomes clear that she’s going to continue to grow so much — in a good way.

Get Maine in paperback for $12.26.

Or get it on your Kindle for $9.99.

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Review: Ready Player One

220px-Ready_Player_One_coverRecap: In 2044, the world is a scary place. A permanent economic downturn leaves most people living off minimal means. Instead of immersing themselves in reality, people are now spending their time in a virtual reality online. This online virtual world, called OASIS, allows people to log on and be transported into a universe where things aren’t so bad. Every person has an avatar, and the avatars can go to school online, work online, drive, shop, and travel online. Wade is one of those people; with his avatar, Parzaval, he’s able to escape from his lonely world without parents, real friends or a girlfriend and suddenly become just another person.

James Halliday is the OASIS creator, and when he dies, he leaves behind a scavenger hunt or “Egg Hunt.” Just like any other video game, the avatars must find the keys to three different levels and then pass each one. The first to win will win millions of dollars and take over Halliday’s empire. In order to win the game, players must have a vast knowledge of Halliday’s life and 1980’s pop culture and video games (which Halliday is obsessed with). Most players are also trying to beat the “Sixers” to the finish line. The “Sixers” are a group of employees who hope to take over the empire and charge usage fees for the OASIS, which had always been free.

No one can find the first key for five years. Then Wade does it. With his friend Aech and crush Artemis, Wade sets out to win. But he soon learns that knowledge isn’t the only thing that will get him through the competition.  He also needs friends, persistence, and heart.

Analysis: Part adventure, part coming-of-age, and part dystopian, Ready Player One draws similarities to already familiar stories. The search for the key and the ability to enter the First Gate is similar to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. But much of the story plays homage to George Orwell’s 1984. Not only does the story revolve around movies, TV shows, music and video games from the 1980’s; and not only does author Ernest Cline flat out reference Orwell’s classic novel in the book, but like 1984, the “Sixers” in Ready Player One watch the players, much like Big Brother. Just like in 1984, the people in this dystopian society are fed up with the government and use the hunt as a way to rebel and take control of the universe in which they’re suffocating.

The story may not be the most original, but Ready Player One‘s true beauty reveals itself in its pop culture references and jokes, and in the author’s ability to create an entire online universe. It had me wonder if a universe like OASIS may not be so far off. Ready Player One is a fun, enjoyable and smart novel that makes a broader statement about our reliance on technology as way to get by in life and maintain relationships.

MVP: Wade. When reading the book, it’s hard to decide what kind of ending you want for Wade. But when the end comes, you know it’s the right one. He not only accomplishes his goals, but he also does it in an unselfish, heroic way.

Get Ready Player One in paperback for $10.89.

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Review: Girl Unmoored

Recap: Seventh grade is a tough time for most people. But it’s especially rough for Apron Bramhall. Her mother died of cancer. Her father is dating an awful woman. And to top it all off, her name is Apron and she has red hair and freckles. But then she learns her father is going to become a father again — this time with his girlfriend, who’s also the Brazilian nurse who used to care for her mom. At the same time, her best friend decides to become best friends with one of the coolest girls in the seventh grade. If she thought her world couldn’t get any worse, it did.

But Jesus helps her get through it — KIDDING! Well, sort of. After seeing the musical Jesus Christ Superstar with a friend, she learns the actor who plays Jesus is related to one of her neighbors. Suddenly she’s seeing this Jesus person all the time, and he always seems to rescue her — like when she accidentally slaps her grandmother at her father’s wedding and later falls on the concrete outside.

Soon this guy, whose real name is Mike, becomes one of her closest friends. He and his boyfriend, Chad, are florists and offer Apron a summer job. Spending time with them opens her eyes to a whole new world — a world of adults who have found true love, adults who make decisions and make them proudly, adults that show Apron the kind of person she wants to become.

Analysis: Girl Unmooreis a coming-of-age story about a young teenager who truly has become unmoored. But man, is she strong. It’s that strength that allows her to make the most of her situation and grow up. It seems that everything in Apron’s life is falling apart, and becoming friends with Mike and Chad is an unexpected way to deal with it. After all, they are older than her; she’s never met any gay people before, and ultimately she learns that Chad has a devastating secret. Becoming friends with this couple is not what one would recommend for dealing with the death of a parent, the end of a friendship, and a pretty horrible stepmother. But they’re her lucky charms, and the reader starts to realize that on the inside, Apron is much older than 13.

One of the best parts about this story is the way it’s told. Written in first person, each chapter acts as a bridge to the next. It never really feels like anything happens in each chapter individually. Then suddenly, you’re at the end of the novel and realized you’ve just read something great. The changes in Apron and the growth in her character are subtle, but they’re there. The book reads like a diary, and the development sneaks up on the reader.

