Green – Review

“It seemed like the smoke of those riots spread all across the continent, all the way to Boston.”

Green is a unique coming of age story, told from 12 year old David Greenfield, growing up in Boston in the early 90’s. The year Green focuses on for the entirety of the novel, is the year 92-93. We start when Dave is entering 6th grade, and the novel ends right before his 7th grade year begins.

The year is significant, because this school year is a milestone year for Dave. He has the only chance to take an entrance exam to get into Latin, a school that grooms students for college. The school is also notoriously a feeder school for Harvard. And Dave feels that Harvard is the answer to all of his problems. Or at least out of the ghetto he believes he and his family lives in.

Even more significantly, Dave feels very self-conscious attending King Middle School. He is one of a very small population of white kids, and he feels after the riots and Rodney King trial, that suddenly, his being white is more noticeable to his peers than before.

His first few weeks of school are exactly as he expects: being ignored, or hassled, feeling left out and left behind. His parents won’t buy him new shoes or stylish clothes. Even his quasi best friend ditches him for cooler friends. But life begins to look up when Marlon Wellings sticks up for him to a bully and their friendship begins to grow.

“It’s starting to hit me: Mar isn’t just my best friend, he’s my first. Up until now I had no idea just how lonely I’d been.”

I am on the fence with this book, and my review may contain some mild spoilers, though I will try and avoid them as much as possible.

This novel is based on the author’s own childhood and experiences. And, in that sense, I can’t argue. I can say, however, that I didn’t really connect with Dave and the style that it’s written is very distracting. Mostly, I’m referring to the language. So. Much. Slang.

Here’s the thing with slang. I get that kids use slang words. It’s that this is a book written from Dave’s perspective, solely in the first person. And I just don’t buy that a kid would talk this much slang, all the time, as the voice in his head. It didn’t feel natural or real to me. I’ve never met anyone who talks like this kid. Maybe they exist, maybe this really is how a kid would hear himself speak. I don’t know. But for me, it didn’t feel real.

It’s hard to say if the author chose to write that way to highlight the way Dave felt out of place and was trying so hard to fit in. Because the kid does try to fit in. He is ashamed of his own personality, or so it seems, and only wants to fit in with the cool kids. So perhaps the slang is simply really driving home how hard he tries and how awkward he really is. It certainly felt awkward reading, so I can see that angle.

I also have an issue with how his brother Benno is handled. We know that Benno has chosen not to speak for over a year. That he had an accident, where he cut himself, and since then has been under therapeutic care and attends a special school. Dave often resents the treatment Benno gets. One example is how Benno gets tater tots with meals, while Dave is forced to eat homegrown vegetables and rarely gets processed food. Benno often gets to stay home from school and has little rules dictating his behavior at home.

I find it odd that parents who are so invested in one child, would be so oblivious to the anxiety of their other child. I suppose it happens, parents often can make a healthy child feel overlooked in the face of a sick one, but they rarely even try to explain what’s going on with Benno when Dave tries to talk to them about his own struggles. Even worse, we never even get to understand or learn why or what Benno is going through.

But what really bothers me about the book the most, is that Dave doesn’t seem to learn any lessons at all. He complains, often and loudly, about no one having his back. Yet, he repeatedly lets his friends get beat up and picked on. Even when Mar spells this out to him, he can’t muster the courage to even speak up, let alone jump in to help. He acknowledges his fear, but never seems to comprehend that no one will defend him unless he starts defending either himself or others.

Dave is obviously a kid so desperate for attention and approval, that he is willing to sacrifice his friends feelings and needs if someone ‘better’ is around and offering either of those things. And he doesn’t seem to understand why his relationship with Mar changes after betrayal after betrayal occurs. He is oblivious. Which I would expect of a kid, but Mar is patient and explains his reactions multiple times. Dave just doesn’t want to settle for anything he perceives as less. Unfortunately, Mar falls into that less category too frequently to maintain a semblance of a friendship. And while Mar seems to realize this, Dave never sees his role in the distance.

“His head is tilted to the universe, but he looks more lonely than awed. Everyone else is smiling and pointing, and he’s just standing there, squinting, biting his upper lip.”

A good come of age novel should have an “aha” moment. A moment where the main characters realizes where he went wrong and attempts to fix it. Dave sort of has this moment at the end, a moment where he confronts his old best friend and tries to talk to Mar one last time. But it felt like very little, and far too late. And even then, I never got the sense that Dave really understood why Mar distanced himself from Dave.

