Book Reviews

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Bell Jar
by Sylvia Plath

Esther Greenwood is a young woman who wants to become an author. She's trying to understand social norms for women in her generation and work out what she actually wants from her life, as opposed to what's expected of her. She feels disconnected from most of what is happening around her and the book chronicles her decent into mental illness.

I read this for the first time as a teen. Rereading it now was an interesting experience. I identified more the main character when I was younger, but I had a better understanding of the wider scope of the message this time around. Also, Esther's struggle with embracing motherhood had a bigger impact on me this time, now that having kids doesn't seem impossibly far away. I knew Plath committed suicide, but I didn't know until recently that it was only a month after this was published.

Briar Rose
by Jane Yolen

Becca's grandmother Gemma has told her the fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty (Briar Rose) her whole life. When Gemma passes away Becca realizes that her family barely knew anything about her past. She begins a search to uncover the secrets of her own heritage and in doing so finds the truth woven into the fairy tale story.

This brilliant retelling of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale broke my heart. I was hooked from the first pages. It combines elements of the classic story with real facts about the Holocaust. Then weaves other important issues into the fold, prejudice, cowardice, homosexuality, wartime heroes, sibling relationships, the importance of knowing your history and the power of stories. I loved the characters and though the subject matter is obviously difficult, the story is so well done that I still enjoyed reading it. I know this is one that I will be rereading in the future.

Rip Van Winkle
by Washington Irving

Rip Van Winkle is a man who lives with his family in the Catskill Mountains before the American Revolutionary War. One day he escapes his nagging wife by going up into the mountains. He shares a few drinks of liquor with a stranger he meets and falls asleep under a tree. He awakes to find that 20 years have past, a revolution has taken place and his wife has died. His grown daughter takes him in. It's a quirky short story, but not one that was terribly impressive. As a side note, I had no idea that Irving was considered the first American short story writer (with this story and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow).


Jenners said...

If I'm remembering the name correctly, I think "Briar Rose" is by the same author of those "How Does a Dinosaur Count to Ten" and all those others. Interesting.

And I think I read "The Bell Jar" at way too young an age to understand it at any level.

Cat said...

"The Bell Jar" is one of my favourite books ever and I too read it as a teen. I'd be scared/interested to read it now! Thanks for the reviews - I love your take on things. xo

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Jenners - Funny, I've never heard of those books, but it looks like the same author.

Cat - I'm always a bit scared to reread books I've really loved. I'm worried I won't like it or it will seem simple or the writing will be bad. I think so much of our love for a particular book comes from the impact it has on us at a specific point in time. Our reading of it is affected by everything we're going through and have gone through up to that point. It's fascinating to me that one book can be read so very differently by dozens of people.

Jeanne said...

Yolen got famous for her picture books, but Briar Rose and The Devil's Arithmetic are her most famous titles for older readers.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Good to know. I've added Devil's Arithmetic to my TBR list.

Anonymous said...

Nice book blog!!!

Happy WW!