Review: Where the Crawdads Sing

Hey readers,

I was lucky to receive a copy of Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens last month from Penguin Random House and Putnam Books in exchange for an honest review, and I can honestly say that this book is definitely on the short list for my top 10 books of the year. It’s that good.

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Delia Owens has written a beautiful first novel that is a murder mystery, coming of age story and a study of nature all in one. She tells the story of Kya Clark, a young woman raised by nature and Chase Andrews, a local man who is found murdered. Kya, known to the locals as “Marsh Girl” is immediately a suspect in the murder. Jumping back in time to 1952 when at age six, Kya’s beloved mother walks down the lane and disappears without looking back, we journey through alternating chapters between Kya’s past and present to learn how she got to where she is now.

“The sun, warm as a blanket, wrapped Kya’s shoulders, coaxing her deeper into the marsh. Sometimes she heard night-sounds she didn’t know or jumped from lightning too close, but whenever she stumbled, it was the land that caught her. Until at last, at some unclaimed moment, the heart-pain seemed away like water into sand. Still there, but deep. Kya laid her hand upon the breathing, wet earth, and the marsh became her mother.”

Delia Owen’s writing is lush and descriptive as she tells you the story of an abandoned six year old growing up in the marsh lands of North Carolina. She tells a magical tale as she reflects back through Kya’s own fascination with birds, insects, shifting tides and the light of the swamp. Through Kya’s eyes as she experiences the swamp and all it has to offer her, the swamp itself becomes a vivid character all on its own. Her thoughtful, poetic prose evokes emotion and tells a story that will make the North Carolina swamp lands and Kya Clark stick with readers for a long time after finishing the book.

I have a soft spot in my heart for strong female heroines and Delia Clark doesn’t let me down with Kya Clark. After her mother abandons her at age six, and then each of her four siblings leave her in turn, she is left to be with her drunk and abusive father all alone. She learns to dart between sunbeams and shadows to survive her fathers moods, and though for awhile they share a couple weeks of bliss for our young Kya, at age ten he slips back into alcoholism and abandons her as well. Her heart-breaking formative years, forces her to learn to survive on her own and miraculously after all this abandonment and time alone she allows herself to open up to people, not just the two young men who find themselves drawn to her, but to a couple who take her under their wing and treat Kya as much like a daughter as she will allow. Her resiliency, strength, and determination has definitely found her a spot among the list of my favorite female characters.

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Overall this novel had everything I want in a novel: hope and redemption, love and loss, loneliness and belonging, and strength and determination. I hope that everyone will read it and find themselves where the crawdads sing.

 

My Rating: 5/5 Stars

– Hannah

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Review: A Place For Us

Recently Sarah Jessica Parker released the first book published by her imprint, SJP for Hogarth, of Penguin Random House and if the first book she chose says anything about future releases, you better believe that I will be buying everything that she publishes.

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Fatima Farheen Mirza’s debut novel A Place for Us tells the emotionally evocative story of a Indian-American family and each family member’s struggles in their own ways with their sense of identity and belonging. The story is set in Northern California, and we start the story at Hadia’s wedding, where we find out the whole family is there, struggling with what will happen that day as the prodigal son, Amar, has returned after being absent for three years. And while Mirza will come back to the wedding multiple times throughout the novel, it is through her flashbacks that we learn about the family, their triumphs, failures, betrayals and secrets.

Through the characters memories we travel back in time, to before the parents, Layla and Rafiq, arranged marriage, throughout the building of their family, the children going through adolescence, Amar falling in love for the first time, the tragedy of 9/11 and Hadia going off to medical school and making her own love match. Mirza doesn’t focus on telling us the story chronologically, hopping back and forth between timelines and characters flawlessly, allowing us to view each individual incident from multiple points of view, each one changing the meaning of simple actions like a spelling test.

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Fatima Farheen Mirza’s writing is in a word: breathtaking. It is mature, elegant and beautiful in a way that when you realize that she was 26 when this book, her debut, was published, becomes mind-blowing. Her capability of switching perspectives gracefully is just one of the things that make Mirza’s writing stunning, we sense each of the character’s feelings strongly. The loss of love, the panic of parents who are watching a son making decisions they do not understand, the struggle of an immigrant family trying to find balance between their culture, tradition and religion in America today.

I was fully invested in this story, staying up until 1 in the morning when I had work the next day, when I realized that I wasn’t going to finish the novel without crying. A Place for Us was heart-wrenching in all of the right ways. I am emotional going back to think about all the ways that I loved this book. My heartbreak for each of the characters feeling fresh in my mind and my heart. My heart is heavy as I go back to talk about this book and the characters in the most satisfying way.

“When I watch the old tapes, and look through the old photographs, it’s as if I wasn’t there at all. But they are mine, I remind myself, they are my memories, they are exactly how I stood and saw them.”

When I say that I have no doubt that A Place for Us will go down as my all time favorite book of 2018 I do not say that lightly. I know that no other book I have read this year (and in a very long time) has affected me the way that this book has. Fatima Farheen Mirza has proven herself to be a wonderful and strong new voice in the literary world.

My Rating: 5/5 Stars

– Hannah

 

Review: My Absolute Darling

This debut novel by Gabriel Tallent, My Absolute Darling, is an excellent but unsettling novel of extreme child abuse. It is heart breaking and devastating to read but it captivates you and makes it hard to stop, even when you feel like you can’t take anymore. The novel has a pretty even pace as you move through it, but as you get closer to the end, the pace quickens, making it almost impossible to put down.

Turtle, whose real name is Julia, although only her teacher and principal call her that, lives with her father Martin, a sociopath who believes that the world is due for an ecological disaster any day. In the house she shares with him she suffers severe and traumatic emotional, physical, and sexual abuse at the hands of her father. The way that Tallent details the abuse is difficult to read, in the very first scene of the book Martin is calling her a “little bitch”, and it only gets worse from there.

As the novel progresses, Turtle starts to realize that she needs to escape. This urge to escape is only heightened when she meets two high school boys, and develops a crush on one of them, Jacob. The boys instantly take a liking to Turtle, and the way that they talk makes her dizzy.  The boys also bring some light hearted scenes to the novel which helps break up the otherwise disturbing content of the novel.

The language that Tallent uses to convey these violent scenes of horrific abuse that Turtle undergoes at the hand of her father is uncomfortable to say the least. He explores Turtle’s case of Stockholm syndrome in a way that makes you feel for Turtle, but never have pity on her. She is a 14 year old who faced with the violence that she is subjected to is strong and brave, and even finds herself able to provide moments of tenderness when it is needed. He is really able to convey why a victim of abuse sometimes chooses to stay with their abuser, even if they know on some level that it’s wrong.

I gave this novel five stars. The writing is beautiful and lush, all of the characters are full and well rounded, and the story is dark and captivating. There are going to be people who don’t like the way that Tallent described Turtle and her relationship to her father, almost as one who likes her abuse, “In the waiting she by turns wants and does not want it. His touch brings her skin to life, and she holds it all within the private theatre of her mind, where anything is permitted, their two shadows cast across the sheet and knit together.” Tallent makes it clear that it is abuse, but also wants it known that the characters love each other, although not neccesarily a love that should be celebrated. Martin’s love for Turtle is a possessive love, denying Turtle her individuality. Turtle’s a complex mix of a daughter’s love for her father and a 14 year old girl suffering from Stockholm syndrome.

I had a hard time walking away from this novel, as I turned the page I was hoping for more but at the same time, I don’t think I could have taken anymore. I am very excited to see what Gabriel Tallent does next.

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– Hannah

 

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