Book Review: Such a Pretty Girl

They promised me nine years of safety but only gave me three.

prettySuch a Pretty Girl is by Laura Wiess.  It is called her debut novel, but I know better.  (And, yes, I know, pen names.  But still.  ALL SHOULD KNOW THE GIRL FRIENDS SERIES.)

At any rate, I sought this “debut” novel out because, of course, my love for the Girl Friends series knows no bounds, and I had to see what kind of writing one of my favorite series writers is up to.

In brief, Meredith’s father, a pedophile who raped her as well as several other children, is released from prison on good behavior six years early.  Her mother is still in love with him and demands that Meredith give her father another chance.

What I Liked

– This book is extremely short and fast paced, and Wiess does some truly spectacular character work in so few pages.  I could clearly picture all of the characters in my head, and I had a good sense of their personalities, their smells, everything.

– I finished the book in one sitting because I was so worried about Meredith and her friends and family.

– Wiess is not graphic at all, but she offers up concrete details that leave an indelible impression.  For example, Meredith mentions the charm on her father’s necklace and says she remembers the whomp of it against her teeth.  That is such a small detail that clearly paints a horrifying picture.  Gah.

– Meredith is in danger because her mother is blind to the horrors her father has committed.  Her mom constantly says he made a mistake and they should give him one more chance, and OMG.  It is awful.  But.  Important.  I had problems with the mother’s characterization, but Wiess makes a good point.  Sometimes it’s the blindness of those around children (EVEN KNOWING WHAT THEY KNOW) that keeps/puts them in danger.  Her mother is so caught up in wanting the dad that she is willing to believe he is not the monster he is convicted of being.  The “they” that promised her safety is the justice system, but more than that, should have been her mom.

– Aside from the mother and father, I loved all of the other characters.

– There’s some interesting religious stuff going on in the book.  Most notably:  victim souls.

What I Didn’t Like

– The characterization of the mother was flat, flat, flat.  I have no idea what made her so gung-ho about the dad.  (Not that any answer would have sufficed, but.)  This is a very self-sufficient woman with her own home that comes from money.  I got no sense of what made her so in love with him or why she felt the appearance of a together family was more important than her daughter’s safety.

– There’s a moment where Meredith equates adultery with pedophilia.  Um.  No.  I understand why it would upset her, but none of the characters ever addressed the fact that there’s a difference between two consenting adults doing the dirty and a grown man forcing himself on minors.

– I had to take some real plausibility leaps with this one.  That her dad lives in the same housing complex as her and legally fought to win that battle doesn’t sit right.  It might be possible, but I want to believe it’s not.  That said, her mother kept bringing him around, so it’s not like any kind of restraining order would’ve actually worked.

– I am not in love with the ending.  I can’t figure out how I feel about it, though.  On the one hand, I like it.  On the other hand…I don’t know.

Women Unbound?

Violence against girls, women, and children.

In conclusion:  This is not an easy book to read, and I’m not entirely sure I would suggest it to someone who has suffered abuse, only because it is so terrifying and Meredith spends so much of the book locked in terror.  Ultimately, though, she does have to figure out how to survive, and she figths for herself every step of the way.

Book Review: Catching Fire (Hunger Games #2)

And if a girl from District Twelve of all places can defy the Capitol and walk away unharmed, what is to stop them from doing the same?…What is to prevent, say, an uprising?

catchingCatching Fire by Suzanne Collins in the second of the Hunger Games trilogy.  It’s possible that you may have heard of it since it’s kind of a big deal.  In this book, Katniss adjusts–or attempts to adjust–to life after the murderous Hunger Games.

What I Liked

– Collins never lets you get comfortable, at all.  Things are constantly changing, the danger for Katniss is palpable and real, and the stakes are so high, it’s amazing there are roofs on the houses in District 12.  The book is tense, and that tension jumps right off the page.

– Peeta.  I am crazy in love with Peeta.

– The first person POV worked for me a lot more in this book than the previous one.  It was nice to be inside of Katniss’s head and truly blind to what was going on.  The twist (um, the second to last one) was as much a shock to me as it was to Katniss, and my reaction was pretty much the same as hers.  That’s a good thing.

– Everything is so messy and complicated.  In a good way, though!  Because Collins truly invites the reader to think and consider all possibilities.