MVP: Apron. In a novel that starts off with such an empty girl, Apron is full by the end — full with friends, love, and excitement for the future, instead of dread.

Get Girl Unmoored in paperback for $12.66.

Or get it on your Kindle for $7.69.

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Review: Girls in White Dresses

Review: Ah, the post-grad years. Adult life. The 20’s. It’s supposed to be the time of our lives. Yet for most of us, these are the years where we find ourselves the most lost. College was the bridge to responsibility and independence. Now we’ve crossed that bridge and realized we still don’t know which direction to go from here.

That’s the premise of Girls in White Dresses, about a group of college girlfriends branching out on their own journey to career success and love. Isabella, Lauren, and Mary are the central characters. Isabella is not quite sure where she’s heading professionally, but moves to New York City with Mary anyway and dates a number of not-so-great guys. Mary is  goal-oriented and finds early success in her law career, but makes some disastrously bad dating choices. Then there’s Lauren — the girl with the attitude who’s fun and spunky but the most lost of them all.

Each chapter focuses on a different girl, not just Isabella, Mary, and Lauren, but also their other friends and acquaintances from college. Included are anecdotes about their experiences with dating, showers, babies, weddings, sex, engagements, and in-laws. Each girl realizes life doesn’t end up exactly how you plan. But as they inch closer and closer to their 30s, they start to wonder, will we even get close?

Analysis: The overarching plot of Girls in White Dresses is sad. It’s a bunch of girls and their not-so-great lives — particularly love lives. Each chapter I found myself wishing for the one anecdote with a happy ending and a sense of hope. Only a few offered that. That being said, this book is funny.

Many of the anecdotes made me laugh for their humor, humility, and relatability. Author Jennifer Close is able to make the reader laugh through the pain of these young women, and therein lies the positivity that the reader is looking for. Just like in real life, sometimes you have to find the little things that make you smile when you’re going through a tough time.

I read this book along with a number of girlfriends, as part of a book club. We are all in our 20s and could relate to different sections of the book. Some of my friends hated it. Some loved it. That made me believe that your feelings about a book like this will be almost entirely based on your own experiences and what you’re currently going through in life. A 25-year-old who’s single and unemployed or waiting tables might detest this book. But a 25-year-old with a good job and a great boyfriend might love it. Either way it’s worth a read, if for no other reason else than to put the 20-something world in perspective.

MVP: Isabella. She struggles like all the girls, but she is the one the reader gets to know the best. Her story feels most like one of growth. At the end of the book, she takes some big risks, but alas, the reader gets the sense that maybe, just maybe, Isabella is going to be okay.

Get Girls in White Dresses in paperback for $10.98.

Or get it on your Kindle for $9.99.

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Review: Ophelia Speaks

Recap: A teenage response to the late 90’s bestseller, Reviving Ophelia, Ophelia Speaks is a book of essays written by teenage girls from around the country. In it, they discuss the issues they face — everything from sex, drugs, and eating disorders to depression, school-related stress and racial issues. For parents of teens, it’s an eye-opener. For teens, it reads like a relatable  diary.

Its predecessor, Reviving Ophelia, was written by a therapist to discuss what teens deal with, but hearing it from the teens themselves in Ophelia Speaks packs a gut-wrenching punch. Suicidal tendencies seem common place, as does experimentation with boys, other girls, and alcohol. That may be frightening for parents, but for many teens, it’s the norm.

The book is divided into chapters focusing on specific issues. Each chapter includes three or four essays from different girls about that topic. Some are poems, some are actual diary entries, but they all tell deeply moving and emotional tales. Some are uplifting, but most tell the stories of lost, confused, frustrated, and sad girls. This is not to say that teenage girls are sad and lost all the time, but a constant lack of confidence is very real for many of them.

Analysis: I enjoyed the book as much as I could, but had to put it down several times and come back to it between books. On a personal note, Ophelia Speaks brought me back to a dark time in my teenage years. It reminded me of the hardships I faced with boys, my parents, school, and a lack of confidence that lead to other issues. Needless to say, it was difficult for me to get through.

Because of the subject matter, I think the book is better suited to teenage girls and parents of teenage girls. For the girls, it’s relatable and would easily make any girl feel less alone in her world of seeming catastrophe. For parents, it would make them more aware of what their daughters struggle with on a regular basis. There’s a lot to be learned from this book — as both a teaching source and a self-help book. For women not quite in the mother-daughter group, it’s still powerful, but doesn’t have the same direct impact as it could. I wish I read it 6 years ago.

