Saturday, 19 April 2014

The Next Best Thing, by Jennifer Weiner

Why I chose it: Every few years, The New Yorker runs a piece about genre fiction that makes it sound much better than it is, so I'll go ahead and get hold of ONE of the books mentioned in the article just to remind myself how much I dislike 99% of it. Then I don't read any until the next article.

Podcasts: None

Brow: Low

What I thought: As interesting as the New Yorker made Jennifer Weiner's fiction sound, this book didn't prove it. There's nothing wrong with the book, and given that while I was reading it, I was trying to grade a massive number of student papers AND write a master's-level paper, it was certainly a relief not to have a challenging novel facing me at the end of the day. But I certainly won't pick up another pop fiction book until the next piece.

Should you read it? If you're already a fan of Jennifer Weiner, you probably already have. It's among the most-reviewed books on Goodreads. If like me you mostly read literary fiction but the New Yorker piece got you interested and you want to know if you should try it out with this book, you shouldn't. Well, unless you like nitpicking things like when a character is wearing trousers in one scene, but then in the very next scene, which is only an hour or so later and in the same place, she's suddenly in a skirt with no mention of changing clothes, then this book will be a goldmine for you.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Poems, by Emily Brontë

Why I read it: Western Canon

Podcasts: None

Brow: Middle

What I thought of it: Honestly, this is what I thought Byron's poetry would be like: romantic quests, flowers, love notes, occasional tales from the land of Gondal, which the Brontës made up to amuse themselves before they all died of tuberculosis. I'm sure at the time it was very meaningful, and it's made even more meaningful by the fact that the author died unmarried and childless at age 25. Unfortunately, it isn't my kind of poetry. My kind of poetry turns out to be what Byron really wrote.

But should you read it? If you like romantic poetry that's more about imagery than adventure, this is the poetry for you. Most of it isn't very difficult to understand or relate to. Just make sure you get a version that just presents the poems and doesn't try to analyse every slip of Emily Brontë's pen, unless you're a Brontë scholar.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

The Year That Changed the World, by Michael Meyer

Why I read it: Economist Review

Podcast: C.V. Starr Center, which you can find on iTunes

Brow: High, even higher if you've actually been to Berlin.

Summary: Meyer was Newsweek's Eastern Europe correspondent in the 80s and was a firsthand witness to the extraordinary events that led to the fall of communism in Eastern Europe and its most hated symbol, the Berlin wall. He walks us through each country's transition, from Poland's first free elections in 1981 to a blunder at a press conference by a communist party spokesperson in East Berlin in 1989 that led to the wall being opened that very night, with liberal sprinklings from Hungary, the former Czechoslovakia, and Romania thrown in for good measure.

But should you read it? If you've kind of heard of this thing called communism but aren't really sure what it was or why some parts of Europe seem so much poorer than say, Sweden or France, this is a great book to walk you through what happened. It's also short enough that it won't take you very long to read it.  Although this book was published before the Arab Spring, another interesting reason to read it is parallel between the fates of the countries that broke free of the Iron Curtain and what is currently happening now in the Middle East. Some of the revolutions were relatively peaceful (Czechoslovakia, Germany, Tunisia); others somewhat messy (Romania, Egypt) and still others led to years of civil war (the Balkans, Syria). It will be interesting to see where everything ends up in another 40 years. If you're looking for an in-depth country-by-country analysis of the collapse of communism, this isn't your book.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

My Antonia, by Willa Cather

Why I read it: Western Canon

Podcasts: CBC Ideas

Brow: Upper Middle, but only if you already know how to pronounce the title character's name. Middle if you had to wait until Julia Turner said it on the Slate Culture Gabfest.

Summary: Jim Burden arrives in Nebraska at his grandparents' prosperous farm following the death of his parents back in Virginia. On the train with him is a poor but educated family of Bohemians who have bought a farm down the road. Jim is assigned by his grandmother to teach the oldest daughter, who is a few years his elder, English. The two strike up a lifelong friendship that endures even after Jim moves to town, finishes high school, and goes off to college, but is held back from turning into a romance by the gulf of social class. Years later, Jim, who has never married, returns and visits Antonia.

