Review: The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things

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Review for “The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things” by J.T. Leroy (2001)

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

I’ve decided that I don’t care about the controversy or authorship ‘hoax’ that surrounds this book. I treated it as fiction from the start, because I strongly doubt the intelligence of anyone who would really think that a 16-year-old wrote this book. If you want to read about how a smart middle-aged woman fooled a bunch of dumb hipsters with her supposed ‘autobiography’, a quick Google search of “J.T. Leroy” will fill you in on all the details. It is an interesting story, though. Shit, even I have to admit that I LOL’d…

Anywho, “The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things” is a set of interconnected short stories that follow the life of a young boy named Jeremiah, or in this case, J.T. Leroy. In the first few pages, Jeremiah is stolen by his drug addicted, prostitute teenage mother, Sarah, from his foster parents’ custody. The majority of the book follows young Jeremiah’s life with Sarah (on the streets, traveling the country as a lot lizard) and without her, where he is consistently abused by evil people in the most evil of ways. He depends on Sarah even as he is abandoned by her time and time again, leaving him with a desperate need to be loved by anyone, no matter the cost.

With that being said, I don’t know if I was quite ready for the sheer volume of controversial subject matter here. As a book reviewer, I pride myself on having reading nerves of steel: fearless, unafraid, and unbothered by the most taboo of subjects. Little did I know that I would eat my words with this novel, because this one puts ‘disturbing’ in a completely different category altogether.

I won’t spill all the beans here but I will say that in terms of content this book is pretty much a snuff film on paper. There are graphic, detailed descriptions of physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal abuse, incest, scatological references–you name it, it’s there. There is nothing at all enjoyable here in terms of descriptions, settings, or characters. The horror, the abuse, and the bleakness of Leroy’s book is constant and unrelenting. There are some traces of great writing here, but it’s diminished by the author’s love of shock value. Therefore, I didn’t care for this at all.

I wouldn’t recommend this book unless you have a super-strong tolerance for gore and the darkest parts of human nature.

In the end, thank God this was a short read.

Thank God this book was fake.

Whew.

Review: Everything I Never Told You

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Review for “Everything I Never Told You” by Celeste Ng (2015)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.”

Like some other online reviewers have stated, I can’t say that I enjoyed reading this book either. The first line (above) grabbed me completely, but the more I read, the more difficult to read it became: the consistent tragedy, the loss, the heartbreak. While I did not give this book five stars (I would have have to had to have loved reading it for that rating), it is a solid four stars, hands down.

This story is set in the 1970’s in small town Ohio, and follows several years in the life of a Chinese American family with three children–Nath, Lydia, and Hannah. James, their father, a man of Chinese decent born in the US, feels compelled to fit in, a feat he never accomplished as a child. Marilyn, their Caucasian mother, wants desperately to achieve her dream of becoming a medical doctor, a dream that she reluctantly gave up to become a mother. As their children get older she and James obsessively transfer their desires upon their middle child, Lydia, who becomes the obvious favorite of their family. Meanwhile, Nath and Hannah are just satellites that revolve in the background, overlooked and ignored.

It’s hard to read this book. Your heart breaks for Nath and especially Hannah, who is completely oblivious to the entire family throughout most of the book. This is to say nothing for Lydia, who feels so emotionally hampered by the burden of her parents’ expectations that she is eventually driven to do the unthinkable.

What I loved about this story was its omniscient narration–the story constantly switches between the perspectives of the parents, each one of their children. You don’t like them very much but through the flashbacks you learn about about James and Marilyn’s pasts, as well as how and why they eventually go on to break the hearts of all of their children.

Ng develops the story perfectly. You learn everything about this family, inside and out–the thoughts in their heads, the place settings at their kitchen table. I cannot say that I would read this again, but I do recommend it. It’s an excellent book.

 

Review: The Last Girl

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Review for “The Last Girl” by Joe Hart (March 2016)

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

Didn’t care too much for this. The premise is interesting enough–a virus has led to a dramatic decline in the numbers of female births, reducing them worldwide to zero. The remaining girls are locked away in a facility where they are bred to repopulate the earth. This isn’t a spoiler, because honestly anyone reading this could have come up with the same conclusion within 5 minutes of reading this book. Zzzz.

