Book Review: American Prison by Shane Bauer (2018)

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Review 2.6

In 2014, Shane Bauer was hired for $9 an hour to work as an entry-level prison guard at a private prison in Winnfield, Louisiana. An award-winning investigative journalist, he used his real name; there was no meaningful background check. Four months later, his employment came to an abrupt end. But he had seen enough, and in short order he wrote an exposé about his experiences that won a National Magazine Award and became the most-read feature in the history of the magazine Mother Jones. 

Still, there was much more that he needed to say. In American Prison, Bauer weaves a much deeper reckoning with his experiences together with a thoroughly researched history of for-profit prisons in America from their origins in the decades before the Civil War. For, as he soon realized, we can’t understand the cruelty of our current system and place in the larger story of mass incarceration without understanding where it came from. Private prisons became entrenched in the South as part of a systemic effort to keep the African-American labor force in place in the aftermath of slavery, and the echoes of these shameful origins are with us still.  [Source]

This is my first time reviewing a book that I’ve listened to on Audible instead of actively reading in print. I wondered how it would affect my enjoyment and also if it would impact my ability to remember and retain information. I wanted my first book to be nonfiction and I chose Shane Bauer’s follow-up novel to his acclaimed 2016 Mother Jones exposé My Four Months as a Prison Guard. In American Prison, Bauer goes into greater depth and detail regarding his time at Winnfield Prison. He also takes a look at how we got to this sad state of affairs.

Roughly half of American Prison is taken from Bauer’s personal accounts and observations during his time as a prison guard in Louisiana. He details his application process, which was less in-depth than an interview for KFC. Mainly, his potential employers just wanted to make sure Bauer was okay with low wages and mandatory overtime. No psychological review was necessary for the job, which becomes readily apparent once Bauer meets his fellow coworkers. He chronicles his interactions with the inmates as well, and establishes a connection with some of them. I was particularly fascinated by an inmate named Derek, who seems close to actually being friends with Bauer. They discuss the hardships faced by both inmate and guard and the shortcomings of the prison to deal with the needs of both. Derek seems like an intelligent, thoughtful young man. Bauer later informs us he is in prison for multiple counts of rape. Bauer’s keeps a personal account of the ways his personality changed during his time as a corrections officer. His stress level rose, his empathy plummeted, and he suffered from high blood pressure and insomnia. All for nine dollars an hour.

The other half of the book is a supervillain origin story of sorts. Bauer looks at the history of the American private prison system in the hopes of determining at what point it became acceptable to treat humans as business commodities. Sadly the answer is a bit like the hypothetical chicken and egg. Private prisons saw increase an in popularity during the latter half of the 19th century, and Bauer argues that this was connected to the ending of slavery after the Civil War. State-run plantations which previously relied on slaves for free labor now had to look elsewhere, and a few enterprising eyes fell upon the convict population. By using convict labor, the plantations could continue operating at minimum cost and everyone from the wardens to the politicians could continue lining their pockets. Bauer follows the history of various state-run prison systems in the southern American states as they went from being for-profit farms to being for-profit holdings pens for millions of incarcerated individuals.

American Prison offers a bleak but realistic depiction of the current state of affairs in America’s private prison. The epilogue, in which Bauer recounts the fallout from his Mother Jones expose, was particularly bittersweet. Apparently, his story caught the attention of the Obama administration, and a law was passed abolishing private contracts for federal penitentiaries. Two years later, the Trump administration revoked the law, and now more inmates than ever are behind the bars of private prisons. On a more positive note, the shareholders are doing swell.

My rating: 4/5

You can find American Prison here on Amazon or here on Book Depository. The Audible edition of this book is narrated by James Fouhey, and can be found here.

Happy reading everyone!

 

 

 

Book Review: Beartown by Fredrik Backman (2017)

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Review 2.5

People say Beartown is finished. A tiny community nestled deep in the forest, it is slowly losing ground to the ever encroaching trees. But down by the lake stands an old ice rink, built generations ago by the working men who founded this town. And in that ice rink is the reason people in Beartown believe tomorrow will be better than today. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys. [Source]

Only someone who has played as part of a sports team can describe the seemingly psychic connection that exists between well-trained players working towards a common goal. A good coach can pull astounding results out of a talented player, but not without pain and sacrifice both mental and physical. Complete and total devotion is required if the unit as a whole is to succeed. The character traits born by playing sports: loyalty, determination, selflessness, and stamina can serve children well into adulthood. But there is a darker side to those sterling qualities: arrogance, recklessness, and a disregard for authority also breed when star players are told from a very early age that they are perfect and invincible. Beartown tells the story of one youth ice hockey team as they prepare for the semi-final championship and bear the entire weight of a community on their shoulders.

