Category Archives: Book Reviews

The Girls at 17 Swann Street, by Yara Zgheib

The Girls at 17 Swann Street

Synopsis (taken from Goodreads):

Anna Roux was a professional dancer who followed the man of her dreams from Paris to Missouri. There, alone with her biggest fears – imperfection, failure, loneliness – she spirals down anorexia and depression till she weighs a mere eighty-eight pounds. Forced to seek treatment, she is admitted as a patient at 17 Swann Street, a peach pink house where pale, fragile women with life-threatening eating disorders live. Women like Emm, the veteran; quiet Valerie; Julia, always hungry. Together, they must fight their diseases and face six meals a day.

Favorite Quote:

“I am not anorexic. I am out of control. I know it but I cannot stop. I am a child in a body that grew up too soon, found adulthood and real life a scam, and now is trying to lose enough weight to lift off the ground, fly away.”

Overall Thoughts:

“The Girls at 17 Swann Street,” reads like a memoir and it’s hard to believe that this is a work of fiction. Zgheib’s writing really shows the reader what it’s like inside the mind of someone who is struggling with this awful disorder. Anna’s thoughts are so raw and powerful. At times, they are difficult to read.

“I understand her anorexia more than she knows, wings banging on the inside of a cage. But I say nothing; she does not want my understanding. She wants quiet and to grieve.”

When I was in high school, I remember learning about anorexia as well as other eating disorders. There seemed to be a lot of misinformation going around. It was often assumed that people who had anorexia were just superficial girls (mostly) who only wanted to be skinny so that they could be more attractive. But I learned that it was never that simple. I remember reading about other people who were battling the disorder, how they had a desire for control over their lives. How food was the only way they could gain back that control.

“You can’t control your life, love, future, past, but you can choose what you put, or not, in your mouth.”

Anna’s disorder is complicated and clearly is a result of a traumatic past that she is reluctant to acknowledge. Each day is a struggle that Anna must force herself to get through. While living in the home at 17 Swann Street, she is forced to eat three meals a day with snacks in between, which is a huge challenge for her. For someone like Anna, eating is not a pleasant experience. It is a battle against the voices in her head that tell her that she shouldn’t be eating these things. To eat the foods that she is being forced to eat is like dismantling the only control she has in her life.

This book is by far one of my favorites that I’ve read this year. Although it is a short book and is relatively easy to read, it’s emotionally difficult. I found myself tearing up throughout most of its short chapters as I was becoming more and more attached to Anna’s character.

Overall Rating:

5stars

How can I give this book anything but 5 stars? This book is beautiful and heartbreaking. I felt so connected to Anna through the author’s powerful writing. “The Girls at 17 Swann Street” is an excellent read, but be sure to have the tissues handy!

 

 

What I’m Reading Now (May 18, 2019)

The Buried: An Archeology of The Egyptian Revolution, by Peter HesslerTheBuried

This was one of the May selections from Book of the Month Club. I chose it because it is about an American’s personal experience living in Egypt. I’ve always had a fascination with Egypt because… well… I am Egyptian, sort of.

Okay, well actually, my father’s from Egypt. I’ve never been. In fact, I never grew up with the culture. I don’t speak Arabic, I never saw the pyramids; you get the picture. So Hessler’s book intrigued me. My hope was that it would tell me what it was really like to live in today’s Egypt. So far, it doesn’t disappoint.

Peter Hessler, who is a staff writer for The New Yorker and a contributing writer for National Geographic, moved to Egypt at the start of the Egyptian Arab Spring. As an American, he had a big learning curve when it came to living in Cairo. Luckily, he met many people who were willing to help him along the way.

Throughout the book, Hessler explores not only the recent Egyptian revolution, but he also discusses the ancient culture. Yet, my favorite part of this book is Hessler’s personal encounters with the everyday people of Egypt. Through these people’s stories, the reader learns about what it’s like to live in modern Egypt.

 

Clock Dance, by Anne Tyler

ClockDance

I’m actually listening to this one on audio. The only downside to that is that I usually only listen to audio books on my commute to and from work and unfortunately, my commute is very short. I’m on my third week listening to this book and I still have 3 hours left until the end. That doesn’t seem like it is very long, but it’ll take me a few more days to get through it.