Get Ophelia Speaks in paperback for $11.16.

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Review: How To Rule The World

Recap: When Wendy Sloane returns home from college to her small Pennsylvania town, she anticipates a quiet summer, catching up with her mother and grandpa and working at the small independent bookstore her family owns. It certainly starts out that way. But Wendy has a secret, one that no one, not even her mother knows. She wants to be a writer. This particular summer is the summer when Wendy starts to face her fears and works to accomplish her goals. She tells her mother about her plans to be a writer, while she works on her first book.

But she also uses the summer to play one big trick on her small town. Taking after her grandpa, the town trickster himself, Wendy paints a horrific display on the outside of her family’s bookstore. She’s on a mission to prove how easily people’s opinions can be swayed and how important it is to think for yourself. Her scheme sends the townspeople in a dither, all thanks to the power of persuasion — something that Wendy realizes is strong enough to rule the world.

Analysis: Jade Heasley writes this coming-of-age story with wit and charm. A light and easy read, I came to enjoy Wendy’s spunky, motivated attitude. She’s a tough girl, and it’s that spirit that helps her pull off the big stunt without turning people against her.

How to Rule the World is a fun book that kept me interested and didn’t force me to think too much. It did have a few flaws however. Parts of the book seemed preachy; as much as I liked Wendy, she was also a bit of a goody-goody, turning down dates with the town “bad boy,” instead of exploring her crush, as I imagine most 19-year-old girls would. Not to mention, she speaks very philosophically for a teenager. I understood that she’s a writer, and with that, comes more analytical thinking than the average person, but it still seemed a bit unlikely for someone her age.

There were also portions of the book that seemed irrelevant or forced, particularly the sections about her father. Since Wendy lives with her mother and grandpa, the author does have to explain where her father is. We get a few glimpses into the bad relationship he had with Wendy’s mom, their divorce, and one angry phone dialogue between Wendy and her dad, but it felt forced, as though the reader is meant to hate the father very quickly without very much reason.

That being said, it’s still a story with a good message to enjoy growing up and never give up on your dreams.

MVP: Wendy. Wise for her age and determined, she’s the girl young girls want to be, young boys want to date, and mothers want to have as their own daughter.

Get How to Rule the World in paperback for $12.99.

Or get it on your Kindle for just $7.99.

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Movie vs. Book: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Contributed by Sam Holle

If you were in high school in the early 2000’s, odds are you read or at least heard of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. It was a topic of discussion among parents, students, and educators, making banned book lists due to its frequent references to sex, drugs, and illicit behavior.  Beyond the controversy, it was a story about growing up, finding yourself, and learning to participate in the world.

The book spoke to me. Charlie is a high school kid who doesn’t fit in with the popular kids, but finds comfort in his new friends, Patrick and Sam.  He’s like me!  I thought.  I’m socially awkward sometimes!  Oh look, the object of Charlie’s affection is named Sam!  My name’s Sam! I want a sweet boy like Charlie to fall in love with me the way he’s in love with Sam!  I think this book was written just for me!

So it was no surprise that my inner high schooler squealed with glee the first time I heard it was being made into a movie. That inner high schooler kept squealing as I searched for a seat in the crowded theater. My inner high schooler was not disappointed at all.

The movie was written, produced, and directed by Stephen Chbosky, the author of the book. There were small plot points from the book that didn’t make it to the screen, but it didn’t matter.  The movie is every bit an emotional roller coaster as the book.  When Charlie’s heart breaks, your heart breaks.  When Patrick is hilarious, you find yourself laughing as if with an old friend.

In the beginning of the movie, Charlie dreadfully counts down the days until the end of high school at the start of his freshman year; at the end of the year, he announces how many days are left without an ounce of that fear that was there before.  You know Charlie’s journey is not going to be difficult anymore.  You have watched him face his demons, confront his bullies, and stand up for the people he loves.  You know that everything is going to be fine for him.

The actors were cast wonderfully; I couldn’t imagine anyone else portraying the trio of nonconformist friends and putting on such a beautiful performance.

MVP: The obvious MVP is Charlie, a hero who learns the importance of friendship and to not let his past control his future. My less obvious choice is Charlie’s English teacher — “Bill” in the book, “Mr. Anderson” in the movie. Paul Rudd does a spectacular job as someone who sees Charlie as a wallflower and helps him bloom into a participant in life. Mr. Anderson tells Charlie that he can see Charlie writing a classic some day, one that will be read by high schoolers and will stand the test of time.  Chbosky, winking at the audience, knows that he and Charlie have already done this.

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