Review: The Book of the Unnamed Midwife

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Review for "The Book of the Unnamed Midwife" by Meg Elison (2016)
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This book is so full of Win I don’t know where to start. Post-apocalyptic feminist fiction. Sign me up.

This novel takes place in a not-too distant future, with an unnamed female nurse-midwife waking up in a deserted hospital after a plague has ravaged most of the world’s population. The plague takes on the form of a fever, striking everyone but mostly women in childbirth, who give birth to dead babies and in turn die as well. Because of the extreme scarcity of women, the world has become a dangerous place for them. There are no rules or civility, and women in the world after the plague are regularly raped, mutilated, and enslaved by lawless bands of men, traded for goods and services, treated as property. It’s harsh stuff to read, but the Unnamed Midwife avoids this fate by dressing as a man and battling for survival. She helps all of the women she meets by rescuing them from their slavers, offering them birth control, and assisting with births. The story follows her as she journeys from San Francisco to the North and beyond, through hell on earth and finally, to something like hope.

This book takes post-apocalyptic fiction and completely turns it into something that I haven’t seen done before. I usually hate it when these kinds of stories don’t explain things (i.e., the cause of the plague, etc) but here I didn’t mind the not knowing, because it’s the story itself that’s so much more important. The midwife is very open about her own sexuality and although (I think) she identifies as bisexual, her constant changing of gender roles through her practice of dressing as a man turns this notion on its head. Either way, I loved it.

This book is a series, and there is a second book available (“The Book of Etta”) that came out earlier this year. I ran to my library and got it a couple of hours after I finished with this. There is also a third book (“The Book of Flora”) that is set to be published early next year, which I plan to read as well.

Meg Elison is an incredible writer and this is an equally incredible book. Do read this. You won’t regret it!

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Review: Girls on Fire

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Review for “Girls on Fire” by Robin Wasserman (2016)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Whoa, buddy…

When I finished this book, I shut off my Kindle and stared at the ceiling for about 10 minutes, thinking: whoa, buddy.

“Girls on Fire” is the story of a destructive friendship between two teenage girls in a small Pennsylvania town. Lacey is the dark, brooding, Nirvana-crazed rocker, Hannah is the mousy, quiet girl from a straight-laced family. Set in the early 90s, the story opens with the shocking discovery of the body of a popular athlete in local woods, ruled a suicide. Lacey and Hannah (called “Dex” by Lacey and throughout the book) bond over their hatred of the athlete’s girlfriend, Nikki Drummond, the beautiful ‘queen bee’ of their high school.

What follows after Lacey and Dex collide is nothing short of intense, with detailed descriptions of their adventures with sex, drugs, and satanic experiences. The novel is told in a dual perspective, with alternating chapters by both Dex and Lacey. There’s lots of Nirvana (particularly Kurt Cobain) mentions through this book, as well as other 90’s pop culture references to give you an excellent sense of time and place. People not hip to this decade’s charm may find the nostalgia annoying, but as a teenage myself during this time in history, I did not.

I can’t tell you guys how lovely the writing is in this book. I think I malfunctioned my Kindle with the constant underlining of passages. Some chapters were so freakin’ beautiful that I had to read them aloud, write them out for myself. Once this book really got going for me I could not put it down. Dex and Lacey are equal parts unlikeable and complex. One moment the mother in me wanted to hold them close, the next moment the practical side of me wanted to lecture them, to try to plant some common sense into their brains. It’s a captivating tale, and I was all along for the ride.

Be forewarned, however, that this is a very dark novel. Think: Gillian Flynn. Think: Stephen King’s “Carrie.” It’s not YA, and I don’t think it has a prayer to ever be considered such. If you don’t mind dark stories (non-humorous, just dark) then this is the book for you (note: personally I love gloom and doom every now and then, it helps me to balance out the scarily bright and cheery). Do read this book though, if you get a chance. I can’t recommend it enough.