Identical by Ellen Hopkins

identicalKaeleigh and Raeanne are identical down to the dimple. As daughters of a district-court judge father and a politician mother, they are an all-American family – on the surface. Behind the facade each sister has her own dark secret, and that”s where their differences begin.

For Kaeleigh, she’s the misplaced focus of Daddy’s love, intended for a mother whose presence on the campaign trail means absence at home. All that Raeanne sees is Daddy playing a game of favorites – and she is losing. If she has to lose, she will do it on her own terms, so she chooses drugs, alcohol, and sex.

Secrets like the ones the twins are harboring are not meant to be kept – from each other or anyone else. Pretty soon it’s obvious that neither sister can handle it alone, and one sister must step up to save the other, but the question is — who?

Identical takes on the issue of sexual abuse by a relative. In this case, Kaeleigh is sexually abused by her father while her twin sister, Raeanne, isn’t. Raeanne never tells on her father, especially since her mother is distant {she’s running for Congress} and cold. And the story, written in the same free verse Hopkins used in Crank and Glass, switches from the point of view of Kaeleigh to Raeanne. Of occasionally, if you follow the separate words down the page, the girls come to the same conclusion through different experiences and sometimes they repeat what one another has to say.

“At ten, it isn’t exactly easy to separate good touch from bad touch, proper love from improper love, doting daddy from perv.” (pg. 241)

When I started my review in my head towards the end of Identical, I was all set to complain about how indistinguishable Kaeleigh is from Raeanne and visa versa. The identical twins I know are completely distinguishable – in dress, mannerism, and voice. Raeanna and Kaeleigh are not, and I found myself flipping back and forth, back and forth between the pages to make sure who I thought was speaking was, in fact, speaking.  But then I reached the end and my complaint was explained. At least, to a degree.

(Spoiler Alert! I mean it, because with this book, the less you know going in, the better.)

You see, the ending in unexpected, unexplainable, and completely out there. At the end of the book, you learn that Raeanna actually died in the car accident caused by Ray and Kaeleigh has multiple identities, living through herself and her twin sister to cope with the sexual abuse. Now that I think about it, the book is riddled with clues: Raeanne and Kaeleigh never talk to one another, the accident Ray caused never made any sense, the fact that Madison hits on both girls’ boyfriends, why Ray would choose one daughter over the other when they’re supposed to be identical. But the ending didn’t settle right with me; it felt too much like a copout.

(End spoiler!)

And the fact that, rather than focus on one issue, Hopkins threw in sexual abuse, bondage, teacher-student relationships, parents’ separation, rape, child p*rnography, prostitution, drags, and alcohol abuse. I don’t know if she was trying (too hard} to be “edge” and push the envelop with her novel or if she couldn’t decide which problem to focus on in this novel, but her jam packed novel didn’t settle right with me.

Others’ Thoughts:

Book Mentioned:

  • Hopkins, Ellen. Identical. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2008. Print. 565 pgs. ISBN: 9781416950059. Source: Library.
Book Cover © Margaret K. McElderry Books. Retrieved: February 20, 2009.

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

eyre-affairWelcome to a surreal version of Great Britain, circa 1985, where time travel is routine, cloning is a reality (dodos are the resurrected pet of choice), and literature is taken very, very seriously. England is a virtual police state where an aunt can get lost (literally) in a Wordsworth poem, militant Baconians heckle performances of Hamlet, and forging Byronic verse is a punishable offense.

All this is business as usual for Thursday Next, renowned Special Operative in literary detection, until someone begins kidnapping characters from works of literature. When Jane Eyre is plucked from the pages of Brontë’s novel, Thursday must track down the villain and enter the novel herself to avert a heinous act of literary homicide.

The Eyre Affair, which by sheer coincidence was also this month’s By the Chapter read, is a nice little diverse from reality. I flew through the 324 pages, despite all the unnecessary information about the Crimea war, the dodos, and the Republic of Wales, and enjoyed Thursday’s battle with Hades and consequent adventure into Jane Eyre.

Of course, the key to success with this book is one should probably actually read Jane Eyre before reading The Eyre Affair. I didn’t think not doing so be a big problem, and while it didn’t affect my overall understanding of the story, Thursday’s “change” of the classic was completely misunderstood by me. I mean, she “changes” Jane Eyre‘s ending to the ending Bronte wrote, but I didn’t understand that. Although, maybe it was better I didn’t read Jane Eyre as it’s easier to follow Thursday’s actions. Then again, she talks about characters I had no idea who they were and what story they belonged to. (Contradictory, I know.) It’s also probably a good idea to also read, or at least skim, Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens.

“Imagine Martin Chuzzlewit without Chuzzlewit!” he exclaimed earnestly, running through all the possibilities. “The book would end within a chapter. Can you imagine the other characters sitting around, waiting for a lead character who never appears. It would be like trying to state Hamlet without a prince!” (pg. 210)

My chief dislikes about The Eyre Affair were (1) the character’s names, (2) the characters realizing they are in a story, and (3) the random vampire not-a-subplot subplot. Everyone from Mr. Rochester to Thursday Next herself realize they are in a book, talk about being in a book, and behave like they are in a book. Fforde’s characters have names like Thursday Next, which I have to admit grew on me after a while, Jack Schitt, Analogy, Joffy Next, and Millon de Floss.