But should you read it? If you're a fan of Little House on the Prairie and doomed romances, this is definitely the book for you. If you get angry when two characters so obviously well-suited to each other are kept apart by their families' and society's expectations, perhaps you should give up on media altogether. It's also quite short at just 250 pages, probably just enough to tide you over during a train journey from Virginia to Nebraska.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Insane City, by Dave Barry

Why I read it: If I had a religion, Dave Barry would be in the pantheon of gods, along with cats, free parking and Aperol Spritz cocktails.

Podcast: Fresh Air Weekend

Brow: I love Dave Barry, but that doesn't elevate his works above low brow.

Summary: A bunch of people and one orangutan end up accidentally going on a crime spree in South Florida.

But should you read it? The only reason I read Carl Hiaasen's work is because Dave Barry doesn't write enough books anymore. This was his first novel for adults in 11 years. Luckily, he is still just as funny despite the gap, assembling his motely crew in Miami with the clock ticking down on the main character's wedding, he sets off a chain of events that will eventually encompass a stoned billionaire, an obnoxious stripper, and a pizza restaurant owner getting a suitcase full of cash on the beach in the middle of the night. The only unfortunate thing is that the book is only 384 pages long. Clearly it's missing some zeros.

Pakistan: A Hard Country, by Anatol Lieven

Why I read it: Economist Review

Podcast: LSE Public Events

Brow: Upper middle, unless you're a Pakistani reading this in Pakistan... well, actually you'd still be upper middle brow to be reading this in Pakistan, since the literacy rate is only 56%.

Summary: It's basically everything you need to know about modern Pakistan, from how the society is ordered and governed to how each region functions both internally and in relation to the others.

But should you read it? I recognise that foreign affairs is not most people's cup of tea, and that Pakistan is very foreign to most people, which allows us to tell ourselves that it's somehow unimportant or uninteresting. But that doesn't mean it's true. In fact, Pakistan is of immense geopolitical and geostrategic importance, and the fact that many in the west try to dismiss it as a mere 'failed state' belies that importance. It also helps that this book is well-researched and full of fun tidbits, like the fact that Pakistan's feudal politicians now complain that they have to convince their vassals to vote for them, whereas once a bribe or even the threat of cancelling their tenancy were enough.

The Story of a New Name, by Elena Ferranted

Why I read it: After reading My Brilliant Friend, it is impossible not to.

Podcast: NPR Fresh Air

Brow: For now, high. But when Ferrante's works start really getting the attention they deserve, they will become middle brow.

Summary: The Story of a New Name begins at the moment My Brilliant friend ends: 16 year old Lila Cerruto has just wed her fiance Stefano and realised that he doesn't share any of the ideals she holds dear. She spends the rest of the book fighting to escape her husband and avoid pregnancy despite having the right to divorce or access to birth control, and without slipping back into the violent poverty of her working-class Neapolitan neighbourhood. Observing all of this is her best friend Elena, who is envious of her friend's seemingly luxurious and romantic life while she toils away at high school and university. The two are further driven apart by Nino, a boy Elena has secretly loved since they were children, but who appears to prefer Lila, wedding ring notwithstanding.

But should you read it? Yes, absolutely, if only for the descriptions of the minute changes a female friendship undergoes in response to every experience the actors have. It doesn't hurt that the fierce, stubborn, passionate Lila is one of the most searing characters in recent fiction. I kept putting off bed time just so I could read one more chapter of her adventures.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Poems, by Robert Browning

Why I read it: Western Canon

Podcasts: Stuff you missed in history class

Brow: High, especially after I discovered that although the copy I borrowed from the library was purchased in 1907, some of the pages had never been cut apart.

Preferred Poems: Of course I've read different versions of The Pied Piper of Hamelin before, but this one bears reading. I also quite enjoyed The Flight of the Duchess. I think I might just be the type who enjoys narrative poetry and isn't so much into finding the similarities between say, a Grecian urn and the poet's underage male lover.

Less Loved Poems: Clearly any collection of Browning's poems ought to include My Last Duchess and this one does not, and so I wondered if perhaps one of the poems about ancient Greece might have been replaced.

