Tag Archives: friendship

Review: The Girls in the Picture

Recap: It’s the early 1900’s and Frances Marion isn’t sure what she wants, but she knows what she doesn’t want. She no longer wants to be married to a man she doesn’t live in San Francisco, a city that does nothing for her. So she moves to Los Angeles just as the movie industry starts to develop. She is fixated on somehow being a part of the world of cinema, but isn’t sure how. Until she meets Mary Pickford. And that’s when everything changes. 

The two quickly become best friends. Mary works toward a career in acting, while Frances soon finds herself writing screenplays. In the 1910’s and 1920’s, they are unicorns: women in the film industry. But they have the support of each other to keep working toward their dreams. They promise to never let men get in the way of their friendship. 

But it’s a promise made at too young an age to keep. When Mary falls in love with an already-married actor and Frances finds the perfect husband, Mary and Frances begin judging each other and the choices they’re making. As they stop supporting each other personally, they stop supporting each other professionally too. But will the different directions their lives are taking them ultimately bring them back together?

Analysis: I knew this was a historical fiction novel from the beginning, but didn’t know until midway through the book when author Melanie Benjamin started name-dropping other celebrities that Mary Pickford and Frances Marion were real women, and this was their true story, written in a fictionalized view, making the story all the more interesting. 

But more than anything else, the story is relatable. Every woman goes through ups and downs, even with their closest girlfriends. Every woman goes through ups and downs professionally. It’s a timeless story of women trying to balance friendship, work and love in modern times.

But their story is also timely. Historical fiction has a way of showing us how much and how little things have changed over the years. The film industry has changed immensely since it began in the 1910’s. All movies are “talkies” now, and shot in color and digital and the list goes on and on. But the #MeToo era proves that the painful experiences that women in film face — sexual harassment, pay disparity and lack of respect, power and opportunity — live on even after more than 100 years. 

Both tragic and beautiful, The Girls in the Picture gripped me so deeply, I couldn’t stop talking about it or recommending it to any woman or any fan of movies. 

MVP: Frances. Though stubborn in her ways and often judgemental, she is far more realistic than Mary about her role in the world. That gives her the ability to see clearly and realize when she has to take a step back from certain parts of her life. 

Get The Girls in the Picture in hardcover for $12.08.

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Review: All the Summer Girls

51qeoz7vyzl-_sy344_bo1204203200_Recap: Nothing like a broken-off engagement and pregnancy, a cheating husband and being fired after your life’s become overrun with drugs and alcohol to start your summer. But that’s the way the summer begins for three high school best friends who grew up together and in recent years have mostly grown apart. Kate, Vanessa and Dani had already planned to go away for the weekend for Kate’s bachelorette party. Now that she’s no longer about to become a misses, the three decide to go away together anyway and keep it close to home: the Jersey Shore, the place where they spent all their summers together growing up.

But for the three of them, the Jersey Shore brings up bad memories of the last time they were here together, back during college when a tragic night lead to the death of Kate’s twin brother — a loss from which none of the girls ever truly recovered. Anxiety builds as the secrets of their lives — pregnancy, cheating, addiction — keep finding ways to creep into this home away from home that holds another big, aching secret. Eventually that anxiety must break, and break it does.

AnalysisAll the Summer Girls has just the right ingredients for a great summer beach read — romance, friendship, scandal, secrets and of course the beach setting. Meg Donahue brings it all together, forcing the reader to wonder what she would do any of these characters’ positions. Female friendship is complicated, and this novels dives deep into those murky waters, especially as it details the relationship between Vanessa and Dani, which is so severed, one wonders if it can even be repaired at this point. Sometimes girlfriends truly do just drift. Other times, secrets keep them separated. And still other times, girlfriends remain friends despite all the secrets, all the time that’s passed, and all the little things that annoy each other. The bonds prove strong in this novel.

