An attempt at blog resuscitation; Book Review: Carrie

Carrie

My relationship with Stephen King began oh, I don’t know, about twenty years ago maybe, when I mistakenly read The Shining while on a cross-country road trip with my parents.  Up until that point in my reading life, I thought it was impossible for a book to scare me.  As a middle-grade reader, I had been a huge fan of Mary Downing Hahn’s spooky ghost stories, and then moved on to R.L. Stine’s Fear Street series and Christopher Pike’s seemingly endless array of teen horror stories.

So, I thought I was ready for something a bit more, well, adult.  I thought I was ready for Stephen King.  And maybe I would have been, had it not been for the circumstances surrounding my initiation.  I have a distinct memory of checking in to a hotel in a room number of great significance in The Shining and outright refusing to even enter the room, which was the source of great hilarity for my parents.

Needless to say, it’s been a little while since I’ve felt the urge to pick up another King novel.  But boy, am I glad I did.

Goodreads summary:

Carrie knew she should not use the terrifying power she possessed… But one night at her senior prom, Carrie was scorned and humiliated just one time too many, and in a fit of uncontrollable fury she turned her clandestine game into a weapon of horror and destruction…

Carrie is King’s first published novel, although I’ve recently discovered that it was actually the fourth he wrote.  It is written in an epistolary form, with the narrative interspersed with many (fictional, I hope) scientific articles, news reports, and snippets of memoirs written by significant characters.  While I must admit that this style initially took some getting used to, I ultimately feel the non-fiction flavor that these excerpts create contributes greatly to the overall impact of the novel.  While I was of course aware that I was reading fiction, the sense that King’s style gave me is of having read something that actually happened – or could.

I have to admit to having some idea of the plot of this novel prior to reading.  I think this is just one of those stories that has become so much a part of pop-culture that it’s almost impossible to avoid spoilers in one form or another.  The cover of some of the books and film adaptations certainly contribute to this, as many of them depict the climax of the book – Carrie drenched in blood.

What I didn’t expect to experience was a sense of sorrow, pity, and even empathy for Carrie.  She is constantly bullied, teased mercilessly, and at the hands of a religiously fanatic mother who has controlled and sheltered her all her life.  Were it not for the actions she takes at the Prom, Carrie would have been entirely a sympathetic character.  And were it not for the relentless bullying, perhaps Carrie’s telekinetic powers could have made her a Matilda-type character, straight out of one of Roald Dahl’s childhood favorites.

While Carrie is certainly of the horror genre, I read it ultimately as a great tragedy.  Carrie is a lost and lonely girl, whose only influence in life is her overbearing mother.  She is taught that her body’s changes through puberty are a result of Eve’s sin, the same sin that she was conceived by.  Carrie has no friends, and even the authority figures at her school – namely Miss Desjardin – are at first disgusted by her.

When Carrie discovers her telekinetic powers, it is as if she is first realizing that she herself has some control over her world.  She doesn’t need to subject herself to her mother’s punishments and control over her.  In fact, when she re-discovers her powers at puberty, her mother begins to fear her.  So when she is asked to go to the prom with Tommy Ross, she is first able to assert her independence from her mother.

Oh, and how she asserts her independence!  I’m glad I read this book.  I’m glad I’ve rediscovered my love of horror fiction (thanks oodles, Stephen King!)  And I’m really glad I resuscitated this little book blog.

Guest Post: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby

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So, it’s no secret that I’ve neglected this little blog for awhile now.  I have been reading, but not really feeling the urge to post anything.  Perhaps in an effort to get me back into blogging, or perhaps even as an attempt to see how he feels about starting his own blog, today I have a guest post by my husband.  We read this book together, and then watched the movie.  Here are his thoughts:
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a book perhaps more notable for the circumstances surrounding its writing than its contents. Almost entirely paralyzed by a stroke at the age of 43, Jean-Dominique Bauby dictated this work by blinking his left eyelid to indicate the letter of his choice as an assistant cycled through the alphabet. Letter by letter, word by word, he built this book, part memoir and part philosophic meditation.