Zoey, the main character, is a completely unbelievable character. For a person locked in a facility for most of her existence away from normal human contact, she seems to have an excellent knowledge of weapons (okkkkay) and her shooting ability is dead-on. The author explains the progression of the girl-destroying virus through the narratives of several other characters, but you don’t care about these people and honestly about 100 pages could have been cut from this book and it wouldn’t have suffered. The science here is kind of weird too. Isn’t the sex of a baby determined by the father? Hmm…

In addition to that, this entire book is written in a funky kind of present tense that I didn’t like. Example: She reaches out, wishing she could smash the protrusion of the calendar off the wall but knows they’ll just put another one up, and an act like that would earn her time in one of the boxes.Β I’m all for alternative points of view, but to read an entire book where it’s written like this makes you wonder if she’s in the process of doing something, just thinking about it, or if she even did it at all.

I imagine that plot comparisons to Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” and P.D. James’ “Children of Men” are inevitable here, though this book isn’t even in the same league. I am also wondering why the author insists on continuing this book as the first of a trilogy. Then again, I’m not surprised, as it seems to be trendy for all dystopian YA, whether it’s good or not these days to be part of a trilogy (Hunger Games, Divergent, the 5th Wave, etc). Whatever.

[NOTE: This copy was provided to me from the publisher and Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.]

Review: Prayers for the Stolen

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Review for “Prayers for the Stolen” by Jennifer Clement (2014)

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

I checked this out from the library last year, read one chapter, then stopped reading it. I admit have a bit of a case of book-ADD at times…if it doesn’t grab me within a short time I’ll keep it on my reading list but stop reading it and move on to something else that sustains my interest. Anyway, fast forward one year later and I’m back in the same library, probably staring at the exact same copy I checked out last year. This time I did read it. And man…I wasn’t impressed.

Prayers for the Stolen is the story of Ladydi, a Mexican girl who lives in a mountain village in the state of Guerrero with her alcoholic mother. Her father is gone away to the States for work, as are most of the men in this section of the country. Due to the dangerous drug cartels that frequently roam the area, girls are ‘made ugly’ by their mothers and made to appear as boys (short hair, scars, messed up teeth) to avoid being kidnapped. Girls are ‘stolen’ quite often, however, and during these times Ladydi and her friends are forced to hide in holes they’ve dug in the ground for safety. Eventually, one of Ladydi’s friends is taken by the cartel and she makes the decision to leave the village to become a nanny for a wealthy family.

The first part of the book is somewhat decent–Clement has a very minimal style and despite the writing being choppy, the narrative still manages to ‘flow’ together. The second part, after Ladydi leaves the village, is not so fluid as the first. There are a couple of weird plot twists that entered the picture that left me scratching my head and the chapters don’t blend as well together. The characters are not as meaningful and the events became repetitive, more like a series of vignettes rather than a novel.

Overall, this book had a lot of potential but didn’t deliver. :/

Review: The Girls

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Review for “The Girls” by Emma Cline (to be released in June 2016)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The summer of 1969. Evie, a 14 year old girl from a well-to-do family, is completely bored with her surroundings. Her parents are divorced: her mom is chasing after a new boyfriend, her dad off in another city. Evie’s best friend has abandoned her and she is desperately looking for a place to belong. She sees a group of hippie girls in a park, and it isn’t long before she becomes completely enamored with their queen bee, Suzanne. She invites her to the ranch, a commune with other misfits and their charismatic leader, Russell, and it becomes only a matter of time before Evie finds herself sucked into violent plot of revenge.

As you can guess from what I’ve told you of the plot, this book is loosely based off of the story of the Manson Family and the Tate/LaBianca murders they committed in the summer of 1969. This topic has been done before, so we all know the ending but what seems to be different about Cline’s book is that it really is about ‘the girls’–not so much the male’s relationship with his female followers, but the girls’ relationship with one another, with the leader assuming a peripheral role in the drama.