Beartown is a novel about the power of competitive sports to bring people together and to tear people apart. The introspective, omniscient language used by Fredrik Backman (translated here from Swedish by Neil Smith) is simultaneously haunting and joyful. We delight in the vitality and joy that the boys of the Beartown junior league find out on the ice, while never forgetting that those shining moments are few and fleeting. Backman manages to capture the almost addictive hold that these sports have, both on the players and the people in the community who place all their hopes on the slim shoulders of seventeen-year old boys. The pressure that these students are under would buckle the knees of most adult men, and game-day nears, the cracks begin to show.

Halfway into Beartown came an event that I definitely did not expect, but in retrospect I should have seen it coming a mile away. Another side effect of sports culture is the attitude instilled in the members of a winning team that they are entitled to whatever rewards they desire and that “winning” is something that must be obtained at all costs. This event sets off a series of repercussions that wind through the remaining half of the novel until building into a tight, page-turning conclusion that had me glued to the screen of my Kobo.

I loved that this was a novel about sports culture that didn’t require me to know or care anything about ice hockey going in. It’s a novel about sports that will appeal to people who don’t like sports very much. And people who love the game. Probably because Beartown isn’t about ice hockey. It’s about teamwork. Friendship. Sacrifice. Loyalty. Honesty. Bravery. And a little bit ice hockey.

My rating: 5/5

You can find Beartown here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

Rescue Cat Wednesday!

While reading is my oldest love, I am also very passionate about animals. I volunteer twice a week with a wonderful Toronto-based charity called Action Volunteers for Animals. They rescue homeless cats from all around Ontario, as well as run Trap-Neuter-Release programs to help control the population of homeless cats. Every week, I plan to post pictures of some of the delightful kitties currently staying with us at the local adoption facility.

If you or anyone you know is interested in adopting a rescue cat, you can find out more at actionvolunteersforanimals.com

For those of you who have been following on Facebook, we have a surprise return guest this week!

 

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Scar has returned to AVA! He was adopted just in time for Christmas, but was having a lot of trouble getting along with the other cat in the house. He was becoming stressed and aggressive, so his owner thought he might do better in another home. We now think Scar will be best as the only pet in the house, since he needs to know that he has all of your love!

For those that don’t know, Scar was brought to AVA in September after being rescued as a stray. He had lived rough on the streets for four years as a tom, and has the rakish appearance to prove it! Scar has made great strides since his first arrival. He loves wands and laser toys, but enjoys spending most of his days snoozing in a cat perch, preferably one near a window.

Scar likes to be petted and scratched, but can become overstimulated which causes him to occasionally swat or bite. We are training him to act out this “attack” behavior on his favorite stuffed animal instead of hands. With some love and patience, Scar will make a great addition to a quiet home with no young children or other pets. His donation fee is $175.

All three of our orange brothers found their forever homes this week. Sweet Philip went to a home to be a companion to another young cat. Eric and Rudy were adopted together to a very experienced couple who will work to make them feel comfortable in their new home.

 

 

Besides Scar, there are four new cats to introduce this week!

 

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Ginger and Rose were adopted from AVA as kittens. Now two-and-a-half, they were unfortunately surrendered when their owner could no longer take care of them. They are a sweet and gentle pair who are bonded and must be adopted together. Ginger (the orange one) has been a little braver so far, coming to the front of the cage for pets and scratches. Rose has preferred to hang out in her comfy cat box and observe for a few days. The donation fee for Ginger and Rose is $300.

 

 

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This gorgeous long-haired orange tabby came from a cat colony in Bobcaygeon, Ontario. Hidden behind him is his friend, an equally stunning female Siamese mix. Due to a clerical mixup, we don’t know their names or ages quite yet. I’ve temporarily dubbed them Aladdin and Jasmine, since they’ve spent all their time cuddled up on a rug. Both cats are quite shy, though Aladdin likes to be gentle petted as long as you move slowly. We hope to adopt them together, since it would be helpful to have a friend when they move to their new home. The donation fee would be $175 for one cat, or $300 for the pair.

