Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

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Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
By Lisa See
Publisher: Random House, Inc
Kindle ASIN: B000FCK71U
Pages: 288
Genre: Historical Fiction/Culture

Synopsis:

In nineteenth-century China, in a remote Hunan county, a girl named Lily, at the tender age of seven, is paired with a laotong, “old same,” in an emotional match that will last a lifetime. The laotong, Snow Flower, introduces herself by sending Lily a silk fan on which she’s painted a poem in nu shu, a unique language that Chinese women created in order to communicate in secret, away from the influence of men.

As the years pass, Lily and Snow Flower send messages on fans, compose stories on handkerchiefs, reaching out of isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments. Together, they endure the agony of foot-binding, and reflect upon their arranged marriages, shared loneliness, and the joys and tragedies of motherhood. The two find solace, developing a bond that keeps their spirits alive. But when a misunderstanding arises, their deep friendship suddenly threatens to tear apart.


my-thought

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan has been tucked within my reading list for several years now. I am ashamed of that fact, as I feel it deserves much more attention than I initially gave it.

“Seventy-five years have gone by, and I still remember the feel of the mud between my toes, the rush of water over my feet, the cold against my skin. Beautiful Moon and I were free in a way that we would never be again.”

Lily is a young girl being raised among poverty in 19th century China. When she is presented with the opportunity to be paired with a laotong (old same) she is excited at the prospect of a lifelong friend, Snow Flower. For years they will exchange fans containing secret letters written in Nu Shu, a language that has been developed by Chinese women to carry their messages safe from the eyes of men. These letters will become part of a story full of happiness, sadness, and all facets of life. But when a misunderstanding arises and mistakes are made, all that Lily loves becomes compromised. Will this friendship come to a tragic end or survive the test of time?

This is an exceptional title that it is difficult to review in full because it is sure to be a truly unique experience for the individual. Since this was a journey laden with complex feelings for myself, I am going focus only that aspect for purpose of this review. It is my goal to encourage you to explore this title and develop your own thoughts.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan was much more challenging than I could have ever predicted. This is a culturally saturated read that explores some facets that are hard to digest.  The practice of foot binding being one. I want to openly state right now that there were scenes in relation to the practice of binding that made my stomach turn and that is no easy feat. But I feel that the author’s ability to depict these moments so graphically is significant in regards to fostering a true understanding within the reader. This is a barbaric ritual that poses life threatening risks and left many women crippled. The intensity of See’s description solicits a very appropriate feeling that is necessary.

“They should be small, narrow, straight, pointed, and arched, yet still fragrant and soft in texture.”

Narrated with elegant prose, this is a story that effortlessly evokes emotions ranging from empathy to frustration and finally some semblance of understanding but not exactly acceptance. It is difficult to acknowledge just how trivialized women were within the Chinese cultural and society during the setting of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. The amount of emphasis placed directly on outward “beauty” is infuriating. The author has represents these aspects in such a manner that it is easy to understand why having a laotong would be invaluable for our narrator.

“She looked at me the way all mothers look at their daughters—as a temporary visitor who was another mouth to feed and a body to dress until I went to my husband’s home.”

See provides us with something remarkable that stands to be indisputable evidence of the amount of time and care that must have went into the research and composure of Lily’s story. Arresting and tragically haunting, this is a book to be devoured and savored slowly. Highest recommendation to all who seek memorable historical fiction that is deliciously rich in culture.

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The Girls by Emma Cline

thegirlsthe-book
The Girls
By Emma Cline
Publisher: Random House
ISBN13: 9780812998603
Pages: 355
Genre: Fiction (Adult)

Synopsis:

Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence, and to that moment in a girl’s life when everything can go horribly wrong.


my-thoughtThe Girls is undoubtedly a challenging read. Based on the Manson murders, make no mistake, there is a hefty amount of uncomfortable content centering around drug use and sexual encounters (some of which I would clearly label as assault). The fact that the main protagonist Evie is a mere 14 years old, makes it one tough pill to swallow.

Based on several reviews, I was anticipating a dark read full of teenage angst that played on a graphic core in order to up the “wow” factor. I could not have been more wrong. Nor have I ever been happier to be so wrong. The Girls is a shining example of how to utilize first person narration in the most successful ways.

It is the end of the 60’s in Northern California. It is summer, and Evie Boyd feels isolated and out-of-place. Like many teenage girls she just wants to belong. Enter Suzanne. She is care-free and captivating. Immediately drawn to this young stranger, she slowly begins distancing herself from her family and only real friend to spend more time with Suzanne and her friends on the ranch led by the amorous Russell. Evie feels like she has finally found her place in life. But once the initial luster wears off, she realizes she may be involved in something sinister and dangerous.

