Friday, June 6, 2014

Book Review - Hemingway's Girl

I'm on vacation in New Orleans so you get a book review while I'm gone!!! Isn't that exciting? You know you're excited.

Please excuse the chipped nail polish in the photo

Author: Erika Robuck
# of pages: 321 (plus 15 page Reader's Guide including acknowledgements, bibliography, conversation with the author, and questions for discussion)
Publication Date: September, 2012
Publisher: New American Library, a division of Penguin Group
My Copy: First Edition paperback with reader's guide

The book I read in March (of 2013 - shhhh) was Hemingway's Girl by Erika Robuck.

It's another Target find. (Seriously, I find so many interesting things when I casually wander through Target's book aisles, it's crazy.) It sat atop my dresser for several weeks and then I started reading it for March. But I did what I seem to have been doing a lot this last year and a half: I took my time.

When I was younger, I would race through books because I wanted to know the story and be in that world and didn't want to come out of it until I was done with it but something changed sometime two  years ago when I stopped reading as voraciously. I started having a hard time staying focused, and I started having a really hard time remembering what I had read. Even now, the details are fuzzy on some of the things I've read this year and that's never happened before. I can remember details of Harry Potter and the Pendragon series and books I loved as a child but the things I've been reading lately don't seem to stick. I don't know if that's because I'm not reading as much, if it's because my life has devolved to 9-5 clerical silliness and I'm not learning anything new so my brain isn't retaining information or if it's just because I'm getting older, but things don't seem to stick as well anymore. And I don't like it.

Anyway, back to Hemingway's Girl. It's fiction - the main character and her family and the events of the book are drawn from the author's imagination. The hurricane and the fact that the Hemingway family lived in Key West during the Great Depression is all factual, and the author did a great deal of research on Hemingway, his family life, and general personality/habits because he absolutely came alive in these pages. I don't usually read historical fiction set anytime after the Victorian Era, and even then, I don't like stuff set in the U.S. or the American Civil War and prefer it to be British. Usually the historical fiction I get excited about is Tudor/Elizabethan/Shakespearean Europe or even ancient Greek and Roman stories. But the 20s? The Great Depression? World War I and II? Boring. (This is why I studied Classic Civilizations in college instead of just being an English/History double major. I would've had to write essays on stuff I could talk about with people still living. That's not history, that's current events in my book.)

But this one captivated me. Mariella's struggle to help her family survive the Great Depression was reminiscent of Katniss from The Hunger Games: younger siblings dependent on her, mother despondent and depressed after the death of their father, doing things and going places that were dangerous or rough out of desperation to make some extra money, a community of sad, hungry people wondering when things (specifically, the economy) were going to get better. There were no intense political overtones, though, just setting the scene that made it logical that a young woman such as Mariella would want to improve her family's situation by getting a job as a maid in the Hemingways's house.

Then there's Gavin. Gavin is a young veteran with a friend living in the Keys while he works on the Overseas Highway.  He makes no secret of his attraction to and affection for Mariella, but he really can't compete with wealthy, charismatic Hemingway - or can he?

The "love triangle" here was really, really convincing and it was - mercifully - brief.  What I know - historically speaking - about Hemingway is that he was extremely charismatic and could be the definition of charming when he felt like it. He was also prone to mood swings and losing his temper when he didn't get his way, and all of these characteristics were expertly portrayed. Gavin was real, flawed, and tries to get to know Mariella and get in with her family, but also has the issues that go with being a veteran - some symptoms of PTSD and being responsible for other vets who are in worse shape than he is.

There's also a bit of a mystery in this story. When Mariella's father died, there was some question about the circumstances, especially because his boat was never found. Mariella grew up on the water with her father, fishing and taking out the tourists, so his death is a bit suspicious. It lingers in the background and really isn't central to the main storyline, but it adds depth to the characters and the situation they're in.

The one real criticism I have with this book is after the climax. I wanted to see a bit more of Mariella's life after the hurricane and the events that came after. Also, the very last paragraph of the book is kind of sappy, like it's trying to do that misty-eyed thing to the reader. The epilogue was really well done and I thought it made a lot of sense and felt very real. The whole ending just worked and successfully conveyed a lot of information to wrap up the story from the first few pages, but I still wanted a bit more denouement before the epilogue.

This author also wrote Call Me Zelda, a novel about Zelda Fitzgerald's time in a psychiatric hospital and the (fictional) nurse she develops a friendship with.  It's got some good reviews, despite how many other books about the Fitzgeralds and that time period came out at the time. I got a Kindle version for Christmas so hopefully I'll get to it soon and review here.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars. This book wasn't bad, but it wasn't brilliant. I'm tempted to give it 4 just for the color and the way the setting and the period absolutely come to life, but the void between the ending and the epilogue was such that I can't give it that last half a star.

Recommended Reading Level: 16+ for some super brief sensuality, sexual references, alcohol abuse and violence. I gave it to my almost-16 year old sister to read because she doesn't read too much into things and probably missed most of the sexual references but is mature enough to discuss the things she was concerned about. I'm still waiting to hear what my mom thought about it.  **UPDATE: My mom enjoyed it! She liked the story and the characters and thought the relationships were all well-written.*

Who Should Read It: people who loved Katniss and want to read historical fiction featuring a really strong, female, young adult character; people who live in (or want to visit) Key West; people who really like Hemingway; people who like fishing; people who like books set during the Great Depression; people who love the ocean; people who like colorful stories about growing and carrying on after a difficult loss; people who like a tiny bit of mystery and drama in their historical fiction. I realize I don't really fit into many of these categories but I did really enjoy this book.

Further Reading to Consider:
The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway
also by this author, Call Me Zelda 

**DISCLAIMER: I am not now and never have been an agent of Penguin Group, Inc. or any of its imprints and am no acquaintance of Ms. Robuck. This is an unpaid, unsolicited review of a novel I genuinely enjoyed and wished to share. The photo above is property of Whitney Miller as is all text in this review with the exception of those excerpts used for review purposes.**

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