 

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Felicity and Sadie are now bunkmates but they could be mistaken for mother and daughter! Both love playing with wands and getting head rubs. Sadie is beginning to become your typical rambunctious kitten. I think she’ll be venturing out of her cage soon!

 

 

You can see more photos of our wonderful rescue cats, learn more about AVA, and become involved as a volunteer by visiting actionvolunteersforanimals.com

Book Review: Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer (1996)

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Review 2.4

In April 1992 a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. His name was Christopher Johnson McCandless. He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet, and invented a new life for himself. Four months later, a party of moose hunters found his decomposed body. How McCandless came to die is the unforgettable story of Into the Wild. [Source]

 “I now walk into the wild.” – Christopher McCandless

The story of Christopher McCandless has become something of an urban legend crossed with a cautionary tale. I’m sure parents have warned their children that if they aren’t careful they’ll end up “dying in a bus somewhere in Alaska”. When I mentioned to my husband that I was reading this book, he scoffed and muttered something about idiot kids and white privilege. For some, McCandless is a cultural admonition about the foolishness of youth. For others, he is a symbol of wanderlust, that powerful urge to explore the wild places of the world and reconnect with nature that exists somewhere within all men.

It’s easy to write McCandless off as just a spoiled boy from an affluent background who got what he deserved when he walked into the Alaskan wilderness with no supplies. It’s easy to say that he was mentally ill, or suicidal, or just plain crazy. What Krakauer has done with Into the Wild is to tell the harder story, one of a charismatic and talented young man whose obsessive desire to connect with nature ended up costing his life.

“At long last he was unencumbered, emancipated from the stifling world of his parents and peers, a world of abstraction and security and material excess, a world in which he felt grievously cut off from the raw throb of existence.”

Last year I read Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven, which chronicles the violent history of the Mormon faith and how it led to the death of an innocent woman and child. Krakauer has the remarkable ability to write nonfiction as if it were fiction. He weaves his plot and characters together with meticulous attention to detail and exhaustive research. Reading Into the Wild, it is obvious that Krakauer was profoundly moved by the death of McCandless. The book represents an homage of sorts, a chance to tell Christopher’s story in a way that makes him look brave but naive instead of just incredibly stupid. Krakauer brings a sense of tragic nobility to Christopher’s life and death while trying to explain what drove him to venture alone into the wilderness. He looks at journals, interviews friends and family members, and ultimately journeys to the hollowed out bus where McCandless’ body was found.

I am writing this review more than five days after finishing it, and I can’t get Christopher McCandless out of my head. At random times of the day, when I’m washing dishes or marking homework, the image of a lonely boy dying in a lonely bus in a cold, lonely forest comes into my mind. I had before heard the story of the idiot kid who died in the wilds of Alaska. Now I feel like I actually know the story of McCandless’ life. This book was amazing.

My rating: 5/5

You can find Into the Wild here on Amazon or here on Book Depository. In 2007 it was adapted into a film starring Emile Hirsch and directed by Sean Penn.

Happy reading everyone!

Rescue Cat Wednesday!

While reading is my oldest love, I am also very passionate about animals. I volunteer twice a week with a wonderful Toronto-based charity called Action Volunteers for Animals. They rescue homeless cats from all around Ontario, as well as run Trap-Neuter-Release programs to help control the population of homeless cats. Every week, I plan to post pictures of some of the delightful kitties currently staying with us at the local adoption facility.

If you or anyone you know is interested in adopting a rescue cat, you can find out more at actionvolunteersforanimals.com

 

We had four adoptions this week at my local animal shelter, and it’s great seeing all the cats find their new forever homes! Among the adopted cats was one that I featured last week:

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Cuddly Theodore found a new home with his sister Buffy. It’s great when we get to keep siblings together, however they still have one littermate who needs a family.

 

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This is Sadie. She has come so far in the short time she’s been with AVA. Originally she was very hissy and did not like to be petted at all. In one short week, she’s discovered that she loves pets and scratchies although she still gets really scared if you try to pick her up. Volunteers are working to help Sadie become a true lap cat! Her donation fee is $200, and she needs to be adopted with a friend or to a home that already has a young cat.