While Donahue brings it all together, it does feel forced. Vanessa’s obsession with her ex-boyfriend is unwarranted since it seems to be nothing more than an eight-year-old summer fling. Not only that, but there’s a lot of build to a rather anticlimactic and uneventful plotline in the end. Dani discovering some of the things she learns on this trip also seems to make it a perfect time for her addiction to only get worse. Instead, she fights it off which is empowering and impressive, but in my opinion, unlikely under the circumstances. I’ve read several books about female friendship and all their secrets coming out over the course of a summer. It’s a common trope in “chick lit,” but I’ve seen it done better elsewhere.

MVP: Dani. Though her life is more of a mess than any of the other three girls, she’s the one that pulls through the best. She doesn’t freak out. She doesn’t cause a scene. She just deals with it. She decides ultimately that she needs to make some changes, and she does it, no questions asked, no hesitation, and that is impressive.

Get All the Summer Girls in paperback for $12.74. 

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Review: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Recap: As a less than fortunate 7-year-old living in 19th century China, all Lily wants is to become close to a group of “sworn sisters” — or best friends — and marry well. Seven is not typically the time when you think of marrying, but it is for Lily and her family, who live in a remote Hunan county. But everything changes when a matchmaker tells her family that Lily’s feet — the truest sign of beauty, luck, and wealth — can not only lead to a marriage into a rich family, but a “laotong,” or “just same.” A “laotong” is a best friend with whom one forms a much deeper relationship than she ever could with a group of “sworn sisters.”

That’s when Lily meets Snow Flower. The two vow to be best friends in the form of a contract written on a secret fan. Over several decades, Lily and Snow Flower grow to be as close as two people can get. They share secret notes and letters on that same fan throughout the years. They marry. They have children. But Lily produces a number of sons and marries well, while Snow Flower produces stillborns, weak sons, and daughters. She marries a butcher — the lowest of the low, and does not fair well.

With a friendship as long and deep as theirs, it seems unfathomable that anything could break it, but the secrets run deeper than Lily knows. And in the end, the novel — written in first person — becomes an apology note.

Analysis: Though it’s set in China in the 1800’s and devotes a portion of the novel to the Taiping Rebellion, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a story about a real female friendship. In Lily, we see the friend who tries to care, tries not to judge, but in the end, shows selfishness. In Snow Flower, we see the friend who tries to hide her secrets out of shame and holds onto that passivity throughout her life.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a testament to the ways a relationship between two women can change over the years. Little girls, little problems; big girls, big problems, and those problems can have a devastating effect on a friendship. Lisa See’s themes here are similar to those she writes about in Shanghai Girls, but they run just as deep. The end is heartbreaking, but as a woman, it’s completely relatable, making See’s first bestseller an excruciating, but exhilarating tale.

MVP: Lily. Both Lily and Snow Flower demonstrate flaw after flaw throughout the novel. But Lily finally comes to terms with what’s happened between them. She apologizes and makes up for it as best as she can. It takes a lot of strength to persevere through what Lily has, but she does it with elegance.

You can get Snow Flower and the Secret Fan in paperback for $10.20.

Or on your Kindle for $10.99.

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Movie vs. Book: Something Borrowed

Something Borrowed is not only a story about friendship versus love, but about fate versus decisions and desire versus expectations. Those concepts hold true in both the movie and book. The story follows Rachel — a sophisticated, but reserved 30-year-old — who’s spent her entire life in the shadow of her exciting, but self-centered best friend, Darcy. Darcy gets everything she wants. So when Rachel meets the man of her dreams in law school and introduces him to Darcy, that’s the end of Rachel’s dream. Or so she thought.

Flash forward a few years later. Now this man, Dex, and Darcy are about to get married. And in a sudden act of spontaneity, Rachel and Dex sleep together, after years of unspoken feelings. The relationship — or rather, affair — continues. Meanwhile, Darcy is off, having her own affair.

It’s soapy, yes. But it’s also romantic, enticing, and thrilling, and that’s what made Something Borrowed a bestseller. Statistically speaking, the popularity of the book did not translate in theaters.

