Book Review: The Female Man by Joanna Russ

61qwfptuypl-_sx325_bo1204203200_The Female Man by Joanna Russ

Genre: Science Fiction

Publishing Info: 2010 by Gollancz (first published 1975)

Pages: 207

Star Rating: 3/5

 

Back Cover Summary:

Living in an altered past that never saw the end of the Great Depression, Jeannine, a librarian, is waiting to be married. Joanna lives in a different version of reality: she’s a 1970s feminist trying to succeed in a man’s world. Janet is from Whileaway, a utopian earth where only women exist. And Jael is a warrior with steel teeth and catlike retractable claws, from an earth with separate-and warring-female and male societies. When these four women meet, the results are startling, outrageous, and subversive.

 

The idea for this book is brilliant, but I was too confused all the way through to be able to really enjoy it. I liked the concept of exploring the restricted lives of women through parallel universes. What’s amazing to me is that this book was published in 1975, and some of the issues women face in the book are still around today.

It’s very imaginative and the parallel worlds are unique and captured my attention. The world building is creative for the two parallel worlds that are vastly different from Earth. Whileaway is clear, but the two worlds that are very similar to our Earth were a bit confusing. I wasn’t really sure at all times exactly which version of Earth they were on. There are some really vivid images throughout the book, so that I could imagine these unusual alternative universes.

From the start I was confused. I couldn’t figure out who the first person narrator was. At some points I thought it might have changed to another character but I didn’t really have a clue. It also doesn’t help that all four characters have names beginning with J, though that is because they are parallel versions of the same person, it just added to the confusion.

Some of the problem was that the sections of the book are split into really short ‘chapters’, some of which are only a paragraph or even a sentence long. Many of the short ones were confusing because they weren’t long enough for me to get my head around what was going on. Whereas the chapters that were a few pages meant the scenes were long enough for me to be grounded in the scene and get my head around what was happening.

As it went along I did have more understanding of each of the central characters, but even in the last quarter of the book there were times where I was confused about what was happening. The reveal in the last part of the book wasn’t much of a twist unfortunately, as I read what happened in the Introduction (I hate it when they do that). It possibly would have been more exciting if I’d had no idea what was going to happen. Though if I hadn’t known from the explanation in the Introduction maybe I would have been even more confused!

My enjoyment of the book was greatly hindered by the fact I was so confused all the way through. It also hindered the impact the book could have had upon closing the cover at the end, because I was still trying to get my head around what on Earth was going on (literally). It would probably make more sense upon a second read, but I’m not sure if I’ll want to put my brain through the hard slog that is wading through this book again.

Book Review: The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

9781406354386

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance

Publishing Info: Walker Books (first published 2010)

Pages: 320

Star Rating: 3.5/5

 

Back Cover Summary:

Seventeen-year-old Lennie Walker, bookworm and band geek, plays second clarinet and spends her time tucked safely and happily in the shadow of her fiery older sister, Bailey. But when Bailey dies abruptly, Lennie is catapulted to center stage of her own life – and, despite her nonexistent history with boys, suddenly finds herself struggling to balance two. Toby was Bailey’s boyfriend; his grief mirrors Lennie’s own. Joe is the new boy in town, a transplant from Paris whose nearly magical grin is matched only by his musical talent. For Lennie, they’re the sun and the moon; one boy takes her out of her sorrow, the other comforts her in it. But just like their celestial counterparts, they can’t collide without the whole wide world exploding.

This remarkable debut is perfect for fans of Sarah Dessen, Deb Caletti, and Francesca Lia Block. Just as much a celebration of love as it is a portrait of loss, Lennie’s struggle to sort her own melody out of the noise around her is always honest, often hilarious, and ultimately unforgettable.

 

What first attracted me to this book was the many poems spaced throughout the book, which are designed to look like they’re written in Lennie’s handwriting on an assortment of things including crumpled notepad paper and paper cups. I can’t imagine how that would look on an eReader, so I think this is one of those books which is best experienced in paperback.

The poems added an interesting element and created another level for looking into Lennie’s thoughts and feelings. The idea is that Lennie writes these poems on random scraps and they’re dotted around the town. The issue I had was that it randomly says Lennie scribbles a poem on a few occasions in the story, but then the reader isn’t given any insight into why she has written that particular poem, what her thoughts were when she was writing it. It’s flippantly mentioned that she writes the poem, and then that’s it the story moves on. This meant that it felt disconnected. It contrasted with the high level of access the reader gets to Lennie’s thoughts through the whole narrative and just seemed odd that her thoughts just disappear whenever she writes a poem. It just felt strange to read and inconsistent.

The book kept me reading and I found Lennie’s narration charming and at times humorous, as well as her quirky family putting a smile on my face. Grief, I think, as a major part of the book was portrayed well. I could feel Lennie’s emotions and the metaphors Nelson used meant I could really put myself in Lennie’s position and understand her grief. Everyone copes with grief in different ways, and I think this was shown well through the members of Lennie’s family.

I was dismayed to find that the cliché love triangle had snuck into another young adult novel. It wasn’t completely despicable though, unlike others I have read. There was a reason for the pull both boys had on Lennie, and the ‘love interests’ were both fully formed and unique characters rather than cardboard cut-out stereotypes. Also Lennie was only really in love with one of them, so the book wasn’t full of irritating ‘ohhh who should I choose?’ dilemmas that drive me up the wall.

As a young adult contemporary romance it is by far one of the better ones I have read, with likeable characters and some humorous moments amidst the heart-wrenching portrayal of grief. It’s just a shame that the poems aspect of the book wasn’t effectively tied to the narrative.