– There is a lot of great character stuff in here, especially about Haymitch.

– I hate to even call it a love triangle, but I like the way, overall, that Katniss’s relationships with Peeta and Gale are handled.  Everything is so messed up, and there are no easy answers, nor is there a right way to handle any of it.  That much is clear.  All three of them have so much pride and in such different ways.  It just works really well.

What I Didn’t Like

– The beginning of the story, while heavy on the characterization, is very heavy on the tell instead of show.  There’s information put in for the sake of the sequel, and it’s obvious that’s why it’s there, because it’s not given the kind of attention it deserves.  I wanted Collins to slow down and let me experience some of the things that were happening (trying to keep this spoiler free) instead of “and then this and this and this and s/he told me this and this and this.”  There were opportunites for great dialogue that were just missed.  And it got to the point where I didn’t/couldn’t remember details/characters that came up later.  There were at least two points when I was asking, “Who is that?  Should I know that name?”  That’s not good.

The plus is that the second half of the book relies a lot more on showing instead of telling and so the narrative picks up considerably.

– Even though the book is from Katniss’s point of view, everything is very male heavy.  I don’t really get a sense of her sister or mother as real people at all–which has a lot to do with how Katniss views them, granted–but all of the other major people in her life, the ones who do the most helping, are men.  Her stylist, Haymitch, Peeta, Gale.

Women Unbound?

Does this book examine the relationship between gender and power?  Yes.  One of the things that is compelling about the series is the idea of putting on an act and a show of who you are supposed to be based on the audience.  Katniss is supposed to be a girl consumed by love, silly and superficial.  Not helpless, necessarily, but bound to traditional ideas of femininity with her upcoming wedding etc.  Katniss is a hunter, provider, rule breaker, unfrivolous, and everything opposite of what her Games character is supposed to be.  But the Capitol wants her to be that kind of girl, so that’s the kind of girl she has to pretend to be for her own survival–and her family’s.

There’s so much about class and gender wrapped up in these books and it’s handled so subtly and deftly that it can be easy to miss.  Not only is she just a girl, but she’s a girl from District 12 no less.  But Katniss is the girl on fire, the girl who becomes symbolic of a revolution.  I think that makes her pretty unbound.

In conclusion:  The book is certainly a thrilling read.  I can’t wait to read the sequel.

Women Unbound: Start of Challenge Meme

unbound1smallerStart of Challenge Meme

1. What does feminism mean to you?

For me, feminism means exactly what the dictionary says it does:  the belief that women should have the same opportunities, power, and rights as men.

Does it have to do with the work sphere? The social sphere? How you dress? How you act?

It has to do with everything, yes.

2. Do you consider yourself a feminist? Why or why not?

Yes. Being a feminist means I believe in feminism; it means I think women deserve equal rights.  I’m not ashamed of that, and I’m not going to eschew the term because it makes people uncomfortable.

3. What do you consider the biggest obstacle women face in the world today? Has that obstacle changed over time, or does it basically remain the same?

It all, for me, comes down to the double standard that then leads to the double bind.  Because, then, any choice made is the wrong choice, and, silly women, don’t you see why you shouldn’t have choices at all?

And, no, it absolutely has not changed over time.

Women Unbound Reading Challenge

unbound1smaller I have decided to sign up for the Women Unbound reading challenge that runs from November 2009 – November 2010.  (I decided last month, but I’m so behind on my posts that I’m just now getting to the announcement.  Anyway.)

I’m signing up at the Suffragette level here, and to truly challenge myself I’m aiming for eight works of nonfiction before I think of the challenge as complete.  I read a lot (a lot, a lot) of fiction, which means I would basically be done with the challenge in two months.  Plus, it’s a challenge!  I’m going to take it seriously.

Or as seriously as you can take something fun.

So far, I have only decided on two authors whose non-fiction I definitely want to read:  Angela Davis and Zora Neale Hurston.

I have recs for Laurie Notaro and Sadia Shepherd from friends of mine, so they’re also on the list.

Ooh, and Jenna Jameson was on Oprah recently.  Maybe I’ll read her book.

So, I will basically wing it is what I’m saying.  Still, it should be interesting.

