Red Light, Green Light: The Girls and Homegoing

Red Light, Green Light: The Girls and Homegoing

You remember this game, right? Red Light, Green Light? Well, I'm doing a bit of copying from one of my favorite book bloggers, Sarah's Book Shelves, in order to share my experience with these two debut novels. I read one, Homegoing, right after The Girls, and there was just no way I could be excited to write about one after my experience with the other. That may be a disservice to The Girls, especially based on some of the wonderful reviews it has received, but it wasn't the earth-shattering read I'd expected.

The Girls by Emma Cline
Published by Random House (June 14, 2014)
370 pages, Kindle Edition
Advance reader's copy provided by publisher
Verdict: Red Light

Author Emma Cline's writing is beautiful, succinct and emotional; however, it feels like she's attempted to tie together strings and strings of delicately-written sentences in order to create a story. This method left me struggling to make any meaningful connections. 

She wore the air of crisis like a flattering new coat, the stream of her anger performed for an invisible jury.

Her descriptions of main character Evie Boyd's coming-of-age struggle in the late '60s are so vivid, so detailed and heartfelt and I wanted to be completely absorbed by this novel as much as I'd hoped; unfortunately, I can't say that I loved it and my exceedingly high expectations left me wanting more.

The leaves in the trees were silvery and spangled, like scales, everything full with June’s lazy heat. Had the trees around my house always looked like that, so strange and aquatic? Or were things already shifting for me, the dumb litter of the normal world transforming into the lush stage sets of a different life?

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Published by Knopf (June 7, 2014)
320 pages, Kindle Edition
Personal copy
Verdict: Green Light

Now, this is an earth-shattering debut novel! For me, this is an example of book "buzz" being a positive thing; after my high expectations of The Girls, I was a little skeptical to pick up another "must-read" book of the summer. Thankfully, Shannon at River City Reading recommended this one and I have enormous respect for her opinion, since we often enjoy similar titles.

In fewer pages than one would expect, author Yaa Gyasi manages to weave together 300 years of family history and I found myself picking this up as often as possible: on my phone, my Kindle, my computer, whenever I had a second to's that good.

She tried to smile, but she had been born during the years of Esi’s unsmiling, and she had never learned how to do it quite right. The corners of her lips always seemed to twitch upward, unwillingly, then fall within milliseconds, as though attached to that sadness that had once anchored her own mother’s heart.

Not only is the writing extremely pleasurable to read, the story is amazing; part history lesson, part social commentary, part emotional family saga, it will definitely be among my favorites for this year.

“That I should live to hear my own daughter speak like this. You want to know what weakness is? Weakness is treating someone as though they belong to you. Strength is knowing that everyone belongs to themselves.”

It's not perfect; there were times, especially closer to the end, when it became more about the family details than the engaging story, but I appreciate the fact that the author did not try to create a 500+ page saga, which would have been easy to do. One of her characters, who is struggling to write a novel on the family's history, shares that he is troubled by the fact that if he mentions one thing, he'll have to mention another, and on and on until he simply puts his work down and leaves it...could be indicative of the author's struggle, as well.

Having said that, I will highly recommend this one to anyone who will listen; the writing is worth the effort and time to experience this captivating tale of love, loss, and learning which many, no matter their background, will be able to reflect upon with their own unique perspective.

Speaking the Language

Speaking the Language

Miss Mary

Miss Mary