Here’s the Goodreads synopsis:

Willa Drake can count on one hand the defining moments of her life: when she was 11 and her mother disappeared, being proposed to at 21, the accident that would make her a widow at 41. At each of these moments, Willa ended up on a path laid out for her by others.

So when she receives a phone call telling her that her son’s ex-girlfriend has been shot and needs her help, she drops everything and flies across the country. The spur-of-the moment decision to look after this woman – and her nine-year-old daughter, and her dog — will lead Willa into uncharted territory. Surrounded by new and surprising neighbours, she is plunged into the rituals that make a community, and takes pleasure in the most unexpected things.

This is my first time reading anything from Anne Tyler. It’s a relatively fun book with quirky characters. So far, there’s nothing too crazy going on with the plot. It’s just a nice story about an older woman and her everyday experiences.

I will say that the most interesting part of the story is Willa’s relationship with the male characters. To put it bluntly, they are awful! I feel like Willa is constantly disrespected by these men. And the most frustrating part is that (so far in the book) she really hasn’t stood up to them. Her second husband refers to her as “little one,” and he says it in such a demeaning and patronizing way.

Again, I have 3 more hours left in this audio book. My prediction is that Willa will eventually speak up for herself a little more and she will follow her own path in life.

The Book of Essie, by Meghan MacLean Weir

I had never heard of “The Book of Essie,” by Meghan MacLean Weir until I happened to find it through the Book of the Month website. There was nothing about it through my Instagram feed, my book podcasts, book blogs, etc. I just read the book description through the site and thought it might be a fun read. I was pleased to discover that this book ended up being one of my favorite reads of the year (so far)!

BookofEssie

Synopsis:

The story follows Essie Ann Hicks, the youngest child from the devout Christian family featured in the reality show “Six for Hicks.” Her parents are more fundamentalist Christians than traditional. From a very young age, Essie has been brought up in the spotlight and has been demonized and idolized by the public. When Essie’s mother discovers Essie is pregnant, a plan is made to try and avoid any controversy. This plan includes Roarke, a classmate who has his own secrets, and Liberty Bell, a conservative reporter who gets exclusive interviews on Essie’s story.

Throughout the book we learn a little bit more about Essie, Roarke and Libby. Weir keeps things interesting by leaving the reader wanting more at the end of each chapter. What is Esssie’s real plan? What secret is Roarke hiding? What happened to Essie’s sister and why is she estranged?

Favorite Quote from this book:

“It’s men who trust they will suffer no consequences for their actions, while women suffer no matter what they do.”

Overall Thoughts: 

This is a book that will keep you interested from the beginning to the end.  Each of the characters have something important to add to the story and I really enjoyed getting to know them. They each struggle with their own separate issues, but the one common element for the three main characters, Essie, Roarke, and Libby, is that of taking control over their own lives. We see how each of them decides for themselves how to stand up for what they want. This is something that many people can relate to, especially those of us who had to deal with controlling parents.

The one thing I will mention is that the author does bring up many hot button issues packed into just one book. Themes such as abuse, homosexuality, rape, religion, racism, and abortion are scattered throughout the story. I think the author would have done a better job if she had maybe cut out some of these and just focused on one or two of the main themes in the book. I loved all of the characters’ stories but felt like I wanted just a little bit more, but there was no room.

Nevertheless, I really enjoyed the book overall.  The author is clearly a talented writer and she has a knack for keeping her readers interested. I was surprised by many of the twists in the story that I didn’t see coming. This is the type of book that you read at night, try to put down, but then say to yourself, “maybe just one more chapter…”

My Rating:

5stars

Since this book kept me entertained for every chapter, I have to give it 5 out of 5 stars.

The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas

The other day, a friend of mine at work (KerryAnn), told me about a book she loved. It TheHateUGivewas “The Hate U Give,” by Angie Thomas. Of course I had heard about the book, everyone has by this point. It was an incredibly popular book from a couple of years ago and it seemed like everyone in the world has read it except for me. KerryAnn said as soon as she started it, she couldn’t put it down and she pretty much read it in one sitting. That’s impressive for a 400+ page book.