But should you read it? If poetry is not your thing, but you feel you should at least be trying to access your civilization's heritage, than Browing is a fairly easy, accessible entry point for you. If you've acknowledged that not reading poetry marks you as a philistine and have taken up the hobby, Browning's works should definitely be on your list.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Appointment in Samarra, by John O'Hara

Why I read it: Harold Bloom's Western Canon

Podcasts: None

Brow: Upper middle

Summary: Julian English is not having a great Christmas break. Although he is wealthy and well-educated and has a beautiful young wife and a thriving business, he has a self-destructive streak a mile wide. On Christmas Eve, he follows through on a drunken impulse to throw a drink in the face of one of his most important customers and investors. This sets off a three-day long series of bad choices that will include binge drinking, cheating on his wife, and starting a brawl in the country-club locker room. At the end, the reader is forced to wonder if the events are fate, or just poor decision making.

But should you read it? For some reason, I find it much easier to pick up a tragic book than I do to sit down and watch a tragic movie, even though the latter will be finished faster. But not much faster in this case. The book is about 200 pages long and the plot moves at a quick clip. So go ahead and spend a rainy late-winter afternoon reading about Julian English's self-propelled downfall.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Faber Pocket Guide to Wagner, by Michael Tanner

Why I read it: Although I didn't have the sitting capacity to sit through the 16 hours of opera in 4 days that an entire Ring Cycle would demand, I did manage to see Die Walkure in Amsterdam this month and thought I should have at least some idea of what I was watching.

Podcasts: There are many on Wagner, mostly focusing on whether his racism led to Nazism, but none on this book specifically.

Brow: People think that opera is intimidatingly high-brow because it's mostly in a foreign language, but actually the plots are quite simple, and frankly goofy, and that, in combination with the costumes, set and the fact that a character will often take 25 minutes to die on stage, makes it more kitsch than high art. Nonetheless, as long as it retains its reputation as being an expensive, difficult art form reserved for the moneyed set, it will remain in its rarefied brow ranking.

Summary: The book starts with a short biography of Wagner, a notoriously difficult man, then analyses his operas, then finally deals with his antisemitism and whether it led to the Holocaust.

But should you read it? It's the Wagner 200 year, and so you can expect to see a lot of advertisements for his operas, especially since, racism or no, it's the one way opera houses can guarantee they will sell out for at least a few nights. If those adverts do arouse your curiosity, by all means buy this book so you'll have some idea of what you're watching and the fevered, brilliant, temperamental (he hated France nearly as much as he hated Jews, for not liking his operas) mind it sprang from.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Sybil Exposed, by Debbie Nathan

Why I read it: Salon review

Podcasts: None

Brow: It was a sordid case of psychiatry and journalism gone mad that inevitably became hugely popular. Writing a biography that exposes that fact does not elevate it above low brow.

Summary: In the 1970s, a book called Sybil appeared, the supposedly true story of a woman who had 16 personalities and the psychiatrist who put her back together. The book launched a new psychiatric diagnosis: Multiple Personality Disorder, in which a person's psyche 'splits' as a way to cope with severe sexual abuse, usually Satanic in nature. Each new personality periodically takes over the brain and body of the host, leaving her (the overwhelming majority of sufferers were women) with large tranches of time that she can't remember. For the next 20 years or so, MPD, repressed memories and Satanic cults were a popular trend in psychiatry and daytime talk shows, until society finally came to its senses in the 1990s and realised that the phenomenon was largely made up. Debbie Nathan researched the three women behind the craze: the original 'Sybil', her psychiatrist, Connie Wilbur, and the journalist who helped them sensationalise their story. She traces 'Sybil's' (real name: Shirley Mason) journey from being a misfit in her Seventh-Day Adventist community in Iowa to troubled college student in New York who falls under the spell of an ethically-challenged psychiatrist named Connie Wilbur, who was looking to make a name for herself using the new drugs and treatments available to her profession, namely hypnosis, sodium pentothal or 'truth serum', barbiturates and insulin. She quickly turned her patient into a junkie and forced her to make up ever more outlandish tales about her childhood in order to keep her attention. The journalist had made a name for herself publishing human-interest stories about politicians' wives, but as public interest waned, she needed a new hook for her audience. This toxic combination yielded Sybil.

But should you read it? I was a little young to understand the whole 'Satanic ritual abuse' craze at the time it was happening, but I was a little more politically aware by the time it was being exposed as a giant hoax propagated by paranoid prosecutors and overzealous psychiatrists. I also studied psychology at university, where this was held up as the classic case study of therapeutic overreach. It's also a good reminder to all of us that mass hysteria is not a new phenomenon and we need to be careful about falling prey to it all the time, regardless of our experience with psychiatry.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Cat Sense, by John Bradshaw

Why I read it & Podcast: Fresh Air

Brow: Since cats are the highest brow, reading books about them must be impossibly high.

