Tag Archives: riverhead books

This is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz

IMG_8894I read my first Junot Díaz book seven years ago and wasn’t feeling it in the same way that others seemed to, so I took a while for me to find my way to This is How You Lose Her. This book is broken into separate short stories that mostly follow the life of Yunior and sometimes follows those in his orbit. The stories mostly revolve around Yunior’s own and his older brother’s escapades with women, including hairy details. 

I think Díaz is a talented writer and I found “The Pura Principle” to be a 5 star short story all on its own. However, I didn’t jive with all of the short stories and often found myself annoyed at the tales, curious about when the narrator alone had misogynist views about women and when the narrator was really articulating how the author valued (or didn’t rather) women in their own life. That said, I read This is How You Lose Her after allegations against Díaz were revealed, and while I know some internal investigations have found insubstantial evidence and Díaz himself has discussed his own experiences of sexual assault and how that affected his subsequent sexual relations, I found it impossible to objectively read this, knowing what I knew, and wondering how much of these stories revealed real beliefs and how much were purely fiction. 

Publication Date: 11 September 2012 by Riverhead BooksFormat: Hardcover.

Author: Junot Díaz web

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forgotten country by catherine chung

Forgotten Country by Catherine ChungI stumbled upon this book because it was included on a Buzzfeed list of “Essential Asian-American Authors.” I like when lists like this come out to help make readers aware of great books that exist by authors who aren’t white males (… which unfortunately we need lists to highlight these authors). My favorite, extensive list that consists of books about or written by people of color is here, but I like that Buzzfeed typically includes a brief synopsis and cover art of the books on their lists.

Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung is my first reviewed book to receive a half-starred rating on my blog! In the weeks leading up to me finally writing this review, I kept bouncing back between giving this book 3 or 4 stars, so voila: I have decided to bequeath 3.5 stars to this novel! Forgotten Country is a book that highlights the intricacies of dealing with tragedy with a Korean family that moves to America. The book is told from the point of view of the adult Korean daughter who struggles with the expectations placed upon her since she is the first-born child in her family and the complicated way that she enforces these expectations for herself more than her family members do. At the heart of this novel is the complicated sibling story of Janie (the older sister and narrator) and her younger sister, Hannah, and the high expectations that they have for themselves and for each other. Anyone who has trekked through a difficult relationship with his or her sibling(s) that persists into adulthood will relate to this major plot line.

My favorite parts of this novel are when the author interweaves the plot points of the story with Korean folklore. I felt like this style worked better with this storyline than when a similar storytelling method was employed in We Were Liars. This version was definitely easier to follow in audiobook format than We Were Liars. The story also often features vignettes into the narrator’s childhood, the most poignant of which is when she is forced to have an extensive dental surgery after getting into a race-related fight on her school playground. I have never had a book make me squeam as much as I did when I listened to this vignette.

The promotions surrounding this novel mistakenly indicate that it’s a “mystery” novel that follows the sudden disappearance of Hannah, the younger sister. However, what really drives this story is how Janie tries to understand her familial responsibility as she sifts through her family’s dynamics. The “mystery” is solved fairly early into the novel, does not carry the plot, and definitely is not the type of story that is conveyed when something is billed as a mystery. “Mystery” novels are often quick, exciting, and thrilling, but Forgotten Country is a very quiet novel about the norms created by a single Korean American family.

As an aside, here’s another great Buzzfeed book list that was recently released! I added a lot of these to my TBR list – let me know if I should aim to tackle any of them sooner rather than later.

Publication Date: 1 March 2012 by Riverhead Books. Format: Digital Audiobook from AudioGo (now defunct).

Author: Catherine Chung web/@twitter

Narrator: Emily Woo Zeller web/@twitter

local girls by caroline zancan

Local GirlsIf I had read Local Girls during winter, I probably would have given it 3 stars and I’m not sure how to articulate why, as I feel the warm rays of sunshine on my back as I type this, I’m more inclined to give it 4 stars because the mood matches the season.

This book follows the stories of four nineteen year old girls and interweaves the stories of their individual and shared lives with the events that take place on one summer evening when they’re hanging out at their usual dive bar and someone (a celebrity) unexpectedly joins them. The way each vignette, peering into each of their character’s lives, are strung together is reminiscent of how a person would tell you their own life story, stopping and pausing along the way to fill in gaps that they accidentally made earlier as they were trying to tell you the most complete story possible. The following quote, something one of the girls says toward the end of the book, also adequately summarizes the method of vignette-style storytelling that occurs within the novel,

“the kind of thing that stuck with you and drifted back up in the middle of other, unrelated thoughts and conversations long after you heard it, sometimes for no reason that you could think of when you tried.”

For anyone who has grown up with our celebrity-obsessed culture, I’m sure you’ve daydreamed about a celebrity seamlessly joining in on your fun one night, which is exactly what happens to this group of friends. They all, for the most part, try to play it cool, just as you imagine yourself doing if a celebrity were to infiltrate your friend group on a night out on the town. This is the main event that counters the vignettes of the past.

Some reviewers have criticized Local Girls because they found it difficult to tell the characters apart – I think the similarity of the characters is partly intentional because most of the friend groups I knew in high school were largely indistinguishable to outsiders from the individuals who made them up… and sometimes even indistinguishable even to those who were in them. This book takes place as the girls are figuring out that they aren’t as in sync as they used to believe they were and they’re on the verge of going their separate ways to “discover” themselves. However, the majority of them don’t go to college to discover themselves as most YA books depict and maybe that’s why this novel feels odd to some readers. The natural untangling of the friend group is very slow-paced, as it normally is when these things happen in real life, and as happened to my own high school friend group after we graduated. This novel is definitely a slow burn, but it perfectly captured some very real moments that I experienced with my own friends as we went our separate ways that I haven’t seen in other contemporary novels lately. The plot mostly revolves around their, for the most part, very normal lives, which may not be for everyone, especially if you’re trying to mentally depart to an exotic place with a summer read.

Side note: One of the characters in Local Girls mentioned A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf in a beautiful way which caused me to instantly add it to me TBR pile as I’ve never read any of her works. Are there other Virginia Woolf related things I should read soon?

Disclaimer: I was provided with an Advance Reader Copy of this book for free from the Penguin First to Read program. All opinions expressed in the following review are my own and have not been influenced by Penguin.

If you live in Canada, you can enter to win a copy of Local Girls by Caroline Zancan on Goodreads until 30 May 2015! If we’re not friends on Goodreads yet, add me 🙂 I’d love to get updates on what you’re reading!

Expected Publication Date: 30 June 2015 by Riverhead Books. Format: Ebook from Penguin First to Read.

Author: Caroline Zancan @twitter