Let us take a pause now between all this vacation talk and look at the books read in June, a motley assortment of mostly lighter fare that reflects the harrowing season. Of the books started in May, I only managed to finish two (by far the fluffiest ones).
Sequins, Secrets and Silver Linings by Sophia Bennett
This book was recommended to me by my daughter who ordered it through one of those Scholastic flyers that circulate through the school (I used to love those, and can’t deny my daughters a couple of books each month).
There were several things initially scary about this book, the two most remarkable aspects being the sugary pink cover and its sticky sweet, alliterative title. However, duty called. The story is about a trio of tweens living in upper middle class London. One of them is an actress, the other a brain and the narrator a fashionista with an art-loving, gallery owning ex-model for a mother and a handsome, kind older brother. One day they end up going to a school fair in one of the schools where the Brain tutors a skinny thirteen year old who is usually more truant than not. They find her behind a booth selling what looks like scraps of cloth and being bullied by some mean girls. They buy the scraps of cloth to show up the mean girls only to find out that they are actually well-designed skirts. It turns out that the skinny little girl is a great designer. The fashionista sets her up, uses her mother’s contacts and soon her designs are all the rage. But then it comes out that the girl is from Uganda, where her family lives still. Her older brother has been taken by the soldiers and they don’t know if he is alive. She herself used to be a nightwalker, one of the children who used to walk all night to a neighbouring village to avoid being taken by the soldiers.
You can see where this is going, can’t you? Fashion meets social justice. The girls are able to make a difference and look fabulous in the process.
A fluffy read with a totally unrealistic premise, it was still kind of fun. It was what it was. How is that for a critique?
I don’t know how she does it by Allison Pearson
This book came out when I was a stay-at-home mom and the last thing I wanted to do was to read about how hard a working mom had it.
No. That sounds harsh. And it isn’t completely true. It was complicated being a stay-at-home mom. Not in the practical way- I didn’t really have a career to speak of and wasn’t working enough to make a huge difference to our income before having children, so it was logical that J should be the one in the workforce and I look after the kids. Besides I wanted to. I wanted to be at home when they were young. I would like to say that I did this without any judgment on my part for the women who chose to go back to work when their children were babies. Intellectually, I rocked it. Everyone makes the decision that is right for them, blah, blah, blah, blah. But in my heart I just couldn’t understand. But the thing about being a stay-at-home mom is that there is a lot of guilt for not doing anything more than raising your kids, for not being a working mother. Although they don’t mean to, or they don’t think they do, people judge you too. Nobody wants to say it, but the word lazy is always hovering in the background.
Anyways. I finally picked up the book as one of my colleagues at work was on my case about reading it and the movie is coming out soon. And, as I frequently tell my children, you should always read the book before you see the movie.
So. Kate Reddy is a senior in a major finance firm in London (don’t ask me what her actual title is, I can’t remember). She also happens to be a mother of two, a fact that does mix very well with the cut throat, old boys club environment she works in. The book describes the avalanche of her life as she tries to keep it from crumbling beneath her feet.
It was supposed to be funny. I guess if your idea of humour is watching an A-type woman distress pies to make them look homemade, watch her maneuver and manipulate the infantile men at her job, completely ignore her husband and children, but still throw elaborate birthday parties for them while trying to keep her head above the rough waters of her mental list then yes. It was funny. For me I just found it tiring. However, I was surprised at the caliber of the writing. I had assumed it was just another chick lit book à la Nanny Diaries, but it was way better written than that. Still. Don’t make me deal with other people’s mental lists. My own is long enough as it is.
In June, my library gets hot and I get so tired I am in danger of falling asleep. The students are off, either for exams or actually not there and I am left in my sweltering sauna alone, struggling to keep my brain juices from oozing out my pores. In order to keep myself awake, sometimes I would get up from my desk and read a couple of pages of my graphic novel collection. This is how I read the next two entries- in a valiant battle against the soporific effect of heat.
I don’t know if I was just particularly emotional that day, but this one made me cry. Literally cry. It is about a young girl whose mother is dying of cancer. She copes by creating an elaborate fantasy world where she is a giant killer. It is beautiful, funny and intensely moving. The drawings at first threw me a little, as I had a hard time deciphering what was going on. But I think that might have to do with my own limited visual literacy skills. I soon learned how to deal with the odd angles of the images and the vast amount of black in the book, and loved it.
Sloth is a hard book to describe. The first part tells the story of a teenage boy who has just woken up from a year-long, medically unexplainable coma. Together with his girlfriend and his best friend they stroll the streets of their comatose little suburb. Then it shifts and it is his girlfriend who has been in a coma for a year, and their roles are completely altered. The friend is now a rock star and her boyfriend is very popular and doesn’t know she exists.
I honestly don’t have much to say about this book. Definitely interesting and weird, and I know probably talking about the mal du siècle manifested by our disenchanted, suburban youth, but honestly, that’s all I got.
Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve
Set in a post-apocalyptic, Steampunk London, Fever Crumb is a fourteen-year old young engineer who has been raised by the order of engineers. She is the only girl in the order, who usually do not allow women to join. In her world, the rational rules: they shave their heads because hair is irrational. They never show emotion. Her world is one of cogs and wheels, of mathematical formulas and algorithms.
But when she has been requested for a job by an archeologist in London, she must leave the shelter of her own home. And yes, havoc ensues almost instantaneously.
This book had some of the best world building I’ve read in a long time. It is a prequel to his mortal engines series where whole cities become nomadic and predatory. In this one, London is still sedentary, but is under threat from a nomadic tribe from the North called the Movement. I just read a review of Fever in the Guardian written by Frank Cottrell Boyce who called one of the major themes of the series “Future litter”. (It was a good review- you should read it) Archaeology is a huge industry as people find paraphanelia from our day and try to explain its purpose or figure out the technology behind it. Reeve also emphasizes the random selection history is guilty of with passing references to the religious cult of Hari Potter, and with swear words like Cheeses Kris (I wish I could remember more. I can’t wait to read the Mortal Engines series now!