Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly

A Northern Light A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mattie Gokey is sixteen and dreams of going away to college to pursue her love of writing. However, with her mother recently deceased, a runaway brother, a father and several siblings to take care of as well as, a house and a farm, those dreams are quickly fading. Mattie would like to work at the Glenmore to earn enough money for a train ticket to New York where she has earned a college scholarship. However, her father wants Mattie to stay home and look after her siblings and the house. When the family finds themselves in need of money for a new mule, Mattie is allowed to work at the Glenmore where she meets a hotel guest by the name of Grace Brown who gives Mattie a secret bundle of letters to burn. When Grace's drowned body is discovered by the lake, Mattie soon discovers that the letters could reveal secrets that may explain the horrible tragedy.

My Thoughts:
I really enjoyed this book. Donnelly's writing is powerful and brilliantly crafted. The characters are very well developed and representative of the time period, 1906. Her development of setting and local norms kept me anxious, at the edge of my seat and worried about what they, especially Mattie, would do next. The themes of women's limited roles in the early 20th Century and the expectations that they would marry, raise a consistently growing family (pre-birth control), cook, take care of the home and work on the farm created much tension for me as a woman living in the 21st Century. It made me think about what women 100 years from now would think about the many women today in modern society who work demanding, 40 to 60 hours a week, jobs, raise kids, and still take care of the home. What about women in impoverished societies where not much has changed since 1906? I realized that the discomfort that I felt while reading about the women in the novel was partly due to that fact although women have come a long way over the years, much remains to be improved.

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar

The Story Hour The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Maggie and Lakshmi are opposites in many ways: Maggie is a professional African American psychologist married to an Americanized Indian man who loves and respects her. Lakshmi is an immigrant Indian woman married to a man who basically treats her like garbage. However, both women are also similar in that they are both haunted and still affected by their past. Umrigar does a nice job braiding these women's stories and lives together until a culminating event unravels their bond and changes their lives. 

My Thoughts:
Despite the fact that the main characters were extremely flawed, I enjoyed the novel. The characters were complexed and damaged and they rattled me in a way that kept me reading even though I often wanted to slap them. I also loved the story within a story aspect of the novel and how it was used to provide complexity, background, story-building and allowed the characters to reflect on their lives and past mistakes. I definitely look forward to reading more of Thrity Umrigar's work.