I actually read Flygirl with the challenge in mind, so I’m backtagging it as such.  So I’m not cheating by posting that review first.

ETA:  The non-fiction books I’ve read for the challenge.


  1. Angela Davis:  An Autobiography by Angela Davis
  2. The Diary of a Young Girl:  The Definitive Edition by Anne Frank
  3. Dust Tracks on the Road by Zora Neale Hurston
  4. The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
  5. Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi
  6. I, Tina by Tina Turner
  7. Sex for One by Betty Dodson
  8. Women Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything by Geneen Roth
  9. The Wisdom of Your Dreams: Using Dreams to Tap into Your Unconscious and Transform Your Life by Jeremy Taylor
  10. On My Own Two Feet by Manisha Thakor and Sharon Kedar
  11. Adult Children of Alcoholics by Janet G. Woititz
  12. Life’s Companion by Christina Baldwin

Book Review: Flygirl

“If you’re colored you get the short end of the stick.  If you’re a woman, you get the short end of the stick.  So what do we get for being colored and women?”

Jolene sighs.  “Beat hard with both ends of a short stick.”

Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith has a very cool premise:  Ida Mae Jones wants to join the WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots), but, in order to do so, she has to pass for white.flygirl

What I Liked

– Like I said, the premise is very cool.  It’s a great way to introduce the history of World War II, race and racism, and also women pilots.  Women pilots!  That’s just cool by itself.

– The women characters.  I loved all of the women, and I especially loved all of their reasons for joining because they were so varied.  There is also a  fantastic camaraderie between Ida Mae and her two closest comrades:  Patsy Kake (LOVE that name) and Lily.

– Jolene, Ida Mae’s friend back home.  Jolene is awesome.

– The cover is fantastic.

What I Didn’t Like

– Sigh.  This book just didn’t sit well with me.  I love the premise, but my main issue with the book is that the issue of passing felt so surface.  I never felt that Ida Mae was ever in danger, and passing IS danger.  When I think of Imitation of Lifethe Lana Turner version–there are so many moments where the desperation of Sarah Jane and the threat of being black are so palpable, and in this story I never get that.  Part of it is the setting.  Because the training is so removed from any town, Ida Mae is only fearful of getting too dark in the sun or her hair curling up, but…several of the women protect their hair.

There is one scene SO PROBLEMATIC that I think it’s what derailed everything for me.  Ida Mae is in a store, and there is a black man there.  The man TALKS UNDER HIS BREATH to Ida Mae, and there are no consequences.  This is pre-Emmet Till, okay?  In what keeps being described as a deeply racist Texas.  I just cannot believe that there was no present danger in the story at all.  And then I found what Ida Mae does at the end with regards to a job opportunity so unfathomable that I just…yeah.

So, in conclusion, the passing aspect was poorly handled for me.  All of the dangers of passing were very tell instead of show.

– I also didn’t really care about Ida Mae’s brother Thomas, even though he is basically the reason she joins the war effort.  He’s so absent from the story that whether he came home or not really made no difference at all to me.  I…do not think I was supposed to feel that way.

– The story was very dry.  One of my favorite books is A Northern Light, which is also historical fiction, and I was very caught up in Maddie’s world and story separate from the historical focal point.  It felt like the point of Flygirl was the history lesson of WASP more so than anything else.  Which, honestly, is fine if that’s what you want in a novel.  But I wanted a story to latch on to.

– I also didn’t feel like the story ever really explored the breakout quote.  In some ways, Ida Mae’s choice is the very essence of the quote–hard, even impossible, choices–but, on the other hand, the lack of danger, and her ease at moving between worlds didn’t really give the story an opportunity to go all the way there.

In conclusion:  I have really mixed feelings about this book.  The writing is good, the premise is very cool, but I found the execution lacking.  I just wanted more.  More Jolene, more implications, more feeling.  The women are very kickass, though.  Very much so.

ETA:  I read this with the Women Unbound challenge in mind.  The book is definitely about the options available to women and the choices they make and how they’re treated once they make those choices.  One of the big issues in the book is the lack of respect the women get from men they encounter–some of whom are tapped to train them–and how they’re not given their due by the very armed forces they’re fighting so hard to help.  That part of the story, btw, did work for me.  It’s just the passing stuff that didn’t.