Honestly, the reason why I have been avoiding this book is because it’s YA. I’ve tried reading YA many times, and it just makes me feel old and out of touch. So as a result, I’ve generally focused my attention toward other book genres. I told KerryAnn this, but she pressed further. “This is not a typical YA book,” she said. I was skeptical.

The next day, I came into the office and found a copy of “The Hate U Give” in hardcover, sitting on my chair. It may as well have been a plate of green eggs and ham. I took it home and decided to at least give it a chance. My general rule of thumb when it comes to books is to read at least 50 pages and then decide whether to ditch it or continue to the end. I’m so glad I stuck by this rule because within the first 50 pages I was hooked! Angie Thomas is an amazing writer with a truly remarkable gift for getting inside a character’s soul.

I think by now everyone is familiar with the plot of this book. It’s about a sixteen year old girl names Starr who lives in a poor neighborhood, but attends an elite private high school with mostly rich, white kids. One night, while she and her best friend, Khalil, are driving home from a party, they get pulled over by a white police officer who shoots and murders Khalil, who is unarmed. This event sparks outrage in the community and forces Starr to start seeing things in a whole new way.

This is a book that should be required reading in schools because it talks about racism in a very modern way that is more real for today’s generation. Thomas uses her writing as a way of illustrating how bigotry and discrimination have become insidious in our society by showing it through the eyes of a sixteen year old girl. Starr sees and experiences the racism that is happening now, which is different from the racism shown in books that are normally read in school, such as “To Kill A Mockingbird,” by Harper Lee, which was first published in 1960. It’s not that the message in “To Kill A Mockingbird” is no longer relevant, because it obviously still is. But “The Hate U Give” shows us that the hatred that existed almost 60 years ago is still among us, and that it has manifested itself in new ways. Thomas gives us this book as a way of fighting back against this hatred by educating the reader about systemic racism in America.

Beyond the overall message, Angie Thomas does an amazing job of telling the story, keeping it interesting for the readers, and writing in such as way that the reader truly understands each of the characters on a deep level.

KerryAnn was right when she said that this was no typical YA novel. Whether it was written for young people or not doesn’t matter. It’s still an important story to tell with a powerful message. I’m glad she talked me into reading this and I would encourage others to read it too… even if you’re old and out of touch like me!

A Woman Is No Man, by Etaf Rum

AWomanIsNoManWhen I started to read Etaf Rum’s “A Woman Is No Man,” I wasn’t sure what to expect. It struck me as the kind of book that I might have found to be too depressing and, as a result, exhausting to read. But I was pleasantly surprised to find out that instead of bringing me down, it actually gave me hope.

The story begins with Isra, a young Palestinian woman who is pressured by her family to get married. Despite her young age (she is just a teenager), she is expected to marry right away and have children. She does exactly what is expected and marries Adam, an abusive man who takes her to Brooklyn, where they live in a small house with his parents in an Arab neighborhood.

Years later, history repeats itself as Isra’s daughter, Deya, is pressured by her grandmother (Fareeda) with the same fate. But with the help of an estranged relative, Deya discovers she has more options than she is actually aware of.

Although I loved this book, there were many parts of the story that enraged me! It wasn’t so much the constant physical abuse by the men, but by the complacency and enabling of the abuse by the women. There were many pages that were beyond difficult to read. This especially hit hard for me because of my own Arab roots. My father is Egyptian and there was a time when he seriously considered bringing me to Egypt to raise me there. Eventually he decided against it and I got to stay in the United States. But when I was reading the book, I kept wondering what my life would have been like growing up in a traditional Arab culture. Likely, my experience would have been a bit different since my family seems a lot more liberal than Isra’s. In fact, many Arab families would be considered more liberal. Not all Arab families follow the same strict rules where men dominate women’s lives (thank goodness!)

The book has alternating chapters, from different character’s points of view. The author really shows the reader what it’s like to live an oppressive life under patriarchal rule through the eyes of Isra, Deya, and Fareeda. These women feel that they have no rights to make their own choices. Even something as small as going outside for a walk is forbidden.

This type of oppression against women is not specific to just the Palestinian community described in this book. Sadly, it happens throughout the world and from all different cultures. This story is definitely a reminder that, even in 2019, we still have a long way to go for gender equality.