THE GIANT'S HOUSE by Elizabeth McCracken
(National Book Award Finalist .. figured it couldn't totally suck..)
This is the story of Peggy Cort, a 26 yr old "spinster" librarian living in the Cape Cod area in the 1950s where she meets 11 yr old James Carlson Sweatt, who suffers from gigantism. By the age of twelve, James is 6'5. James and Peggy develop a friendship at the library, Peggy giving him books that take his mind off of his disability and social awkwardness. Somewhere in the midst of their friendship, Peggy finds she's actually falling in love with James but realizes this is an inappropriate feeling to have towards someone still not legal. She can't seem to shake her deepening affection for him so she just keeps it to herself, struggling with seeing James grow up over the years, learning to flirt as a teenager, struggling with not knowing how to dance, etc. With everything that goes on, at the toughest moments James always comes back to Peggy, one night confessing his own feelings. You'd think this book would be really awkward to read but nothing inappropriate happens. James grows up, becomes a man and Peggy continues to help him as his condition worsens. It's actually really sweet (and bittersweet) the way this relationship develops between them. The one problem I did have with the story was the last few chapters, the way McCracken decided to wrap things up confused me, it felt a little disjointed and then like she quickly brought it back and tried to tie things up neatly. But definitely give this one a try. It's a slow burn kind of read, doesn't really race through, but the development in itself is powerful.
There's some great quotes in this book. Check it out:
For some people, history is simply what your wife looks good in front of. It's what's cast in bronze, or framed in sepia tones, or acted out with wax dummies and period furniture. It takes place in glass bubbles filled with water and chunks of plastic snow; it's stamped on souvenir pencils and summarized in reprint newspapers. History nowadays is recorded in memorabilia. If you can't purchase a shopping bad that alludes to something, people won't believe it ever happened.
Despite popular theories, I believe people fall in love based not on good looks or fate but on knowledge. Either they are amazed by something a beloved knows that they themselves do not know; or they discover common rare knowledge; or they can supply knowledge to someone who's lacking. Hasn't everyone found a strange ignorance in someone beguiling?
I loved him because I wanted to save him, and because I could not. I loved him because I wanted to be enough for him and I was not.
Truthfully, this is the fabric of my all my fantasies: love shown not by a kiss or a wild look or a careful hand but by a willingness for research. I don't dream of someone who understands me immediately, who seems to have known me my whole life, who says 'I know, me too.' I want someone keen to learn my own strange organization, amazed at what's revealed; someone who asks, 'and then what, and then what?' But you can't spend your life hoping that people will ask you the right questions. You must learn to love and answer the questions they already ask. Otherwise you're dreaming of visiting Venice by driving to Boise, Idaho.
THE MOST WANTED by Jacquelyn Mitchard
This is the story of Arlington "Arley" Mowbrey a 14 yr old girl who, partly from a dare, partly out of a sense of charity, decides to write to Dillon LeGrande, an inmate at a South Texas prison who just happens to be 25. It starts out innocent enough because Arley doesn't expect anything more than a simple pen-pal sort of communication. But Arley feels a freedom in telling all her inner feelings to someone she figures it won't matter to. She figures the guy will think she's crazy and not write back. To her surprise (but not to the reader's 'cause c'mon 400+ pages here.. of course he wrote back!) she gets a letter from Dillon with him saying how moved he was by her honesty... and so starts the blossoming of their relationship. Did I mention Arley lied about her age to impress this guy she thought wouldn't care about her? Ahh plot muck :-). Well Dillon's not a total perve.. I guess.. he does take a pause and consider "okay.. she's 14" but then that leads to "well she's a mature kind of 14". Okay... bit of an ick moment there but hear me out. No, I'm not a wackadoodle myself endorsing these kind of things, I was disturbed by a lot in this book but because it was so well written I kept reading. And it helped that the story is broken up and alternated between the POVs of Arley and Annie, her lawyer, who acts as the voice of reason in the story... oh, and Annie has a sweet, legal love affair of her own ;-)
I thought Arley was a well developed character in that in the beginning we see her acting as if she knows exactly what she's doing but later as things get twisted up (as any adult could see from a mile away that they would), she freaks out and wants to be free of everything, though Annie tries to tell her it's too late, the proverbial bed's been made. I like that the teenage character actually sounded her age without going to the cliche airhead tone, but instead you get to see the mix of almost-adult thinking with the "can I get my mom to write a note" stage of life still in there. This book gets pretty dark as the story moves along. I hoped for Dillon to be that one in a million case of rehabilitated former sick puppy... seems like there were shreds of good guy in there. I was curious to know more about the backstory of Dillon and his brother but there wasn't much given. Oh, and Arley's mom? OMG.. that lady was pretty much flat-lining on the mom-o-meter. I don't think I've read such an exaggerated case of a woman having kids for the welfare money!
She did not neglect her children; neglect might have required more concentration than Rita was able to muster up.. Arley's mother simply did not love her, and not only did she not love her but she regarded Arley's school successes, as well as her timid attempts to involve herself in extracurricular activities, as a source of irritation, an obstacle that got between her and her right to cheap labor.
Is it any wonder Arley turned out such a confused girl? Still, here's another book that offers great writing if you can get passed the taboo subject matter.
"You asked somebody, they'd always say kin is kin. But that doesn't mean the same thing to people everyplace. When you grow up with all kinds of love from your blood kin, maybe you don't have that desperate hope for someone out there waiting who can make up for all the things blood never brought you. Someone who can look deep inside you and see things no one ever bothered to tell you were there." * Arley
Oh and btw.. wondering about Arley's name? Yeah.. her mom's one of those women who named all her kids after the towns they were conceived in... Arley is for Arlington, Texas... awkward name to try to pull off as feminine... poor girl :-(