This book is supposed to be about class and privilege. And while it’s clear to the reader that Dave is sort of spoiled and immature and very privileged, Dave himself never really seems to have his “aha” moment. He realizes he has made wrong choices in regards to his friendship with Mar, but it’s completely unclear by the end of the book whether he really understands how much easier his life is simply because of the color of his skin.

He feels a lot of resentment towards the other kids in his neighborhood because of the color of his skin, but he never seems to piece together that this resentment is because of his privilege not him. Maybe that realization is difficult for a sixth grader to comprehend, but since so much of this novel hinges on that dynamic, it’s hard to sympathize with a kid who feels picked on, and can identify racist behavior without understanding at least on some level that he lives a far different life than his peers. Especially when he visually sees the drastic differences in their living conditions and lives.

I’ve read books that I’ve enjoyed without liking the main character. But, this is a tough one, because he is the story. And I just didn’t like him. Maybe I was meant to sympathize with him feeling ostracized and confused about who he is. But he just didn’t come across as likable. He needed more redeeming moments and to become aware of his privilege far earlier in the novel.

Thank you to the First To Read program for sending an early copy to read and review.

 

 

 

The Wife Between Us – Review

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“Assume nothing.”

The Wife Between Us warns us on the very cover to assume nothing. It tells us explicitly to expect a ride where we can’t see the road ahead. It tells us, and still, the assumptions came. Still I tried to see.

There are three people involved in this book: Richard, his ex-wife and his current fiancé. Throughout the book though, we only get the perspective of the two women. Richard is the thing that ties them together, but this book is about the women.

We are taken down a road of perceptions. How we perceive ourselves, how other people perceive us, how we perceive those perceptions. And the writers have taken it a step further and involved the reader into these impressions. They rely on how we understand and predict characters, plot, twists. This novel is fiction, but it is also interactive. We are part of the twists, whether we like it or not.

The subtlety in the writing is stunning. Hendricks and Pekkanen lull us into the very assumptions they warn us against. They woo us into believing that the warning is a hype, that there can’t possibly be another angle we haven’t thought about. Until the first twist hits you.

But unlike a roller coaster, where you can see the escalation and prepare for it, the first twist hits you like a car crash. Sudden. Abrupt. Unseen. Unexpected. I sat up in bed, my brain demanding that I stop and reevaluate everything I had read up until that point. And this isn’t happening at the end of the book, this is merely a third of the way in.

Even after the hit, once again, the authors take us down a calmer road. They once again woo us into trusting our own beliefs. They convince us that we can’t possibly be surprised again, now that we know their game, we can anticipate the next move. Except we can’t.

Again and again, this novel slams into you. Taking everything you think you know and using it against you. It is brilliant and shocking and such a fantastic ride!

It’s difficult to write this review, since there is so much written within the narrative that you simply have to experience yourself. It isn’t a book I can’t tell you about without taking away from your own ride. Just know, that it is fantastic. The psychology both in the writing of the characters and in how the writers use the readers own natural assumptions is breathtaking.

This book will be compared to many novels that have swept through the literary world. But those comparisons don’t do the novel justice. This book IS the next big thing. This is the book that thrillers will be compared to and held up to. This is the book that you will talk about and recommend and obsess over.

I know that this review is very vague. I find myself struggling with how to write a review that captures the essence of what I read. Listing every synonym to fantastic, stunning, phenomenal, etc doesn’t seem to be appropriate, yet I hesitate to put in any details. To give away any hints would be criminal.

I said before that this book is interactive. The reader is submersed into the characters in a way that I’ve never experienced before. When the narrators are unnerved, so are we. And the way we are lulled into trust and complacency is the same way that the women involved in the book are. They think they know what’s happening. We think we know what’s happening. They want to believe it will never happen again. We want to believe it will never happen again.

Over and over, the twists hit us as they hit the characters, and the visceral reactions you will feel are spectacular in their execution.

The dark themes of abuse, mental illness, power and control are chilling, in both their accuracy and their understated abundance. These themes are hard to decipher in real life, and the authors have ensured that they are hard to decipher within these pages as well. This is a book that deserves to be analyzed and examined and discussed. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever experienced in a novel.

The Wife Between Us comes out January 9, and if there’s one book you need to get, it’s this one. Click the banner at the top of the page, or the links below to pre-order your copy today!

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Thank you St. Martin’s Press for sending me an early copy to read and review!