Lola

By Melissa Scrivner Love | Published in 2017

Melissa Scrivner Love’s debut novel is captivating: the tale of a young woman, as she leads a gang in Los Angeles and upon facing death, affirms that she can only rely on herself, although others endlessly rely on her for comfort, safety and affection.

It is surely an interesting read – always enjoyable to hear an unconventional and culturally defiant story. Love constructs her female characters as if each one is meant to highlight opposing qualities in another. One strong, another weak. One drug-ridden and ignorant, another clean and sharp. Needless to say, the theme of female empowerment was lacking (despite the presence of the protagonist).

With Love’s background in television, I expected her to be more thoughtful with her dialogue – dialogue and action dominates TV writing. However, no character maintained a clear voice throughout the book. It was difficult to differentiate one’s perspective from another’s – I certainly felt a flatness because of this. Maybe that flatness was also due to Love’s evident lack of knowledge around gang culture. I am convinced that I know more about this topic than she does…

 

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Lucky You

By Erika Carter | Published in 2017

Carter’s motive isn’t clear in this tale of three women; she fails to capture the feelings of despair, confusion and self-worth that young people tend to experience upon leaving school and assuming real responsibility. However, she desperately tries to convince her readers otherwise in demonstrating self-destruction within her characters in the most conventional of ways – an inexplicable draw to starvation, alcohol abuse and consuming relationships.

Yet no character in this novel was relatable. The setting too, a small and desolate Arkansas town, could have been played to Carter’s advantage – it could have twisted the story into another, avoiding a flat character assassination but rather peeling into a level of societal damage. An accusation on behalf of these masochistic girls, to me, was missing.

It could have called attention to and provided reason for details it instead chose to ignore, such as the lack of Ellie’s familial support or the typical path for success expected of those fresh from school in a quaint, Southern town.

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Be Frank With Me

A tale for the quirkiest of children.

By Julia Claiborne Johnson | Published in 2016

A celebration of quirkiness and the more lavish of times, Johnson’s novel presents a strange yet heartwarming relationship between young Frank and his mother’s assistant, Alice. The two form an odd and somewhat interdependent pair; Alice is constantly seeking Frank’s approval while Frank remains fixated on gaining his mother’s. Mimi, a once respected and wealthy author, is trying to re-establish herself after years of financial troubles, often leading her to focus more on her work than Alice or her son. 

Family comes in many forms, Johnson shows, and even the most unconventional and dysfunctional of them can be admired and understood. Although one can easily resonate with Alice’s naive optimism or Mimi’s desired isolation, Frank prevails as the most thoughtfully constructed character. He is a precocious individual, infatuated with historical art and facts, but eagerly communicates his impressive knowledge and unusual interests in the most childlike of manners. His innocence and hunger to learn highlights his mother’s guilt and willing defeat; each one is misunderstood to the other. Nevertheless, Frank’s has an appreciated connection with Alice, and she aids in bridging the gap between mother and son.

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The Clancys of Queens

A memoir following the life of a young and fervent Queens native.

By Tara Clancy | Published in 2016

A childhood triptych, Clancy’s memoir offers an admirable take on cultural realism. A daughter of an Irish father and an Italian mother, Clancy traces her path to adulthood in exploring moments of familial sentiment and fiery dispositions. She presents strong characterizations, some so polarizing: the outspoken and rough-around-the-edges grandmother, an intrepid woman with an astounding passion for Queens, juxtaposed with her mother’s wealthy boyfriend, a quiet, kind but distant fellow, one with a rather arcane past that often catches Clancy’s interest.

While Clancy’s tale has evident strengths, it lacks conflict, a true reason for reader investment, and therefore lacks a full narrative arc. The minor conflicts presented throughout the memoir are subtle, only revealing nuanced characterizations, rather than contributing to an overall message or storyline. It would have functioned better as a collection of short stories prioritizing its comedic edge. 

Although impressively funny, the memoir could have benefitted from a further exploration of parent-child conflict, the sadness and unknown of growing up, and income disparity’s imposition on familial dynamic. 

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