Me You Everything by Catherine Isaac

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Hello, World.

 

I’m here today with a review of my final August TBR book! I realize it’s September, but I had trouble reading this book my last week home in California because I was trying to enjoy time with my family. Still, I finished it last Wednesday, and am so glad I got through it, even if it’s a bit late.

My final book in my August TBR group is Me You Everything by Catherine Isaac. I’d heard this pick was a perfect summer read and, if I’m honest, the cover is so beautiful I really wanted to read it. Interestingly, this was Catherine Isaac’s first novel as Catherine Isaac (she previously wrote under the pseudonym Jane Costello) and it was her American debut. In a recent interview, Isaac discussed the widespread attention and praise her new novel received, noting that she attributes the change to 1) being released in America and 2) the change in marketing from very girly covers to a more “gender-neutral” style. I think the discussion was really interesting about the “chick lit” controversy.

Getting into the novel, it covers the story of Jess and William, a single mother and her ten-year-old son who are going to France to spend the summer with Adam, William’s absent father. The reason for the visit is attributed to Susan, Jess’s mother, who is suffering from an, initially, unknown brain disease. Susan believes that Adam and William need to have a better relationship, and it is her wish that Jess make an effort to get Adam more involved. Jess, still harboring a lot of anger from the demise of her relationship with Adam, is reluctant to go to France, but ultimately knows that William craves a relationship with his father and should have one. So, their arrival in France sets into motion the plotline of the novel.

I don’t want to provide any spoilers, but I do want to discuss what I loved about this read. First, I really enjoyed Jess. Some reviewers felt she was whiney at times or unwilling to give Adam a chance. While she does seem to hold a major grudge, I feel it’s warranted given the chain of events leading to their relationship’s end. I liked that Jess was raw and open with her feelings and put William first, no matter what. She cares so deeply for her son and wants to give him the best life possible, but acknowledges that life as a single mother is not easy and sacrifices are inevitably made. I will also say, if you read the book, give Jess some deference. Her motivations and strong convictions are a bit unknown or seem a little too harsh at times, but the underlying reason, when revealed, justifies a lot of her actions and feelings.

William, the ten-year-old son, is kind and loves his mother but is also struggling to find the balance between loving his mother and growing his relationship with his father. He seems to blame his mom for his father’s absence. At his age, it’s reasonable that he either wouldn’t know or wouldn’t want to acknowledge that Adam is very much the reason for Adam’s absence in previous years. Despite how loving William can be toward his mom, he is iPad obsessed, a phenomenon I imagine is quite common with younger generations.

Adam, the absent father, starts out quite unlikeable. At one point I had to put down the book for a moment because I was so annoyed by his utter lack of understanding of what it means to be a parent. Watching him disappoint William at times was heart wrenching and exasperating. Throw in a much younger girlfriend, who clearly believes Adam is more like the cool uncle who will do away with the ten-year-old son at the end of summer, and it makes for bumpy encounters.

There are a handful of other great characters in the book. I loved how the characters were written because they all felt real and raw and genuine. Sometimes characters come across flat or the main characters are strong but all background characters feel like they fit a mold to serve the plot. This story felt like just that: a story about a group of real people trying to navigate life when it isn’t going as well as hoped.

This story was much deeper than I expected after receiving the “perfect, light summer read” review from a fellow blogger. I told my roommate recently that a lot of the books I read recently had harder, deeper aspects than I imagined. But I think that’s because life isn’t easy. While it’s easy to find the happy-go-lucky, minimal hardship books, I don’t typically reach for those. I like a read that is gritty, that gets into the details of life that make it harder. The endings usually feel sweeter when you weren’t sure the characters would make it to the point you wanted.

I highly recommend this book! Once I hit a particular point, I was reading 100 pages a night (after full days of law school) because I just could not put it down. I had many internal “just one more chapter” debates. If my review isn’t enough of an enticer, it was announced that the book was optioned by Lionsgate for a film!

Up next on my TBR is my August Book of the Month pick, Goodbye, Paris!

Truly,

Callie leigh

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The Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams

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Hello, World.

