Tuesday, May 15, 2007

double book reviews: penny from heaven and we need to talk about kevin.

I first read The Higher Power of Lucky, not because it was this year's Newbery winner but because I was curious about the controversial "gonads" reference that made librarians pull the book from the shelves. The plot of that book was not as compelling, but I did adore the characters Patron created and loved her use of language.

K's mother recommended I give Penny from Heaven a try, especially since she and K's father preferred this one over The Higher Power of Lucky a great deal. The plot was much more interesting, but the writing was a bit flat. Not terrible or dull, but not magical either. This is the story of an Italian-American family and a girl coming of age not far from New York City. I have to keep reminding myself this is a book not aimed at me as an audience--my complaints include such things as, "The protagonist is too good" and "The writing wasn't exciting." It's not poetic, but it sends a good message. I enjoyed this little whirl and am now curious as to how the other nominees shaped up. I'm a sucker for awards lists.

We Need to Talk About Kevin was requested at the library just before the Virginia Tech shootings. It's the story told in a series of letters from a mother to her husband after their son has killed nine, including a teacher and a cafeteria worker (but not himself) in a school shooting. And since this is revealed from the beginning, it is less about what happens at the end (though there is a twist, and I guessed it very early on, which the author would be disappointed about, as she said in an interview I listened to recently--perhaps I read too many mystery stories for my own good) then it is about how the boy was raised and how much blame we can really put on the parents. This too wasn't a terrible story, but I had difficulty with so many things--the characters were a little too flat to me, a little too much in their stock situation, and they did not grow in believable ways. The father was consistently defensive of his son, always against the mother, and the mother was consistently against the son, always complaining in an unreliable narrator sort of way. It was too stereotypical--the boy raised by an apathetic mother in the suburbs, because he has too much wealth and too much of all else, he is bored, the power-mom who would rather be at her job and runs her own company, the daughter that is goody-goody and too perfect of a foil. I discovered this book when I read a review for The Post Birthday World and became interested in Lionel Shriver, who picked out her own name and recently grappled with whether or not to have children (she decided against it) while writing this book not long after 9/11.

Next: Talking to High Monks in the Snow after reading a post about it in this lovely blog.

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