It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date). Since two of our friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have been joining this meme for quite awhile now, we thought of joining this warm and inviting community.
Welcome, April! The first quarter of the year is officially over, and as such, we are excited to share with you our new reading theme for April-June:
Sisterhood and Female Bonds in Literature
Thus, we are looking for books written (and/or illustrated) by female creators on the following themes:
- Mothers and daughters
- Sisters or the concept of sisterhood
- Aunties, female neighbours, girl cousins, grandmothers and granddaughters
- Female friendships, girlfriends, women bonds
- Tribe of women, pack of females, congregation of girls
As I was trying to find picturebooks that would fit our theme, I know we may have just a wee bit of a difficult time – as most children’s books are packaged to appeal to both girls and boys. While we are trying to highlight the distinctiveness and complexity of female bonds, we also acknowledge that mothers and sons, or friendships that may involve boys or men may insert themselves every now and again.
These two novels that I am sharing are also pretty interesting. Apart from both being multi-award-winning, they provide very clear evidence of how female bonds do not always necessarily have to be healthy – others can be pretty toxic too.
Written by: Seanan McGuire
Published by: Tor (2016)
ISBN: 0765385503 (ISBN13: 9780765385505). Literary Awards: Hugo Award for Best Novella (2017), Nebula Award for Best Novella (2016), Locus Award for Best Novella (2017), World Fantasy Award Nominee for Long Fiction (2017), ALA Alex Award (2017), Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Fantasy (2016), James Tiptree Jr. Award Honor List (2016). Borrowed a copy from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me and quotes edited using Typorama.
This book was selected for our #IRL book club in January. I have read another novel by Seanan McGuire with her pen-name Mira Grant – a book entitled Into the Drowning Deep which was all about killer mermaids – it was another book club pick for my #HorrorPostalBookClub with seven members coming from Germany, Canada, Spain, the US, Singapore. It does appear like Seanan McGuire’s (aka Mira Grant’s) books are quite popular with book clubs.
While some of my book club members felt that the first book in the Wayward Children Series (yes this is the first of what is potentially a five-book series) is unlike anything they have read previously, making it a ‘fresh’ read for them – I felt otherwise.
I thought it was a mash-up of Catherynne Valente’s Fairyland series and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and (as a Litsy friend reminded me), Chronicles of Narnia with the doorways to fantasy land. Despite this, I still felt that the book fits our current reading theme, especially since there are generally more females than boys in this sort-of-kinda-like-halfway-home – at least, according to the Headmistress of the Home for Wayward Children, Miss Eleanor West.
The characters, though, that pretty much resemble toxic sisterhood in this book are Jack (short for Jacqueline) and Jill (short for Jillian). They are identical twins who could not be more different. One has a penchant for dead bodies and experimenting with them, while another has a predilection for murdering people, having been a mistress of what I can surmise to be a vampiric creature.
Despite the darker, grittier themes, one gets the sense that this is a middle-grade to YA fantasy – although it came as no surprise that it is shelved in the adult section in Singapore libraries, ostensibly because of the gender identity themes thrown into the moribund mix.
I was not especially taken by any of the characters that felt incomplete, at least for me. It seemed that there was a longer (a much more developed) backstory missing, but will be coming in the next few books in the series. As a stand-alone, I thought that the world-building was essentially weak – their map of Nonsense, Logic, Underworld, among others – felt haphazard. There was also the insertion of another character, made more drawn-out somewhere in the end, that seemed like an afterthought. Yet there were lines, beautifully rendered, similar to the image I have posted above, and these other two quotes that made me marvel at McGuire’s literary craftsmanship.
One of our book club members even noted that this notion of doorways leading to fantasy worlds could be a metaphor for adults’ wish to go back to the idyllic moments of childhood. Another theory raised during our book club discussion was the possibility that these wayward children are simply mentally deranged with murderous predilections.
I finished this novel over a weekend, having read it during the #24in48 Readathon. At the time that I was drafting this post, I already have Books 2 and 3 reserved from the library and I do look forward to reading the rest of the books in the series.
Written by: Gillian Flynn
Published by: W&N (2018, first published 2006)
ISBN: 1474601618 (ISBN13: 9781474601610). Literary Awards: Barry Award Nominee for Best First Novel (2007), CWA New Blood Dagger (2007), Edgar Award Nominee for Best First Novel (2007), CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger (2007). Borrowed through inter-library loan from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me and quotes edited using Typorama.
Normally, I would read the book before I watch its film – or in this case, TV series – adaptation. However, good intentions notwithstanding, my TBR stack is as huge as my entire house, so this isn’t always possible. My husband and I watched the series early this year and we were hooked by the atmospheric vibe, the grisly nature of the killings in a small Southern town called Wind Gap, and the tormented relationship between Camille Preaker (a journalist from Chicago) and her mother Adora Crellin – not to mention the strained and strange connectedness between Camille and her half-sister, 13 year old Amma Crellin. If we’re looking at toxic female bonds that inevitably lead to murder – then this is it.
Apart from the conflicted and tumultuous relationship between Adora, Camille, and Amma – there is also Camille’s strained relationship with her former female friends from high school. She has made a life for herself as a journalist in Chicago – she is the poster girl of one who has ‘escaped’ small-town-suburban life. Hence, returning to her little Southern town of Wind Gap – and reconnecting with her former girlfriends was inevitably stilted and awkward.
The men in this novel are puny, ‘absent’ characters who convey a sense of not being ‘all there.’ They seem like the nondescript backdrop on which the women’s more colourful drama unfold: the ineffectual Sheriff, the emotionally-vacuous Stepfather (and determinedly-blind and distant Father to Amma), the opportunistic and judgmental big shot detective from Kansas City, Richard Willis. The only male with any measure of redemption, whatsoever, in the entire novel is Camille’s Editor in Chief, Frank Curry who truly ‘sees’ Camille. But he is sick and dying – may be Gillian Flynn’s larger view about men in general.
As I was thinking about the dynamics between Camille and her sister and mother – I can not help but think that power is at the essence of it: the wielding and withholding of power, whereby love and its concomitant expressions of affection are perceived as nothing but weapons in establishing one’s dominance. The quote above as noted by 13 year old Amma captures this perfectly. This weaponizing of emotion is seen in Camille’s self-mutilation and Amma’s thirst for violence.
While Amma is portrayed as somewhat older in the series, Eliza Scanlen delivered the role with so much uncanny grace with just the right dab of eerie, charming, and the underlying stench of sociopathy.
*** Spoiler Alert *** You may not want to read this section if you haven’t seen the TV series or read the book yet.
It was only somewhere in the end that Munchausen by Proxy syndrome was mentioned, providing the A-Ha moment that served to illuminate Adora’s strangeness and Amma’s seeming-illnesses, and the death of another sister who has succumbed to Adora’s toxic mothering.
While thoroughly disturbing, Flynn managed to portray the fragrances and fumes of womanity in a way that is raw, unflinching, and apologetic – like tiny cuts in one’s face, and marveling at its peculiar beauty. I find this to be more finely delivered than Gone Girl, the horror eating away at one’s insides, in seeming glee, delivered with a graceful and sophisticated flick of the wrist.
#WomenReadWomen2019: Both authors are from the United States of America.