Perhaps it would be unbecoming, in light of the monumental difficulties faced by its author, to enumerate the faults of this book. But, as the book itself provides an unflinching examination of the truth, so too should a review avoid pulling any punches. The book is very short. But brevity is the soul of wit; and nobody can accuse the author of laziness. The composition is fragmentary and quite disjointed. There are no major upheavals of established doctrines or new schools of thought founded. But these things are rare in any book, and at least the author does not retreat into platitudes.
Instead, Bauby describes his routine at the hospital, his incremental steps towards rehabilitation. These alternate between harrowing and hopeful. He is wide awake as a doctor sows shut his paralyzed right eyelids to prevent scarring of the cornea; later, with great effort, he is able to regain the ability to move his head, to open his mouth, to grunt the melody to a song. He enjoys watching television, but if the wrong channel is on, it can be hours before he can signal to have it changed. The most compelling thing, however, is his descriptions of the mental strategies he employs to cope with his condition. Like one-eyed Odin, he dispatches the ravens Thought and Memory to survey not Midgard, but his own mind. Trapped in one room, he recalls his travels across the world. Inert, he recounts his defeats and his triumphs. Sustained by a feeding tube, he imagines elaborate banquets. Motionless, his mind makes measureless journeys through time and space.
And so, here is the fulcrum upon which the tale is balanced. The book’s title seems to imply that the delicate butterfly of the spirit is encased in the formidable diving bell of the body. In reality, the feebleness of the body is insufficient to contain the indomitable strength of the spirit.  At the end of the book, Bauby wonders if there are “keys for opening up my diving bell”, seemingly unaware that he has found the key within himself. He concludes, “We must keep looking. I’ll be off now.” And after writing those words, he departed his diving bell forever. A few days after the book was published, Bauby succumbed to pneumonia.
The book, by virtue of its mere existence, stands as a call to action. Who, with ten fingers, has written less than this man has with one eyelid? Who, with two legs, has travelled less than this quadriplegic? Who, with their full body, has accomplished less than this man did with a fraction of one? And so, Babuy’s work transcends biography and becomes a testament to the power of the human mind. Faulkner, in his Nobel acceptance speech, said that literature “need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.” Jean-Dominique Bauby, laid low by illness, built this pillar to elevate himself above his circumstances. And now it is up to us all to climb it and survey the world he revealed. I’ll be off now.
This entry was posted in Reviews.

Keeping the Moon by Sarah Dessen

moon

So, I guess I really have decided to make this “The Summer of Sarah Dessen,” as I’m going to (try to) read all of her books.  Whether this will actually happen is pretty up in the air at this point, though…I’m not always the best at actually keeping the reading goals I set for myself.

Goodreads summary:

Colie expects the worst when she’s sent to spend the summer with her eccentric aunt Mira while her mother, queen of the television informercial, tours Europe.  Always an outcast – first for being fat and then for being “easy” – Colie has no friends at home and doesn’t expect to find any in Colby, North Carolina.  But then she lands a job at the Last Chance Cafe and meets fellow waitresses Morgan and Isabel, best friends with a loving yet volatile relationship.  Wacky yet wise, Morgan and Isabel help Colie see herself in a new way and realize the potential that has been there all along.

This book was, unfortunately, a bit of a miss for me.  When I first picked it up, I was really excited about it.  I loved the premise – Colie’s journey towards self-acceptance and empowerment after a significant weight loss, overcoming bullying, etc.  But somehow, it just didn’t live up to the expectations I already find myself having for a Sarah Dessen book.  My experience with her other books, by the time I first put it down, after around 50 or 60 pages, I find myself thinking about the characters, their situations and relationships.  I didn’t feel the same connection to these characters.  While they had all of the quirky attributes that I normally enjoy, I found them to fall sort of flat for me.  And the book’s message, which I would characterize as something along the lines of “girl power,” is certainly one that I could have really enjoyed in the right packaging, but which sort of missed its mark for me in this book.

So, while I can’t NOT recommend this book, especially to well-established fans of Dessen’s work, I would recommend this as an introduction to the author.  Someone Like You would be a much better choice, in my opinion.

