Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Subway Girl

Subway Girl by P.J. Converse 2011
HarperTeen/Harper Collins

Rating: 1.5/5

IQ "He couldn't believe he was actually speaking English. It was exhilarating, and a little dangerous, like the first time he'd gotten up on a two-wheeler, although back then his problem was speeding out control whereas now the challenge was to go fast enough so that his conversation wouldn't wobble and crash." Simon pg. 27

Simon rides the subway everyday in Hong Kong and he often sees Subway Girl. He doesn't know her name but she has this air of mystery about her. He can't seem to work up the courage to approach her, she's unattainable and always has her headphones in her ears. One day Simon FINALLY approaches her and learns that she is officially out of his reach because she only speaks English and he only speaks Cantonese Chinese. Amy turns out to be a Chinese American girl who did not grow up speaking Cantonese. They both continue to take the same subway and soon they manage to find a connection and bridge the gap a tiny bit. Simon is able to admit (in English) that he is dropping out of school and Amy admits (in English as well) that she is pregnant with her ex's baby. Both of them are lonely because even though they have parents, their parents are only a physical presence, never asking much about the really personal details of Simon and Amy's lives. Amy is reluctant to turn to romance and Simon doesn't want to push her further than she wants to go.

Oh where to start on how sad I was to dislike this book. First the setting of Hong Kong felt extremely vague. I sort-of have an image of how the Hong Kong subway system works and an elementary grasp of the schooling system but that's it. If a book is set entirely in Hong Kong and the summary makes it sound like Hong Kong will play a major role in the story, it should deliver. Another thing I really disliked was the disjointed dual narration of Amy and Simon. It seemed as if the author wrote their stories separately and then combined them without any bother with transitions, smooth or otherwise. Furthermore the story was SO RANDOM. It jumped from subject to subject starting off trivial and then all of sudden Amy was ranting about sexuality and the hypocrisy of her Catholic school. It came out of absolutely nowhere and it was quite annoying. The dialogues were long, it was never clear who was speaking and again, there were no transitions so it all seemed jumbled together. The side characters were ghosts. They were brought into a scene when convenient but I couldn't keep them straight otherwise and their reasons for saying certain things didn't add up (I couldn't understand the character of Katie for the life of me). And the glue of the story, the 'blossoming' relationship between Simon and Amy. What was their connection? They bumped into each other on the subway and through the language barrier they just....fell in love? Became best friends? WHAT?! The ending was a complete groan, open but not with an air of mystery or with enough clues for the reader (or at least not this reader) to figure out what happens next. Honestly it seemed like the author just didn't know where to take the story.

I could absolutely relate to Simon's struggle to learn English. I don't even understand some of our grammar rules sometimes (gerunds????) and I grew up speaking the language. I could also relate to him on learning a second language because I struggle with speaking Spanish. I can understand it fairly well but like Simon my brain and tongue freeze when I need to speak in a language different from my own. Even though Amy blabbered on about nothing in particular, Simon was a decent character. He was like a puppy-dog; vulnerable, sweet, just wanting some good company but at the same time he wasn't pure fluff, he battled with wanting to quit school and learning new job skills. So I should say that I understood why Amy liked him but not why he liked her aside from her being beautiful and just different. Furthermore, Amy didn't learn that much about him. The story is an easy read and moves along.

The premise of Subway Girl filled me with such hope, a romance between two characters who don't speak the same language and have to deal with the girl being pregnant with another guy's child. Alas, the actual story did not live up to its fascinating premise. The secondary characters blended together and there were too many storylines trying to be juggled. The author dropped the ball on all of them ranging from Simon wanting to quit school to Amy being pregnant to Amy's parents having issues. The fact that the author brought up abortion in a non-judgemental way was nice but the delivery fell flat. There was little discussion of Amy's options and how she felt making the decision. The author brings up a lot of issues (too many I think) in this book but it may be a good starting point for a conversation for some readers. Overall the story made too many complex situations seem simple or just glossed over them (it felt as though the author had a page limit or something).

Disclosure: Received as a gift from a book fairy! Thank you T :D