For instance, the movie uses flashbacks to tell the story of Rachel and Dex, but the affair still feels rushed. First, they accidentally sleep together, and the next thing you know, they’re saying those three little words. However, the book goes deeper into the character’s thoughts, so we understand their feelings as they develop. Not to mention, it takes longer to read a book than to watch a movie. That being said, in the book, the affair between Rachel and Dex feels much longer than it does in the movie, thereby making the book more more believable.

The movie — starring Ginnifer Goodwin as Rachel and Kate Hudson as Darcy — also made a few minor changes, like the role of Ethan. Ethan — played by John Krasinski — is Rachel’s other best friend. In the novel, Ethan doesn’t have a large role, but in the movie, he’s a major character. Despite the plot change, Ethan works well because he’s the comedic highlight of the film. (Though, the way the movie develops his relationship with Rachel is a little hard to believe.)

Despite its flaw and changes, I’m still shocked Something Borrowed did as poorly as it did in theaters.  Maybe it’s because we find ourselves rooting for the girl who’s sleeping with her best friend’s fiance. But it’s evident in both the novel and movie, that Darcy is a bad person, a not-so-great friend, and a horrible girlfriend. This is the story of the underdog finally standing up for herself. The movie version of Something Borrowed is still a fun, light chick flick. I found myself laughing and tearing up at all the right — and cliche — parts. If you read Something Borrowed and enjoyed it — which, let’s be honest; you probably did — it’s definitely worth checking out the movie.

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Review: Little Bee

Recap: For a modern upper-middle class woman living in England, it’s rare that you befriend a teenaged, Nigerian illegal immigrant. But that’s exactly what happens in Little Bee, the story of a very unlikely, but beautiful friendship. The book begins with Little Bee, the Nigerian illegal immigrant, escaping from a detention center in England, where she has lived the past two years. She leaves with a few other illegal immigrants, but Little Bee is the only one who has ties in England. She met a British couple years ago and tracks them down in the hopes they’ll take her in and protect her from deportation.

But this isn’t just a story about Little Bee. It’s also one about Sarah — the woman who Little Bee seeks out. Sarah is a magazine editor, caught up in her own world, which consists of a depressed husband, a wonderful lover, and her 4-year-old son, Charlie.

When Little Bee finds Sarah, Sarah’s husband has just committed suicide. Despite her bittersweet bereavement period, she allows Little Bee to enter her life. They share a secret, a strong tie that is explained as their friendship grows and they become part of each others’ future instead of just their past.

Analysis: This book is gripping. The friendship between the two women is beautiful. But the novel also touches on a number of serious social issues — race, illegal immigration, the Nigerian oil conflict. Reading this, I learned about a number of issues I never paid much attention to.

It raises awareness about how difficult it is for a woman like Little Bee to get a fresh start, but the fact that author Chris Cleave makes her so positive, smart, and brave makes it a particularly exciting read.As the story continues, the reader starts to think maybe Little Bee really can start over in this new, modern country. And as the readers’ hope grows for Little Bee, so does the appreciation for Sarah, who initially seems rather selfish.

What pulls the reader in is the back-and-forth narration between Little Bee and Sarah. They both detail their secret bond in memories and flashbacks, keeping the readers on their toes.

But after such a great read, I was upset to find I truly disliked the ending. It was so ambiguous, I thought I had overlooked a major plot point somewhere. Upon finishing the book, I Googled it to find that I wasn’t the only who felt jipped. In fact, the ending is pretty controversial. After reading about these hopeful women who just want a happy ending, we can’t tell if the ending is happy or not — though it steers toward the “not” direction, and that is disappointing.

MVP: Sarah. Many people didn’t enjoy Sarah’s character, but as a journalist, I did. Initially Sarah is selfish and somewhat unlikable but her character develops throughout the book and reveals her good side. What she does for Little Bee is incredible.

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