Such A Fun Age #BookReview #BookDiscussion

Book: Such a Fun Age
Author: Kiley Reid

As part of my pledge to read more books from diverse authors, I picked up Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid. I had seen it on more than one book list while I was trying to build my own. That, and the title which sounded light and happy, lead me to pick this one. Although the book wasn’t exactly light and happy, it wasn’t heavy either, it took me by surprise.

Such a Fun Age tells the story….

….of Emira – a black twenty-five-year-old, aimless and unambitious, yet to find her calling in life. In the meanwhile, she holds two part-time jobs, one of which is that of a baby-sitter for Alix Chamberlain’s three-year-old daughter Briar.

One evening while Emira is at the supermarket with Briar, a security guard detains her suspecting her of having kidnapped the child. A panicked Emira calls Briar’s father even as a man, Kelly, videotapes the incident.

The episode shakes up Alix who decides that she needs to take a greater interest in Emira’s life. Her stilted attempts at starting up a conversation puzzle Emira who has no need for this friendship. All she cares for is Briar, who she has a real and deep affection for. 

Alix’s interest gradually grows into something bordering on a crush as she constantly tries to talk to Emira, gifts her expensive wine, tries to decode her interest in music, and looks through her phone when she isn’t around.

Things come to a head when Alix crosses all boundaries to ‘manage’ Emira’s life.

My thoughts

Such a Fun Age is hard to review, not because it doesn’t have much to say but because it evokes too many thoughts and you just want to talk about it rather than analyse it objectively. Which is why this will be more of a book discussion than a book review. 

Bear with me, please.

We get to read the book through two perspectives, Emira’s and Alix’s

The difference between the two women couldn’t have been more stark and it’s not just about them being black or white. While Alix is a social media influencer, Emira doesn’t even have social media accounts. Alix is wealthy while Emira worries about her insurance. Reid brings out the difference beautifully, almost as if there can be no meeting point between the two.

That’s what it is at the beginning of the book.

Emira is as dismissive of Alix as Alix is of her. If anything, she doesn’t quite like her because Alix seems to prefer only her younger, calmer daughter while Emira’s ‘favourite human being’ is Briar, the older one precocious and talkative as she is.

While Alix changes after the supermarket incident, Emira doesn’t. On the contrary, she tries to pull away further because she doesn’t see babysitting as a permanent position. That is frustrating for Alix who is desperate to befriend her.

Also thrown into the mix, is Alix’s rather complicated childhood 

 When Alix was young, her family comes into a sudden inheritance and her parents go on a spending spree, to her acute embarrassment. Over the years, she learns to be comfortable with her wealth to the extent that she begins to take it, as well as the privilege that comes with it, for granted. Also, she turns into a bit of a snob. Of course all of this, without being aware of it.

When she sets about befriending Emira she starts looking at herself from Emira’s perspective and perhaps, on some subconscious level, the discomfort with her privilege returns, even while at a conscious level she remains unaware of it. With that, returns the embarrassment of her wealth. She takes great pains to convince Emira that she doesn’t splurge, that she’s a thrifty shopper, not that Emira is bothered at all.

Reid’s writing brings out all of that without actually mentioning any of it. That is exactly what good writing is. The undertones, the conscious and sub conscious motivations are all there for the reader to pick up on.

I have to talk about the incident at the supermarket

The reactions of the various characters to the incident took me by surprise. Emira has no wish to share the video with the world. The racist slur bothers her, but what troubles her more is her lack of a proper job which she feels would have given her some sort of standing in life, protecting her from incidents like that one. ’This wouldn’t have happened if you had a real f****** job,’ she muses to herself. In fact she is more worried that Briar would be taken from her than apalled at the incident itself. Perhaps because the scenario may not have been unusual for her. And that is just sad.

Alix and Kelly, (the man who records the incident) on the other hand are keen for some kind of a redressal. Alix stops shopping at the supermarket while Kelly suggests legal action or getting the guard dismissed, or going to the media.

I liked that this incident didn’t become the central point of the book in the way I had thought it would. That would have been predictable. Rather, it triggers something entirely unexpected.

The friendships in Such a Fun Age

Alix has a set of three friends who are almost cliquey in the way they interact. Even though Alix reaches out to them for every decision, specially when it has to do with Emira, I didn’t get a warm vibe from the group. It was somewhat similar with Emira who also has three friends she hangs out with. However, it is only with one of them (Zara) that I see a real connection.