Summary: Bradshaw is an anthrozoologist at the University of Bristol and owner of 3 cats, though this book is largely the result of his actual research into cat behaviour and emotions. He argues that cats are not nearly as far along in their evolution from pest controllers to purr factories, and the lifestyle we expect them to lead now, where they are pampered, worshiped, and in my case at least, literally brought food on a platter, food that is often more expensive on a per-kilo basis than my own, I might add, is actually stressing them out, because we expect them to live in close proximity to other cats and not claw our furniture in exchange for the above. The book is also stuffed full of tips for the cat owner, such as how to tell what your cats think of each other (mine get along fine) and what kinds of toys they like (the ones they know they've killed because they fell apart. He does not explain how you are supposed to afford this).

Who should read this: Well, obviously anyone who has a cat, which is now the most popular domestic pet today, so that's a lot of people. You can probably skip the history chapters if you're looking for a quick read, but the behaviour, interaction and emotions chapters are indispensable reading for the ailurophile.

Sisterland, by Curtis Sittenfeld

Why I read it: Slate Review

Podcast: Writers on Writing

Brow: Solidly middlebrow

Summary: Identical twins Violet and Daisy have always had 'the senses,' an ability to foresee future events. Daisy yearns for a normal life and does all she can to distance herself from her powers, refusing to acknowledge the messages they send. She grows up to lead a conventional life, marrying a chemistry and becoming a stay-at-home mother to two children. Violet, on the other hand, embraces her capabilities and becomes a medium. She is also her sister's opposite in many ways, she never marries and declares herself a lesbian in her 30s. And there you have the fundamental tension of twins - a reflection you can't control. Then in 2009, Violet predicts that an earthquake will hit sometime soon, throwing Daisy's - who renames herself Kate at university - life into chaos. Suddenly her sister is everywhere, her husband, as a scientist, is furious. Then, to make matters worse, her own powers kick in again with a specific prediction.

What makes it good: I think any woman who has a sister that's relatively close in age has felt the same tensions as the Schramm twins. With my own younger sister, it often felt like she was defining herself in opposition to me: I like to read, she hates books; I loath sports, she's athletic and outdoorsy, and so on. We don't live very close and so don't see each other much, but I suspect that if we spent as much time together as the characters in this book, we'd also find ourselves fighting as much, and in the same ways, as Kate and Violet: at one point Violet explodes at Kate's mothering, Kate is exasperated when her sister refuses to help her corral her two children during an emergency. In other words, psychic twin powers aside, these two sisters could be any of us.

Recommended: Absolutely.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

The Testament of Mary, by Colm Toibin

Why I chose it: shortlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize

Podcasts: Guardian Books

Brow: Upper middle if you aren't religious

Summary: As Mary, mother of Jesus, is approaching the end of her life in hiding, two rude strangers appear on her doorstep and demand to interview her about her son, which prompts flashbacks to her few scenes in the bible (Mary is much less prominent than the Catholic church might have you believe) and retells them from her point of view.

What I liked about it: Whether you're religious or not, and whether you believe she was actually a virgin when she got preggers or you think she was duped by a dude claiming to be an angel, Mary is an interesting character. Here she's the fully human mother of a son whose life is in danger due to his dangerous, anti-authoritarian message. She tries to save him and fails, and ends up in danger herself. Now she's alone, secretly anger and bitter towards the world, and exiled in Ephesus and being visited by two of her son's followers who are trying to reshape her memories.

What I didn't like about it: I'm not Toibin's biggest fan. I just don't like his writing as much as some of his contemporaries who are also often nominated for the Booker Prize. Luckily, this book is so short it hardly matters.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Honor, by Elif Shafak

Why I read it: A New Yorker review that I will not link to because for some reason they keep their 1-paragraph 'Books Briefly Noted' section under lock and key.

Podcasts: None

Brow: Very highbrow.

Summary: The story of a family's journey from a small Kurdish village in eastern Turkey in the 1940s to London in the 1970s, to Britain in the 1990s. The tension between east and west, modern and traditional, comes to an explosive end.

