Saturday, July 16, 2011

Mini Reviews: In Full Bloom, The Ice Cream Girls, and The World in Half

The Ice Cream Girls by Dorothy Koomson 2010
Sphere/Hachette Book Group

IQ "Silence is the best way forward, I've found. I do not have to say anything, at least I didn't the last few times I was arrested, and I'm going to exercise that right. Even if it makes me look as guilty as sin, I'd rather not say anything that can't be taken back. Silence can always be explained away, erased almost with a single world; the wrong words in the wrong combination at the wrong time can damn you to hell. Or, at least, to prison." Serena pg. 48

When Poppy Carlisle and Serena Gorringe were teenagers they were the sole witnesses to a tragic event that ended in death. The death of a male, relatively young, teacher who told both girls he was in love with them. The teacher (Marcus) quickly became abusive both physically and emotionally. After his death the girls were discovered to have been the last ones to see him alive and they are nicknamed "The Ice Cream Girls" after a racy photo of them licking ice cream is discovered by the press. Poppy is found guilty and spends years in jail, Serena is the happily married mother of two. Poppy is determined to make Serena confess because she's convinced Serena killed Marcus. Serena does not want her family to know about her past, she changed her name to avoid that very thing but she knows she didn't do it and she wants Poppy to leave her alone. Ultimately both of them just want to forget their past and move on.

I really did not like reading this book. As an American I found it hard to believe because the press, in fact the whole case was ridiculous. I'm no expert on the American justice system but USUALLY what happens over here is in a case where an adult is sleeping with a teenager (minor), it's considered rape. People do not immediately jump to the conclusion that the teenager SEDUCED the GROWN MAN/WOMAN. And yet that is exactly what happens in The Ice Cream Girls. The press is slimy and the courts are insanely harsh, judges and jury members being rude and just plain unprofessional. I was so angry at how unfairly the girls were treated that I really couldn't see much past that. I did however take note of how engaging the plot was and that it was so difficult to choose who killed Marcus, Serena or Poppy. Likewise my sympathies lay with different characters at different times, I was equally angry with them both but I closed the book admiring both girls for finally saying NO to Marcus in the past and in their present (he haunts both of them). The girls recall the events from 1987-1989 during which they met Marcus, 'fell in love' with him and were severely hurt by him, he kept them terrified of telling their family, friends, etc about him. These recollections back to the past however were choppy, it was never clear when the narration of past events ended and the present day started (their was a date that showed what year it was for the past but not the present).

The Ice Cream Girls is a chilling tale because it's so real, because there are so many women in situations where they are victims of domestic abuse because there are so many women who don't see a way out. THERE IS A WAY OUT and while this book takes a bit of an extreme approach, the lessons are extremely relevant and I really hope this book left an impact on the right people. Both girls were fifteen when Marcus took advantage of them, at first he didn't force himself on them but he paid attention to them. A handsome older man being nice to two young girls who were vulnerable. Of course they would think they were in love with them and then be too afraid to leave. This situation is sadly real, my only hope is that if anyone ends up in the same spot and takes the same way out, the press and the courts are much more sympathetic. The parents too, that was probably the second most painful thing to read about, the parents believing their daughters were killers and being unable to forgive them. I understand too that the author was just presenting the facts about the UK newspapers, tabloids and legal system but these facts ruined my enjoyment of the story. But the author tells a good story, one that is sad and yet hopeful, a fast-paced tale that will haunt you. I hope the next book I read by the author is much lighter but just as intriguing.

Disclosure: From Tricia, thank you =)

PS I really liked this quote from Poppy as well the imagery is well portrayed "Bella slips her hand in mine and Logan wraps his arms around my shoulders and we head back into the house, so close that every step we take is a step in time, a step that sews up the years we were apart, pulling the seams together until they can barely be seen, and we can pretend that they never really existed." (Poppy, pg. 455). Oh and Serena is Black, Poppy white, just a FYI.

