White Teeth by Zadie Smith

“You must live life with the full knowledge that your actions will remain. We are creatures of consequence.”

4/5 stars.
Hardcover, 448 pages.
Read from October 12, 2018 to November 6, 2018.

There aren’t many books that manage to be this cohesive and consistently relevant. White Teeth debuted back in the 2000s and not many authors are able to make the literary impact that Zadie Smith did with this novel. For a first time novel, not only is  White Teeth brilliantly written but it also portrays a modern England with multi-ethnicities that span over two generations.

White Teeth begins by following two WWII veterans and friends, Alfred Archibald Jones and Samad Miah Iqbal. These two men, likely never would have been friends had they not met in the war as they come from vastly different backgrounds and ethnicities, boundaries that are not often crossed during post-war England. Both men marry women a generation younger than them. Archibald marries Clara, a beautiful, young, intelligent black woman who just happened to come into his life at a vulnerable time in hers. They have one daughter together, Irie. Samad is married to Alsana, an Indian woman with a sharp tongue who hides under a perceived notion of tradition but is generally “all talk”,  they have two boys together, identical twins, Millat and Magid.

Samad is a traditional man who brought his family over to England from India. He hides the fact that he is a server at his family’s restaurant because he feels the position is below him and often goes out of his way to stoke his ego any chance he can, to hide his own insecurities and personal failures, even at the expense of others. Archibald is an indecisive man that floats through life and is just happy to meet with Samad once a week at their neighbourhood pub. The men’s children are growing up in an England that they don’t recognize, can’t relate to, and are unwilling to move forward with. Millat and Migid relate more to being English than they do to their Indian roots, much to Samad’s fury, while Irie feels lost behind her fro and big hips, despite her intelligence and being the only character with a solid head on her shoulders. This dysfunctional lot each makes their own mistakes as they each traverse through their own identities and generational differences. No one really knows who they should be but they’re all being bombarded with ideals that are ultimately irrelevant.

“…They cannot escape their history any more than you yourself can lose your shadow.”

This book has a bit of slow start as it transitions from generation to generation. Once the children are born into each family the plot takes on a more interesting dynamic. Samad becomes a tragic yet despicable character, in my opinion. He is disrespectful of his wife and will do whatever it takes to prove himself right. He doesn’t care about his son’s wishes or wellbeing, just about what he believes their life should be like and for this, they both suffer.

“They have both lost their way. Strayed so far from what I had intended for them. No doubt they will both marry white women called Sheila and put me in an early grave–acutely displays “the immigrant fears–dissolution, disappearance.”

It’s hard to feel bad for Samad but Archibald too makes his own mistakes with Irie by not being a firm presence in her life. It doesn’t matter to Archibald what becomes of Irie, not because he doesn’t care, but more because he doesn’t put effort into any aspects of his life. As a reader, Irie is the only one you don’t want to pull your hair out over as she seems to be the only one that can see everyone’s issues, including her own. She is the only voice of sanity when everyone is at their breaking points.

I enjoyed most of the book, though I found some bits slow and obviously some of the characters highly unlikeable, however, the writing is moving and a brilliant commentary on race and gender in England. For a debut novel, White Teeth is very good so I can only imagine what else Zadie Smith has brought to the table since then.

Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews

Did this book traumatize you as as teen?

4/5 stars.
ebook, 416 pages.
Read on October 26, 2018.

So this is the book that disturbed a generation of teens! Huh, I can definitely see why. ‘Cause this book is the epitome of a fucked up childhood. This book is banned in a lot of places and I can see why but at the same time I’m not sure I believe in sheltering teens away from certain realities. By reading books like this one, teens open up their mind to the world around them and become aware that there is a good chance that someone they know is suffering from some form of child abuse.

Everything was perfect for the Dollanganger family, four beautiful, blonde children and their doting parents, but their idyllic family-life is brought to an abrupt halt when their father suddenly passes away in a car accident. For the twins, Chris and Cathy, they soon realize that their mother is no longer able to provide for them alone. Their mom then makes a decision to return to her wealthy parents for assistance, a reasonable decision. Or so it would seem; their mother has been keeping secrets from them. The children soon learn that their mother has been disowned by her own family due to the scandalous relationship that brought them into this world, and that if their mother wants to inherit the family fortune the children need to be hidden away until after their grandfather dies. Since they are children they reluctantly agree to the strange situation with their mother promising to return in a few days. Those days turn into weeks, months, and then years as the Dollanganger children live out some of their peak emotional and cognitive years in the confinement of their grandmother’s attic. Their situation is volatile and desperate but they deeply fear their grandmother so they only thing they can do is stick together and look out for each other.

Annnnnd that’s where I will end the book summary since things get particularly twisted from there on out. Most people approach this book knowing full well the pinnacle twisted moment so I’m going to spoil part of it… Chris rapes Cathy. It’s a tumultuous and sad scene as Chris has confused his love for his sister in not having any other contact to the outside world. There are also a number of horrific and heartbreaking scenes involving the grandmother and of course their despicable mother. The author does such a remarkable job in creating this terrible story that many people have wondered if any aspect of the story was real. The author claims this plot is a fictionalized version of a true story as part of the plot came from the author overhearing a story from a doctor during a stay in a hospital.

It’s hard to believe that this book is classified as YA because it sure doesn’t read like one. This book is twisted and it might be too much for people who have had the trauma of child abuse, rape or incest. Having said that, this book left its impression on a generation for better and for worse. I would let older teens read this if as a parent you’re comfortable with but I would suggest that you read this book first, if you haven’t already.

A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult

“We are all drowning slowly in the tide of our opinions, oblivious that we are taking on water every time we open our mouths.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 386 pages.
Read from December 13 to December 22, 2018.

I was actually hoping to get a copy of this book on Netgalley but when that didn’t pan out my library saved the day. This is the first time I have read anything by Jodi Picoult and I’m impressed with this timely and politically relevant book on a topic that most authors would shy away from.

The lives of regular everyday people, coming from all walks of life are all brought together in this story from one tragedy. The author pulls you in from the first page with this reverse timeline narrative on women’s reproductive rights in America as a gunman has entered a woman’s reproductive centre. Each chapter provides the reader with a different narrative and approach from the people who are trapped inside this terrifying situation. As the timeline reverses from the point just before the climax of the novel you begin to piece together the lives of the people in the centre, the choices that brought them there that day and the how regardless of their views they are all caught up in the same horrific circumstances together.

“Your religion should help you make the decision if you find yourself in that situation, but the policy should exist for you to have the right to make it in the first place. When you say you can’t do something because your religion forbids it, that’s a good thing. When you say I can’t do something because YOUR religion forbids it, that’s a problem.”

It’s obvious that Jodi Picoult did her homework with this novel as she is able to bring in widely conflicting views on one of the most sensitive of topics of our time. In her afterward, she mentions interviewing numerous women who have had abortions as well as staff from clinics.  Each her characters has intensely well-rounded and fully formed perspectives and reasoning for their beliefs and choices and the author does not push the reader in one direction or the other and broaches the topic with integrity and grace.

What I felt was important from this book is that is that it showed some general and very real situations of how many women come to need an abortion service, especially outside of the scary situations like rape, incest or medical necessity, as well as topics of race and why controlling women’s reproduction has become such a violent priority in America.

The reverse timeline worked in building anticipation in the story but I feel that it also created a bit of unnecessary repetition and occasionally, confusion. Overall though the writing style is approachable and easy to read and easily explains this author’s mainstream popularity with her ability to reach such a wide audience. After this novel, I can assure that this won’t be my last Jodi Picoult novel.