Saturday, December 11, 2010

Mini Reviews: Purple Hibiscus, A Map of Home, The Girl Who Fell From the Sky

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie 2003
Anchor Books/Random House

IQ "His letters dwell on me. I carry them around because they are long and detailed, because they remind me of my worthiness, because they tug at my feelings. Some months ago, he wrote that he did not want me to seek the whys, because there are some things that happen for which we can formulate no whys, for which whys simply do not exist, and perhaps, are not mentioned." Kambili pg. 303

Kambili is fifteen years old and living under the thumb of her politically active, wealthy, generous and abusive Catholic father. To the outside world, Kambili's father is a hero, one of Nigeria's finest. To Kambili he is her demanding father whom she loves and wants to please, but he is also her worst nightmare. After a military coup occurs, Kambili's father decides to send her and her older brother, Jaja to stay with their university professor aunt Ifeoma. Their aunt is boisterous and treats her children with respect, she is also not fanatically religious. Aunty Ifeoma's house is filled with laughter and hard times. She is not nearly as well-to-do as Kambili and Jaja are accustomed to, but her love of life and cheerfulness more than makes up for it. Staying with their Aunty Ifeoma will change Kambili and Jaja, in both small and big ways.

I was going to try and avoid cliches to describe Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's writing by not saying it's "lyrical" and "lush." But it is. It is also teeming with life, the characters and scenery slowly rise up from the pages. Kambili quietly tells you her story and you can feel your own self getting tense when Kambili is not the number one student in her class, you feel your shoulders relax when you learn that Papa is not home yet and you will have some time to yourself. I was so utterly enthralled by this story. There are sentences that are so delectable, but I'll let Kambili describe how I felt while reading, "[m]y chest was filled with something like bath foam. Light. The lightness was so sweet I tasted it on my tongue, the sweetness of an overripe bright yellow cashew fruit." (pg.180). Not that I've ever had a cashew fruit, and Kambili is talking about happiness, but still I adored that quote :) The novel is never too overbearing. Yes there are some extremely intense scenes, but there intensity is so quiet, I never really found myself near tears due to the cruelty, by rather, I was so emotionally involved in the story, that the quiet intensity of the scenes involving Papa, Mama, Kambili and Jaja got me so worked up. I didn't cry but the story definitely left an impact. For me, the impact was in beginning to understand why it can be so hard to remove yourself from an abusive situation. At times, even I was fond of Papa, in awe at his generosity, but then, I would go back to being appalled at the hypocrisy of his faith.

Purple Hibiscus is a quietly (I know, I know, I used that word way too much) exuberant story. It threw me for a loop because while I expected some sort of dramatic climax, the way the scene unfolded and the rather open-ended ending left me surprised, but not too upset. There's nothing better than seeing slow, continuous growth, in being able to watch two seemingly taciturn children blossom into defiant men and women. There is however, a consequence that comes with being defiant and defiance means different things to different people. Kambili was not loudly defiant, that's not her way. But in her own way, her actions were a rebellion against her father. This story helped me to better understand what fuels religious fanatics and why loved ones would stay in such an environment. Furthermore, it reinforced that people will surprise you, always. I was completely and utterly shocked by Mama's actions! In addition to the heavy issues of abuse that are circulating throughout the story, the backdrop of the military coup and the tensions about education at Nigerian universities, make for a well-rounded reading experience. I only wish I knew the time period of the story. I'm afraid I'm not as knowledgeable about history as I thought and I'm not sure what time people we are in. Maybe the '70s? An absolutely must read and I will be reading every thing by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Also, when I met her, she said she didn't think her material was suitable for children. But this book has YA crossover appeal and I hope Ms. Adichie will seriously consider writing for teenagers! She has such a gift and we can handle the topics she covers. Love, LOve, LOVe, LOVE!

Disclosure: Bought. Autographed by Ms. Adichie!

PS Was anyone else sad at the Father Amadi storyline? Ahh, I had such high hopes for it!

A Map of Home by Randa Jarrar 2008
Penguin Books

IQ "I didn't understand how I could believe one thing when other people believed something else. It made me feel though as though there was no way to really know the truth. But Mama told me that this was precisely what the truth was: something too big for everyone to agree on." Nidali pg. 18

Nidali was born in America to her Greek-Egyptian mother and Palestinian father, her father moves the family to Kuwait. Nidali's name is the female version of Nidal, which means "strife; struggle". This is a story about their middle-class life in Kuwait and the antics of their family. When Iraq invades, they head to Egypt, and later on, Texas. Searching for a new home, while coming of age, Nidali and her family (Baba, Mama, younger brother Gamal) are not short of adventures.

This was quite an amusing tale although at times, I wondered how it was possible for a ten year old to be so witty. I'm not a big fan of authors using children to make their points about life because it never seems convincing to me. But maybe I just didn't know many witty children growing up. Not only is Nidali witty but she's also very observant. She notices things about her parents and other relatives that I had a hard time believing she noticed. It don't bother me too much once I really got into the book though because Nidali is a gratifying narrator. The way she tells the stories of her family's history and describes them constantly cracked me up. The material comes from somewhere though and I couldn't believe some of the antics her mother and father engaged in, at times it seemed childish. No less entertaining though. I also loved the more obscure facts about Kuwait and the Middle East and the way the history facts were stated. For example, "[h]e remembers the stories about Arabia, how disputes over property, family allegiances, gold, and women were all solved by two warring poets who stood on top of a big, sturdy boulder. The poets rhymed until one was defeated, solving the case. Gamal knows he's not black, but he comes from the home of the original rap battle." (pg. 245). Very cool outlook.