 

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Simon is new to AVA this week, and is still getting used to his temporary home. He is a recently neutered tom who would probably do best as the only pet in the house, although he may become better with other cats once he is less nervous. He loves being petted and stroked, but can become overwhelmed at times and try to bite or swat. Simon would do well in an experienced home with no young children. His donation fee is $175.

 

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Eric was rescued from a cat colony near Durham, Ontario with two other orange tabbies who may or may not be his brothers. Eric is still very shy, but is beginning to explore his cage and interact with the volunteers a little more every day. He likes to play with wands, and can be petted for short amounts of time. Eric would do best in a home with other cat friends to make him feel comfortable. His donation fee is $200.

 

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Tabitha didn’t want to come out and play this week. Instead she enjoyed cuddling up with her favorite stuffed snowman.

 

You can see more photos of our wonderful rescue cats, learn more about AVA, and become involved as a volunteer by visiting actionvolunteersforanimals.com

 

Book Review: Pointe by Brandy Colbert (2014)

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Review 2.3

Theo is better now.

She’s eating again, dating guys who are almost appropriate, and well on her way to becoming an elite ballet dancer. But when her oldest friend, Donovan, returns home after spending four long years with his kidnapper, Theo starts reliving memories about his abduction—and his abductor.

Donovan isn’t talking about what happened, and even though Theo knows she didn’t do anything wrong, telling the truth would put everything she’s been living for at risk. But keeping quiet might be worse. [Source]

*Warning: This Review Contains Mild Spoilers*

Theo is having a rough year. She’s traveling into Chicago three times a week for ballet rehearsal, with the auditions for professional companies looming ever closer. She’s haunted by the ghosts of her eating disorder and her time spent in a rehabilitation clinic. Her former best friend has just been found after being abducted four years ago, and it turns out his abductor is her ex-boyfriend

If Pointe had chosen any one of those subjects and focused its plot solely on Theo overcoming that obstacle, this novel might have felt less scattered. Instead, Theo’s life is a tragedy gumbo, with a new secret or disaster looming on every horizon. No wonder she’s falling apart; I felt my blood pressure going up just reading about it.

It was disappointing that a book entitled Pointe seemed to focus so little on ballet. Author Brandy Colbert obviously did quite a bit of research into the technical aspects of the dance, but the emotional power of ballet is often lost. Professional dance demands a level of passion and dedication that a very, very talented few possess, and Colbert does not adequately convey Theo’s love for ballet. She claims to want to be a professional ballerina, and yet she smokes cigarettes and marijuana as well as regularly drinking alcohol. More importantly, she takes no happiness in it.

One thing that I could appreciate in Pointe is the realistic and modern approach to teenagers and high school life. It’s tricky for adults to write about juveniles; too often we either trivialize or hyperbolize their struggles. While Colbert does tend towards the dramatic, she does so in a way that feels authentic more often than not. I could feel Theo’s exhaustion, that feeling of utter emptiness that can accompany depression. The dialogue of the various high schooler’s is also natural and unforced, which again is easier said than done.

I won’t say much about the abduction storyline except that its inclusion in the main synopsis is a red herring. I think the publishers wanted to keep the true focus of their novel under-wraps, so they pitched it as a mystery/kidnapping story when in reality the themes are much darker in nature.

This novel was too much of a downer for me. No life, no matter how tragic, is without it’s tiny moments of joy;  but that’s how Pointe often felt. I sympathized strongly with Theo as she battled her various demons, but it all just became too much.

My rating: 3/5

You can find Pointe here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

*This novel may be triggering to survivors of rape, kidnap, eating disorders, or sexual abuse*

Happy reading everyone!

Book Review: The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X. R. Pan (2018)

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Review 2.2

Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird.

Leigh, who is half Asian and half white, travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, she is determined to find her mother, the bird. In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents. And as she grieves, she must try to reconcile the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life.

Alternating between real and magic, past and present, friendship and romance, hope and despair, The Astonishing Color of After is a novel about finding oneself through family history, art, grief, and love. [Source]

Depression is such a tricky subject to write about. It’s so mercurial in nature, so difficult to define and diagnose and treat. The Astonishing Color of After triumphs as a portrayal of depression from all perspectives. The repercussions of Leigh’s mother’s suicide reverberate down the plotline when Leigh becomes convinced that her mother has transformed into a bird. Fearing for her mental state, Leigh’s father sends her to Taiwan to visit her grandparents for the first time. Once there, Leigh begins the long, slow process of healing.