The ending…

….was a little tame but then it was somewhat in keeping with Emira’s character. It would have been odd if she had suddenly turned into an ambitious go-getter with a high-flying job. However, with her knack for children, I’d seen her as a full-time nanny. Come to think of it the job Alix offered her was quite perfect. But I’ll let that go.

If you like books that explore diversity you might want to read my review of Girl, Woman, Other.

Good Intentions aren’t everything

That is my biggest takeaway. The worst situations in the book arise from the best intentions. There’s the white woman who calls for the security guard at the supermarket with the intention of protecting Briar.

Then there’s Alix who feels her interest in Emira gives her some kind of right to manage her life. So consumed is she with her own good intentions that she doesn’t bother to check if that’s what Emira wants. In fact, no one is bothered about what Emira wants, not Alix or Kelly or Tamra (Alix’s friend who is also black and so feels she can have a say in Emira’s ‘upliftment’).

Before I wrap up I have one small complaint (there always is one, right?)

It’s the dialogue. Look at this: “Why you tryna play one-drop rule right now?” I don’t know if this is how youngsters these days talk to each other but it didn’t work for me.

Also, I still haven’t been able to work out the thought behind the title.

That aside, Such a Fun Age is a wonderfully layered account making it hard to put characters into protagonist-antagonist brackets. It talks about race and class and privilege without getting heavy or preachy.

If you’ve read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts. If you’ve reviewed it leave your link in the comments and I’ll drop by.

Last Thought: If books on race and class interest you, this one is a must-read.

Girl, Woman, Other #BookReview

Women. 
Women of all shapes
Women of all sizes. 
Women of all ages and colours – black and white and all shades between.
Women of all sexes. Yes, that!
Women who aren’t women at all, women who are men, men who are women.
Women who refuse to be defined by this binary structure.
In Girl, Woman, Other


This is one beautiful book.

Girl, Woman, Other charts the lives of twelve British women of colour, their struggles and their wins. 

It begins with ….…

…..Amma’s story, a lesbian theatre person, actor and director. It is the opening night of her feminist play The Last Amazon of Dahomey. Among the audience, we find most of our characters, though we aren’t aware of it just yet. As we turn the pages we are introduced to them in turn.
The narratives overlap sometimes with the women showing up as cameos in others’ stories, taking centre stage in their own.

Amma is there again in the end, wrapping up the book at the After Party of the play along with most of the characters and we get to bid adieu to them all.

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My thoughts

I’ve had this book since December and I’ve started it more than once, then abandoned it each time after a few pages. This time around I decided to stick to it and I’m ever so glad! It evened out after the first fifty pages or so and then on, I found it hard to put it down. Each story is captivating in a whole different way.

The writing style…

…had me lost for a while. Written as poetic prose – prose written and expressed like free-flowing poetry without capitalisation or full stops – it takes a little getting used to. However a few pages down I stopped being hampered by it and began to enjoy its beauty.

The women (and I use that word very loosely)……

…..are flawed. Most of them carry the baggage of prejudices, some due to events in their lives, others purely due to their origin. There’s Bummi, insisting her daughter marry a Nigerian. There’s Shirley a ‘boring’ old school teacher and Carol the banker, successful yet never quite at ease with herself or her identity, no matter where she is. There’s Morgan a social media influencer who refuses to be tied down with man/woman tag. And many more.

I found myself invested in the characters, loving them despite, or perhaps because of their flaws. Evaristo builds each character so that I could see where they were coming from, why they acted a certain way and, when one understands a character, one gets to love them. Not all stories had happy ever afters, not in the conventional sense at least, yet none of them left me feeling dissatisfied.

The book has to be re-read

It just isn’t enough to read it once. I went back and read the first chapter after I finished and then I read Morgans chapter again, because that was my favourite. I will probably be reading bits and pieces, looking for the characters as they enter and exit stories other than their own.

A few things that didn’t seem right

There were some small bits that didn’t quite come together. For instance, there was a part where one of the characters, Morgan, gets into drug addiction, the serious kind. And then one day the reality of his situation sinks in and, while his parents are away on a vacation, he gives it up. Just like that. Evaristo makes it sound easy, too easy. In an almost similar repetitive sequence another character Carol, who seems to have fallen into a depression after she is raped, gets back to normal in the space of a paragraph. ‘I quote: It was like she woke up from like a bad dream..’ with no trigger, no help from anyone, nothing. People change, grow, get a grip on life, I understand that. However for it to happen in a flash seemed improbable.