Someone Like You by Sarah Dessen

someone like you

I really enjoyed this book.  I feel like, if I had read this book when I was in high school, it would have become a favorite.  It would have been one of the books that I read and reread until the pages were worn thin and dog-eared.  Reading it now, it made me feel a tremendous sense of nostalgia.  Which I think is maybe one of the reasons why I’ve turned to the YA genre at this point in my life, to be honest.

I LOVED the beginning of this book.  Halley is at summer camp when she gets a middle-of-the-night phone call from her best friend, Scarlett.  She’s calling because her first love, boyfriend Michael has died in a car accident and she needs Halley to come home.  As the reader, you’re thrown into the middle of these girls’ lives, and yet, the way Dessen describes them, you already feel like you know everything you really need to know about their friendship.  It made me ache for the same kind of friendship in my own life, to be honest.

I would have really related to Halley’s dynamic with her parents.  I went through a similar transformation from “mom as cool best friend” to “mom wants to stop me from having any fun and/or control what fun I do have.”  I also had a father figure very similar to Halley’s, my step-father, who was always the peacemaker, and always managed to make me feel better when my mom and I butted heads.

I also found myself sort of relating to Halley’s relationship with Macon (who, can I say, may just have the most unfortunate name in the history of YA literature.  Like, ever).  I found it really surprising and refreshing to find myself relating to their relationship, because it almost never happens.  It’s a testament to Dessen’s ability to depict a high-school relationship in a realistic, and not totally romanticized way.

I feel like I’m just going to start thinking of this summer as “The Summer of Sarah Dessen,” because all I want to do right now is start another one of her books…

This entry was posted in Reviews.

That Summer by Sarah Dessen

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So, I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit, but, this is my first Sarah Dessen experience.  I know, it’s quite shocking.  I don’t know where I’ve been.  Well, that’s not true.  I abandoned YA novels right around the time that Sarah Dessen’s first book, this one, came out.  You see, I was on to “bigger and better” things.  I was reading ADULT books, and completely neglected the entire YA genre.  I feel like that’s what everyone was doing at that time.  A whole generation of readers who went from reading all about The Baby-Sitter’s Club and Sweet Valley, and then skipped right ahead to Jackie Collins, Danielle Steel, and, shockingly of all, Judy Blume’s adult books.

So, now I’m making up for lost time, and reading all of those books that I wish I had discovered when I actually was a young adult, when they would have had the most impact on me.  But I’m settling for the nostalgia I feel as I’m reading them now.

What I liked

The writing.  This is one of those books that sweeps you away and makes you forget about reality for awhile.

I’m going to try to not give too much away, but if you’re really interested in reading this book, maybe skip this part:

I really liked the idea of how we remember things a certain way, but then sometimes the reality of the memory is a bit different from how we remembered it.  I feel like the more scientific way of describing this would be an “unreliable memory.”  I could really relate to Haven’s nostalgia for a certain time in her life, but then realizing later that things weren’t as idyllic as she had romanticized them to be.

What I didn’t like

This book has a TON of character development, but it’s a bit short on plot.  Which is certainly okay, but I was hoping for a bit more to the storyline.  There seemed to be both SO MUCH and NOTHING going on at the same time, if that’s even possible.  Haven’s father has just had an affair and is marrying the woman he cheated with.  Haven’s sister Ashley is getting married and moving out.  Her mother is going through a mid-life crisis of sorts.  And yet, not much happens.  I feel like there could have been much more of a plot than there actually was, which was a tad disappointing.

This book definitely reads as a “debut” novel.  At times it feels as if Dessen is trying to be “writerly,” or “literary.”  Perhaps it’s just a pet peeve of mine, but I don’t like it so much when I can feel the author trying to impress me as a reader, if that makes any sense.

Would I recommend it?

Yes, but perhaps not for a first-time reader of Dessen.  (I feel like I have the authority to say this because I’m almost finished with her second book, Someone Like You, and I think that would have been a much better introduction to her as an author).