The World in Half by Cristina Henriquez 2009
Riverhead Books/Penguin

IQ "It's more Spanish than I've ever spoken with anyone. But with limitations comes freedom. I don't have the luxury of relying on the automatic expressions I have at my disposal when I'm speaking in English. There's no default mode of communication, few standby phrases and ready-made sayings. I have to think about how to express myself. I have to be creative and take roundabout routes to get across what I want to convey. Which means that I say things I never would in English. Ideas occur to me in ways they never have before." Miraflores pg. 153

Miraflores doesn't know her Panamanian father, her mother raised her in their suburban Chicago home and never mentioned him. Mira always assumed her father didn't want to know her after all she was the product of an affair her mother had while married and stationed to her then husband in Panama. Her perspective changes however when she returns from college to take care of her mother who has succumbed to Alzheimer's disease. Upon her return home she discovers letters from her father to her mother, showing the great devotion her father had to her mother and his NEED to know his baby girl. Miraflores decides to travel to Panama to find her father who she hopes will want to meet her and can even fill in some of the missing pieces of herself. She tells her mother she is going to Washington to study volcanoes, and heads off to find herself and in the process learns not just about herself, but also about her parents, Danilo and her country.

I am completely biased in my love for this book. I am unapologetic about the fact that this is one of my favorite books of the year. First I'm biased because Miraflores is half Panamanian as am I. Then her mother is diagnosed with Alzheimer's, a disease my grandfather had. Coincidence? I don't believe in them but it was very cool to read about. Plus the feelings Mira describes upon visiting Panama and wanting to belong to that country as well as the culture shock are feelings I could relate to as someone who is half-non American (haha I don't know the proper term for it, I would have said half Panamanian but I think anyone who is half something not American can relate especially well to Mira's thoughts) as well as because I had just returned from Guatemala, which reminded me a bit of Panama. "The first thing I notice when I get off the plane is what relief it is to hear English again, to understand immediately everything someone says, to eavesdrop without concentrating, to decipher signs at a glance. I'm struck, too, by how contained everything is: lanes of traffic are perfectly orderly, grass grows in even plots, trees thrive in mounds of mulch, building faces are austere. The air smells cleaner." (pg. 260). How did she (she meaning the author) know? Haha this is precisely what I was thinking when I returned from Guatemala except I didn't notice the change in how the air smelled, although now that I think about it, I don't smell water like I did in Guatemala (the town we lived in was next to a lake). It was a shock to land in the Atlanta airport and not immediately try to start grasping for words in Spanish (I was once again accustomed to all things American by the time we arrived in Chicago). That's why I chose that Incredible Quote because I could identify so deeply with it. Trying to express yourself in another language can be excruciating because if you have to choose your words with great care and I found that it wasn't always easy to get my point across but everyone I met in Guatemala was so patient with my broken Spanish. Furthermore, anyone who has ever visited or wants to visit the country where their heritage lies or just wants to be acknowledged as having a claim on their heritage must be able to relate to the following "I'm not sure why, but I want them to know that. I want them to know that I'm not just any tourist visiting their country, that I have a claim to this place and a reason for being here, that I belong to them, at least a little bit. I wonder whether, or how, they treat me differently if they knew" (pg. 34).

