Tag Archives: prize

The Girls by Emma Cline

The Girls

Emma Cline’s highly-acclaimed debut novel, The Girls, is a coming-of-age story centered on a fictionalized Charles Manson and the notorious Tate-LaBianca murders. Cline’s fictional narrator, Evie Boyd, is adrift in middle age. In 1969, as a 14-year-old, she becomes fixated on an older girl named Suzanne, who is a devotee of a mesmerizing cult leader. Evie follows Suzanne to a ranch outside of LA, where her childlike obsession blossoms as she is drawn into the inner circle of the group’s leader, Russell. Russell is a master manipulator and though he eventually convinces his “girls” to kill for him, he does not engage in some of Charles Manson’s worst atrocities.

Although Cline’s novel is well-written and compelling, I had trouble connecting with either iteration of Evie. As a lonely adolescent, Evie is sympathetic but not blameless. As an adult, Evie seems almost emotionless, as though the only spark in her life was her summer with Suzanne in 1969. In all, I think that Cline’s book is a fine debut that doesn’t quite live up to the hype.

Availability: COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Kaitlyn Grigsby-Hall
Rating:  Recommended
Challenge: A book written by someone under 30. Book published in 2016

Everyone Brave is Forgiven By Chris Cleave

Everyone Brave is ForgivenThe day war is declared, Mary North leaves finishing school and signs up with the War Office. A spoiled daughter from a wealthy London family, Mary is dismayed when the War Office assigns her work as a schoolteacher for unwanted children (sick, slow, and children of color) who were not evacuated from the city. Mary begins a relationship with her boss, Tom Shaw, who falls deeply in love with her as he tries (in vain) to ignore the war. Tom’s friend Alistair Heath enlists immediately – and steals Mary’s heart. Set in London and Malta between 1939 and 1942, Chris Cleave’s new novel, Everyone Brave is Forgiven, tests the lives, friendship, and love of Mary, Tom, and Alistair. War changes all three in irrevocable ways.

Many novels have focused on the London Blitz, but this was the first novel of WWII that I have read that also devoted itself to describing the Siege of Malta. With so many novels already written about the period, it was refreshing to read about a slice of the war that has been forgotten by many. In addition, Cleave focuses a portion of the novel to a discussion of the popularity in twentieth-century London of racist black minstrelsy shows. I never knew that these existed – or were popular – outside of the United States.

Possibly because the novel is based in part on his own grandparents’ experiences during the Seige of Malta and the Blitz, Cleave successfully writes Mary, Tom, and Alistair as real, three-dimensional characters. They are often daring and defy the status quo. But they are also weak, and not always brave. I’m still contemplating Cleave’s ending. With the war only half over, so much has already changed. Can the narrators move forward? It’s unclear, and the last sentence’s clever inversion of the title phrase only gives the reader a little dash of hope.

I didn’t realize how much I enjoyed this novel until I reached the end. Like Cleave’s earlier novel, Little Bee (The Other Hand in the UK), I believe that Everyone Brave is Forgiven will stick with me for quite some time.

Availability: USMAI, COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Kaitlyn Grigsby
Rating:  Must Read
Challenge: Book published in 2016

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

Eligible

This novel is a very modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, which I have never read but seem to have absorbed through osmosis. Curtis Sittenfeld is an excellent writer who combines a subtle and impressive style with a sharp eye for plotting (see also Prep and American Wife, and there is a real sense of joy and humor fused in the book.

Austen’s cast of characters are relocated to Cincinnati, New York, and the Bay area of California. One guy is the star of a reality show, “Eligible,” which sounds a lot like “The Bachelor.” The characters engage in modern behaviors such as texting each other, drinking too much, and careening towards one another with witty banter and sexual tension.

I found the actual romantic portions of the book very predictable and mostly uninteresting — the eventual pairings seemed inevitable all along, but I had to remind myself that this was Jane Austen, the ur-text of romance. I was much more engrossed in the financial woes of the feckless Bennet family and the heroine’s efforts to drag them, en masse, to solvency.

This was a speedy read that I found surprisingly enjoyable. I grabbed the original Pride and Prejudice from the library and may tackle that next, in an act of literary reverse-engineering. Skimming through the book now, and seeing how Sittenfeld’s reality-show lug Chip Bingley was originally the august-sounding “Mr Bingley” in Austen’s own hand, hints at what both writers have accomplished.

Availability:  COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Michael Dunn
Rating: Highly Recommended
Challenge: Published in 2016

Summer reading book prize.

Lazaretto By Diane McKinney-Whetstone

Lazaretto

The night of Lincoln’s assassination, a young African-American midwife named Sylvia delivers her first baby. In concert with the doctor and at the request of the baby’s father, Sylvia tell the young mother that her child perished. Meda, the baby’s mother, seeks solace in caring for two orphaned, white infant boys, but is forever haunted by the loss of the child she conceived with her white employer.

Diane McKinney-Whetstone’s new novel, Lazaretto, explores the complexities of racial identity and the strength of black women living in late nineteenth century Philadelphia. The first half of the novel follows the exploits of Meda’s young orphans, named Linc and Bram after the slain president, who grow up at home in both the white and African-American communities of Philadelphia. In the novel’s second half, the action is confined to the grounds of the Lazaretto, a quarantine hospital where the now middle-aged Sylvia works as head nurse. This section reads as a thriller, complete with a shooting, a potential yellow fever outbreak, and a wedding. In all, Lazaretto is a well-written historical novel that discusses important topics of race, passing, and the realities of racism and poverty for African-Americans living in post-Civil War Philadelphia.

Availability:  COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Kaitlyn Grigsby
Rating: Highly Recommended
Challenge: Book with a one word title