I find it interesting how our expectations about a book, or a movie, or anything really, colors our experience of them and determines how we react to them. Sometimes, I prefer to go into reading a book with very little information so that my reaction can be my own and unaffected. This was not the case with two books I read recently.
It seems like I've been hearing and reading about how amazing Jayne Pupek's Tomato Girl was for years - and it has only been out since 2008! Every review I've come across has been glowing, and I expected to feel the same way. Well, I am going to bravely buck the trend. Tomato Girl is a story filled with dysfunctional people. Adolescent Ellie Sanders has had a difficult childhood as her mother suffers from mental illness. Her father has been supportive for many years, but his patience has run out and he has taken up with an abused and epileptic teenage girl, finally running away with her and leaving Ellie alone with her very, very ill mother. Bad stuff happens. More bad stuff happens. The last 50 pages are almost comical in that every horrible thing that could happen to a young girl does - in one day. There was a phrase that kept coming to my mind while I read this.
I almost stopped reading 2/3 of the way through because I lost sight of the point of this book. I know bad stuff happens, and frankly I happen to read and 'enjoy' many particularly depressing books. This one crossed the line for me I guess and felt unnecessarily hopeless. It reminded me of a young adult novel bloggers raved about in the past year about a young teen being held hostage by a pedophile. I wonder, why do we need to read the fiction about this? We know it happens and the reality is bad enough. I am also reminded of another book that seems like a trainwreck, everything bad that could happen does, yet in the end there is hope. That book was A Fine Balanceand is a particular favorite of mine. In the end, I know everyone loved Tomato Girl but I didn't.
On a lighter note, The Monsters of Templetonby Lauren Groff is a book that seems to elicit strong reaction. Readers seem to either love it or hate it. I've had this book for some time now, and the feeling I had based on reviews was that I wasn't going to be crazy about it, but I was pleasantly surprised. In a nutshell, pregnant grad student Willie returns to her hometown of Templeton to get away from her life. She discovers that her father is not who she thought he was and sets out to explore the town's history to figure out who he was. There are photographs of Willie's ancestors, old letters, and chapters from the point of view of long dead relatives. All this tells the story of Templeton and Willie. Oh, there is a lake monster too. My sense was that the author doesn't take herself too seriously, there were many unique elements in this book. Overall I enjoyed this book, though it wasn't a love affair. By the end I was ready to be done (editing?). I'll be interested to see what Groff comes up with next.