Summer Book Reviews

As the summer comes to a close, what better way to reflect on it than go over the books I read?

First Women by Kate Andersen Brower

Reading this nonfiction account of First Ladies, I realized I could never be President. Not because of my own limitations, but because I hope to never force the job of First Gentleman on my future spouse. I have a passion for politics, but there’s no way of telling whether I will marry someone willing to give up 4-8 years of their life for my career. This book truly opened my eyes to what incredible tasks these women must do in order to support their husbands. I saw bits of myself in each of the First Ladies, but I can only dream of having their strength. Although the author does have a slight tendency for exaggeration, I feel that Brower exposes her readers to a new perspective on the White House. If you have any interest in politics, feminism, or even marriage, this book is for you.

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

This fictional book, based on a true story, follows two families from different eras, revealing at the end how they relate to one another. Avery Stafford is a wealthy politician’s daughter being groomed for office. Rill Foss is one of many children in a family living on the Mississippi River before she is taken from her parents and sold as an orphan. Absolutely riveting, this novel kept me in suspense and maintained my curiosity the entire time. Wingate also has quite a flair for imagery. Definitely an exciting and emotional read.

Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot

I have written in my journal, “Heart Berries is a beautifully poetic diary of a mentally ill Native American woman.” Writing her autobiography, Mailhot has the ability to dig deep into her mental decline, examining the mess swimming around her head. This book moved me deeply with its gorgeous depiction of a struggling woman. I will not go too in depth with this review because I have some particular quotes I would like to share instead.
“You were angry with me for wanting to die–more than that, you were upset that I was weak minded. I was dramatic and unhinged”
“Sometimes, grief is a nothing feeling.”
“Observation is a skill. Observation isn’t easy, and the right eyes can make me feel like a deer, while the wrong ones make me feel like a monster.”
“I am familiar with death, and I remembered it was heavy to hold. My mother’s death was violent, internally.”
“In white culture, forgiveness is synonymous with letting go. In my culture, I believe we carry pain until we can reconcile with it…Pain is not framed like a problem with a solution.”
“You were a bystander to my joy”
“I didn’t want to burden him with my pain…My pain was selfish.”
“I preferred abandoned over forsaken–and estranged to abandoned. I loved with abandon. It’s something I still take with me. Estranged is a word with a focus on absence. I can’t afford to think of lack–I’d rather be liberated by it.”

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

Faulkner definitely has a unique writing style.  This novel follows a family dealing with the death of their mother, who they must bring to her hometown to bury her.  Alternating between viewpoints, Faulkner shows multiple perspectives on the situation. He delves deeply into the thoughts of all the characters, including the young boy and the dead mother.  Throughout the novel, he has a tendency of using pronouns without describing them, creating a vague atmosphere. I was incredibly confused by his particular style for about the first half, but at the end, I had a come-to-Jesus moment and it all made perfect sense.  I believe that Faulkner intended for the reader to feel this way. I also was impressed by his nuanced description of women’s struggles in the early 20th century. Faulkner does not seem to be a feminist, but his understanding of gender struggles and relationships shine through the pages of the novel.  Overall, As I Lay Dying is an intriguing novel that causes the reader to really ponder human nature.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

I had to read this novel for school and, despite many complaints from my peers, I enjoyed it.  This story is about a young woman named Offred’s narrative of a dysfunctional America. Alt-right groups have taken over and stripped women of all their rights, viewing them as purely baby-making machines.  One complaint I heard was that Atwood utilized an excess amount of imagery, making the novel boring. I, personally, am a huge fan of imagery, so I absolutely loved this quality of the book. In my own writing, imagery is one of my strengths.  Another complaint is that the main character is weak, not resisting the situation she’s been placed in. I actually found some of the appeal in that Offred is weak. Most of us cannot be the Katniss Everdeen of our narrative, but most post-apocalyptic stories are about the hero.  Offred is not the hero, she is a regular woman trying to adapt to the changes in her life while surviving. Many people do not like this book because of the “radical” feminist ideas associated with it. Although Atwood’s America seems far-fetched, it seems more realistic when we look at history.  In her intro, she explains that she lived through the aftermath of WWII, during which she saw how quickly radical changes could take place.

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Morrison depicts a former slave woman living in Cincinnati, caring for the only daughter she has left.  Slowly, the reader learns how she lost her other children, specifically Beloved. In a way, this story felt like a horror novel at times, haunted by ghosts and spirits.   Just like As I Lay Dying, this story was incredibly confusing for me at first.  Morrison often switches perspectives without warning the reader, leaving me confused as to who exactly “she” is.  However, after about 50 pages I became used to her style and found the beauty in it. Finally understanding it, I flew through the book, eagerly waiting in anticipation to see what would happen.  Morrison certainly has a talent for manipulating the reader’s emotions. In an artfully stylistic way, she poignantly gets her point across through Beloved.

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