Oh my God I loved this book SO much. I’ve been sneaking off to read it at every opportunity, and as a result I ended up finishing it in less than 48 hours. My obsessive reading is somewhat appropriate though, given this stunningly put together novel centres on a teenage girl with OCD. However, it’s not the type of OCD that’s often depicted in books and films, where people have to, for example, wash their hands over and over again. Instead, Sam has what is called ‘Pure O’, where her obsessions take place largely in her head. She becomes fixated on certain ideas or people and simply can’t move them out of her thoughts. This is clearly an exhausting way to live, and anyone with even mild anxiety will be able to relate to how the negative thought cycles kick off. The story is told in a really delicate manner, and the writer doesn’t lean on cliches, nor does she over-dramatise Sam’s problems. It’s also got a really compelling romantic plot line, and definitely didn’t resolve itself in the way I was expecting!
This book left me feeling depressed in more ways than one. The subject matter – anxiety and suicide – are hardly cheerful anyway, but the main issue was that I’d been holding out to read it and I just… didn’t enjoy it. I’m not sure if I’m the problem, because I don’t cope well when a character totally messes up over and over again and simply cannot see their way out of an obviously stupid situation (see, for example, Mr Bean). Also, reading about other people’s anxiety does sometimes make my own anxiety just that much worse! Whatever it was, I found myself skipping most of the book as I could see where it was going and knew exactly how it would end. (I was right.) The part I enjoyed most, weirdly enough, was the narrative from the point of view of Connor, the student from Evan’s class who takes his own life, thus setting off the insane chain of events in Evan’s life which are the main focus of the book. There seemed to be more depth to that character, despite only taking up maybe one fifth of the book itself, and his back story was fascinating. Oh well, perhaps they’ll make one of those partner stories from his point of view and I can indulge myself in that!
Finally, a book I want to add to the library! I have been doing heaps of research and borrowing from the library over the past few months, trying to find something decent to add to our collection, but it’s been really slim pickings. I’ve been especially interested in finding a gripping novel about domestic violence, and this is the first one I’ve come across that really held my attention. It’s about a girl called Hadley whose dad is a total tyrant. He controls everything she does, obsessively monitoring what she eats and forcing her to run at 5am every day, as well as insisting she play lacrosse and learn to fly planes. We learn early on that she’s the only survivor of a plane crash, and it’s pretty clear she was on the plane with her family – we don’t know, though, if she was flying or what caused the crash. The book tracks back to work out what really happened on the day of the crash, by uncovering all the deep, dark secrets of Hadley’s awful, violent family life. Definitely worth picking up.
Having just done the tags for this novel, I realise there is *a lot* going on in it! I am a little in two minds about how good I think it is – on the one hand, I did want to keep reading to find out whodunnit, but on the other, I found the characters a little grating and spoiled, and the whole thing a bit crazy and unrealistic. But maybe that’s not always a bad thing? The main character is a bisexual student at a posh boarding school, Kay, who is the queen bee of the super popular, super bitchy click. She’s just broken up with her cheating boyfriend, although it turns out she’s actually in love with her best friend, so he wasn’t the only one being unfaithful. The girls are sneaking out to their annual freezing swim in the pond after the Halloween dance when they find the body of another student, Jessica, floating in the lake. It quickly becomes clear that Kay is being set up for the murder and she has to race to try and prove her innocence. This is not helped by a guilty conscience relating to the death of her brother and her best friend back in her home town. See, a lot going on! A fun read but not one I think I’ll bother getting for our own library.
I so wanted to love this book. I adored The Way I Used to Be and I was/am desperate to find a really powerful story addressing domestic violence. Sadly, I don’t think this is it. The main character, Brooke, plans to start the coming school year at a fancy new high school where she will be pushed academically to achieve all she’s capable of. Unfortunately, on the day of her final exam at her old school, she returns home to find that her mother has killed her father, having finally cracked after years and years of domestic abuse. There are flashes of brilliance in this story, but overall it just didn’t deliver. I found Brooke selfish and a little shallowly drawn. Actually, most of the characters lacked the depth needed to pull this off – the girl Brooke falls for at her new school is furious with her for not telling her the whole story, but I couldn’t help thinking it was one situation when perhaps a bit of understanding should be called for… Most frustrating is that Smith doesn’t resolve any of the issues surrounding the younger sister, who saw the dad being killed. She starts to make it interesting by suggesting the sister blames the mum for what happened, but then it goes nowhere, the conversation is never returned to. So on balance, not a very satisfying read. It’s ok. Maybe 3 out of 5?
So listen, maybe my expectations were too high for this book. I mean look at it, it’s beautiful, right? And it’s got rave reviews and is winning awards…. But…. I just couldn’t. Honestly it’s been on my bedside table since it arrived in like October and I only finished it yesterday, having read about 20 other books in the meantime. (I must be honest and also confess that I only managed to finish it because I started skim reading.) It’s meant to be about a girl uncovering the secrets of her dead sister’s life, but actually tells the story of her growing depression. But I didn’t really think it did either of those things well, in the sense that neither storyline was really detailed or illustrated or just sold to me. It just felt like lots of rambly talk about what she was doing, without any real action. It wasn’t until Julia, the main character, actually tries to kill herself that it became evident the writer was trying to show her as depressed – I read a lot of YA about young people with anxiety and depression so I feel like I know what to look for! I just feel disappointed. And the worst was as I came to the later parts (which were better than the beginning) where Julia is in Mexico, it started to remind me of another book I read a year or so ago, called The Book of Unknown Americans, which is brilliant by the way. And then suddenly I remembered the cover art for that book….
Can’t be a coincidence…. So I’m gutted I bought this book instead of a copy of The Book of Unknown Americans, but I suppose that can be easily rectified. Anyway, maybe a student needs to read it and tell me I’m wrong, because I’m always open to a healthy debate!
Yes, this novel has two covers. This is because it was impossible to find an image of the 50th anniversary edition (which we have in the library, pictured right) without an attached image of an old cover. The Bell Jar is a book about a young woman’s attempted suicide, so when the book was re-released with a pretty young girl looking in a mirror on its cover, lovers of the book became totally enraged, claiming this made the book look like chick lit. I suppose you will have to read it now to decide if the cover does it justice or damage.