Also, while I did love the characters, there were a few too many and I was constantly mixing them up, specially in the beginning. As the book progressed, however, they took on personality. Which is why I’ll reiterate, don’t let the beginning of the book stop you from moving ahead.

Despite all of that…

….the book forced me to re-evaluate my thoughts not just on women of colour but on all women, on sexuality and equality and the way people form connections and relationships. It brought home the fact that families come in many forms, that a lesbian woman and a gay man who are friends, can together have a child and that was a family too.

Girl, Woman, Other envelops you like a warm patchwork quilt of engrossing stories.

In one of her interviews, Evarista said she deliberately included twelve women as protagonists, that she wanted to include as many women as she possibly could. If there was a book that dispelled Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s fears, of the dangers of a single story, this would very much be it.

Last thought: This booker winner must be read.

The Curious Case of a Young Boy #BookBytes 29

Hola friends.

I’ve been re-reading the biography of Naseeruddin Shah, the actor. I have enjoyed watching his films and some of them have stayed with me even though I watched them decades ago – Sparsh and Masoom to name two off the top of my head.

In his autobiography he talks with a candour seldom seen in film actors. But this is not a review. Today I pick a piece where he talks about his childhood.

Never a good student, he failed twice in grade 9. Here’s what he had to say about his tryst with academics.

I excelled in English but that was all. Maths was totally beyond me as were Physics and Chemistry, and as for Trigonometry……! It’s kind of bemusing to wonder how come it never occurred to any of my teachers to investigate the curious case of this child who always got the highest marks in the class in English literature and composition, yet failed in grammar.

– Naseeruddin Shah, And Then One Day – A Memoir

How could teachers have missed this?

What’s more food for thought, is that even now, when much is said to have changed in the academic world, things remain pretty much the same. Even with less than 30 children in a class students suffer from lack of evaluation that goes beyond text book knowledge. Even now Maths and Science remain the badge of honour worn proudly only by ‘smart students’.

The only positive change, as I see, is that there are more options available beyond maths and science. That is heartening, however it will be decades before societal perceptions in India change.

Do you think the Indian education system has changed over the years?

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The next edition of BookBytes goes live on July 7.

Eight Minutes Forty-Six Seconds in this Heartless World

I watched George Floyd die. 

It was barely a surprise to be reminded of the existence of racism, I knew that, already. However, that it can be so brutal, so cruel and so clearly played out that someone could make a video, yet not be able to stop it – that was the horror of it.

It was like a page from The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas. 

Only, this was real life where a real man lost his life.

Since then, it has been heartening to see thousands of protestors out on the streets. I promised myself I’d do what I do best – write about it, read about it, mostly read – as many stories as I could, acquaint myself with as many perspectives as I possibly could.

I began to think back to the books I’d read on racism. The first one to come to mind was obviously To Kill A Mockingbird. I’ve read it more than once, watched the film, quoted from it over and over again.

Yet when I thought about it, I couldn’t find George Floyd in it. 

There’s Atticus and there’s Scout and Boo Radley but where was George Floyd? Oh, there was Tom Robinson, tucked away somewhere, but he was barely there. I wanted to hear his voice. What was he feeling? What was he thinking? What was his family going through? I found barely anything.

If an anti-racism book doesn’t get the oppressed to speak out, if it continues to speak for them, it’s barely serving its purpose. It can only be a start, a small start in the right direction, nothing more.

Believe me when I say that it has taken a lot of introspection and some amount of courage to say this about a favourite book of mine.

I understand those were different times…

… that Tom really didn’t have a voice back then. I understand that a white man’s support would have been a large step. I’m not trying to take away from its merits. Atticus was a good man, a brave man, a just man and a wonderful role model as a father. 

However, to continue to hold the book in high esteem is questionable

Specially in this time and age, when there are stories, scores of them, written brilliantly by people from marginalised sections themselves. (The Hate You Give was one such. Have you read it? The film is out on one of the streaming channels. Do try to catch it.)

Books like To Kill A Mockingbird and even The Help (another huge favourite) promote the white man/woman as the saviour. They seem to be giving a voice to the black man but what we really are reading is a white man’s story. It’s time the focus moved from the privileged sections of society to the marginalised ones. Tom needs to take centre-stage and tell his own story. We need to read his story rather than Atticus’.