Complaints aside, I enjoyed this fun little story, and I’ll definitely be reading the sequel, Lost in a Good Book, in the feature and, if nothing else, it’s got me really excited about picking up Jane Eyre now.

Others’ Thoughts:

Book Mentioned:

  • Fforde, Jasper. The Eyre Affair. New York: Penguin, 2003. Print. 374 pgs. ISBN: 9780142001806. Source: PaperBackSwap.
Book Cover © Penguin. Retrieved: February 19, 2009.

Library Loot: February


While I keep a running list of the books I have checked out on the side of my blog, I’ve noticed a little thing called Library Loot – a weekly event that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library hosted by Eva and Alessandra – floating around the blogosphere lately. I decided to join in as my library loot is getting a bit out of control and I too love knowing what other book bloggers are reading. I summarized the information off of the back and jacket cover blurbs.

Checked out from the library yesterday:

  • Going Down South (Boonie J. Glover) – Daisy whisks her fifteen-year-old pregnant Olivia Jean to her grandmother’s farm in Alabama to have the baby – even though Daisy and her mother, Birdie, have been estranged for years. But, when they arrive, Birdie says: Sure, her granddaughter can stay, but Daisy will have to stay as well. Though Daisy is furious, she has no choice.
  • Impulse (Ellen Hopkins) – The story of three teenagers – Vanessa, Tony, and Conner – who grabbed the blade, the bottle, the gun and tried to end it all. Now they find themselves landed at Aspen Springs, a rehab facility, and all three of them need each other to fight the demons of their past.
  • The X President (Philip Baruth) – Chosen for the A to Z Challenge, The X President tells the story of one presidential biographer in the United States in 2055, a time when the American people are losing a world war and the true role of the presidency has long been forgotten.

Checked out last Wednesday:

  • The Audacity of Hope (Barack Obama) – President Obama’s thoughts on reclaiming the American dream.
  • Burned (Ellen Hopkins) – Pattyn Von Stratten is a repressed seventeen-year-old who has been raised by an alcoholic, abusive father and an overwhelmed mother. Pattyn’s life consists of taking care of her six younger sisters and learning to be a good Mormon girl. But after she starts to question the sexist society that her bishop encourages, her father sends her to Nevada to live with an aunt she’s never met.
  • Glass (Ellen Hopkins) – the sequel to Crank, which I have already finished but have yet to return to the library.
  • Identical (Ellen Hopkins) – Kaeleigh and Raeanne are identical twins, but they couldn’t be any more different. Kaeleigh is “the misplaced focus of Daddy’s love”, but all Raeanne sees is Daddy playing a game of favorites and she is losing. Raeanne decides that if she has to lose, she will do it on her own terms, so she chooses drugs, alcohol, and sex.

Checked out last Sunday:

  • Child 44 (Tom Rob Smith) – I cannot do this cover justice, so read the summary on GoodReads.
  • Conception (Kalisha Buckhanon) — Fifteen-year-old Shivana Montgomery believes all black women wind up the same: single and raising children alone. But when she accidentally becomes pregnant by an older man and must decide what to do, she begins a journey towards adulthood with only a mysterious voice inside to guide her. The voice, though, is that of her unborn child and the story is apparently narrated through his/her eyes.
  • The Movies of My Life (Alberto Fuguet) – One that I stumbled across, The Movies of My Life is a recollection of the 50 most influential movies in Chilean Beltrán Soler’s life.
  • Tomato Girl (Jayne Pupek) – Eleven-year-old Ellie Sanders has to be a witness and a warden to her mother’s gradual slide into madness after her father becomes enthralled with a pretty teenager who raises vegetables and tomatoes for sale at the general store that he runs.

Checked out two Sundays ago:

  • Dreams From My Father (Barack Obama) – President Obama’s thoughts on race and inheritance,which I finished yesterday but have yet to return to the library.
  • The Senator’s Wife (Sue Miller) – A portrait of two marriages exposed in “all their shame and imperfection, and in their obdurate, unyielding love.”

Library Loot:


A weekly (or monthly, in my case) event, Library Loot encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from their local library. Whether you vlog about or write about, the format doesn’t matter as along as you share what followed you home this week (or, again in my case, each month). The event is hosted by Eva and Marg.

Photo © Me. February’s to-reads. Taken: February 16, 2009.

Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama

dreams-from-my-fatherSubtitled “A Story of Race and Inheritance”, Obama’s book was added to my to-be-read pile as soon as Obama clinched the Democrats’ nomination. Unfortunately, it seemed several patrons at my local library had the same idea and I had to wait for my turn to read the thoughts of a “son of a black African father and white American mother” on race in America. I had hoped to gain more insight into who President Obama is as he admittedly was not my candidate of choice.