The Astonishing Color of After blew me away with its depiction of depression and the effect it can have on a family. Instead of focusing on Leigh’s mother as she battles her inner demons, the perspective is Leigh’s, which helps to convey the constant stress and strain that mental illness places on family members. Humans can adapt to almost anything, and it’s sad that the warning symptoms of suicide can be overlooked because we see a person as always being “up and down” or just “having a rough patch”. For Leigh, her mother’s depression was just another part of life until it wasn’t.

Leigh’s adventures in China add a welcome lighter tone to the story. All the descriptions of the Mandarin language and culture and food made me miss my days spent living there. One scene set in an outdoor night market was particularly vivid, I could almost taste the stuffed bao buns and room temperature beer. For Leigh, the trip to Taiwan offers a chance to grieve her mother while learning more about her childhood and the circumstances that drove her to cut off all contact with her family.

The Astonishing Color of After evoked a stronger emotional reaction than I had anticipated. The combination of magic realism with the themes of loss and grief was a heady mix, and I found myself ugly crying towards the end. But it was a cathartic, healing kind of cry. The kind you didn’t know you needed until it’s over.

My rating: 4.5/5

You can find The Astonishing Color of After here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

Happy reading everyone!

 

Book Review: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (2018)

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In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is meticulously planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colours of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenage daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than just tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the alluring mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past, and a disregard for the rules that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When the Richardsons’ friends attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town and puts Mia and Mrs. Richardson on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Mrs. Richardson becomes determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs to her own family – and Mia’s.

This novel is proving difficult to review because it’s about so many things. The relationship between mothers and daughters. The close-mindedness of so-called progressives. The risks that are taken when one chooses the road less traveled; and the risks that are taken when one chooses the road well paved. Little Fires Everywhere is multi-faceted and nuanced. It takes the time to set up its characters so that their actions feel rooted in real world consequences. There is no outright antagonist in this novel, each of the characters follows their own course with a series of small actions, each of which lights a small spark that eventually build into an inferno with the power to change lives.

How much time has to pass before a time period can be considered historical fiction? This novel, which is set in the mid 1990’s, often felt like a time capsule. The whole world sat perched on the edge of a technological whirlwind which was about to change how we communicate, travel, work, and live. The setting does not play a major role in the proceedings except perhaps to show how much the attitudes of middle class white families have changed over the past twenty years, but the occasional references to President Clinton and outdated technology were kind of fun.

Little Fires Everywhere‘s plot does not move at a breakneck pace; instead it settles in for the long haul and prefers a story well told. Celeste Ng is an author who cares very deeply for her characters, and this love and attention to detail comes through in her writing. I felt a strong emotional bond with Izzy, who is struggling so hard against the regulations of her parents. I also identified with Pearl; I was often the new girl at school and it’s never easy. I admired her easy self-confidence as much as I understood her desperate need to be part of a group of friends.

I really enjoyed this novel. It was surprisingly funny and occasionally heart-warming. I think that it could have many interpretations based on where a person is in their life.

My rating: 4.5/5

You can find Little Fires Everywhere here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

Happy reading everyone!

Rescue Cat Wednesday!

This is the very first segment in a weekly post I hope to start this year. While reading is my oldest love, I am also very passionate about animals. I volunteer twice a week with a wonderful Toronto-based charity called Action Volunteers for Animals. They rescue homeless cats from all around Ontario, as well as run Trap-Neuter-Release programs to help control the population of homeless cats. Every week, I plan to post pictures of some of the delightful kitties currently staying with us at the local adoption facility.

If you or anyone you know is interested in adopting a rescue cat, you can find out more at actionvolunteersforanimals.com

 

theodore

Theodore is three months old, and is still getting used to people. He’s discovered that he loves treats and pets, but can be easily startled. With love and patience, he has definite lap cat potential. Theodore needs to be adopted with another kitten or to a home that already has a young cat.

tabitha

Two-year old Tabitha is shy, but becoming braver everyday. She is very curious about life in the shelter, and has been venturing outside of her cage to investigate the other cats. She has done well with the other cats in the shelter, and could make an excellent companion to a home that already has a cat. She is probably not great with dogs.