These lines from a piece I found online articulate my thoughts well:

To Kill a Mockingbird is a white story written by a white woman in which black people are depicted as ignorant, hopeless, and in need of white saviors.  

Read the full piece here.

Another one on The Help from this article here

The Help is not a story about the millions of hardworking and dignified black women who labored in white homes to support their families and communities. Rather, it is the coming-of-age story of a white protagonist, who uses myths about the lives of black women to make sense of her own. 

I realise now, I need a better perspective. I also realised I didn’t have enough books on my shelves, even on my TBR list, where diverse people spoke out in their own voices. I set out to rectify that.

Here’s a fantastic list I referred to, for my TBR list. It has both fiction as well as non-fiction books on racism. You can pick out ones that appeal to you if you want to read more.

As readers, this is what we need to do – read, as many stories from as possibly diverse voices as we can. Read, not just stories of struggle and strife, but stories of happiness and love and friendship, because it is these stories that make people human, that help bridge the gap between the ‘us’ and the ‘them’.

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek #BookReview

Book: The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek
Author: Kim Michele Richardson


I’d promised you (and myself) that I’d read and review The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek right after I read Moyes’ The Giver of Stars. The books are both based on women packhorse librarians of Kentucky and were said to be very similar in content. Finally, after wandering off a little bit, here I am.

The Story

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek tells the story of Cussy Mary Carter. Cussy suffers from a rare genetic disease that results in blue skin. She is called Bluet and is ostracised by the townsfolk, along with other ‘colored’ folks.

She joins the packhorse librarian initiative started by Eleanor Roosevelt, and brings books and other reading material to the people on the hills. Cussy loves books. The written word gets her pulse racing. She has read everything from Pearl S Buck to Aldous Huxley. She is perhaps the best-read person in the town. And yet, she is looked down upon, ridiculed and considered completely unworthy.

A curious doctor tries to find out the reason for her ‘blueness’ and succeeds too (It’s due to the deficiency of a particular enzyme). Bluet is cured for a while but hates the side effects of the drugs that include severe nausea and vomiting. Yet, so desperate is she to be a part of the mainstream of society that she goes along with it. However, the deeply ingrained prejudice against her doesn’t disappear with her blue colour. Finally, she chooses to stop trying to fit in.

Her work, hard and demanding as it is, is her only happiness. And that’s where she finds love too, though it comes at a cost.

What I thought of it

I’ll come straight to the point, without beating about the bush (did you get that?), and say that I loved the book.

The author tackles multiple issues, all close to my heart. She talks of racism and how cruel it was. It is even now, but back in the early nineties, it was way worse than we can ever imagine. It was sanctioned by law. For instance, there was a law prohibiting marriages between whites and coloureds.

Through The Book Woman, I got to know about the Blue people of Kentucky. I found out that they really did exist and also that there really was a place called Troublesome Creek.

And there’s more.

The authenticity

I’d give The Book Woman a hundred out of ten on authenticity. It is a wonderfully researched book. The tone, the language, the customs and traditions, all transport you to Kentucky of the early nineties.

Cussy, the Book Woman

I fell in love with the self-effacing Cussy. While she was the most docile woman you’d ever meet and also very conscious of her standing in the society (or rather the lack of it), she had a certain doggedness that made her persevere despite all odds. She traversed the most treacherously prohibitive terrain, through flowing rivers and heart-stopping narrow mountain trails to get to her readers. I loved how she zealously she picked out reading material requested by her readers. Her pleasure at the thought of their happiness was infectious. Also, I loved how hard she tried to get people to read, sometimes even tricking them into it. That was endearing.

The focus on books and love for reading

I loved how books were such an inherent part of the narrative. The love and longing for reading were touching. It was miraculous that the hunger people had for books, even young children, surpassed their physical hunger. One part of me tells me that’s unbelievable, impossible even, but another part of me wants to believe it – that the thirst for knowledge and the lure of reading surpasses physical needs.

The love story

Cussy finds love on the mountains. Not many pages are devoted to it, there is barely any romance, yet the love story is very real.

Richardson’s Book Woman vs Moyes’ Giver of Stars

It’s not right to compare two books but I had to do this because Richardson accused Moyes of plagiarising her book and that’s what led me to this wonderful read in the first place.

Here’s my review of the The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes.

I wasn’t convinced about the charges but the fact remains that the two books are very similar in content. They are, however, different in their treatment of the subject.

