Thursday, December 20, 2012

an eclectic week: slums, paranormals, and world travelers

I think my reading list this week is more varied than normal.

1. Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers. Boo won the National Book award for non-fiction this year, and deservedly so, for this book--it was wrenching, disturbing, and beautiful. It reads a lot like fiction--in fact, several of the women in my book group didn't realize it was non-fiction until they got to the epilogue. My mind reels a little at the amount of research that went into the detail of this book. At the same time, it was not an easy topic to read about. It details the 3+ years Boo spent observing one of the slums in Mumbai (the slum rests behind a wall near the airport; the wall is plastered with signs that read "Beautiful Forever," hence the title). The subtitle suggests that the story is about hope, but it was hard for me to see a lot of hope for the people who live in the slums. As I read, it seemed that a bigger problem ever than the excessive poverty was the corruption at all levels of government--even if these people could earn money to get out of the slums, that money went to corrupt policemen and other officials to keep them out of jail. Or doctors, purportedly providing a free service, demanded to be paid under the table to get medicine or appropriate care. I hope Boo's book brings enough attention to the problem of corruption that something gets done about it, so that the international aid money that goes to help these individuals can actually get to them.

2. Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love. It was a little surreal to read this at the same time as Behind the Beautiful Forevers, since they offer *very* different perspectives on India (I'd trust Boo's perspective a little more). I really enjoyed the first part of the novel, since I was drawn to Gilbert's chatty style and I like her tendency to philosophize a little (particularly her interest in word etymology), since I can be the same time. However, my interest waned a little in the two subsequent sections, because her voice started to come across as a little annoying and self-indulgent. I think the appeal in this book is the same as that of a romance novel: escapism for women (and some men) who can't find that same escape in real life. How many of us have the luxury to leave our responsibilities for a year to "find ourselves"?

3. Kiersten White, Endlessly. This is the final book in her paranormal trilogy. In this final book, the faerie (and other paranormal) are trying to pressure Evie into opening a gate so that they can return to the world they left. Evie, having nearly killed herself the last time she opens a gate, not unnaturally refuses to do so. However, as pressures against paranormals continue to rise, she finds herself rethinking her position. I still find Evie a charming protagonist, but I didn't love this book as much as I wanted. The first 2/3 were slow for me. The story picked up a lot in the last 1/3, but I missed the Evie of the first book, the one who had no trouble collaring paranormals and using her shiny pink Taser.

4. Gary Schmidt, Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy. This book won a Newberry Honor, and it's easy to see why. Schmidt is an amazing, lyrical writer. I found myself getting caught up in individual sentences and losing track of the plot for brief periods of time. In this novel, Turner Buckminster III is newly arrived in Maine, where his father is the minister. However, it doesn't take long for Turner to get caught up in local politics, as he befriends Lizzie Bright, a black girl that lives on nearby Malaga island, in a community that town leaders are desperate to remove so that they can increase the tourist appeal of their town. When the tensions lead to tragedy, Turner has to figure out how to move beyond events to find his own place. Turner's friendship with Lizzie is beautiful, and I love the fact that, as with all Schmidt's books, so many of the characters are not what they seem at the beginning (even most of the villains have some shreds of humanity). I also loved the vivid descriptions of the landscape, which felt almost like an additional character here (esp. the sea breeze). Highly recommended.

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