Review: Normal People by Sally Rooney

Normal People by Sally Rooney is a book that one hundred percent deserves all the hype! I read Conversations with Friends last year, and it was one of my favorite books of 2018. I couldn’t wait for this one to come out, and I preordered my copy from a local independent bookstore.

Normal People lived up to all my expectations and maybe even exceeded them. Sally Rooney has such a literary talent, and I love her writing style. Her characters are unique but–dare I say it–original. Set in Ireland, this novel captures the joy, anxieties and difficulties of college life perfectly.

This follows Marianne and Connell’s relationship over many years, beginning in the Irish equivalent of high school and continuing through the end of college or university. Marianne and Connell have an intense and complicated relationship that began in secret because Connell was popular in high school and Marianne was not. This dynamic shifted when they went to university, creating an undertone of shame, jealousy, and insecurity that they must continually grapple with.

A prevailing theme in Rooney’s writing is the role that miscommunication plays in relationships. She also frequently writes about how differences in social class, the presence of mental illness, and time abroad and apart affect and change relationships. It’s difficult to describe what happens in this book, because it’s kind of about everything. I love how Rooney writes about everyday life so simply but beautifully, and I loved, loved, loved these two quirky central characters.

I cannot wait until her next book!

VERDICT: 5 books

Review: The Wildlands by Abby Geni

Alexis: Read 1/4/19

I’m not too fond of prologues, but I found the prologue of The Wildlands to be the perfect introduction to the book. It describes, in detail, Cora’s first memory: the category 5 tornado which destroyed her childhood home and left her, and her siblings, an orphan. I loved Geni’s descriptions from the start. When Cora looks outside before the tornado strikes, the sky has turned green: “…I glanced out the window and saw the Oklahoma sky soaked with a new color. Damp jade. Split pea soup. Moss on stone.”

I was involved in each character’s storyline, especially Cora and Darlene’s, but also Roy’s and even Tucker’s, despite his violence. Geni captures emotions well, whether through her character descriptions or the descriptions of the harsh and barren Oklahoma landscape. She paints a picture of loss, poverty, and family. Many scenes in this book are vividly dark and disturbing, and Geni does a good job of showing how they affect Cora both psychologically and physically. Geni’s writing style mimics the sense of loss that follows the characters throughout the book. Despite the plot, The Wildlands is more of a character-driven story.

Cora’s relationship with her sisters feels raw, real, and appropriate for a nine-year-old. Her relationship with Tucker, however, is borderline obsessive. I couldn’t blame Cora for this, considering her painful childhood, but it was still disturbing at times.

I’m an animal lover, and I found Tucker’s theories about animals and mass extinction interesting yet terrifying. Seeing his thought process was an interesting insight in how someone’s interests can turn into a dangerous and radical obsession. The scenes with the animals towards the end of the book are surreal and poetic.

I understand why Geni includes the epilogue, but I felt like it was unnecessary. The book ended on the right note, but the epilogue drew away from it.

All in all, this was a well-written and thought-provoking read.

VERDICT: 4 and ½ out of 5 books

Review: Everything Under by Daisy Johnson

This is a DUAL Review!

“I’d always understood that the past did not die just because we wanted it to. The past signed to us: clicks and cracks in the night, misspelled words, the jargon of adverts, the bodies that attracted us or did not that, the sounds that reminded us of this or that. The past was not a trailing behind us but an anchor.” -Daisy Johnson, Everything Under

Anna: Read: 12/17/18

I like lots of things about this book. l love Daisy Johnson’s writing style and enjoyed reading about Gretel’s complicated relationship with her mother. I love character driven “what happened” narratives, and this one intrigued me from the start.

This is a very ambitious book that tackles mother and daughter relationships, dementia, sexuality, adoption, abandonment, and homelessness. I was left with the the feeling that there was too much going on. There’s lots of good tension throughout the book with what happened to Marcus, and with the Bonak.

I really enjoyed the parts with Gretel’s mother and I wasn’t sure the point of making it the retelling of a certain myth that you figure out later in the book. The modern retelling didn’t enhance the story in any way. Coincidence is definitely a theme here that is a big part of classical myth, but I’m not sure I entirely bought the ending. It was beautiful writing all the way through, but it just felt too random and jarring.

Alexis: Read 12/22/18

I’m mostly going to agree with Anna here. Johnson’s writing style is lyrical and ethereal, made more so by the lack of quotation marks and her plentiful metaphorical descriptions. As for the genre, I would describe this as a modern magical realism book. Half the time, I wasn’t sure if what Gretel and her mother see and talk about is real or just in their heads.

I liked the emphasis on words, whether Gretel and her mother’s words or the very real words of Gretel’s work as a lexicographer. Overall, I enjoyed learning about Gretel and Sarah’s relationship. Marcus was an interesting character, and he felt more real to me than either Gretel or Sarah, though I’m not sure certain if him being trans worked for the book as a whole. On the other hand, Fiona’s character felt real and raw, and I felt that she was a better representation of a trans character than Marcus. I also wasn’t really a fan of the jumping around in point of views; it interrupted the flow of the book for me.

VERDICT: We both had similar mixed feelings about this book, and give it a solid 3 out of 5 books.