The Book Woman is way better researched, way more authentic. Cussy’s passion for books and reading is greater than that of all the women put together in The Giver of Stars and that makes the book so much more of a treat.

In Moyes’ book, the individual stories of the women took up a lot of space and that wasn’t all bad because I did love the stories, but their job as librarians didn’t get as much of a spotlight as I’d have liked. However, that also made the narrative more complex with many stories entwined together. The Book Woman, on the other hand, is the story of Cussy with a simple linear narrative.

If The Book Woman were a classic, The Giver of Stars would be the pop version, more fluff, more drama, easier to read and easier to connect with.

If you ask me which one you should read, I’d say why choose? Read both.

Last thought: Go for it.

The People Around Us #BookBytes 28

I usually share quotes from books I’m currently reading or ones I’ve read already. I like to know the context because, context, I believe, is important.

This time however I’m picking one from a book I haven’t read only because the quote spoke to me.

“The people we surround ourselves with either raise or lower our standards. They either help us to become the best version of ourselves or encourage us to become lesser versions of ourselves. We become like our friends. No man becomes great on his own. No woman becomes great on her own. The people around them help to make them great. We all need people in our lives who raise our standards, remind us of our essential purpose, and challenge us to become the best version of ourselves.”

― Matthew Kelly, The Rhythm of Life: Living Every Day with Passion and Purpose

Would love to hear your thoughts on this. A lot would have to do with how strong your own personality is of course.

More importantly, knowing this to be true, would anyone purposefully set out to surround himself/herself with people who would be ‘good’ for them? Speaking for myself, I am only guided by who I connect with. I have scores of friends who have charted diametrically different paths from mine and we’ve continued to be friends despite our life choices. Yet I cannot discount the idea completely.

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If you stumble upon a quote, a line (or two) or even a passage from a book that leaps out at you demanding to be shared join in with #BookBytes.

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The next edition of BookBytes goes live on June 16.

The Girl You Left Behind #BookReview

Book: The Girl You Left Behind
Author: Jojo Moyes

That’s my second Jojo Moyes in a row and she’s fast redeeming herself. I know I know I’d said I’d read The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, but The Girl You Left Behind was sitting there on my bookshelf begging to be read, and well, I couldn’t resist.

I thought I’d have a quick look you know, just to check if I needed to put Moyes back on my favourite-author list, but before I knew it I was sucked right in.

Books have a way of doing that.

Let me share the story so you know exactly how that happened

The Girl you Left Behind tells the story of two women in two different timelines. 

First, there’s Sophie, a proud and courageous Frenchwoman. Her story is set in 1916 during the German occupation of France in the First World War. She runs a small hotel along with her sister, and is forced to serve the German Kommandant and his men, much against her wishes.

Sophie’s husband (who is away fighting the war) was a painter and did a striking painting of hers that hangs in her hotel now. It catches the eye of the Kommandant who seems to be obsessed with it. Through it all, Sophie struggles to keep her family safe even as she tries to find her husband through the Kommandant. How far will she go?

Cut to London, 2006. Sophie’s painting is now owned by Liv Halston, who is mourning the recent loss of her husband. The painting is now worth a fortune, although Liv is unaware of it. To her, its value lies in the fact that it’s a wedding gift from her dead husband. Events then on, shake up Liv’s life as she struggles to keep ownership of the painting.

What I thought of it

I’ve read a few other books with two timelines and in each of them one of the two stories has stood head and shoulders above the other. Moyes’ book also suffers from the this problem, although the contrast wasn’t as stark.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me begin at the beginning. 

The book opens with Sophie’s story…

…. and I was completely captivated. Historical Fiction is one of my favourite genres and Moyes brings it alive. The fear, the hunger and the cold. The shortages, the prejudices as also the sense of community, it was all there. And there was intrigue. Sophie’s interactions with the Kommandant made for compelling reading. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. It was riveting right up to the very end.

Then came Liv’s story…

…and the pace fell dramatically; as if sudden brakes had been applied on an enjoyable adventurous journey. I had to push myself to keep going and my mind kept wandering away, wondering why Moyes had to desert Sophie at all, why she even attempted to add Liv’s tale and water down a stunning narrative.

While Sophie’s romance with her husband Édouard Lefèvre (before he leaves for the war) is passionate and real, their life idyllic, Liv’s remains vague. When I think of her husband, David, all I can think of is a genius architect, not a loving husband. And that is why Liv’s loss doesn’t ring true even though Moyes takes great pains to try to convince the reader of it. 

