Saturday, May 31, 2008

Book Reviews in Short

See you later
American Alligator, seen in Louisiana swamp.

If I don’t do these, in brief, and now, they will never get done. Here is a list of some books I recently read:

When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa by Peter Godwin—highly recommended. This is a moving memoir, not of a dysfunctional family but of a family living in a dysfunctional country, Zimbabwe. Peter Godwin is a journalist based in New York City but he writes eloquently of his family’s history and his own childhood growing up in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. It makes for a fascinating study of a slice of history about which those of us, such as myself, who don’t listed to the BBC News or read the Economist often enough, might otherwise remain comfortably ignorant.

Almost Home by Jessica Blank is a young adult novel about a group of homeless youth in Los Angeles. It is well written and the kids are believable enough although sometimes the inner musings of the teens represented is unconvincing to my ear. The story is unrelentingly grim even though it attempts to end with the hope of redemption for at least one character. Intense themes include rape, molestation, prostitution, and drug abuse. It isn’t a pretty story and I’m not sure most teens would feel comfortable reading it. I know it made me sad without leaving me with a sense of why I was reading it other than my vested interest in mental illness and my literary effort in writing about a foster child/runaway. I have never worked much with the homeless adolescent population although I have met many addicted youth and homeless adults. It is deeply saddening to confront, even in a work of fiction.

The God of Animals, by Aryn Kyle—I would call this a “coming of age novel” about a 12 year old girl living on a Colorado ranch with her hard-working father and mentally ill, depressed mother. It is about how children can be neglected even by well-meaning parents in an intact home. Unlike in the previously reviewed novel, this book balances hope and despair in a way that is quite effective. The writing is tight and the characters well-drawn. My main objection is to what felt to me as a slight excess of melodrama—a dead classmate and a crush on a teacher are two key plot points that seem overdone. I’m still not clear whether there is an unspoken convention for “coming of age novels” that a hopeless crush/love affair with a teacher is required. Or maybe I am just jealous that unrequited love with a pedophilic teacher passed me by when I was 12. None of my classmates died either. I guess I would have made for a boring character in a novel. Nonetheless it is a classy novel and a good read.