Category: Humour

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter

Cover image for One Day We'll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koulby Scaachi Koul

ISBN 978-1-250-12102-8

Mom talks about moving to Canada as though my father had requested she start wearing fun hats. Why not try it? she thought, instead of This fucking lunatic wants me to go to a country made of ice and casual racism.”

The daughter of Kashmiri Indian immigrants, Scaachi Koul was born in Canada, and grew up in Calgary, Alberta before moving to Toronto for university. There she became a writer and editor for BuzzFeed Canada, and started dating a white man more than a decade her senior who she kept secret from her parents for many years. She sparked on a storm on Twitter in 2016 when she put out a call for more diverse submissions. Her debut collection of essays addressing growing up at the intersection of two cultures, fighting for a place in either one, while constantly defending choices her parents do not understand or approve of. Koul approaches this subject with a biting humour that belies the seriousness of the subject matter.

Koul vividly sketches a portrait of her family, including her parents, much older brother, and young niece. Her father in particular is a vivid character, the kind of person who will decide a year later that he isn’t done being mad about something you did that he didn’t approve of, and abruptly stop talking to you for months at time. The intergenerational conflict is at once unique to her situation, and recognizable to parents and children everywhere. Her niece, nicknamed Raisin, also plays a prominent role, as Koul often reflects on her experiences through the lens of what she hopes or fears Raisin will face growing up as a young half-Indian woman.

Koul shares her complicated relationship with race in general, and skin colour in particular, a relationship that shifts depending whether she is in Canada or India. In Canada she is brown, yet just light enough to be ethnically vague, and constantly questioned about her identity. Racists casually toss the n-word at her, because “racism doesn’t have to be accurate, it just has to be acute.” In India, her family is pleased with, and occasionally jealous of, her pallor. There, her relatives casually touch her skin, as if hoping the colour will rub off. Koul worries over the value her family places on this lightness, and particularly what this emphasis on whiteness will mean for her half-white niece. This push-pull is constantly at play as Koul tries to parse out her place between the two worlds.

The pieces in this collection range in tone, but even the essays that are pure humour have an undertow of cultural commentary. As she recounts getting stuck in a skirt in the fitting room of a clothing store where she used to work—and having to be cut out of it—Koul manages to perfectly capture the tendency to pin our hopes on the perfect wardrobe. Even as she is getting stuck, she thinks this is “The item, the big item that changes the way I dress and thereby changes the way I am as a person. It’s not just a skirt; it’s the entry fee for a better existence. I would exude a new confidence, it would smooth out the wrinkles in my body, it would hide all the ways I have disappointed and failed people in the past.” Body image is never far beneath the surface of these reflections, with race and gender only serving to further complicate matters. And this piece fits into the collection right alongside more serous pieces, such as the dissection surveillance as an aspect of rape culture, showcasing Koul’s diverse range and deft hand with a variety of subject matter.

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You might also like I‘m Judging You by Luvvie Ajayi

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You Can’t Touch My Hair

Cover image for You Can't Touch My Hair by Phoebe Robinsonby Phoebe Robinson

ISBN 978-0-14-312920-2

“In fact, throughout the Obama years, there has been, at the very best, resistance to change, and at the very worst, a palpable regression in the way the country views and handles—or more accurately refuses to handle—race.”

Phoebe Robinson is a writer and stand-up comedian, as well as the co-host of the comedy podcast 2 Dope Queens with Jessica Williams. You Can’t Touch My Hair is a collection of humourous essays that draw on Robinson’s experiences as a black woman, including “How to Avoid Being the Black Friend,” and “Uppity,” an essay that explores coded language and white guilt. In a style replete with pop-culture references and internet slang, Robinson recounts her relationship with her hair, highlights black hair in the media over the past thirty years, and addresses some of the racism she experiences on a day-to-day basis.

Robinson’s essays hit a range of tones, from mostly humourous to mostly serious. I read the book in print form, but I often found myself wondering if some parts of the book would have been better on the audio version, which Robinson performs. Her more serious essays hit home hard in print form, but delivery is a huge part of comedy. I listened to a couple episodes of 2 Dope Queens after I finished You Can’t Touch My Hair, and suddenly I could much better imagine how Robinson would deliver the material she had written. This might be less of a problem for people who are already familiar with Robinson’s comedy and then pick up her book, but this was my introduction to her. However some of the pieces are definitely best suited to print form, for example the second essay is about black hair in the media, and includes a lot of photos.

Two of the more serious pieces that hit hard were “Uppity” and “The Myth of the Angry Black Woman.” In “Uppity,” Robinson recounts an acting job where she was called uppity by the white director when she asked for a minute to review her lines. After she called out the director, he apologized so profusely, and displayed his guilt so dramatically that Robinson wound up being responsible for consoling him for his racist behaviour. “The Myth of the Angry Black Woman” is a bit meandering to start with, but ends up being just as loaded. Robinson admits that the piece was hard to write, but when she eventually gets down to the point, her story about being the only black student in the senior thesis workshop of her creative writing program is gut-wrenching. The workshop normally enforced a very strict rule that the person whose work was being critiqued had to listen silently to the criticism without defending themselves. But when another student debuted a very racist master/slave romance and Robinson had to give her critique, the white student who had written the piece cried and tried to defend her work, while the rest of the class and the teacher looked on.