That said, the story does come together towards the end. There’s a court trial and Moyes redeemed herself somewhat by the time I turned the last few pages. I still maintain Liv’s part could have been shorter.

The end..

…tied up neatly, a little too neatly, but I won’t complain, sucker as I am, for happy endings. Moyes seemed to be making up for Me Before You :-).

The title of the book..

… fitted both heroines beautifully. Sophie (as ‘the girl who was left behind’) pines for her husband, who, I have to add, was an adorable character and a perfect foil to Sophie. In the other story, Liv is the one who is ‘left behind’ and cannot forget her dead husband. It seems only right then, that the painting with that title holds both narratives together.

It may sound presumptuous to comment on a bestselling author but this book could have done with better editing. Just a bit of tweaking could have made a difference.

PS: If you’ve read the book …

….. do tell what purpose Mo served by being in it. I thought she ate up too many pages without adding a whit to the story or even supporting it in any way whatsoever.

Also, since I mentioned Sophie’s husband earlier, I have to add he was my favourite character in the book even though he’s barely in it. His letters to Sophie were enchanting. His bear-like joyful personality leaps up from the letters. I’d have given the world to see that drawing of his – the bear in a French army uniform with Sophie by his side.

Last Thought: This isn’t a perfect book but I’d still recommend it if you like Historical Fiction.

Just Two People #BookBytes 27

World War I. Germany has taken over France. It’s Christmas Eve as a German Kommandant stands before a French girl saying:

“You shall forget that I am part of an enemy army, I shall forget that you are a woman who spends much of her time working out how to subvert that army, and we shall just . . . be two people?” 

Jojo Moyes, The Girl You Left Behind

Doesn’t this remind you a little of the famous dialogue from Notting Hill?

It’s incredibly romantic of course. My brain says it’s also highly unlikely outside of a book.

Tell me, is it possible to think of a man as ‘just a person’ when you’ve watched him shoot down your countrymen? Can one connect with the enemy on a human level? Can one have enough perspective to realise that there are no winners in a war? And that perhaps the perpetrator is just as troubled as the victim?

Perhaps it is. Perhaps one would never know unless one is in that situation.

I picked this quote from Jojo Moyes’ The Girl You Left Behind – a book that traverses two time zones. Do drop by for the complete review soon.

What’s the most romantic book you’ve read?

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If you stumble upon a quote, a line (or two) or even a passage from a book that leaps out at you demanding to be shared join in with #BookBytes.

Here’s what you have to do:

  • Share it on your blog and link back to this latest post.
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  • Leave the link to your blogpost in the comments so I can drop by too.
  • Book Bytes goes live every 1st and 3rd Tuesday of the month. Do join in.

The next edition of BookBytes goes live on 2nd June 2020.

The Giver of Stars #BookReview

Book: The Giver of Stars
Author: Jojo Moyes

I’ve had an up and down kind of relationship with Jojo Moyes. First I read Me Before You and I cannot ever put into words what I felt for that book. Let me just say that it made me laugh and cry like no love story ever did. This, despite my passion for happy endings.

Then I read the sequel After You and was sorely disappointed. It was just so very mediocre that I lost interest in the Louisa’s life as well as in the author. Then someone (and I cannot for the life of me remember who it was), strongly recommended The Giver of Stars. And because she felt the same about the other two books, I trusted her and I’m glad I did.

Here’s what the book is about

Alice, an Englishwoman, marries the handsome Bennet Van Cleve, more to escape her dull, restricted life in England, than for love, and moves to Kentucky, USA. However, she soon realises that with her domineering father-in-law always around, she had exchanged one prison for another.

When she gets the opportunity of becoming part of a girl gang of pack-horse librarians she signs on eagerly. These women travel long distances on horseback, through sun, rain and snow, carrying with them books to be delivered to isolated houses on the hills.

The library is headed by Margery, a strong independent woman and Alice is at once awed and enchanted by her devil-may-care attitude. Beth, Izzy and Sophie make up the rest of the group. Through their books the women open doors not just to knowledge but also to comfort and camaraderie.

They become an inseparable team, a support system for each other, specially for Alice, who has to struggle hard on the personal front.

Partly because Margery supports Alice and partly because of her love for the mountains and the mountain-folk, she comes into a confrontation with the Van Cleves who own the largest coal mines of the area. The story takes on a dangerous turn when she is accused of murder.