A Map of Home is an admirable debut in part because it so candidly discusses the confusion of sexuality. Nidali has relationships with a guy and a girl but there doesn't seem to be an obvious answer at the end as to who she prefers. Nidali's father seemed more often than not to be unreasonable and overbearing, but there are some tender family moments. The writing style was engaging. Smooth, laced with humor and details about daily life in Kuwait, mother-daughter relationships, father-daughter relationships, first like/love, etc. it covers a lot of topics but it's never heavy handed. There was a line that really resonated with me in the book, "[t]here's a moment when most children know their childhood are over." (pg. 124), I'm not sure I every had such a moment, and if I did, I never noticed it. The thought was intriguing nevertheless. There is a lot of struggling throughout Nadali's life, perhaps more than some, since she lives during the Iraq invasion of Kuwait. The backdrop of the Middle East and the strength and independence of Nidali's voice kept me turning the pages.

Disclosure: Received from Lyn. Thanks Lyn =)

The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W, Durrow 2010
Alongquin Books of Chapel Hill/Workman Publishing

IQ "That makes me think of how the other black girls in school think I want to be white. They call me an Oreo. I don't want to be white. Sometimes I want to go back to being what I was. I want to be nothing." Rachel pg. 148

Rachel is the daughter of a Danish mother and a Black G. I., and now the sole survivor of a family tragedy. Rachel is sent from her home in Chicago to live in Portland with her strict Black grandmother (the mother of Rachel's father). In Portland, Rachel interacts mostly with the Black community and her bi-racial heritage is the cause of my teasing, wonder and envy. Not only does Rachel stand out for being so light and "acting white, she is still grieving over the loss of her family. Rachel doesn't want to be labeled, she doesn't want to be defined by her heritage, she simply wants her family to be whole again.

I was pleased by how this book focused less on Rachel feeling caught between being half Black and half white and more to do with coming of age and the mystery of her mother's death. Rachel doesn't identify with one side of her racial heritage over another. She appreciates her mother's Danish heritage but she doesn't deny her African American heritage. She does have a hard time attempting to combine both sides of her heritage though. It was nice to read a book about a biracial main character that didn't focus solely on being torn between cultures. Instead Rachel wonders why she even has to choose, why does society pressure her to choose? I've often wondered the same thing. I got a bit tired of the whole 'all the Black girls hate me cuz I'm pretty' storyline, but I guess it is realistic. Except when it came to being called an "oreo" but for the most part Rachel is very reserved and seems detached from the story. I did however love Jamie/Brick. Besides reading for the mystery, I kept reading to find out what happened to Brick. At first I didn't like the seemingly random viewpoints the story is told from, but I loved Brick's side of the story (especially when he connected with Rachel, it was such a relief) and the other characters present a more encompassing view of what happened on the roof one day in Chicago with Rachel's family.

The Girl Who Fell From the Sky is an arresting tale of love, family, loss, race and class. I didn't love Rachel, she was a good narrator and her story was interesting, but I never felt a close connection to her. . Along with issues of race, class issues are also brought up. There are few wealthy people in this novel, it mostly focuses on life for middle/working class people. Rachel volunteers at a Salvation Army center where she meets people trying to get their G.E.D., sober up, etc. It's eye-opening for her not just in seeing all the hardship and seeing how everyone deals with challenges in different ways, but she also sees the difference in how one of the privileged white interns views the people at the center. He's disdainful and doubts they will amount to anything or change, Rachel really cares and supports them. I suppose the ending is satisfying but I'm one of those readers who either wants a clean and neat ending or I want one that is messy, but I don't like ones that end on a note where nothing is really happening (but you get the feeling that the author is trying to impart a deeper meaning). I probably just don't appreciate the simple things in life :) I would recommend this book because it's suspenseful and the writing is really good. I couldn't stop reading because I wanted to know if it was suicide or murder that caused the family tragedy, and even at the end, you could draw your own conclusion. I will end on one of my other favorite lines from the book "[w]ell, I would explain the blues this way: Like for me I image inside of a person there's a blue bottle, you know? [...] The bottle is where everything sad or mean or confusing can go. And the blues-it's like that bottle. But in the bottle, there's a seed that you let grow. Even in the bottle it can grow big and green. it's full of those feelings that are in there, but beautiful and growing too." (pg. 166) I have a greater appreciation for the blues so I very much like the way the author described the music.

Disclosure: Received from Zetta. Thank you!

*I always do adult mini reviews. I'm still playing around with style so you may notice that one week my mini reviews will be two paragraphs and the next time I do the post, they are three paragraphs. I'm working on trying to be concise in fewer sentences but there is always SO much to say!


  1. Hi Ari! I've been reading your reviews and didn't realize til tonight that I didn't actually follow your blog. Thanks for writing about the Durrow (I got GWFFTS from a library sale earlier this year), I think I will bump it up my TBR... I don't read a lot of adult fic nowadays but this sounds good to me.

  2. I loved the Girl Who Fell From The Sky. Very great book. One of my favorites for the year. I'm glad you enjoyed it as well.

  3. I'm liking the sound of The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, but I do agree about endings - the enigmatic ending doesn't usually do it for me.

  4. I really liked both Purple Hibiscus and Map of Love. I did feel like Jarrar was trying to do much sometimes, though, and there were moments when the book didn't feel quite finished. But then it is her first novel.

  5. This is why I follow your reviews. :) I read Purple Hibiscus earlier this year and loved it too. The other two are on my to-read list, and I'll have to move them up now!


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