My second choice for Book of the Month for July was The Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams. This is also the third book of four for my August to-be-read. I’d heard really great things about this read, and after loving The Lost Vintage, I wanted to read more historical fiction. This book takes place in three different years: 1930, 1951, and 1969. All great years! It also takes place on a small island off the east coast and it felt like the perfect summer read.

Book of the Month called this book “movie-ish” and I think it’s a good descriptor. It read very much like a movie. It was romantic, descriptive, and engaging. I will say the first chapter was a bit confusing, but Williams ties together the three storylines so well that after the 50/60 page mark, I was deeply invested. I didn’t think I’d finish this book by my goal, but I blew through the last 170 pages pretty quickly.

This book is so beautifully written. The language is lyrical and thought-provoking and I loved the way she described love, where new and young or old and matured. I appreciated her understanding of relationships and it’s hard to explain why without giving spoilers, but just know that this read depicts relationships in a real, raw way. Sometimes it felt far-fetched, but then I thought about my first serious boyfriend, and I thought, ‘yeah, I felt like that.’ It captures the naivete that love can create within people. Even when know something is bad or dangerous or uncertain, we dive head-long into it, ignoring signs or exits.

Williams creates real characters in a detailed manner. You really feel like they’re people you know and you’re watching their story unfold quietly around you. The level of detail is something I enjoyed about this book. The characters didn’t feel like cookie-cutter stereotypes, despite the fact that this book very much depicts class issues. However, no character feels like a trope. They feel real and connected and separate all at the same time.

I highly recommend this!

Truly,

Callie leigh

 

The Lost Vintage by Ann Mah

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Hello, World.

I am so excited for my review of this book. I actually finished this book in Starbucks and had to try very hard to not tear up. As you know, I’ve been trying to read as much as possible this summer, and I’m really proud of myself for actually accomplishing that goal. It’s been so refreshing to reach for a novel rather than a TV show (though I still watch The Bold Type each week because it’s amazing). Anyway, I’ve read seven books (!!) this summer so far. Of the seven, I think The Lost Vintage may be my favorite. This book was a perfect blend of historical fiction, contemporary fiction, coziness, intrigue, and romance. Honestly, it’s the total package. Also, wine snob that I am, I was so happy with the wine component of this book. I now kind of want to read up on the Master of Wine test… *begins thinking about taking the exam someday*

I’m one of those people who likes to research a book before I buy. I usually read reviews, look at what press attention the book receives, stalk the Instagram hashtag to see first impressions, etc. This book, however, I saw on Instagram and decided to just go for because the person who posted it had similar feelings about The Female Persuasion as me and I decided that was enough for me to plunge into The Lost Vintage. Also, there is the fact that upon my third re-watching of Under the Tuscan Sun and my fourth re-watching of Eat, Pray, Love, I was desperate for a book that would transport me to a wine-filled, cozy corner of the world and Burgundy, France seemed like just the place. I’m mildly concerned this review is going to be too long, so bear with me, and pour yourself a glance of wine if you want!

This book follows Kate, a young woman who lives in San Francisco, but her family has owned a vineyard in France for generations. Swearing to never return to France after a disastrous break-up, Kate is now living her life in San Francisco where she is studying for the Master of Wine exam, an intense exam where you have to identify all aspects of wine by blind taste and answer a series of essay questions on wine theory. The test is a “three strikes you’re out” kind of test, and she’s already failed twice. So, in an attempt to pass, her mentor recommends she go spend time on her family’s vineyard to learn more about French wine, the only wine she consistently messes up on the exam. So, she heads to Burgundy, France to assist her family in the year’s harvest. Running alongside her narrative is the narrative of her relative during the German ccupation of France in WWII. Only the reader is privy to this story, though it is interwoven in Kate’s narrative as well.

