Tag Archives: Fiction

Review & Book Tour: If You Follow Me

If You Follow Me
By Malena Watrous
HarperCollins Publishers
March 2010

Here’s the blurb from the publisher:

Hoping to outpace her grief in the wake of her father’s suicide, Marina has come to the small, rural Japanese town of Shika to teach English for a year. But in Japan, as she soon discovers, you can never really throw away your past . . . or anything else, for that matter.

If You Follow Me is at once a fish-out-of-water tale, a dark comedy of manners, and a strange kind of love story. Alive with vibrant and unforgettable characters—from an ambitious town matchmaker to a high school student-cum-rap artist wannabe with an addiction to self-tanning lotion—it guides readers over cultural bridges even as it celebrates the awkward, unlikely triumph of the human spirit.

The Short of It:

Reading If You Follow Me, is like taking a cool sip of water on a hot summer’s day. It’s refreshing and bold and filled with vivid, colorful characters.

The Rest of It:

I was rather surprised by this one. I expected it to be a “fish out of water” story, and to a degree, it is but there’s much more to it than you would expect. It’s light and airy in one sense, but it deals with some heavier themes and Watrous manages to take all of these elements and roll them into a nice little package.

Marina is an American who is hired to teach English in the small, Japanese town of Shika. She, along with her girlfriend, Carolyn, inhabit a tiny apartment and run into all sorts of colorful neighbors. Neighbors that constantly sift through her trash and complain to her supervisor, Hiro, also known as Miyoshi-sensei, about her constant rudeness.

Through letters, Hiro teaches Marina about the finer points of living in a small, Japanese town. These letters are peppered throughout the novel and are quite funny.

Here’s an example:

Now I prepare this sheet so you can learn target Japanese words and gomi law in one simple occasion. I hope it’s so convenient for you. It’s kind of so rude if you “can’t remember” about gomi law. Your neighbors feel some stress about you, and they must be so busy. They can’t talk to you every time you make a gomi mistake. I think they want to know you so much. First learn gomi law, second Japanese language, and third you can enjoy international friendship. This is like holding hands across the sea!

There are many humorous moments within this novel which sort of lighten it up a bit, but at the core, Marina is struggling to deal with her father’s suicide and the feeling that perhaps she could have prevented it. The guilt that she has over the incident is a constant presence throughout the novel. It sits quietly in the background as she tries to sort through the life that she has chosen for herself.

Her interactions with others are almost in slow motion. She sort of drifts through her days going from classroom to classroom and is often in denial when it comes to the current state of things. Marina is a strong woman though, and when she feels the need to act, she does and you end up in her corner, cheering her on.

I can’t say enough about the characters. They’re all quirky and different and although some of them are only referred to in a line or two, you still get a feeling for who they are. Watrous has a knack for carving out the essence of a character without weighing them down with a lot of background info.

There’s so much here to like. If you enjoy quirky, fun novels that have a bit of substance to them, you will enjoy If You Follow Me.

To visit Malena Watrous’ website, click here.

To visit her on Facebook, click here.

Malena will be interviewed for Book Club Girl’s Blog Talk Radio show on April 6th. For more information, click here.

To view Ms. Watrous’ other TLC tour stops, click here.

Source: A big ‘thank you’ to TLC Book Tours for asking me to be a part of this tour and for providing me with a review copy of the book.

Review: The Help

The Help
By Kathryn Stockett
Penguin Group (USA)
February 2009

Here’s the blurb from the publisher:

Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.

Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.

Minny, Aibileen’s best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody’s business, but she can’t mind her tongue, so she’s lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town  to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.

The Short of It:

The Help is the kind of book that you make time for, no matter how busy your schedule.

The Rest of It:

I’ve seen The Help everywhere and although it’s gotten wonderful reviews, I held off on reading it. I don’t like to read books that are overly hyped. I’m usually disappointed by them. However, the hype hasn’t died down yet even after all these months,  so I figured I’d give it a shot. I’m glad I did. Let me just say, that if you’ve been on the fence about reading it, get yourself a copy, find a cozy place to sit and dig in. It’s good.

As many of you know, the book is a work of fiction but it almost seems auto-biographical in nature. Skeeter is a young woman living in Mississippi. Most women her age focus on marriage and standing, but Skeeter is different. She wants to be a writer and after receiving some encouragement from a publishing house, she decides to write a book. A book about the help, literally. She decides to write a book about the black women of Jackson. The women that make a living taking care of other people’s children, cleaning other people’s houses, and putting up with all sorts of drama.

There’s so much to love about this book. Aibileen’s love for Mae Mobley, her young charge, is written so tenderly that your heart just aches when Stockett mentions them. Raising and loving another woman’s child, knowing full well that she could grow-up to treat blacks the very same way her mother does. Well, that just takes the air right out of my lungs.

Then there’s Minny, Aibileen’s best friend. Head-strong and difficult but so full of life. When Minny walks into a room, you pay attention. She’s quick to judge and has a sharp tongue, but there’s a gentle, vulnerable side to her too. I loved the interaction between her and her boss, Miss Celia.

Oh, and when Miss Skeeter has her”aha” moment, you just want to give her a big hug. Putting everything on the line for what she believes in. She’s not perfect. She has flaws but so does everyone. That’s the point. We are not meant to be perfect.

My only complaint with this book is that towards the end, the pace seemed to drop quite a bit. I suppose it was just me wanting to get to the end to find out how it all turned out, but it did seem to slow down quite a bit at one point. This is a tiny quibble given that the rest of the book is so wonderful. I really enjoyed it and feel like kicking myself for waiting so long to read it. It will definitely make my fave list this year and I can certainly see why book groups across the nation have embraced it.

For those that have read it, what did you think of the dialect? Not what I expected but it worked for me.

Also, I came across this interview with Katie Couric. I was surprised to see that Stockett is so soft-spoken. I don’t know why, but I imagined her to be a lot more aggressive and vocal. I also think it’s interesting that the book groups they feature in this clip are all white.

Source: I won this book in a contest.