What I liked about it: It's a terrific book about the immigrant experience and the culture clashes it brings about. I myself live in the Netherlands, which has a lot of first and second generation immigrants who face the exact kinds of pressures that these characters do: how far to integrate, the problems that how much you've integrated or not causes in your home community and the new community, the roles of men and women. What to do when someone breaks the 'rules' as you understand them.

What I didn't like about it: My one tiny critique is about the character of Esma. Sometimes she is the narrator, sometimes we get a third-person perspective from her point of view. Sometimes it's the 1990s, and sometimes it's the 1970s. It can get confusing.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Far from the Tree, by Andrew Solomon

Why I read it: New Yorker Review but this guy was everywhere for a few weeks.

Podcasts: CBC Ideas, but it's just one of many.

Brow: If you're reading it for stories about freaky kids, low brow, but if you're trying to understand the experience of their parents, middle.

Summary: Most parents expect to pass on their way of being happy, or their 'vertical identity' to their children. But what happens when it's impossible to do that? Solomon explores what happens when children are drastically different from their parents in a dozen different ways, from deafness to criminality to transgenderism, so those identities become 'horizontal.' He tells us the personal stories of hundreds of families he interviewed over 10 years while researching the book.

What I liked about it: The book is fantastically written and the stories are well told, whether it's the heartbreaking scene of a mother whose child is the product of rape asking Solomon to tell her how to love her child, or the uplifting stories of parents who become advocates for their children. It's also packed with interesting facts, like that schizophrenia is a developmental disorder, not a mental illness.

What I didn't like about it: The text of the book is over 700 pages, and with footnotes it comes out to nearly 1000 pages. The stories are great, but each chapter is at least 50 pages, and some are nearly 90. It felt like this book could have been tightened a lot and not lost any of its power. Furthermore, although Solomon talks about how people who would have been bad parents become awful parents when they are faced with a child they can't identify with, he gives us almost no stories of people in those situations, and doesn't appear to have interviewed any of them. Perhaps he couldn't get anyone to agree to sit down to an interview about what a terrible parent they are, but it's hard to see how anyone having a horrific time with a similar case to one of these wouldn't feel inadequate. Adding to this is the fact that nearly everyone he profiles is middle class and above, when I imagine it would be much harder for a working-class single mother to find the time and energy to advocate for her special-needs child, but we don't get many of their stories.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Love to Love you Bradys, by Ted Nichelson, Susan Olson and Lisa Sutton

Why I read it: Salon Review

Podcasts: Amazingly, yes, there is a podcast for this book, but not for Robertson Davies.

Brow: Low, but like, hipster-cool lowbrow.

Summary: In 1976, television hit its nadir. Not only were variety shows all the rage, it looked like variety shows starring large families were about to take off, since The Donny and Marie Show was a hit. So superproducers Sid and Marty Krofft cast about for another large TV family that might possibly be trained to sing and dance and came up with The Brady Bunch, which had gone off the air a few years before. They reassembled most of the cast and set about turning them into vaudevillians. Somehow, this managed to stay on the air for 10 episodes. Like I said, nadir. Anyway, more than 30 years later, fans were still so curious to know the answers to such questions as 'Why didn't Eve Plumb participate?' that the authors were able to generate a 338-page book stuffed with fun facts and trivia, such as that Maureen McCormick, who played Marcia Marcia Marcia! was too stoned out of her mind to appear in several segments, which of course is never explained.

What I liked about it: As a child growing up in the 80s and 90s, I watched The Brady Bunch pretty much every day between 3:30 and dinner time, as there was always an episode on at least one channel. I even took Barry Williams' book Growing Up Brady out of the library and made my dad photocopy the episode-by-episode trivia out of the back of it so I could note all the ridiculous moments as I was watching. I also watched the TV movies and the commercial films, but in the days before the internet, I never saw this show. I wasn't totally obsessed, but I was interested enough to buy this book and find all the episodes on YouTube.

What I didn't like about it: As I said, I'm not totally obsessed, so an entire chapter on the women who played the dancers/synchronised swimmers and where they are today wasn't exactly scintillating. I was much more interested in reading about Florence Henderson's hissy fits or the ways the producers would try to keep the underage actors working overtime without getting fined by the California Labor Board.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

The Complete Plays of Aristophanes

Why I chose it: Western Canon, A Lifetime's Reading

Podcasts: La Trobe University's course on Ancient Greece

Brow: In Ancient Greece, most of this was pretty low brow, but nowadays it's high brow.