 

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Felicity is also two years old, and she has made so much progress since first coming into AVA’s care a few months ago. She is still shy, but now enjoys being petted and scratched. Felicity suffered an illness or an injury that left her partially blind in one eye, but all her other cat senses are keen. Felicity would enjoy a quiet home, preferably with another feline friend.

philip

Philip is six-months old, and has earned the affectionate nickname of Snaggletooth, due to the canine that sticks over his top lip. He is the bravest of his brothers, and is becoming more and more comfortable being petted and handled. He needs to be adopted with another kitten, or to a home that already has a young cat.

 

oakey

Don’t let Oakey’s grouchy face fool you, he is a total sweetie! Oakey was found badly injured, and the scars have left him with an adorably rakish appearance. Oakey loves to eat, he has put on weight in the shelter and could definitely use some exercise! He loves to play with feather wands and laser pointers, and would make a great cat on his own or with a friend.

 

If you want to learn more about these kitties or any of the other cats available for adoption, find out more at actionvolunteersforanimals.com/

 

 

Book Review: Willow by V.C. Andrews (2002)

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Review 2.1

Wealth. Extravagant parties. Celebrity status. These are things Willow De Beers could only dream of until now. After discovering deep family secrets in her adoptive father’s journal, Willow bids farewell to her North Carolina college town and sets out in search of her birth family amid the ritzy glamour of Palm Beach

In my childhood home, like so many in the mid 90’s, there was a dusty shelf on the bookcase filled with old V. C. Andrews paperbacks. My parents were extremely strict about policing what I watched on T.V., but were much more casual about what I read. When I was around ten or eleven years old, I picked up Flowers in the Attic, and my eyes were opened. It was my first encounter with a book that dealt with overtly sexual themes such as incest and rape, and I had no idea what was happening in the more “adult” scenes. Nevertheless I found that I enjoyed the high melodrama and the continuous cycle of betrayal and forgiveness. All through high school, while I was taking AP Literature and preparing to begin my degree in English, these books were my guilty pleasure.

This past Christmas I had the chance to spend the holidays with my family back in the States for the first time in many years. While I was sitting and catching up with my parents I took a glance at the family bookcase and there they were. The same tattered V. C. Andrews paperbacks I had read and re-read so many times. They had dwindled in number over the years, no doubt lost to garage sales and thrift stores. I was immediately hit by a wave of fond nostalgia, and when I returned to Canada I decided I wanted to revisit V. C. Andrews by reading one of her books that was new to me. On a whim, I chose Willow, which is the first novel in the five-book De Beers series.

Why is any of this important? Because the nostalgia factor here is very strong, and definitely swayed my opinion on the book. If a person who was not previously familiar with V. C. Andrews read Willow, they would probably see it as the most ridiculous and silly kind of smut. But for me, going back into that world was so relaxing. It was like taking my brain off at the end of a long day.

Willow has all of the trademarks that make V. C. Andrews the bestselling author of trashy family dramas. The title character suddenly finds herself dealing with the ritz and glamour of Palm Beach high society. The upper echelons of the upper class are pictured here as if they have been drawn by someone who had only the rudimentary idea of what wealth is. I’ve certainly never run in those circles, but somehow I find 6:00 am beluga caviar feasts as people toast themselves and how fabulous they are a bit far-fetched. Such though is the charm of V. C. Andrews, whose books have always focused on the super-rich and their dazzling lifestyles. Even though this novel is set in 2002, the characters behave as if they are perpetually trapped in some long ago era. The women are shallow and ornamental, the men strutting and arrogant. It’s all just so deliciously silly.

I haven’t said much about the plot, but that’s because the plot is largely inconsequential. What matters is that Willow De Beers is suddenly transported to a life of fabulous wealth and dangerous secrets. How and why she got there aren’t treated with any great importance.

Books like these are impossible to review. Objectively, Willow is terrible. The characters are paper-thin, there is virtually no plot. It’s mere window-dressing, but sometimes the window-dressing can be a lot of fun. I doubt I’ll read the other four books in the DeBeers series, but I’m glad to have read Willow.

My rating: 2.5/5

You can find Willow here on Amazon or here on Book Depository. And on dusty bookshelves in Midwestern households everywhere.

Happy reading everyone!