Friday, June 27, 2008

Girls in Pants by Ann Brashares

-- Miranda

Yeah, this is the third book in the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series. I'm not ashamed to admit that I read the first two books and enjoyed them greatly. I read them before the movie came out... I know I was still at Juco, so this was probably three to four years ago. So it's been a while.

This book is sort of the same as the others, it tells the story of four friends' summer vacation. In the first two books, Lena, Tibby, Bridget and Carmen are all separated for the summer and the pants are a way to keep them all connected. But in this book, Bridget is the only one away and the other three are all at home. It's the summer before they leave for college, and Bridget is coaching at a soccer camp in PA, Lena is taking Art classes, Carmen is babysitting Lena's Grandma and preparing for the birth of her half-brother, and Tibby is... well, she kinda starts dating her friend and her little sister falls out of a tree, but I can't remember what else she does for the summer. The summer before college is an interesting time, because for the first time the girls aren't going to be together again when Fall rolls back around.

One problem that this book faces that the others didn't is that they aren't separated. The whole purpose of the pants in the first books are that they make the girls feel a connection to each other even though they are all far away. The girls deal with the sort of problems that make them wish their friends were there (first love, first hearbreak, a parent remarrying, self-discovery and the death of a friend (all in the first book!!)), and having the pants was a way to make them feel the bonds of their closeknit friendship. The pants gave the girls strength and courage, the same way a pep talk from your closest friend would. The pants would be mailed to each girl in a set pattern where they would keep them for a week and then pass them on to the next girl, usually with a letter. It was a very interesting and effective storytelling device.

In this book, not only are they not separated, but the pants are almost an afterthough. Since three of the four girls are in the same town, the pants don't really serve the same purpose as they did in the previous books. Bridget is the only one who really needs to have the feeling that her friends are with her, but the only time I can remember her wearing the pants is at the game where the team she coached wins a tournament against the other teams at camp. She mentions when she's gettting ready that she puts the pants on, but she doesn't mention if they at all affect the way she feels. I can't even remember when the other girls have the pants. I think Tibby is wearing them when Carmen's brother is born. Lena... maybe when she decides to go to art school? Carmen... I have no idea. I get that the whole pant thing is really cheesy, but it's kind of the cheese that holds everything together.

All in all, it's an OK book. It's targeted at teen girls, so it's not really aiming to be a pulitzer nominee. But I remember the first two books being much better than this one. I give it a grade of C. It was this close to being a C+, and could have even earned a B or higher if Ann Brashares had stuck with the themes of separation and magical pants.
Next up: Black Girl/White Girl by Joyce Carol Oates and Forever in Blue: The Fourth Summer of the Sisterhood

Finishing "Escape"

-- Miranda



Remember how I posted a little chapter-by-chapter thing for the first part of Escape? That was nice and all, but I'm finished with the book now and I don't feel like back tracking to tell you what happened, chapter-by-chapter. Also, the chapters are pretty short, so it would take forever to go through them all.

Basically the book tells the story of Carolyn Jessop's entire life, from being born into the FLDS to becoming the fourth wife of a fifty-year-old man (Carolyn was 18) to her escape from the cult with her eight children and the legal battle she waged. Carolyn, I believe, is the first woman to ever escape the FLDS with all of her children and win custody over the children. Carolyn's husband was a very powerful man in the FLDS, and no one believed that she stood a chance.

One of the most interesting aspects of the book is Carolyn's explanations about how Warren Jeffs came to take over the FLDS. It's interesting to see things from her perspective: She sees him as a power-hungry maniac who manipulates facts to gain complete control over the cult. It's also interesting that, as she mentions periodically throughout the book, she didn't loose her faith in the religion until towards the end. Despite the fact that she always hated her husband and that he was physically and severely emotionally abusive, she for years believed that their marriage was ordained by the prophet.

Going into it I knew I was going to be reading some bat-shit craziness about the cult. It was some of the smaller details that were really the most affecting. Showing affection for your children is frowned upon. When the other children began making fun of her oldest child whenever she hugged or kissed him, she stopped. When she left the cult she had to relearn to show affection for her eight children. Another thing I hadn't really anticipated was the way sex was used in the marriage. It's hard to understand without reading the book and getting a handle on the sexual politics within a plural marriage, but a wife who does not sleep with her husband has less power than the other wives. Even though she hated her husband, Carolyn kept sleeping with him. She did this mostly to protect her children. While she was on her husband's good side, the other wives and children wouldn't harm her kids. It's really fucked up.

Anyway, I think it's a good story and it's competently written. Four out of Five stars. Solid B.