This is a beautifully written coming of age tale. Once I started reading it, I could not put it down. I read it in several days, only stopping because I had to go to class and to sleep. Cline accomplishes something here that a lot of authors don’t—an excellent sense of time and place. I felt like was really there back in the 60’s. The end was a bit flat, but the writing more than makes up for that.

Great debut novel. Can’t wait to read Cline’s next book!

[This copy was provided by Netgalley and Random House in exchange for an honest review.]

Review: The Wilds

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Review for “The Wilds” by Julia Elliott (2014)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

“The Wilds” is a unique short story collection with stories that range from sci-fi, dystopian, horror, and a couple of other genres that don’t really get talked about much because not enough people write about it yet. Elliott’s writing brims with creativity, her bravery in choosing these subjects to write about earns her four stars. It takes raw imagination to even conceive of stories like this. There is the strong presence of the Southern gothic in this collection, but it’s nothing likeΒ this. After finishing this book I can truthfully say that I’ve never read anything even close to the subject matter found in this book.

There are eleven stories in this collection–each of them set in plain, everyday environments–but Elliott twists and turns this into a weird, alien world. In “Feral” a pack of wild dogs ravage the planet and children and scientists become fascinated by their wild, savage behavior. In “Rapture,” a girl at a sleepover learns the truth about the world from her friend’s unconventional, fundamentalist grandmother. In “The Wilds,” a young girl falls in love with a boy who wears a wolf mask. And, in “Regeneration at Mukti,” an island retreat becomes a place where people are infected with festering diseases so that their skin can scab over and fall off. Elliott also gives most of these stories an open ending, inviting the reader to come to their own conclusion about the events she presents.

Why I didn’t like this: each of these stories seethes with a kind of ugliness and revulsion for the human body. There were quite a few gross-you-out passages, as well as a underlying theme of what I can only describe as sexual lust–that, at times, made me really uncomfortable. A lot of these stories, as interesting as they were, were just…I dunno, simply not my cup of tea. Ultimately I stayed committed to the reading because it intrigued me, but I would not want to repeat it again. The four star rating I’m giving here, however, is for the excellent writing that prompts the ‘ick’ reaction in the first place.

There is definitely something here, and I am eager to read a full book by this author. The cover is sheer beauty and enticed me to open this book. What will Julia Elliott come up with next? We will see.

Review: Project X

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Review for “Project X” by Jim Shepard (2005)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Three words: provocative, disturbing, puzzling.

Loved this book.

Project X is about a familiar topic in contemporary literature–school violence. The story is told by Edwin Henratty, for whom the word ‘outcast’ is an understatement. He’s a middle schooler with a laundry list of issues: he’s socially awkward, isolated, always in fights, always in trouble, picked on by both teachers and students, with parents who try but fail miserably to understand his problems. His only friend is a fellow outcast, Flake, and together they begin to plan ways to get back at everyone in school who ever caused them misery.

The kicker with this book is not the ending, because you already know it will be a violent one: it’s just a matter of time, opportunity, and method. The people in and around these boy’s lives are completely oblivious to their plight, rendering them powerless to change the inevitable conclusion. As the two boys go about the planning of their hideous revenge, one can only wonder if someone or something could have stopped them. Their plan is fragile at best, yet the pain they are experiencing is so acute that it becomes the only thing that motivates them to go forward, the reason they get out of bed in the morning. It’s what makes this book so truly heartbreaking, because you are forced to view these characters not as killers, but real children experiencing real pain.

The voice of this novel was perfect. I have never read Jim Shepard before, but I was amazed to discover that he was a middle aged man, writing in all of the nuances of an 8th grade boy. The dialogue is current and perfectly believable, the characters completely fleshed out. There is also a healthy dose of black humor here too, which I liked. The tone is serious but not preachy, as Shepard leaves the complex problem of mass violence unanswered and up to the reader to figure out.

Needless to say, I liked this book immensely.