I have two great fiction reads for you this month. One is a novel that was released in February which I just got around to reading, and the other is the concluding volume in a series of five books that is perfect for anyone who enjoys snarkiness a la Jennifer Weiner.
By Susan Taylor
First, the more serious fiction. Little Bee by Chris Cleave is a beautifully written, humorous, unflinching novel about man’s inhumanity to man, or in this case, woman. Little Bee is a 16-year-old Nigerian girl who stowed away on a British ship only to end up in a detention center in England for two years while she is questioned by the authorities who have the power of life and death over her. If she stays in England – life. If she is judged not to require asylum, she will be repatriated to Nigeria – death. Thus, she learns to speak the Queen’s English; for girls who are pretty and girls who are well-spoken are more likely to be allowed to stay. Little Bee’s comparison of the beauty of her mother tongue with the dull, dry Queen’s English adds much to the humor of the book. It reminded me of the mangled English of the narrator of Jonathan Safron Foer’s Everything is Illuminated. Slowly, Little Bee’s back story is revealed, and we are introduced to Sarah, widow of the recently deceased Andrew, whose past intersected with Little Bee’s several years ago when she and her husband were on vacation in Nigeria. Despite the violence of their first encounter, Sarah and Little Bee build a bond based on their love for Sarah’s four-year old son, Charlie (who prefers to be called Batman.) There are horrific scenes and huge sacrifices, but the ultimate message of this novel is the power of person-to-person relationships to produce change, that the personal is political. I foresee many book groups reading this provocative novel.
Megan McCafferty is a wonderful author who has been unfairly shoved into the “young adult” genre, which most adult readers don’t read. Readers, by not reading young adult novels, you are depriving yourself of some really great books! Case in point: McCafferty’s “Jessica Darling” series, whose fifth and final installment comes out this month. Perfect Fifths continues the story of Jessica Darling, a smart-mouthed young woman whose story began when she was a junior in high school, as chronicled in Sloppy Firsts. When her best friend moves halfway across the country, Jessica writes her letters to keep her up-to-date on what is happening in their hometown high school. The first four books in the series (Second Helpings, Charmed Thirds and Fourth Comings) take Jessica from the age of 16 to 23, when she is out of college and taking her first steps towards independence. She is also trying to figure out her relationship with Marcus Flutie, whose on-again, off-again presence in her life makes being in love with him difficult. Perfect Fifths begins three years after Fourth Comings ends. Jessica has a job with a salary that allows her to both eat and pay her student loans, a far cry from her earlier financial struggles. Her post-college adult life is finally taking shape, when she literally runs into Marcus at the airport on her way to a wedding. Their reunion, like their love affair, is clever, snarky, off-beat and romantic. Jessica’s bad attitude, discerning eye and witty wordplay make this series a pleasure from beginning to end. Maybe when you are done with it, you can lend it to your favorite young adult!
Susan Taylor has been in the book business, in one aspect or another, since 1982. She currently works at the Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza. Stop by the store if you are looking for a good book–she’s read a lot more than she can talk about here!