Tag Archives: coming of age

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent Title: My Absolute Darling
Author: Gabriel Tallent
Publisher: Fourth Estate, HarperCollins
ISBN: 978-0008185220
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 432
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Once in a while, you read a book that makes you angry. Very angry. And you cannot help but cheer so madly and wildly for the underdog. The book takes over your life till you are done reading it and while it is hopeful (in small doses and so not enough), it also leaves you exhausted, frustrated and contemplative about the world you inhabit. “My Absolute Darling” by Gabriel Tallent is one such book and it is very hard to believe that it is only his debut.

“My Absolute Darling” is the kind of book that will in the most brutal manner stay with you long after you’ve finished it. It is one of those books that you wouldn’t even want to stay with you and yet it will. It is the dark “Lolita”. Nabokov’s “Lolita” looks like a bird in front of this one. The book is of the coming-of-age genre in the most raw, terrible manner. The one that no child must go through and perhaps the ones that do, mostly emerge to be the stronger ones. But as the blurb says, “Sometimes strength is not the same as courage” or “Sometimes leaving is not the only way to escape” – this book lives up to it in so many ways.

Julia (Turtle) Alveston is a survivor. She is all of fourteen and has grown-up isolated since the death of her mother. Her father, Martin, is tortured and believes that Julia is the best thing that has happened to him. So much so that he doesn’t want to let go of her. She is after all his, “absolute darling”. Turtle is physically, mentally and emotionally abused by her father. Turtle’s social existence is confined to her school, and sometimes meeting her grandfather, who she is most fond of. She doesn’t have friends. She is angry, miserable, and all she knows is how to survive and that her daddy loves her very much (she also deep down just wants to get away from all of this).

In all of this, Turtle meets Jacob, a high-school boy who reads, is funny and lives in a big clean house with his parents and sister. For once, Turtle feels some kind of normalcy in her life and starts forging friendships. But she now has to find a way to escape her old life and start anew. She wants to leave her “devoted” father. And thus begins the story of Turtle (almost more than halfway through the book). She becomes her own hero and I as a reader often found myself just hooting for her, cheering, interacting with her, wanting to hug her and tell her that it will all be okay, to reach out between the pages and scream at Martin, to perhaps even kill him.

The emotional complexities of this book are of another level. The setting of the book is the outdoors (woods along the Northern California Coast) – where Turtle lives with her father. This adds another layer of fierceness and subtext to the novel. Of how sometimes even though circumstances aren’t just about right, you can still seize what is yours if you want to. But this book thankfully, isn’t preachy. It is real. Sometimes too real.

The story is gripping. You cannot help but turn the pages and yet you don’t want to. Tallent takes you to the heart of darkness (multiple times) and leaves you hanging with what will happen next. He takes you through the maze in Turtle’s head – her confusion, her loss of expression, her self-doubt (always thinking she isn’t pretty and not worthy of anything good), self-loathing and finally being resilient to it all. There are times when words that need Turtle’s expression aren’t there and yet you know it all. The writing is that surreal and empathetic. The prose is measure, even though laborious at times, but it is worth it. Tallent has also referenced so many authors and books in this book, which to me was nothing short of brilliant and each reference made so much sense in the larger sense of the plot (I will list those down soon). There were technicalities with weapons which I didn’t get at all, but I let it go. The characters that Tallent creates are frighteningly real. Such an incident or series of incidents could be happening in your backyard and you wouldn’t know of it.

This one sentence stood out for me as an explanation for the entire book, however the entire book is peppered with so many of them: “Her moments of happiness occur right at the margin of the unbearable”.

Read this book only if you can stomach it. But read it. Make yourself stronger and read it. The prose demands to be read. The emotions most certainly do. Tallent is one author to watch out for. I loved reading this one.

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Adrian and the Tree of Secrets – Story by Hubert & Illustrations by Marie Caillou

Title: Adrian and the Tree of Secrets
Story by Hubert
Illustrations by Marie Caillou
Publisher: Arsenal Pulp Press
ISBN: 978-1551525563
Genre: Graphic Novel
Pages: 128
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

This book is for anyone who has had a problem fitting in while growing up. When you know that you aren’t like what most people are and yet cannot tell a soul. I love coming of age books and more so when they are in the graphic more and especially more so if it is about being gay and coming out as well – more to yourself than anyone else and “Adrian and the Tree of Secrets” is just the kind of book that you need if you are struggling with it. It is the perfect graphic novel for teenagers struggling with their sexuality or even not – maybe they just will come to know who they really are.

Adrian’s experiences as a teen gay boy are universal. We have all gone through it – been that road – not only for LGBT teens but also the straight ones – to know oneself and to make peace with it is not easy – no matter what your orientation. There is also the angle of bullying at school and how Adrian meets someone special and what happens thereon. At the same time there is Adrian’s mom who is a devout Catholic – you get the drift, don’t you? Well, this in short is the plot of the graphic novel.

The story by Hubert and the illustrations by Marie Caillou go superbly hand in hand. The graphic panels are sparse and minimal and that lends to the story in more ways than one. I will not talk about the ending or else I would be spoiling it for you. The story is touching, will touch a nerve and I hope will make you see the LGBTQ community differently, because at the end of the day we are all the same kind of people looking for the one true thing: love.