Two narratives, two heroines, can be hard to accomplish as a writer. When I read books that are written in this manner, I often greatly prefer one story over the other. This one, however, kept me wanting more from each story. The reason I think this book works so well is that we watch Kate and her family attempt to piece together her relative’s life and fate through the history left behind, despite holes and uncertainties. But as the reader, we know the truth, so when Kate missteps or misunderstands we feel anguish and sadness for her relative’s legacy is remembered incorrectly. The other reason I enjoyed the WWII aspect is that I was largely unfamiliar with the Occupation, the separations that occurred within families as some members resisted German control and others believed succumbing to the Germans was the only means of survival. I also have never studied what the French did to Nazi sympathizers or collaborators. While I think the actions of the people who supported Nazis were despicable, it was hard to swallow what happened after the war, especially knowing women were often bearing the brunt of French anger while the men who collaborated went largely unpunished. In this regard, this novel gave me so much to think about and absorb and made me want to learn more about the Occupation, post-liberation France, and the familial divides that occurred.

I adored both heroines of this story. Kate was spunky, stubborn, but also funny, warm, self-aware. Helene was strong, unwavering, and so very intelligent. I loved that this book explores what happens when we learn things about our ancestors we don’t like, how we can take accountability, how we can be better than those who came before us. While I did think one part of the resolution-portion of the novel was wrapped up a little too quickly and perhaps not tenderly enough, I still adored this novel. I found myself thinking about it all day, trying to figure out how much reading I could squeeze into the day. To be honest, this was the first book where I really liked all the characters (well, all the characters I was supposed to like). I read this book so quickly because I couldn’t put it down, I wanted to figure out the mystery, I wanted Kate to know the truth about her relative, and I wanted to know if she’d pass the exam. I was thoroughly engrossed in every aspect of this story and did not want it to end.

I will say, without giving any spoilers hopefully, that I felt like Kate’s inability to master French wine, specifically white burgundy, was intertwined heavily with an emotional block. She had repressed so many emotions she had for the people who produced the wine that in doing so she became unable to learn the wine. This mirrored, in my mind, some actions by people in the WWII narrative and how, upon refusing to acknowledge certain people or realities, they became unable to fight. I’m not sure how to articulate this idea without spoilers, so I will just say read the book!

I’m surprised this book hasn’t received more critical attention. The only press attention I could find was pretty meager in comparison to books I read earlier this summer. Perhaps because Ann Mah is a newer author The New York Times, The New Yorker and other publications haven’t reviewed her yet. But they certainly should as this novel is so important and places Mah among some of the strongest voices in contemporary fiction. This novel was touted as Sweetbitter meets The Nightingale and though I haven’t read The Nightingale, I would say that the description is accurate. The Nightingale focuses on WWII France (beautifully from what I hear), and the amount of wine and wine culture in this book clearly aligns with Sweetbitter, though our protagonist is more akin to Stephanie Danler (author of Sweetbitter) than her protagonist, Tess, because Kate is very well-versed in wine unlike Tess, who is only beginning an appreciation for good wine. So, if you pick up one book from all the books I’ve read this summer, make it this one. I have a serious book hangover and will probably need a day or two before I start Euphoria, the next book on my July TBR.

Important takeaways as a reader: I should reach for more historical fiction. When done well, historical fiction can be a mesmerizing, humbling, deeply emotional experience.

I am so excited for Ann Mah’s future books and I sincerely hope this book begins capturing the attention of more readers. Again, if you need a new read, make it this one! I never say this, but I may re-read this book in the future. I went through it so quickly, I hope to revisit the story again. For now, next up is Euphoria by Lily King… I won’t lie, this one is a bit outside my comfort zone and I debated swapping it out for Emily Giffin’s new novel, but alas… I will read it! It’s going to be my last book while in DC and then I have some Book of the Month books waiting for me in California.

Truly,
Callie Leigh

She Regrets Nothing by Andrea Dunlop

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Hello, World.

I am so excited about this review because this book was a bit lighter than some of the previous reading I’ve done this summer. She Regrets Nothing is Andrea Dunlop’s second novel, and now I’m hoping to pick up a copy of her first soon. Her writing is captivating and fun and kept me turning pages so quickly. Usually I’m a slow reader, I like to absorb a story slowly, really enjoy the words, but this book kept me guessing I wanted so badly to know where the story was headed, that I blew through 20 or 40 pages during my morning reading session and 60 or 80 pages during my after work reading session.

