Monday, January 02, 2012

Books reviews: Mudbound and The Perks of Being a Wallflower

If there's one thing I can say about 2011, it's that I did a lot of reading, more than I had in previous years, I think.  In the last few days of the year, I got through two books, Mudbound, by Hillary Jordan, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Steven Chbosky, and I can recommend both of them if you haven't yet read them.

Mudbound is the story of the life of a family on a farm in the Mississippi Delta.  Henry, the husband, uproots his wife and two daughters from the city to move them out to a farm he was compelled to buy.  He proposes calling their new home "Fair Fields", but Laura, his wife, suggests "Mudbound" instead, given the propensity for flooding; the name sticks.  I was yet again amazed at the writing (as I was with The Help) and the way someone can evoke such incredible imagery to describe a place and a way of life about which I have only the vaguest ideas.   Race plays a key role in the story and the friendship between Jamie, Henry's charismatic younger brother, and Ronsel, the son of one of Henry's black tenants, is bittersweet because of their shared experience of having served in, and survived, World War II.  It's incredible to think of the war that black people had to fight in America to gain equality.  At any rate, I really loved Mudbound, and like it even more that I've now discovered Jordan is herself an Okie from Muskogee like my mother. 

The Perks of Being a Wallflower was totally different to Mudbound, but equally enjoyable in a modern coming-of-age style.  Charlie is the teenage protagonist struggling to deal with the difficulties of that awkward time in life where you try to understand all the myriad complexities of what's happening around you: friendships - with the same and opposite sex, fitting in, discovering what's "cool" in the form of extracurricular activities (both legal: films, music; and illegal: drugs, alcohol).  Charlie is also, in my opinion (though this differs from the opinions of many reviewers), probably somewhat special in that he's highly sensitive and very intelligent, although it's not until the end of the novel that we understand some of the reasons behind why he might react to life in the way he does.  Perks seems to be given glowing reviews that call it a new classic, but although I liked it, I didn't think it was all that profound.  It was well-written and painted a realistic and emotional scene of life as a 15-year-old; maybe that's exactly what makes it a new classic. 
I'm excited to see that Perks has already been made into a movie, and surprised that Mudbound doesn't seem to have been.

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