“When people who don’t know me well, black or white, discover my background (and it is usually a discovery, for I ceased to advertise my mother’s race at the age of twelve or thirteen, when I began to suspect that by doing so I was ingratiating myself to whites), I see the split-second adjustments they have to make, the searching of my eyes for some telltale sign. They no longer know who I am.”  (pg. ix)

Dreams From My Father is very detailed and decently written, though at times it starts to become evident that Obama was trying to be a good writer. The memoir is divided into three sections – Origins, Chicago, and Kenya. The first, Origins, details Obama’s first interaction with race as he grows up with the “white side” of his family.  He discusses how difficult it was when people would say things like “that’s just how white folks will do you” and even just the term “white folks.”

White folks. The term itself was uncomfortable in my mouth at first; I felt like a non-native speaker tripping over a difficult phrase. Sometimes I would find myself talking to Ray about white folks this or white folks that, and I would suddenly remember my mother’s smile, and the words that I spoke would seem awkward and false.” {pg. 75}

The interesting parts of Obama’s life are detailed under the umbrella chapters entitled “Chicago.” It’s in Chicago that he starts doing something instead of talking, and his work in Chicago was very inspiring. I especially enjoyed seeing how he helped build grassroots organizations in Chicago’s South Side, and you can see how his ideals of hope and change were forming before he ran his campaign. {This book was written in 1995.) It’s in Chicago where he really confronts the issue of race – for example, the education of African American children:

“The first thing you have to realize,” he said, looking at Johnnie and me in turn, “is that the public school system is not about educating black children. Never has been. Inner-city schools are about social control. Period. They’re operated as holding pens – miniature jails, really…Just think about what a real education for these children would involve. It would start by giving a child an understand of himself, his world, his culture, his community. That’s the starting point of any educational process. That’s what makes a child hungry to learn – the promise of being part of something, of mastering his environment. But for the black child, everything’s turned upside down. From day one, what’s he learning about? Someone else’s history. Someone else’s culture. Not only that, this culture he’s supposed to learn is the same culture that systematically rejected him, denied his humanity.” (pg. 236)

The memoir is lacking as a literary work, but, in the end, I feel like I came away from his memoir with more of an understand of who he is as a person – a version of him unclouded by today’s political arena. Obama is clearly confused on where he fits in, where he stands in the issue of race, and the memoir reads more like something he wrote for himself rather than for personal consumption, an issue he notes in his preface.

The best way, though, to sum up the entire content of Obama’s memoir is the conundrum of racial identity in America — if you move too close to the direction of “black,” you risk falling into the traps of drugs, gangs, and jail that have plagued urban black youth. But, if you move too far in the direction of white, you “leave your people behind.”

Book Mentioned:

  • Obama, Barack. Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance. New York: Times Books, 1995. Print. 403 pgs. ISBN: 081292343X. Source: Library.
Book Cover © Times Books. Retrieved: February 15, 2009.

Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

confessions-of-a-shopaholicBecky Bloomwood has what most twenty-five-year-olds only dream of: a flat in London’s trendiest neighborhood, a troupe of glamorous socialite friends, and a closet brimming with the season’s must haves. The only trouble is, she can’t actually afford it – not any of it. Her job writing at Successful Savings magazine not only bores her to tears, it doesn’t pay much at all. Still, how can she resist that perfect pair of shoes? Or the divine silk blouse in the window of that ultra-trendy boutique?

But lately Becky’s been chased by dismal letters from Visa and the Endwich Bank – letters with large red sums she can’t bear to read – and they’re getting ever harder to ignore. She tries cutting backs; she even tries making more money. But none of her efforts succeeds. Her only consolation is to buy herself something — just a little something. Finally, a story arises that Becky actually cares about, and her front-page article catalyzes a chain of events that will transform her life — and the lives of those around her — forever.

Leave it to Becky Bloomwood and her hilarious antics to brighten a pretty dismal day. The best of the series, and my second favorite Kinsella book, Confessions of a Shopaholic is a lighthearted and funny read, and it is definitely my “guilty pleasure”. Becky is such an enduring character and I love how often she breaks the “fourth wall,” which makes the story all the more engaging. This is probably one of the best examples of first person witting, as well, and I love how it’s written in the present tense – like you’re right there with Becky – instead of a reflection of her struggles to curb her addiction.

I saw the movie yesterday, and it does not do the book justice. At all. In the book, there are no talking mannequins beckoning Rebecca to shop, Luke isn’t her boss, and her fantastic article isn’t about shoes and investment accounts. Basically, the screenwriters took Becky, her addiction, and Luke and completely butchered the story while incorporating events from the second book in the series, Shopaholic Takes Manhattan. Honestly, as I told my parents, I would have liked the movie if I hadn’t read the series, but I’m so glad I read the series.

Book Mentioned:

  • Kinsella, Sophie. Confessions of a Shopaholic. New York: Dell, 2005. Originally published 2000. Print. 368 pgs. ISBN: 9780440241416. Source: Purchased.
Book Cover © Dell. Retrieved: February 15, 2009.