I was seeing this book all over the Bookstagram corner of Instagram in February and March, but I was still on a book-buying freeze. Then, however, Alyssa of @sweptawaybybooks announced that she was giving away a signed copy of the novel. I entered, thinking I probably wouldn’t win and moved on. Then I got a DM that I’d won! Two days before I left for my DC summer, the book arrived at my home, signed with a little note from Dunlop. I had already purchased some other summer books, so decided to get through them first (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) before starting this one. Once I picked this novel up, I couldn’t put it down.

If you’re wondering what it’s about, the synopsis is as follows:

When Laila Lawrence becomes an orphan at twenty-three, the sudden loss unexpectedly introduces her to three glamorous cousins from New York who show up unannounced at her mother’s funeral. The three siblings are scions of the wealthy family from which Laila’s father had been estranged long before his own untimely demise ten years before.

Two years later, Laila has left behind her quiet life in Grosse Point, Michigan to move to New York City, landing her smack in the middle of her cousins’ decadent world. As the truth about why Laila’s parents became estranged from the family patriarch becomes clear, Laila grows ever more resolved to claim what’s rightfully hers. Caught between longing for the love of her family and her relentless pursuit of the lifestyle she feels she was unfairly denied, Laila finds herself reawakening a long dead family scandal—not to mention setting off several new ones—as she becomes further enmeshed in the lives and love affairs of her cousins. But will Laila ever, truly, belong in their world? Sly and sexy, She Regrets Nothing is a sharply observed and utterly seductive tale about family, fortune, and fate—and the dark side of wealth.

In my words, it’s about a Laila Lawrence, a twenty-three year old who will do just about anything for security, belonging, and comfort. She strikes me as a more mature Jenny Humphrey (in season one of Gossip Girl, not the seasons when she lost it). Once the full cast of characters was introduced, I had so much fun with the story. I kept waiting to see who could be trusted, who was merely there to serve plot, and who was there to stand in for a stereotype. Though I really didn’t like Laila, she’s pretty cold-hearted, I found myself wanting her to redeem herself with her family and have some semblance of home. My favorite character, the one I found to be the most genuine, was Liberty, Laila’s older, literary agent cousin. Some characters made me roll my eyes and others made me want to yell “get over yourself!” but overall, the group was a fun one to follow.

Ultimately this is a story of ambition, sex, and upper-class wealth in New York City. While a lot of people are, for good reason, comparing this book to Gossip Girl, I was getting major Revenge vibes while reading. Laila has a card to play, but she soon realizes the table at which she’s playing is a bit big for her, a bit out of reach, and just slightly too secluded for her to really find her footing on her chair. She orchestrates her life around the fact that she knows a secret and wants to get to the bottom of why she was denied a life she thinks she should have had. In that way, it reminded me of Revenge.

This book is the perfect combination of light and fun while also discussing some really real issues. For example, the book discusses, in pretty good detail, the double standards for men and women and the age gap in relationships and who should hold what role. I liked Cameron and Liberty’s relationship because it felt so much like how this would actually go (up to a point). Liberty’s ambition and drive is what draws Cameron in, but later is what he expects her to tone down so as to not outshine him. This, and so many other moments, highlight that regardless of class the role women are expected to play is often one of the ambitious but willing-to-comprise woman.

This read was so much fun in that it felt like Gossip Girl for grown-ups with a heavy dose of Revenge. I kept wanting to find out people’s motivations and who, ultimately, was keeping the largest secret. I will say, some people had massive issues with the Act Three twist in this novel. While I was kind of like, “hmm seems random,” I didn’t feel it was completely out of left field. Given the already high stakes in the book, it seemed to fit. However, I will say the last few chapters kind of felt a bit disconnected as they shifted focus. I’d been concerned about Laila and her story for most the book, and suddenly I found myself hearing from one of the, previously seeming, lesser characters. I would have liked to experience the ending through Laila, but I understand why the last few chapters focused on a different character. Still, despite this twist, I loved the read and would recommend it!

