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Posts tagged ‘family’

Perfect

Perfect by Natasha Friend

Image via Library Thing.

Title: Perfect

Author: Natasha Friend

Year of Publication: 2004

Genre Keywords: appearance, bulimia, death, depression, eating disorders, family, friendship, grief, parents, popularity, psychology, sisters, teen, young adult.

Summary: When Isabelle gets caught making herself throw up, she gets sent to a therapy group for people with eating disorders – and to her overwhelming surprise she finds Ashley, the most beautiful and popular girl at her school, also in attendance. The two become friends, bonding over binges and purges and the relief of finding somebody else who understands what they’re going through. But Ashley can’t help Isabelle deal with what’s really wrong: the unhealed grief she still carries from the death of her father nearly two years ago. How can Isabelle heal if she and her sister have been taught to pretend it isn’t there?

Who’ll Love It: Often fun and light-hearted in tone for such heavy subject matter, this quick read will appeal to anybody interested in the emotional lives of teenagers. The rags-to-riches fantasy element of an unpopular girl invited to the “popular table” in the lunchroom is a fun exercise in fantasy, but the story really drives home the point that popularity, prettiness, and seeming perfection doesn’t guarantee happiness, and can conceal some pretty painful demons. It’s a very readable study on the difference between appearance and reality.

The Real Story: Isabelle may be a fictional character, but bulimia is more common than many of us might imagine, with between one and six of every hundred people affected, depending where you are and which study you take seriously. You can get a good general overview of the sickness here. Lots of people believe that bulimia happens primarily to young girls who think they’re too fat, but anybody can be bulimic, and the link between eating disorders and stress or emotional trauma (as with Isabelle’s grief or Ashley’s family issues) is very real in situations where people don’t feel they can deal with their problems directly.

Barney’s Version

Barney's Version by Mordecai Richler

Image via Fantastic Fiction.

Title: Barney’s Version

Author: Mordecai Richler

Year of Publication: 1997

Genre Keywords: CanLit, comedy, family, Jewish humour, Judaism, marriage, murder, romance, satire, unreliable narrator.

Summary: It’s been said that whoever we are and however we live our lives, we’re always the villain in somebody else’s retelling of the story. Barney Panofsky, thrice married, has been accused of all kinds of terrible things in his time, including the murder of his best friend, Boogie. Now, estranged from the only woman he’s ever truly loved and drawing towards the close of his life, Barney decides to document – with no little sense of humour and a voice that jumps right off the page – his version of events. Wryly he recounts each of his three marriages, to creative and unstable feminist martyr, then a high-class and high-maintenance Jewish American Princess, and finally to his beloved Miriam. But the question of whether his narration is reliable hangs over the entire text. When he swears he never shot Boogie, can we trust him to tell us the truth?

Who’ll Love It: A narrator as unstable and unreliable as Barney Panofsky isn’t someone you’ll enjoy if you want your stories to progress in a strictly linear fashion and nail down the facts on all sides. That’s a pity, though, because he’s a blast to read. Fans of irony and subtle satire will enjoy Richler’s observations about life in the Quebecois Jewish community, referendum-era Montreal, and the family state in general. And if you’re interested in trying to figure out a mystery, the question of what really happened to Boogie remains up for grabs throughout most of the story.

Real-World Parallels: This is what it must be like to live in New York. Throughout the novel, references to Canadian news stories – from Trudeaumania to the 1995 referendum – brought the thrill of recognition to my reading. And that’s to say nothing of the little, everyday references to things that are part of Canadian life, like Hockey Night in Canada or the CBC (Radio-Canada to the Quebecois). Once I even recognized a street name from time spent living in Quebec! It’s icing on the cake for Canadian readers picking up Canadian books, and one of my personal favourite perks of CanLit: it gets where I’m coming from.

Anne Frank and Me

Anne Frank and Me

Image via Fantastic Fiction.

Title: Anne Frank and Me

Author: Cherie Bennett and Jeff Gottesfeld

Year of Publication: 1997

Genre Keywords: coming of age, culture, family, friendship, high school, history, Holocaust, Judaism, religion, self-expression, teen, time travel, war, World War Two, young adult.

Summary: Teen blogger Nicole Burns is far too busy avoiding her homework, adoring the class hottie, and wishing she could get her kid sister out of her hair; she doesn’t have time to think about things that happened in generations-ago Europe. So she’s not particularly invested in her teacher’s guest speaker, a Holocaust survivor, or their trip to a nearby museum’s Holocaust exhibit. But then the sound of gunfire erupts in the museum, panic ensues, and Nicole awakens to find herself living the life of a Jewish girl in Nazi-occupied Paris. Her new life isn’t so very different from her old one – a gorgeous classmate she adores, an annoying little sister called Liz-Bette, friends and family and all the rest. But she’s also got a yellow star sewn to the front of her coat, and as she watches her freedoms dwindle as the war progresses, Nicole starts searching for a way to make her voice matter.

Who’ll Love It: Who wouldn’t? I recommend it to any reader. If you didn’t find Anne Frank particularly moving or wondered why all those musty old historical stories mattered, this book has the answer: because people who lived those historical experiences are not so different from us.  Conversely, if you’re acutely aware of the lingering evil effects of the Holocaust and the suffering it caused, you’ll find this book deeply moving and hard to put down.

Beyond Books: The novel Anne Frank and Me is based on a play with the same title. Look out for it! Even if there’s no local theatre company bringing this story to life on stage, it would definitely be interesting to consider your own life in light of Nicole’s story. If you traveled back in time to Holocaust-era Europe, what would your life look like? Who would be your parents, teachers, friends, and neighbours? How would you survive? Or would you survive at all?

A community theatre performance of Anne Frank and Me.

Image via Zona Gale Young People's Theatre (ZGYPT) at the Portage Center for the Arts.

Does My Head Look Big In This?

Does My Head Look Big In This?

Image via Journey Online.

Title: Does My Head Look Big In This?

Author: Randa Abdel-Fattah

Year of Publication: 2005

Genre Keywords: coming of age, culture, family, friendship, high school, identity, Islam, multiculturalism, popularity, religion, teen, women’s issues, young adult.

Summary: Amal is an Australian teen like any other . . . except that she’s a Muslim of Palestinian extraction who’s decided she’s ready to wear the hijab full-time. She knows it won’t be easy, attending a posh private school away from her Muslim friends while sporting such a hotly-contested marker of her Muslim identity, but she feels passionately about it. Now she’s dealing with all the usual trials and tribulations of high school – crushes, mean girls, friends with body-image issues, and more – but also with the judgments of teachers, friends, and strangers trying to identify what the hijab says about her life and placing her in the role of a full-time apologist for Islam, even in its most twisted and horrifying iterations.

Who’ll Love It: If you’re open to walking a mile in the shoes of a young Muslim woman, this book is a great way to do it. The central character is one of those rare gems – strong and smart and (mostly) confident, yet still believable. Readers who like a good relationship story that centers around friendships and family relationships (as opposed to romantic ones) will find an added bonus in the wide range of people supporting Amal as she tells her story.

Food For Thought: Does My Head Look Big In This? investigates some of the key assumptions many Westerners make when confronted with a Muslim, particularly a Muslim woman. For instance, when you see a woman in the hijab (or niqab, burqa, or what-have-you), do you assume she’s been forced to wear it by some man in her life? Do you stop to wonder how your assumption affects her or makes her feel? It’s worth spending some time with the idea.

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