The World in Half got me out of my reading rut. I was bored with what I'd been reading at worst unimpressed at best. The World in Half made me remember why I love books so much, because of the personal connections, because of their ability to transport a reader around the world. The writing flows, the characters are solid and the setting is as real and memorable as the Earth itself(heehee cheesy geological references). I cried while reading this book which is rare for me. Not just because of the Alzheimer's but also because I really understood romantic love, reading Gatun's letters to Catarina's mom....I'm speechless. They were the most heartbreaking, passionate, sweetest love letters I've ever read (not that I've read any in real life just in books but whatever). Miraflores is the name of the locks of the Panama canal, Gatun is another name for the locks and also the name of her father. I thought that was really sweet and a bit clever of Mira's mother, it was one of the few things that made me like her because for the most part I was resentful towards Mira's mother (I was making up for Mira's refusal to get truly upset at her mother which was both loving and frustrating). While Mira's mother irked me she also brought me to tears. Or at least the author did. Having seen fairly firsthand the effects Alzheimer's has on people (I believe my grandfather died from its effects, I'm not 100% sure because I don't want to ask, too painful) I could painfully relate to everything Mira described about the memory loss, and the fear she felt as she watched her mother forget basic, small things. While the parts featuring Mira's mother were sad, I enjoyed every minute Miraa (and I, the reader) spent with Danilo, a guy her age who sold flowers outside her hotel and was the nephew of the doorkeeper, Hernan. Danilo only spoke Spanish but Mira's Spanish is excellent so they didn't have a problem communicating (I'm jealous), he helps her search for her father. I'll let Mira explain the effect of Danilo on her "he teases me, fishing me out of myself, casting and recasting his line, tugging gently, holding on tight, reeling until he dredges up something real. I love his inclination for rebellion and how flippantly he uses language, as if words are something to be tossed around like confetti rather than laid out like a stone path" (pg. 154). Speaking of words, this author has quite an exceptional way with them as I think is exemplified in that quote. I also loved her connections to geology, which is what Mira is studying in college. Sometimes Mira states the 'obvious' connection between her life's events and geological terms/events, other times the author leaves it up to the reader to draw the connection. It's always fun to read about a country you have ties to, especially a country that is rarely written about. Every time Danilo or another character said something about Panama, I would ask my dad if he thought that was true or knew what they were talking about. Sometimes he agreed (Panama La Vieja is what tourists call Panama Viejo), other times he didn't (he'd never heard of Que xopa instead of Que pasa, a phrase I'm curious about. Anyone use it?). I love love love this book, my only regret is that I didn't buy it (which will have to be remedied because it's going to be my unofficial Panama guidebook). I've left so much out of this review but it is adult fiction and my rule on that is only a mini-review so I'm going to try and stop gushing (I already did on Twitter :D)

Disclosure: From the library. For me it's a must-buy.

In Full Bloom by Caroline Hwang 2003
Dutton/Penguin Group

IQ "I wasn't vehement American Ginger and I wasn't traditional Korean Lee. I was the collision of the names-the accidental adverb resulting from the clash of two worlds, gingerly, how I was meant to go through life. I was the space in between the names. I occupied the shirt pause between them, the breach between the two states, like a ghost who was neither alive nor sufficiently dead." Ginger pg. 99

Ginger Lee has moved to New York in order to further her career, to be someone. Not to be with someone, a Korean someone, which is what her mother wants. Her mother wants Ginger to put marriage before her career and she moves in with Ginger for three weeks to find her a suitable husband. Ginger goes along with it, vowing to sabotage her mother's dates and work harder to win a promotion at A la Mode fashion magazine. At 27 years old, Ginger is considered too old to be merely a fashion assistant and her mother is constantly telling her that her bloom is fading. To Ginger's bemusement, the Korean men her mother sets her up with reject Ginger before she can reject them and her mother's career advice may actually be worth listening to...

Ginger claims she wants complete independence from her mother, but it's easy to see that she's very dependent on her. She admires her mother and is more forgiving of her mother's actions than others might be, but it also sounds like Ginger's mom is not the traditional strict Korean mother. Ginger's mother disowned Ginger's brother, George after he married a white American woman and so Ginger is all she has left. She is determined to see Ginger marry a Korean man and is convinced Ginger needs her help to 'get a man.' (unbeknownst to her Ginger dated throughout college and grad school, just not Korean men). In describing her mother Ginger says"It was really something how in less than a week she'd leapt from coercing me to look for her future son-in-law to saying she wanted a namesake. Such great strides in so little time. It was a shame she wasn't involved in a greater, less hopeless cause than her daughter, like world hunger or female illiteracy." (pg. 69). I liked Ginger's narration, she was determined to be a feminist, but sometimes it backfired on her. She narrates her life story with a good sense of humor and it's touching how she's so willing to go along with whatever her mom wants while still engaging in small acts of rebellion.

In Full Bloom is a surprising, much-needed (says the non-chick lit expert) addition to the chick lit canon. I was really happy with the ending because I thought it was most unusual. I was also pleasantly surprised by the fact that homophobia was brought up and when Ginger tells off a certain someone for assuming she and all her Asians are 'the help' it's a fabulous moment. I especially appreciated that Ginger's mother does not fall prey to the immigrant mother stereotype. Perhaps the best part is when Ginger realizes that she's prejudiced against Koreans, I think many people of color and immigrants are reluctant to acknowledge that they look down on their culture at times or are too eager to forget where they came from. A charming, merry tale with an unconventional ending and a diverse cast.

Disclosure: Library

*I do mini-reviews of all adult fiction books I read and want to review.