Truly,
Callie leigh

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

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Hello, World.

I usually wait a day or two to write a review after finishing a book, but after finishing An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, I have so many emotions that I wanted the feeling I have to be reflected in my review. Honestly, few books leave me with a physical reaction to a book. But this book has my chest tight, my eyes watery, and my heart heavy. To be perfectly honest, I’m a bit surprised by my final reaction to this read because initially, I was having trouble getting into the story. I was lukewarm on the characters. I didn’t dislike them, but I was also having trouble liking them. However, the struggle with whether I liked them or not was fitting by the end because the story doesn’t have a “happy” ending, but it has closure, which I think is better. I will say this book is beautifully written. I found myself loving the language, loving the similes, the comparisons, and the unraveling of complex human relationships that are sometimes beautiful, often messy, and seldom perfect. The book’s synopsis reads:

Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.

During the first third of the book, I felt like I was gaining into a relationship and lives that I shouldn’t have access to. It felt so deeply personal, probably because roughly 50 pages is just letters between characters, which feels like an exchange I shouldn’t be able to infiltrate. Once I hit the 200-page mark, however, I couldn’t put the book down. I wanted so badly for things to work out, for things to improve, for things to sort themselves out. While this book is very focused on the criminal justice system, race relations in this country, and the problem of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, I think it ultimately portrays how circumstances outside our control cause inadvertent changed and shifts within us that affect our relationships immeasurably and forever in ways we never imagined. Circumstances happen and then we react and sometimes we react imperfectly and that’s a hard thing to expect. What I struggled with while reading was that some characters felt like they didn’t seem to have empathy for Roy, the man who is convicted of and imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. I wanted to shake Celestial and Andre and say, “Can’t you see you’re being horrible and lacking understanding?!” But at the end of the day, they make choices that they have to accept and those choices play out how you’d expect for the most part.

I didn’t necessarily love any one character, but I appreciated that they were fleshed out, real, raw, and human. Specifically, it was interesting to watch them fight against stereotypes that were trying to attach to them, stereotypes they thought they’d escaped long ago only to realize that such things weren’t always in their control. There is an exchange between Roy and Andre in which Roy is basically saying that his situation could easily have happened to Andre, and Andre acknowledges this and shakes it off in the same breath. Roy, however, knows that he lived his whole life trying to avoid a certain fate, only to have that fate catch up to him in the worst way.

A theme I loved that’s threaded seamlessly throughout this book is time. The inevitability of it, the malleability of it, having too much, too little, how much time affects things. Time brings distance in ways miles don’t. Time morphs a person, internally and externally. With time, people discover who they are, who they aren’t, love grows and shrivels and fades only to return. I think time, more than anything, reveals to us which path is ours. Roy, throughout the book, segregates time into a “before” “during” and “after.” He clings desperately to his “before” life, his during life is stagnant and unchanging despite everyone not in his situation moving full steam ahead with their lives, and the after is shaded by the reality of before, the expectations developed during, and the fact that nothing is the same after. For Roy, time stands still and though he’s changing he’s certain things are going to be the same. Celestial, by comparison, can’t seem to find a firm grasp on anything related to the “before.” Andre realizes he never fully addressed his feelings, which complicates things. Andre irritated me because despite claiming he knew Roy’s situation was transferrable to him had he been where Roy was when Roy was arrested, he seems to have a bit of a superiority complex. In short, all three characters are so layered, so complex it’s hard to know how to feel until the final page.

As I read the last paragraph of this book, tears filled my eyes. I just felt a deep sadness for the characters. What happened to Roy was so far from his control and even those that should have fiercely defended him and attempted to ease the pain fell away, leaving him even more alone. And yet, Roy, resilient as ever, still digs deep within himself to let go of the perception of the life he imagined for the life that he has after prison. This book has some amazing quotes, so I wanted to share my favorites:

“Much of life is timing and circumstance, I see that now.”

“But home isn’t where you land; home is where you launch. You can’t pick your home any more than you can choose your family. In poker, you get five cards. Three of them you can swap out, but two are yours to keep: family and native land.”