Summary: Aristophanes was the Adam Sandler of Ancient Greece, writing slapstick comedy plays for the masses. Yes, most of them are on serious themes, like Athenian politics and intellectuals, and yes, The Clouds may have been responsible for getting Socrates executed, but it's also about a popular, athletic teenager who's into fast horses and refuses to go to 'nerd school.' His dad goes instead, and gets kicked out for masturbating when he's supposed to be lying there meditating.

What I liked about it: The Birds, which is about two friends who get sick of living in Athens and convince a former king who now lives as a bird to build a whole bird city in the sky for them, is pretty good because it's not about arcane political machinations and you can imagine people today feeling the same. Lysistrata, which is about the women of Greece staging a sex strike in order to force an end to the Pelopennesian war, is also pretty funny, especially the scene where some of the ladies get horny and keep trying to make all these excuses for why they need to go home. Finally, Thesmophoriazusae or more easily pronounced The Parliament of Women, where the women go off to a festival by themselves. The playwright Euripides, worried they're talking about them behind his back, sends a friend in disguised as a woman to spy on them. Inside, he discovers a democracy, complete with voting, committees and action plans, debating how to punish Euripides for his negative portrayals of women in his plays. Of course the women quickly discover the cross-dresser and arrest him, only agreeing to release him when Euripides promises to stop treating them so horribly in his works.

What I didn't like about it: I read the Bantam Classics edition, which not only uses anachronistic words like hamburger, it also translates all the parts for foreigners into a weird form of Scots English. Not only that, it completely lacks footnotes, so when someone or something unfamiliar is mentioned, not that surprising in a 2000 year old book of plays, you either have to turn to Wikipedia to figure it out or just skip over that bit.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Bad Monkey, by Carl Hiaasen

Why I read it: Carl Hiaasen is my one nod to genre fiction.

Podcasts: Surprisingly, there were no podcasts about this book.

Brow: The 'a bunch of wackos go on a crime spree in South Florida' genre cannot possibly rank above low brow by its very nature.

Summary: Well, there are wackos. And they go on a crime spree. Specifically, a tourist on a fishing expedition reels in a severed arm, setting off a chain of events that will eventually involve murder, Medicare fraud, and a monkey that starred in the Pirates of the Caribbean.

What I liked about it: I first discovered Carl Hiaasen's works in Thailand, where the worst thing that could ever happen to me happened: I ran out of reading material. This is also how I ended up reading all the Harry Potter books in four sleepless days. The first of his books that I picked up was Striptease, which is probably also the best of his books. Either that or I liked it best because I was new to the genre. Nonetheless, I kept reading his books because they're the one form of printed material that I can pick up and consume without thinking too hard.

What I didn't like about it: Alas, even though Hiassen has been writing books about the destruction of Florida by corrupt politicians and rich people and the few brave souls who try to stand up for them since 1986, his books are not nearly as good as Dave Barry's on the subject. Unfortunately, Barry has only written 3, and there was a 10 year gap in between two of them.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante

Why I read it: This brief Fresh Air review made the trilogy sound so haunting I asked for it for Christmas.

Podcasts: Fresh Air, New Yorker Out Loud

Brow: Upper middle

Summary: The first in a trilogy about a friendship between two Neapolitan women, this book covers the time from when they meet as 8 year old schoolgirls growing up in a violent working-class neighbourhood in the late 1950s until one of them gets married at 16. Their lives take very different courses early on when a teacher recognises how intelligent they both are and recommends that they be allowed to progress to middle school. Elena, the narrator, is allowed to continue in school and possibly get the chance to escape the restricted life of her mother, but Lila is forbidden. The two remain friends despite their very different life trajectories and the tensions they cause.

What I liked about it: Everything. This book is amazing. As the reviewers say, this is the best novelist you've never heard of. But to be more specific: Like perhaps everyone who has read this book, I too am in love with the character of Lila, a precocious, perceptive, combative girl who seems determined to get out of her dismal situation by any means necessary. Unfortunately, most of her schemes: education, writing a novel, designing shoes that will set the world on fire, fail to pan out and she's left with marrying her way out of misery at 16.

What I didn't like about it: Nothing. You should read this book.