Book Review: The List

The list is refreshing in that sense. It can reduce an entire female population down to three clear-cut groups.

Prettiest.

Ugliest.

And everyone else.

As the quote above says, eight girls are on the list at the center of Siobhan Vivian‘s aptly titled The List. Two girls are chosen from each class year, one as the prettiest and one as the ugliest. The novel follows the eight girls from the day the list is posted until the Homecoming dance, which ends the week.

What I Liked

– In any story told from multiple viewpoints, I’m sure to glom onto some characters and their perceptions of events or stories more than others. This novel is no different. My favorite characters to follow were Danielle, Lauren, Bridget, and Jennifer. So one girl per class. And, no, not all of them were the ugliest, even though my sympathy automatically sort of lies with the not pretty girl or the girl labeled not pretty. I clarify because in the book, as in life, those two ideas (being labeled ugly and being ugly) are not interchangeable.

– I wasn’t that interested in Abby, but I did like the interesting ways Abby’s relationship with her sister paralleled/contrasted with Bridget and her sister.

– Lauren’s mom. I mean, WHAT was going on there?

– The best part about Danielle’s story is that it shows just how crushing peer pressure can be and how different people handle it. Like, okay, you’re named the ugliest freshman. How does your boyfriend deal with it? And what does that mean for you? Loved that angle on the whole ordeal.

– One of my favorite, favorite things is that the ugly girls aren’t automatically to be pitied. I’m avoiding spoilers here, but the highlight for me is that one of the ugly girls is completely nuts. She’s desperate, needy, and clingy, so, by the end, I can see why she’s universally kind of shunned, even as she doesn’t deserve to get on the list.

– No one deserves to be on the list, btw. It’s completely subjective, and, as the narrative reveals, petty division based on arbitrary details/criteria.

– I do like that Vivian reveals how this particular list is made and the criteria for each group. Something to think about.

– I kind of love the principal and her role. I liked the way some of the adults responded to her (she’s pretty!). I would have liked to see just a bit more revealed about her past as she tried to relate to the girls. I’m not sure how that would happen (or even if it would’ve been realistic), but it would’ve added a nice element to the story.

– The end. The idea that the things are just as they should be is both refreshing and terrifying.

What I Didn’t Like

– The girls are all kind of interchangeable. In some instances I forgot who I was reading about. In fact, if the sections hadn’t been completely delineated with the girl’s name in the first paragraph/line, I wouldn’t have known whose story it was.

– Sarah is so gross that it was hard for me to take her seriously.

– Some of the conclusions are a little too easy/typical. Yes, it’s hard being pretty. Oh, the pretty girl’s mom is just as obsessed with popularity as she is? The ideal of perfection is hard to achieve? Okay, I know that.

This complaint really goes with the interchangeable bit, I guess, but more shading and more atypical complications for each story would have been nice.  There is a generic quality to quite a bit of the girls’ stories.

– Vivian shines at writing interpersonal conflict and exploring relationships through dialogue. Seeing the girls in relationship with each other and with others instead of spending a lot of time in their heads would have added a lot to the story as well.

In conclusion: All in all, a pretty breezy read that raises some interesting questions about beauty standards and perceptions.

Source: I bought this!

Book Review: The Miseducation of Cameron Post

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily Danforth is the story of a girl who lives in a small town in Montana during the 1990s. She’s being raised by her aunt and grandmother after the death of her parents. Oh, and she’s gay.

What I Liked

– The setting. I’ve never read a book set in Montana before, and I got a clear sense of not only Cameron’s town but the state as well.

– Cameron’s grandmother is such a great character. I also love, love their relationship. I’m probably more upset at Aunt Ruth coming and disrupting that than anything else.

– Jamie! I love Cameron and Jamie’s relationship. They’re best friends, and they get each other. I love their competitiveness and how possessive they are of each other. But more than that, they’re honest with one another (as much as they can be, really) and understand each other so well. Not only that, but Jamie’s just so great on his own, and I love him.

– Danforth’s portrayal of how a lot of teens relate to church and their youth group. Cameron is not particularly religious, but Aunt Ruth is, so when Ruth joins the church she brings Cameron along. While Cameron may not necessarily connect to the church as a whole, she does enjoy the youth group because, of course, all of her friends (including Jamie) are there. Of course, she and Jamie love to drink and get high together, but that’s beside the point. The point is that she does find a sense of belonging with the group, even if she’s not embracing religion (particularly Christianity) as fervently as Aunt Ruth wants.