“Sometimes when you like where you end up, you don’t care how you got there.”

“Is it love, or is it convenience?… She explained that convenience, habit, comfort, obligation- these are all things that wear the same clothing as love sometimes.”

“Human emotion is beyond comprehension, smooth and uninterrupted, like an orb made of blown glass.”

AND MY FAVORITE

“But mostly my life is good, only it’s a different type of good from what I figured on.”

Have you read this book? If so, what’d you think?!

Truly,

Callie leigh

 

Educated by Tara Westover

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Hello, World.

My reading for June is going well. I have one week left and one book left on my June TBR. So, I’m hoping that because the book is a bit shorter, I’ll be able to zip through it this week. Today, however, I wanted to share my review of Educated by Tara Westover. I don’t typically reach for nonfiction and have rarely finished a memoir, but I ripped through this memoir and couldn’t stop thinking about it between reading sessions. This book highly recommended by people who read it. I first hear about this book from Ali Edwards, who shared her praise for this book on Instagram.

What appealed to me about this book was the educational journey that Westover experienced, her desire to learn, what her learning about the world meant for her relationship with her family, and how the family dynamics at play. As I said, I often have trouble getting into nonfiction. I put down Hilbilly Elegy a few months ago and haven’t picked it back up. While interesting, it wasn’t a book I yearned to keep reading. So, I was nervous this book would cause me to hit a reading snag. However, I was sucked in from pretty much the first page.

This book focuses on Westover’s childhood, which was riddled with religious fanaticism, oppression, paranoia, danger, and abuse. I was rooting for Tara throughout the whole novel, and at times wanted to shake her. I wanted to shout, “but you’re so much better than that!” or “ask for help!” and I appreciate the self-awareness this memoir has. Westover repeatedly explains that her actions were not rational and that she had an utter inability to ask for help. Honestly, this book made me feel appreciative of the incredible support system I have while seeking education and made me want to reach out to mentors who pushed me to improve and challenge myself and believe in myself, as I watched Westover gain some really strong mentors.

While some parts of the story are really hard to read (super abusive brother and delusion of her parents), I just couldn’t stop reading and rooting for Tara to overcome the terribleness of her family structure and the oppression they attempted to impose on anyone who challenged her father or older brother. Honestly, the whole time I wasn’t sure why her father was so defensive of her abusive brother. I get not wanting to face hard issues, but it seemed like his relationship with Tara was, initially, much stronger than with the brother. I found his defense of the brother a bit confusing, but it also made sense given the delusion and paranoia documented earlier in the story.

The story has a satisfying ending, and it’s so interesting to watch Westover’s personal growth. I love her writing style, and I love that she’s honest about where she is with her family relationships and where she hopes they go. I thoroughly enjoyed this read and I think it’s so beneficial to accept that we can love people but sometimes it’s better to not have them in our lives. I was so intrigued by this story from start to finish. I may or may not have entered a rabbit hole of interviews with the author on YouTube upon finishing it. Some critics say this book isn’t inspiring. I think it is insofar as accepting that it’s perfectly okay to put yourself first and pursue an education with everything you have.

I highly, highly recommend this read. I think if you want a hard but strong story, this is for you!

Truly,
Callie leigh

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer

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Hello, World.

When deciding what to read this summer, I looked for books that were popular among readers whose opinions I admire. This worked well for the first two novels I read this summer (Little Fires Everywhere & The Great Alone), so I hoped I’d continue to have luck with my next pick: the highly anticipated The Female Persuasion, Meg Wolitzer’s 11th novel. Hailed as the “#MeToo novel” that we all need, I expected a female-centric, feminist expose of sorts in novel form. What I got, however, was a bit different. I’m going to preface this review by saying I really enjoyed this book. The writing kept me engaged and I honestly expected it to take me a long time (it’s 454 pages!), but it took me just over a week. I liked Greer, the protagonist, and related to her in many ways. I, too, was once the shy, self-doubting young woman who entered young adulthood as one person and became much more empowered during my college years, and began finding “my outside voice,” as Greer would say, in recent years.

