This is my monthly recap of the books I've read and reviewed on my book blog. May was a so-so book reading month, unfortunately. These books were all highly readable but they're not necessarily ones I'd recommend to others. For full reviews of these books, click on the title to go to Marie's Book Garden.
Vanishing Acts, by Jodi Picoult
I like Picoult's books because she always poses ethical dilemmas and creates complex characters, many of whom have deep flaws but good intentions. In this book, the main character, Delia Hopkins, raised by her widowed father in New England, is now a mother and is engaged to her daughter's father, Andrew. Then she discovers she was kidnapped by her own father when she was just four...and her mother is still alive. Andrew is an alcoholic and just happens to also be a lawyer, so she asks him to represent her father, even though he doesn't have much experience with trials...and is not licensed to practice in Arizona, where the case goes to court. As usual, Picoult's books are highly readable and accessible...but this one will not stand out in my memory. The plot seemed to meander. The characters frustrated me at times. The "surprise" wasn't really much of a surprise.
In summary, this book was okay...but Jodi Picoult has done so much better.
Banished: Surviving My Years in the Westboro Baptist Church, by Lauren Drain and Lisa Pulitzer
I feel ambivalent about this book. Lauren Drain's family moved to Kansas to join the Westboro Baptist Church after her father, an atheist libertarian, was making a documentary about the group. He soon become absorbed and went full bore. Lauren became an enthusiastic picketer, truly believing that the church had a straight line to heaven...even though they apparently believe in predestination. Some reviewers have commented that Lauren should have waited a few more years to write her memoir--she comes across as a teenager, even though she's now a young woman. I don't think she would have left the church on her own volition--she seemed to love it too much, even though she was beginning to chafe against the favoritism shown to the Phelps family. In the epilogue, Drain apologizes to gay people for being so hateful, saying the classic "some of my friends are gay" (can't believe her cowriter actually included this staple of prejudice!). But it didn't feel completely genuine to me...I think I might have felt more convinced had the writing been stronger. When I finished the book, I had the impression that if Lauren's family wanted her back in the church, she would be back in a heartbeat. It just didn't ring true to me. She seemed to get such a high level of enjoyment out of the picketing and didn't seem to realize, even later, the depth of hatred she espoused. However, when I watched an interview with her, I felt more convinced that she was glad she was out. I did find it interesting to get inside of the WBC and try to understand their hate and evil...but the book itself could have been better.
Towelhead, by Alicia Erian
This book takes place in the 1980s, when Bush sets us on our first war in Iraq. Jasira, age 13, is sent to live with her Lebanese dad in Texas after her mom becomes concerned that her boyfriend is more interested in her daughter than he is in her.
Everywhere she goes, Jasira craves love and affection, but she gets it nowhere. Her father is strict, unaffectionate, and cold. Her mom is a drama queen and wants everything to be about her. Jasira seeks out affection in the unhealthiest of places--with the racist neighbor next door and by developing a sexual relationship with a boy at school. I found this story to be extremely sad and disturbing, evidence of what happens when a child does not experience healthy love and affection. Jasira has no understanding of what is good, healthy, and loving, and she makes bad choices constantly.