What I thought if it

The book is set in Kentucky during the times of the Great Depression. It intrigued me to find out that pack-horse librarians really existed way back then. I couldn’t help but marvel at these brave women who travelled 14-15 hours a day, four-days a week to bring learning and pleasure to the hills.

The setting

…is gorgeous. Moyes brings alive the raw beauty of the mountains – the vastness of the terrain in all its magnificence, harsh yet beautiful, the clip-clop of horse hooves and the chirping of birds, the sounds and the silences, as the women rode in solitude. She describes the changing seasons in all their glory – the heat, the intense cold as also the angry rains.

Her descriptions of life on the hills are real. While she doesn’t romanticise or glorify it, she doesn’t make it pitiful either.

She talks of small-town life with equal authenticity, the dullness of it as also the the gossip-mills that never stop churning and feuds that go on for generations. 

The story

…proves that Moyes is a master story-teller. The library is the heart of the book. Interwoven with it are personal stories of the women with their individual dreams and struggles. The narrative moves from Alice to Margery seamlessly including a host of characters as they go along. The two romances are sweet in their own different ways.

Although the story takes time to be set into motion and nothing much happens in the first few pages, I was happy soaking in the setting and acquainting myself with the characters. This isn’t a pacey read, but Moyes keeps one engrossed.

The characters

…were well crafted. I liked that most of them had strong, credible backstories. Obviously Alice and Margery were my favourites. I specially loved the growth of Alice’s character. From a sedate, timid, Englishwoman, constantly cowed down by her father-in-law, to a rebel ready to take on the world for the people she loved and believed in – the transformation was wonderful.

What I didn’t like

In Moyes’ book black is black and white is white with a fair bit of stereotyping (the rich mean mine owner). That doesn’t happen in real life and it pretty much reveals the end. While I loved the characters, I’d have liked them to be more layered. A little bit of grey could have added depth and intrigue to the story.

Also, the language didn’t seem to be in sync with time the book was set it. I could have been reading any book set in modern times.  

My biggest grouse was with the ending.

***** Spoiler Alert*****

This last bit might have spoilers so stop here if you’re wary of them. And though I’m trying to keep it to a minimum I can’t help but rant just a tiny bit.

The court-case as the grand finale was an inspired idea, but the end was too easy, too tame. Also, had I been the judge or jury, it wouldn’t have convinced me at all, and lastly, it in no way assured me that Van Cleve was well and truly vanquished. 

That’s all I’ll say. If you’ve read the book I’d love to know what you though of it, specially the end.

Despite the end, I’d recommend The Giver of Stars as a good read.

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Last thought: A read well worth your time.

After thought:

Moyes faced plagiarism charges after her book was published. Kim Michele Richardson accused her of plagiarising her novel The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek.

And so that’s my next read. A little bit to check up on the claims of plagiarism but more because I don’t want to come back from the mountains of Kentucky or let go of the lives of pack-horse librarians.

When a Man Hits a Woman #BookBytes 26

Hola folks. Welcome back to another edition of #BookBytes. The lockdown derailed me for a while but I’m back now and I just finished reading The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes. I picked it up with some amount of trepidation but I’m glad I did. I won’t go into what the book is about. You’ll have to wait for my review coming right up this Friday. Do drop by.

Meanwhile here’s a quote that struck me with how apt it was.

“You know the worst thing about a man hitting you?” Margery said finally. “Ain’t the hurt. It’s that in that instant you realize the truth of what it is to be a woman. That it doesn’t matter how smart you are, how much better at arguing, how much better than them period. It’s when you realize they can always shut you up with a fist. Just like that.” She mulled over it for a moment, then straightened up, and flashed Alice a tight smile. “Course, you know that only happens till you learn to hit back harder” 

– The Giver of Stars, Jojo Moyes.

I find it hard to handle violence in books as well as films which is why I shy away from them, specially the ones that depict graphic violence against women.

Have you read one that left a lasting impression on you? Would you recommend it?

I happened to watch the Hindi film ‘Thappad’ recently and that brought this quote even more sharply into focus. Hitting a woman is the cruelest, stupidest, most barbaric way of shutting her up.

Perhaps hitting back harder is the only way. What do you think?

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If you stumble upon a quote, a line (or two) or even a passage from a book that leaps out at you demanding to be shared join in with #BookBytes.

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The next edition of BookBytes goes live on 19th May 2020.