Now, what I also want to start with is the fact that I disagree with the notion this is the “#MeToo” novel. In fact, I don’t really feel any single novel can be the Me Too novel because each experience is legitimate and different and personal. No two experiences are identical, so how can one voice speak for them all? While the novel opens with an incident involving shy, unassuming Greer and a belligerent fraternity brother touching her boob, the novel does not tackle sexual assault in a fleshed-out way. In fact, the incident serves much more as a catalyst for Greer to find her voice and invest in a cause and care more about feminism and the female experience than she had ever even thought about. The incident sets up Greer’s future endeavors and is the foundation upon which the awe and admiration grows for Faith Frank, an old wave feminist who comes to speak at Greer’s college following the encounter with frat guy who believed he had license over Greer’s body. The real focus of the novel, in that sense, is not about sexual assault or the Me Too movement, but rather about female relationships, mentorship, and what causes us to admire certain people, to hold them in such esteem we forbid ourselves from recognizing their faults until their faults smack us in the face almost as palpably as unwanted caresses from men as we navigate the roads of being female in this world. So, while I don’t think this book is the next great american novel on sexual misconduct, sexual assault, and holding men in power and men in general accountable for inappropriate and damaging actions, I do think it says a lot about where we are with feminism.

And by where we are, I mean the muddled, unclear definition of feminism that attaches to so many encounters and choices and lives. I will say, this novel is marketed as having tackled feminism with a capital F, but I don’t think it does that and that by not tackling Feminism as a whole, it is actually a better read. This story is much more personal than feminism with a capital F. It’s about Greer’s relationship with feminism, and Greer only begins to explore what feminism is and get involved with the feminist movement after being assaulted at the frat house in college. That’s what made this book work: it’s one person’s experience with feminism and her discovering what kind of feminist she wants to be. I’ve read some reviews that chastise the story for being too much “privileged white girl” feminism. I think that’s a fair assessment in some ways. Did it annoy me when Greer complained about going to a “sub par” college when some women do not have the opportunity or access to attend college at all? Yes. Did I hope that women of color would be better represented? Yes. But I think part of my disappointments with the shortcomings I sometimes felt while reading were rooted firmly in the marketing of this book. I was expecting the expose on feminism, modern feminism specifically, and I expected the novel to tackle all that feminism encompasses. However, had I gone into this book expecting it to be more about mentorship, finding your voice, and young womanhood, I would have been satisfied and not as critical at points.

I will say, discussing feminism can be a bit daunting. You don’t want to say the wrong thing or inadvertently imply something that’s incorrect. That’s why I appreciated that this novel showed that feminism and the methods through which to achieve equality for women is a personal journey and the reasons that women become more assertive about female issues are unique to each woman. Further, female-ness and femininity is also personal. Also, with the stigma about feminists being man-haters, I think this book begins to address how a woman asserting herself more forcefully and demanding to be heard can affect her relationships with men. In one story, however, the affect is more internal to Greer and she ends up isolating herself. Cory, Greer’s high school boyfriend, suffers a terrible tragedy that sends him home to assume traditionally feminine roles. Greer, a now self-proclaimed feminist seems to believe that in doing so Cory has swerved severely off-track and lost his way and is no longer “good enough.” Though this isn’t explicit, it’s heavily implied. What I liked about this was that it shows that even women who hail themselves a feminist sometimes miss the mark. If equality is what we want, we should not be baffled by men who assume traditionally feminine roles just like we should not be baffled when women occupy traditionally masculine roles. I wanted a bit more from male-female dynamics in this book, but I was still content with what I got.

I would prefer to classify this book as a coming-of-age story that uses various relationships to illustrate Greer’s journey into womanhood and NOT the “Me Too Movement book of the year.” Another important note that I learned about myself as a reader is that I often reach for dialogue driven books. I like to learn about characters through their actions, their words, etc. This book is written much more as a decade-spanning story that is being told through the eyes of a third person narrator. So, it almost feels as if you’re sitting down with a strong woman, say your grandmother or female mentor, and she’s recounting people’s lives to you. There is minimal dialogue and you are told how the characters are much more than you are shown. This bothered me a bit, but honestly the writing kept me so engaged that I just kept reading. I rarely reach for a pen to underline the fiction I read (surprising for an English major? maybe, but I prefer to keep my books pristine when reading for pleasure). However, with this novel, I felt like a few lines just had to be underlined, and I kept saying “yessss!” to myself about certain observations made.

