Sunday, January 18, 2015

You were too far gone after the fall.

So I haven't hit a home run yet in 2015, but if I had to recommend a book of these three, it would probably be Before I Fall.

First, I was somewhat disappointed by Jane Green's Saving Grace and I'm not exactly sure why. I think because its plot synopsis reminded me somewhat of a Liane Moriarty book and by the end of Green's novel, I felt that Moriarty had done it much better.

Saving Grace tells the story of Grace and Ted Chapman. Ted is a famous and beloved author, though one in the bit of a decline, and Grace his faithful wife, well-known mostly for her style and grace (haha). To an outsider, the Chapmans look to be the perfect couple, but we learn that Ted is quick to rage and Grace continually finds herself walking on eggshells around her husband.

The one person who seems able to calm these rages is his assistant, Ellen. When she leaves to care for her ailing mother, Grace finds herself in despair. She feels as if her life is falling apart, trying to care for her house and Ted's needs. (At this point, I find myself a little frustrated and flabbergasted. Seriously? Join the real world, lady.) However, she feels like her prayers have been answered when her daughter, Clemmie, introduces her to Beth. Beth becomes Ted's assistant and also Grace's helpmate. But Grace quickly feels as if Beth is taking over -- not just as Ted's assistant, but over Grace's life. We're left to wonder, is Grace crazy? Or Beth?

The story itself is sort of a compelling one -- assistant moves in and takes over perfect wife's life. It sounds quite exciting (Lifetime movie, anyone?). However, Grace is not that compelling of a character, and her whiny ways did not garner a ton of sympathy with me, even if Beth was a horrible person. Her husband was clearly an ass, but we really didn't get to learn much about his character, either. Or, really, even Beth's. There's also a lot of far-fetched plot points - yes, Ted is under Beth's spell, but would he really believe some of the tales she weaves about his wife? It's all just very strange.

All in all, I read the book fairly quickly, interested to see what would happen to Grace, mostly for the sake of finding out. However, in the end, I just felt Green could have done so much more with the story, and with Grace's character.

Next, I forget where I saw a recommendation for Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (who am I kidding, probably People or Entertainment Weekly, about the extent of my "literary" reading these days), but it wasn't quite what I expected. Less mystery surrounding a disappearance/death and more "human interest" about a-- truth be told-- rather unlikable family.

The novel chronicles the Lee family, who wakes up one day to find their eldest daughter/sister, Lydia, missing. Eventually Lydia's body is found in the local lake, and the family is turned upside down. It goes without saying, but it's really a rather depressing book. Lydia's parents, Marilyn and James, are just awful, and not just because they are grieving. I found very little to like in them. Lydia's siblings, Nath and Hannah, aren't nearly as bad (Hannah is truly the redeeming one in the family), but still. It's hard to root for a family that you don't much care for. There are also some strange side plots involving the siblings that never really seem resolved.

As a parent, I found aspects of the book interesting -- the way Lydia's mom pushes her so much to attain a dream that really belonged to Marilyn. In addition, the family is still reeling from Marilyn's brief disappearance before Hannah was even born. Ng does do a good job of showing how much this impacts the family, especially the kids. It's a little frightening, really, as the sinking realization of how every little thing you do can follow your children, even 10 years later (though in Marilyn's case, she really does some damaging things).

Still, those redeeming moments couldn't salvage the whole book for me. I liked it well enough, but I was left at the end feeling a little depressed and annoyed and wishing more loose ends were tied up.

 As for Before I Fall (Lauren Oliver), I think I would have enjoyed it even more if it wasn't coming on the heels of me reading several other tragic YA books about teenagers dying (including The In Between and If I Stay). I sort of felt bludgeoned by the senseless tragedy of it all - perhaps I need to get out more?!

Anyway, the book follows the main character Sam, who dies in a car crash one night after a party. However, she finds herself reliving that day over and over (think Groundhog Day) for some reason and has to figure out how to make it stop. It's a rather weird premise and the way she finally breaks out sort of bothers me, so I felt a little deflated at the end.

That being said, I really liked Sam. She's a compelling character. Also refreshing is the fact that Sam and her gaggle of friends are the popular kids, on top of the pyramid at school. It's a change of pace from the usual romantics and geeks that show up in YA novels. (It does, however, make me 110% terrified for my children to reach high school.) As Sam starts to realize her own mean girl status-- and that of her friends--Oliver sets up a good message about high school and friendship. Not sure it would be readily apparently to every teen reading the novel, but I appreciate the effort.

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