“My eyes were already habituated to the texture of decay, so I thought that I had passed back into the circle of light.”

Evie Boyd is so bitterly realistic and raw as a protagonist that there is a part of her I found uncomfortably familiar. As a young impressionable girl desperately seeking an acceptance that most of us can remember feeling was out of reach during some point in our young lives, she is undeniably relatable to at least a small degree. It is this painfully honest approach to her character that gives her and The Girls true life and credibility. The part of me that would normally question her frighteningly bad decisions and actions was easily replaced with an equal amount of sadness and understanding. I didn’t like that I was juggling this new-found sympathy for a character who was making harrowing choices, but I couldn’t help but admire the author’s ability to solicit this from me. Full immersion into Evie’s life had occurred.

“You wanted things and you couldn’t help it, because there was only your life, only yourself to wake up with, and how could you ever tell yourself what you wanted was wrong?”

Cline spares zero expense or feelings in effort to establish this dark world that is a cult. She brazenly exposes the reader to the loss of Evie’s innocence, gross sexual encounters and the repetitive drug use that fuels this disturbing journey into one young girl’s psych and time on the ranch. The very facets that make The Girls so disturbing also make it so triumphant. This no holds barred approach succeeds in setting the stage and making the unfathomable feel horribly possible. It is through this bold technique that the reader can begin to process how our young protagonist has come to find herself on the ranch. This is a terrifyingly sincere representation of cult life and culture. It is not meant to be pleasant or easy.

Cline’s writing is almost poetic yet pragmatic. She effortlessly supplies a fluid narration that leaps from Evie’s past to present. I have noted some reader’s struggled with the change in tone at times, but I personally found this to play perfectly into her transitions, conveying our narrator’s current state of mind more effectively.  The ending did not offer an overly satisfying conclusion, but I couldn’t really ask that from The Girls.

So here is the hard part, I loved this novel. But I am hesitant to recommend it. This will be too much for many and rightfully so. This is a brutal coming of age story during a very dark time. It has burrowed deep into the core of my mind and is sure to remain for some time. If you find yourself truly fascinated with cult culture and the human psych and can stomach the harsh reality of what it entails, then consider adding this to your list.

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Mapping the Interior by Stephen Graham Jones

33099584the-book
Mapping the Interior
By Stephen Graham Jones
Available 6/20/17
Publisher: Tor.Com
ISBN13: 9780765395108
Pages: 112
Genre: Novella

Synopsis:

Mapping the Interior is a horrifying, inward-looking novella from Stephen Graham Jones that Paul Tremblay calls “emotionally raw, disturbing, creepy, and brilliant.”

Walking through his own house at night, a fifteen-year-old thinks he sees another person stepping through a doorway. Instead of the people who could be there, his mother or his brother, the figure reminds him of his long-gone father, who died mysteriously before his family left the reservation. When he follows it he discovers his house is bigger and deeper than he knew.

The house is the kind of wrong place where you can lose yourself and find things you’d rather not have. Over the course of a few nights, the boy tries to map out his house in an effort that puts his little brother in the worst danger, and puts him in the position to save them . . . at terrible cost.


my-thought

Mapping the Interior is a stirring novella that is difficult to label. While there is a certainly element of horror and the paranormal occurring within its absorbing pages, there is something more magical happening.

Mapping the Interior is the story of a 15 yr old boy who is unexpectedly reacquainted with his father after leaving the reservation. However, there is a small complication with the encounter. His father lost his life under unexplained circumstances. What ensues is a poignant tale of life, loss and family and that is beautifully saturated with culture and wonder.

We are supplied with a young protagonist who is facing adversity on multiple levels. Young Junior is mourning the loss of a father that he cannot fully comprehend. He is living off of the reservation and adjusting to a new life that is not without challenges. He holds an adherent obligation to protect his younger brother Dino who is suffering what can best be described as seizures and cognitive impairment. His single mother is at the disadvantage of struggling to provide full financial support for the family, while also attending to Dino’s healthcare needs. We are thrust into a dismal environment that quickly plays on the emotions, creating an intense experience that will obscure the lines between reality and fantasy.

This is a ghost story brilliantly utilized to fashion a tale of discovery and realization. Haunting components are manipulated in order to carry Junior through a journey that will dare him to confront a difficult past and the reality of the present. Sometimes things are not as they seem. Sometimes we must look deep within ourselves to find the answers and closure we seek.

Mapping the Interior is as refreshing as it is transfixing. Culture, grief and family dynamics merge to construct an unforgettable story that evokes multiple emotions and resonates with powerful meaning. This is likely to be a very personalized experience with each encounter. I am resolutely giving Mapping the Exterior the highest recommendation.

* I would like to thank Tor for providing me with this copy. The review above is my own unbiased opinion.

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