Ghost World by Daniel Clowes

Title: Ghost World
Author: Daniel Clowes
Publisher: Jonathan Cape, Random House
ISBN: 978-0224060882
Genre: Graphic Novel
Pages: 80
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

If I remember clearly, “Ghost World” was my introduction to graphic novels and at that time I found it very strange – it is barely 80 pages long and yet manages to convey teen angst with such accuracy that my head spun. It was published in 1997 and I remember a friend gifting it to me in 2000. More so, what was or rather is unique about it is that it is in only two colours – green and blue and to me that still is fascinating – even when I reread it now.

“Ghost World” as most aficionados know is also a movie starring Thora Birch and Scarlet Johansson. Now that that is out of the way, the book is about two teens – Enid Coleslaw and Rebecca Doppelmeyer – who are most cynical, pseudo-intellectual and recently graduated from high school. They encounter people and wonder what life has in store for them – they live dry and dull lives in an unnamed small-town and want to perhaps step out and discover the world.

This graphic novel is dark and yet does not lose its humour. I loved the writing – it is razor-sharp and doesn’t lose its capacity for nostalgia. Clowes characters remind you of the most ordinary people you might come across in daily life and perhaps ignore in a split of a second. “Ghost World” is also a lonely book – of two girls who are either trying desperately hard to fit in or just living life as it passes them by. Clowes has this uncanny sense of the society we live in – that demands appearances be kept up and yet you have these two teenagers who don’t want to keep up and are loud, edgy, and refuse to submit or conform. A book that needs to be devoured in every sense of the word.

Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki Title: Skim
Words by: Mariko Tamaki
Pictures by: Jillian Tamaki
Publisher: Groundwood Books
ISBN: 9780888997531
Genre: Graphic Novel
Pages: 143
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4/5

I had heard a lot about “Skim” before purchasing it. It is all about teenage angst, but I also think it is meant for everyone who wants to find a place of their own in this world and also about what path you want to choose, when there are so many in front of you.

“Skim” is Kimberly Keiko Cameron – who isn’t slim, is also a Wiccan Goth (well she does want to be it) and goes to a private girls’ school, where keeping up and meanness is in vogue. It all begins with Katie Matthews’ boyfriend dumps her and then kills himself. This starts a chain reaction of events at school forcing Skim to think about things she doesn’t want to and also in the process she falls in love and doesn’t know what to do anymore.

“Skim” as a book works on so many levels – adolescence, crushes, love – gay or not, forming cliques and what happens when you’re not a part of them, first love, and more than anything else – a way to find yourself is explored beautifully in this slim graphic novel.

It is the kind of book that can and should be given to every teenager as a rite of passage so it can help them come into their own. It is a book about being young and more than anything else it is about actualization to some extent. Please do not judge it by the cover. The illustrations are beyond words beautiful and it is all in black and white, which makes it even more special.

I am glad I read this book this year and more importantly this month. February as cliché as it may sound is about love (well all months are) and one must read some books all about love – twisted or not.

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Hang Woman by K.R. Meera & Translated by J. Devika

Hang Woman by K.R. Meera Title: Hang Woman
Author: K.R. Meera
Translator: J. Devika
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton, Penguin
ISBN: 9780670086542
Genre: Literary Fiction, Indian Writing, Translation
Pages: 448
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Some books are just not an easy read. No matter how hard you try, you cannot skim through them. Neither can you dismiss them. They demand complete and total attention. They will not rest till you give it to them and neither will you. “Hang Woman” by K.R. Meera is one such book. It is no doubt a complex read, given the subject and yet I did not feel like letting go of it, at any point. A book can be gripping in many ways, sometimes the traditional route of suspense and sometimes in the not-so-traditional sense of strong writing and ideas presented in a manner unlike any other.

“Hang Woman” is a translation from Malayalam to English. On this note, I hope there are more such translations. We as a country have a lot of offer in terms of literature and most of it goes unnoticed or hidden. Perhaps that will change. And it is essentially up to publishers to change that and I know for a fact that Penguin and others are trying hard to bring about that change. Many say that translated books do not or may not have the same impact as reading the book in the original; however, the translator for this book, J. Devika has done a spectacular translation.

“Hang Woman” is a book of executioners or rather a family of executioners. The Grddha Mullick family has witnessed almost every single important event that has shaped the history of the subcontinent. It is a lineage of executioners, dating back to before Christ and there is immense pride in that they take. Cut to present day, where twenty-two year old, Chetna is the first lady executioner of India and with a family tradition to take over. Of course, that is where the title comes from, but there is more to it than the obvious.

The layers and stories come out gradually in the book. K.R. Meera does a splendid job of mixing the past and the present and weaving it to create a story of love, loss and violence. There is a lot of juxtaposition of beliefs and also confusion to a large extent in the book that lends it its unique voice. What I liked personally in the book is the subtlety – of Chetna’s feelings, her life and her choices. Like I mentioned earlier, the translation is easy to read and lends imagination to the reader at almost every page. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and for someone who is searching for that book that he or she can mull over and be entertained at the same time, then I would say, read, “Hang Woman”.

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