((Also, it comes to my attention that Katherine Heigl is going to star in and produce the film version of this book. I'm thinking it's not a good idea. I'm a little wary of KH since she dumped on the writers of her show. Sure Grey's was a bit of a slump this season, but did she have to be such a bitch about it. Then again, according to the rumor mill, she's a bitch in general.

If you asked me, the best idea for this book would be to break it down into a 2 part miniseries, probably Lifetime. The first part would be about her abusive marriage, the second about her escape and legal battle. One of the sub-genres of Lifetime is the "Mother takes Law into own hands after Child is wronged" and this sort of fits the profile. There's just so much to tell in the story, I'm not sure a Katherine Heigl movie could do it justice.))

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Light in August

--Abby

Sorry I've neglected the blog- I moved to a different time zone, started a new job, and took my laptop to Circuit City for repairs 4 weeks ago and haven't seen it since. Things have been difficult.

At the moment I'm reading The Light in August by Faulkner as a favor to my sister. Its a big favor. There's a lot of racism, judgement and inane conversation. The presentation is confusing, he likes to jump back and forth in time (like to a character's childhood) without warning or the courtesy of throwing the kid's name in. So often you're reading about some kid then finding out way later it is actually a character you know.

Anyway, if it gets better I'll do a thorough entry. I also finished I Walked the Line a few weeks ago and will post on it soon. It was pretty fantastic. Next on my list is Middlesex.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Escape by Carolyn Jessop

-- by Miranda

Remember a few weeks ago when every news show was talking about that crazy polygamist cult and the authorities took away all the children on accusations of child abuse? If you don't remember this, you obviously don't watch CNN or read People Magazine. Get some culture, yo.

Anyway, this book is the memoir of Carolyn Jessop, a woman who escaped the cult with her 8 children. I'm a few chapters in and so far it's pretty fascinating.

(On a related note, I was watching Without A Trace last night and part of the episode involved the missing girl joining and then escaping from a cult. Anybody else see that episode? It was pretty good.)

Here's a chapter by chapter summary of what I've read so far:

Acknowledgements

Pretty standard fare here, various thank yous to people who helped her escape and write the book. My favorite line in the acknowledgements section is "The FLDS is constructed on a scaffolding of lies."

Preface: The Choice was Freedom or Fear

The preface is a brief description of how Carolyn and her children escaped the FLDS compound on April 21, 2003. It's actually a fairly detailed account, I wonder if she'll go into it even further later on in the book.

Ch 1: Early Childhood

As the chapter heading suggests, this chapter covers the early years of Carolyn's childhood. Her family had a brief happy time while living in Salt Lake City, before moving to the polygamist camp. Carolyn and her siblings were beaten almost every day by their mother, which is not unusual for this "religion." Carolyn's Grandmother spews FLDS propaganda that the children eat up as if she were telling them normal bed-time stories.

Ch 2: Child's Play

Apparently the most funnest game for the children in the compoud was "Apocalypse." It's a very complicated version of hide-and-go-seek, and the losers burn in hell. Or something. The children behave like children, and get beaten some more. The kids have a strange system to manipulate the adults into not beating them so hard. It involves a lot of screaming.

Ch 3: School Days

Carolyn's experiences at school are unusual. They are taught "facts" like the fact that dinosaurs never existed. The principal beats the crap out of his mentally challenged son, in front of everyone. In fact, the principal smacks around an entire classroom of young children and only gets a warning from the school board. Did I mention that the school is run by the FLDS? You probably figured that. Carolyn also becomes so frightened of her bus driver that she walks to and from school, about a mile each way.

Ch 4: New Wife, New Mother

Carolyn's cousin (her mother's niece), Rosie, becomes her father's second wife. Her father really likes Rosie, which eases some of the tension in the house, but Carolyn's mother's jealousy keeps things mighty unpleasant. Rosie has a nursing degree, making her one of the few women in the cult with a college education and a real job. Carolyn, who is eager to learn, looks up to Rosie because she sees the ways her education has given her freedoms. There's also some sort of divide in the cult, and people with opposing viewpoints refuse to speak or to let their families associate with one another. It's very strange. By now Carolyn has reached high school, but she has to take correspondence courses because the high school is run by FLDS members on the opposite side of the divide.

Ch 5: Linda's Flight to Freedom

Carolyn's older sister Linda escapes from the community with her friend Claudel. Carolyn sees how this shames her family and vows that she will never disgrace her father or her family by fleeing.

I'm still only halfway through chapter 5. I'll write more when I get more time to read.