I didn’t read very much this month so I decided to give you mini-reviews for everything. This will be in two posts: Rereads and Goodreads. This one will cover the books I read for the first time this month.
By the way if anyone finds my blogging brain please return it. I miss it and I need it.
Meet Me In St. Louis by Sarah Benson
This was a light and enjoyable read for the most part. The book is divided into the months between June 1903 and May 1904. The “chapter” months are very episodic, almost like a series of short stories, as there aren’t any strong arcs to speak of. The characters are consistent but a little shallow; Esther and Rose, especially, don’t ever move past their boy-crazed silliness; but at least they keep us entertained. Grandpa Prophater was my favorite, as he is the most “aware” of the hilarity of this family. One of the scenes I found most interesting was when Mrs. Smith said she could understand why someone would want only one child, creating an ABSOLUTE UPROAR in the house from her five kids. Mr. Smith explains she’s upset because she can’t care for all five kids the way she wishes she could, but there’s a subtext of real frustration in Mrs. Smith’s pronouncement, as well. No matter how hard she tries, life is always uncertain and keeps her anxious about taking care of everyone.
So. Light and enjoyable read, but with some darker undertones that kept it interesting.
Rey’s Survival Guide by Jason Fry
This Middle Grade book is a delight. It’s a fictional nonfiction book, written by Rey about the planet of Jakku and the people, places, and things you will find on it. There are lots of pictures: Rey’s drawings and schematics, manuals, documents that she has picked up in her wanderings. I have never cared about Jakku much, either as a fictional setting that I wanted to know more about, or a place I wanted more stories set on. However, author Jason Fry make Jakku really fascinating through Rey. Part of it is all the plants and animals she describes, which make Jakku feel more like a real place with an actual ecosystem. The geography was even more fascinating: some of the locations Rey draws and describes we see in The Force Awakens, but some of them we don’t, like The Sitter on his rock and Old Meru’s shack. Rey mentions lots of stories and legends floating around Jakku as well, such as a secret imperial base that someone is still guarding, buried beneath the sand.
If you’re looking for a “story,” though, you won’t find much of one here. It’s almost entirely exposition, with anecdotes from Rey’s childhood, her scavenging adventures, or about other scavengers that she knows or has known (she knows a lot of dead scavengers who weren’t careful enough to avoid sinking sand or live wires or leaking fuel lines. Yikes.). The end of the book tries to tie this book into TFA more, but it was the only part of the book I didn’t like. If she takes her “survival guide” with her off-planet it becomes more of a diary with a lot of useless tips about how to survive a place she no longer lives in. I like the idea of Rey leaving her journal behind, so someone on Jakku exploring can find it in her AT-AT house, and use the information to survive.
Beloved by Toni Morrison
What a heartbreaking book! Each of the characters from the protagonist Sethe, her boyfriend Paul D, her lost husband Halle, her MIL Baby, to her daughters Denver and Beloved have their own personal scars and brutal histories. In multiple ways this book is a horror story: the horror story of American slaves and their owners; the horror story of Sethe’s murdered daughter and the family she is haunting; the horror story of Paul D’s life history.
However, there is such a strong hope throughout the book, even in the very worst moments, that redeemed the story from a bleak resolution. Sethe begins to realize that maybe she can hope for more than just getting by, or living in the horrible choices of the past. She learns how to want things for herself, and since she’s got her freedom legally, all she needs to do is seize it psychologically. The way the different members of the family persevere and support each other, and the way their community forms around them to help at different stages, is amazing.
Even if every happy bit in this book was gone, it would still be worth reading to remind us of how horrific American slavery was and how we should never ever ever forget or gloss over it. It happened, to real people, by real people, in a country that prides itself on liberty and justice for all. Beloved doesn’t shy away from this or completely excuses the choices that anyone makes, whether they’re slaves, ex-slaves, slaveowners or employers.
The ending of Beloved, with the emphasis on community, and the importance of asking for help, concluded the psychologically-messy story very well. I would have liked to see Paul D take some responsibility for his actions re: Beloved and being so rude to Sethe but it is implied that he’s going to make up for past behavior.