All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg
Women’s Fiction > Literary
It took me a little while to get a hang of the story-telling style. It’s about the same woman, Andrea, at different points in her life. The chapters jump back and forth between her in her twenties and then hitting forty. A couple chapters take place when she was in her teens.
The story should be sad—Andrea has a jazz musician father who died of a heroin overdose when she was a teenager and now she has a niece who was born with a fatal illness. Because we see her at different times in her life, somehow it’s never depressing, just a well-written examination of the life of a New York woman who never wanted to be a mother or wife. She had wanted to be an artist, but she now works at an unfulfilling job to pay the rent. Back when she was still seriously studying art, she wonders “daily, if I have enough hunger. To be an artist means a lifetime of being told no, with the occasional yes showing up just to give you enough hope to carry on.”
Because the narrative style is nontraditional, there are a few points where the pacing is slow, but this is not a book you read just for plot. It’s about the writing, and on that score, this relatively short book succeeds admirably.
Fitness Junkie by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza
Women’s Fiction > Humor
The story mocks the ridiculous lengths people will go to get or stay thin, but the entire book constantly reinforces the idea that it’s important to be healthy, not skinny. (After all, meth heads are skinny, not healthy.)
Before you begin reading the book, there is a letter from the editor that says that the writers, Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza, discovered that the ridiculous exercise classes and diets they write about are in fact real. The authors sometimes began to fabricate something outlandish—only to find that this exercise or food fad actually exists (which is often painfully hard to believe).
The novel begins when Janey’s business partner and lifelong friend, Beau, tells her she needs to drop thirty pounds because she’s an embarrassment to their brand—supremely expensive wedding dresses for only the thinnest of women.
One thing that’s wonderful is that Janey has never worried about her weight. She doesn’t necessarily pig out, but she eats waffles if she’s in the mood and doesn’t beat herself up over it (how refreshing!). Because Janey owns only 49 percent of the company, she doesn’t see what choice she has but to take the enforced sabbatical and drop the weight. And after all, maybe her tummy has gotten a little rounder than it once was and maybe her forty-year-old chin isn’t quite as tight as it had been.
The foil to Janey is her girlfriend CJ, who IS obsessed about her weight, and therefore gung ho to try these various ridiculous activities along with her. CJ even obsesses about whether her young twin boys look too chubby for Facebook. (!) So together, they discover a world where women spend outrageous sums of money to be screamed at about how fat and worthless they are. They eat clay. The words “artisanal” “organic” and “journeys” are used frequently—about everything.
This book actually did inspire me to get back into my fitness routine—one that costs almost nothing, like going on walks and eating more vegetables.
Ivy, Janey, and a few others are likeable and the villains are perfect folks you love to hate. I highly recommend this fun book. It has hints of romance, but you know Janey will be fine on her own, with or without a man (also refreshing!)
Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah
I enjoyed this novel about two girlfriends spanning from the ‘70s to the early 2000s. It alternates points of view between Kate who, when the novel opens, is 14 years old and closely watched by her mother. Tully, on the other hand, has been abandoned by her drug-addict mother and moves in across the street with her grandmother. Tully is rebellious and ambitious, and Kate longs to be cool like her. Kate is stunned when Tully becomes her best friend, and their friendship lasts 30 years.
They are flawed people with likeable attributes, like everyone I’ve met on planet earth. While Tully is completely focused on launching her career into the stratosphere, Kate has never been as career driven and, when she finds herself accidently pregnant, decides to spend all her time being a mom and giving up her career. She finds both the joys and toils of this choice, just as Tully finds there are joys to having a success career at the expense of nurturing other relationships. You see both of their points of view, and neither is necessarily better than the other (depending on your own point of view about what’s important in life).
There were portions of this book that dragged on longer than necessary. Particularly the issues Kate had with her oldest child when her daughter became a pre-teen and then a teenager. It was important to the story line, but I wish it hadn’t gone on for as long as it did.
But at the end, I found myself teary. I could definitely see this being made into a movie. Also, without giving anything away, I learned about something I had not heard about (and now get to be scared about something new).
It’s an important book about what friendship means—like any relationship, it has its ups and downs.