For those who want to pick up this book, I would say go into with no more expectations than you do for other novels. Do not assume this book holds all the answers about feminism because it doesn’t. The book itself doesn’t end with an answer about what we do with feminism, but rather ends by merely observing there is more work to be done to achieve true equality. And that seems appropriate, as there is always more work to be done.

I do recommend this read and I’d love to have a discussion with any of you who have read it! It gave me a lot to consider, and I need to discuss!

Truly,
Callie leigh

June To-Be-Read (TBR) (and why there’s overlap with May)

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Hello, World.

May was not the best reading month. What I read was great, but how much I read was less than I wanted or expected. I think in the chaos of ending finals and trying to move to DC and then start working I just wasn’t in the mood to read all the time. I also, admittedly, was spending a lot of time binge-watching Riverdale, which is so addicting. So, I only got through Little Fires Everywhere and The Great Alone. Had I chosen a smaller second book I may have gotten further on my list, but I wanted to tackle the clunkier books first, so as to get them out of the way early. I don’t mean to imply they are lesser or not as good. The Great Alone was a great read (review is here), but at 430-ish pages, it’s a bit heftier than the other books. Right now I’m working through The Female Persuasion and it’s addicting. I find myself needing to read as much as possible because I love everything in it and I’m enjoying the style of writing. This is another monster book, however, at 450-ish pages. Still, I’m 100 pages in after about 2 days of reading, so hopefully, I find some good reading time soon.

Because my June TBR is more realistic than my May TBR, the list is essentially the books I didn’t get to in May. July and August will hopefully have 3-4 books each. I figure if I can get through a book a week, then it’s manageable. I want to read more and I’m loving the reading I chose for myself. Last summer I tackled a very long novel that was a slow read, so I didn’t read as many books as I would have liked. I want reading novels to be an active part of my life and so I’m trying to watch less TV and read more. I figure binge-watching shows are easier when I’m in school, so I should use the summer downtime to read rather than watch shows.

So, in case you missed my May TBR, June will consist of the leftovers:
The Female Persuasion
An American Marriage
Educated

Truly,
Callie leigh

Saint Anything

Hello, World.

About two years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Sarah Dessen, the young adult author. I read all her novels in high school, starting with her [then] latest, Along for the Ride. No matter how old I get, I always have a soft spot for Dessen’s novels. I have a soft spot for all young adult authors. When I was younger, I really wanted to be a young adult novelist (HAH!). Anyway, long story short, her new novel was released in May, and I of course bought it right away. It took me a while to get through, but it was actually a good novel by the end.
Saint Anything
To be totally honest, I was having trouble getting into Dessen’s storyline structure with the last few novels I read by her. I started feeling like the story arc was predictable, and that the characters, though great, were limited by said arc. However, this book was supposed to be different than her others (something she said pre-release), and for that reason I was excited. As I read through it, I enjoyed the development of the characters, and I loved the protagonists’ relationships with the Chathams. Mac and Layla are great! The one character that TOTALLY drove me nuts the entire time I was reading, and didn’t even get super redeemed by the end, was the Sydney’s mother. I’m sure you’ll understand if you read it, and I don’t want to give too much away, but she’s just a bother because she never really treats Sydney as an individual, someone separate from her sibling.

Overall, though, I ended up really liking it, and really craving pizza (this’ll make sense if you read it). While Along for the Ride may always be my favorite Sarah Dessen novel because I identified so strongly with the main character, I will add Saint Anything to the list of successes from Dessen. Though this book got some harsh reviews, I think it’s a solid novel. Definitely a great beach read, even though some of the material is heavy.

What are you currently reading?

Truly,
Callie leigh