– Once Cameron gets shipped off to Promise (a gay deprogramming camp/school), she meets some fascinating characters. Just…amazing. She befriends Jane and Adam—two characters fascinating in their own right—but encounters quite a few other characters who I wanted to know so much more about: Erin, Dane, and Mark.

– I believed all of the relationships Danforth set up. So many of them are complicated and messy, and I enjoyed seeing how they all played out and where they all led.

What I Didn’t Like

– This book is like two books in one. Part one is Cameron dealing with the death of her parents and her feelings for Irene and then Coley. Part two is Cameron’s experience at Promise. I feel the book would have been better served if it had been split into two separate books so each could be its own complete experience.

– Remember I said that there were a lot of really interesting characters at Promise? I think the second book (or part two of the first book) would have been waaaay better if it had been presented as a collection of short stories from the different characters’ points of view. I really wanted to see Promise through their eyes.

Part of that comes from the fact that Cameron is just a little too cynical/detached as a narrator for me to get a clear sense of the other students’ experiences. Plus, let’s be real, Cameron is kind of boring and they’re kind of not.

The other part comes from the fact that Promise is a terrible place. But you have the kids fully committed to the program (like Erin) and then the kids who Promise is doing something really, really good for (like Dane who is a recovering drug addict) and then the kids who are there by force (most of the rest of them). Promise means different things to these different people.

So what I’m saying is, I thought Promise deserved its own book.

– However, since Promise is not its own book, and this book is all of one, it needed to be a lot shorter. It’s just soooo long, and it meanders along, and I got so frustrated waiting for something, anything to happen. I was waiting for Cameron to get caught, I was waiting for her to get to Promise, I was waiting for her to leave Promise, but nothing happened fast enough. Soooo slow.

– Honestly, if I weren’t reading this for my book group, I would’ve stopped about a quarter or halfway through because of the dragging and the lack of things happening.

– I didn’t really care for the ending. Bah. I mean, elements of it were fine; I just didn’t completely buy it.

In conclusion: I wanted to like this way more than I did. I have so many mixed feelings about this book. The stuff it did well was done really well. The things I didn’t like, I really didn’t like. So, you know. Mixed feelings.

Source: Library

Book Review: The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success

So I am pretty sure this book just changed my life.

That’s a weird statement to make, especially when I found most of the The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra to be kind of blah. In my experience, most books on spirituality teach the same basic things. Each book just takes a different tack or use different language to get the same point across. So while I was reading, I had that reaction of “yeah, uh huh, heard that before, read that before, don’t I know it” throughout.

And then I got to the last chapter: The Law of Dharma.

Dharma just means purpose of life. Chopra takes it a little further and says it’s also about serving others and not just yourself.

Quite a few things in the chapter stood out to me, but here’s the biggest:

Ask yourself, if money was no concern and you had all the time and money in the world, what would you do? If you would still do what you currently do, then you are in dharma, because you have passion for what you do–you are expressing your unique talents. Then ask yourself: How am I best suited to serve humanity? Answer that question, and put it into practice.

I am very, very blessed in that I am in dharma. I love my job. I LOVE IT. I love it, I’m good at it, and I know I’m serving humanity. Teaching makes me so happy. Which led me to thinking about other things in my life. Are they making me happy? Am I serving myself and/or humanity?

Probably not.

One of the things I want to work on is “should”ing on myself. That idea that I should be doing this or that, whether it makes me happy or not. So when I read this last chapter, everything just sort of clicked into place for me. I want to be in dharma in all areas of my life. I mean, yes, we all have obligations and I’m not knocking those, but I have to remember to take care of myself, and if I’m doing that, I am best suited to be in service to other people. Which leads to another quote from the chapter:

I am going to discover my unique talents, and finding my unique talents, I am going to enjoy myself, because the process of enjoyment occurs when I go into timeless awareness. That’s when I am in a state of bliss.

Again, teaching does that for me. I have often lost track of time while teaching (aka why I now set the timer on my phone with a five-minute warning), and I sometimes feel like I could do it all day. I love interacting with my students. I love prepping for classes, I love deciding on assignments, I love picking course materials.

Ah, bliss. I want it all the time. I want to get back to losing myself in things I love.

And that’s why this book has changed my life, even if I found quite a bit of it not to have an impact. Amazing how that works.

Off the Shelf: 4/30; POC Reading Challenge: 4/25