The piece that made me laugh the hardest was “Casting Calls for People of Color That Were Not Written by People of Color,” which highlights the absurdities faced by non-white actors. The casting calls are parodied examples that highlight the different types of clichés that are common in roles for people of color created by white writers and directors. I think part of the reason this piece works so well is that it is clearly meant to be delivered in print form, whereas some of the other essays, while funny, seemed like they were intended for verbal delivery but adapted to written form. Overall I am torn about whether to recommend print or audio for this title, as it really is a bit of a hybrid. If you are in it for the comedy, I would say that audio is definitely the route to go.

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You might also like I’m Judging You by Luvvie Ajayi

I’m Judging You

Cover image for I'm Judging You by Luvvie Ajayiby Luvvie Ajayi

ISBN 978-1-62779-606-4

“Racism in all its many flavors is easier to recognize when it’s KKK-style Original Recipe. But when the form it takes isn’t slurs and hate speech thrown in your face, people don’t always want to see it, acknowledge it, or understand how much it affects the everyday lives of others.”

Sometimes I feel like I suck at being a human, more specifically, an adult human. But when I look around, I can see that I am not alone in the suck, and that we all have some work to do to be better, to ourselves and one another. Luvvie Ajayi, the blogger known for AwesomelyLuvvie.com is on the case, here to side-eye and criticize our myriad failings as individuals and as a society. However, all of the material for I’m Judging You is new to this book, and is not made up of edited blog posts. With humour and self-deprecation, Ajayi tackles everything from toxic friendships to social media oversharing to rape culture and our tendency to treat Africa as a monolith.

Ajayi starts out by judging herself, fully admitting that she is prone to being terribly and unforgivably late for social events. This willingness to include herself sets her up as a good sport, and she uses the term “we” in a lot of places throughout the book. The first few essays are light and purely humourous, dealing with stingy friends who don’t want to pay their share of the restaurant bill, and the several types of bad friends (the Frenemy, the Enabler, the Lannister, etc.) But the subject matter, while always approached with a good sense of humour, gets serious quickly from there.

By the fourth piece, “Under the Knife,” Ajayi is discussing beauty standards and their intersection with race. She is still in it for the humour—she starts out with anal bleaching, after all—but moves into a more substantive discussion of bleaching creams for making black people look lighter, and a cultural obsession with plastic surgery so extreme that women have died from having concrete filler injected into their bottoms by unlicensed plastic surgeons. She goes on to tackle racism more broadly, calls out those who use Christianity as an excuse for homophobia, and discusses the need for intersectional feminism, among other topics. While the discussions can be entry level, they are approached with humour, and though many readers will already be familiar with Ajayi from her blog, others like me will be meeting her for the first time with I’m Judging You.

Marketing has put a bit of a self-help spin on the book, subtitling it “The Do-Better Manual.” But Ajayi is less about telling you what to do—let alone how to do it—and more about giving some serious side eye to the way we currently do things. Why are we so thirsty for fame that we don’t care what we’re famous for? Should you ever post pictures of Grandma’s open casket funeral on social media? Have you washed your bra more than once in the last year? If you do better for having read this book, it will be less because Luvvie laid out a plan of reform, and more because she made you felt shame for your inconsiderate or gross behaviour and vow to be a better human going forward.

I’m Judging You is best read over several days, a few essays at a time. While the humour makes the book go down easy, and you could finish this in a sitting or two, the essays are more enjoyable when you spread them out a bit rather than swallowing the book whole. Ajayi’s humourous commentary puts the heart in the book, but she goes out on a serious note, imploring readers to speak up, and donate where they can to make the world a better place. This light-hearted but sincere call to do better was exactly what I needed to start the new year.

The Almost Nearly Perfect People

Cover image for The Almost Nearly Perfect People by Michael Boothby Michael Booth

ISBN 978-1-250-06196-6

“Though there were many aspects to Scandinavian living that were indeed exemplary, and from which the rest of the world could learn a great deal, I grew increasingly frustrated by the lack of nuance in the picture being painted of the region.”

After fifteen years of living in Denmark with his Danish wife and two children, Michael Booth noticed something curious. Although Denmark, and the other Nordic countries of Iceland, Sweden, Norway, and Finland, frequently topped global happiness surveys, they didn’t seem to be particularly happy. Moreover, the British and American media seemed to view the Scandinavian countries as some kind of northern Utopia, oblivious to the quirks and foibles that were clearly visible to him as a long-time resident of the region. This perception persisted despite the staggering popularity of the dark and gruesome mystery novels of the likes of Henning Mankell and Stieg Larson, and the surprising success of Scandinavian police dramas abroad. This cognitive dissonance prompted Booth to pen a travelogue about the aspects of Scandinavian history and culture the rest of the world seems willfully oblivious to.

Although he covers five countries, Booth is clearly the most familiar with Denmark, his long-time residence, a fact which shows in the fifteen chapters dedicated to it compared to only five for Iceland, and seven apiece for Norway and Finland. Only Sweden comes close, with eleven chapters, mainly filled out by Booth wrestling with the quiet contempt with which the other four nations sometimes regard their Swedish neighbours. Aimed at a British or American audience, Booth frequently refers back to equivalent British and American statistics to provide context for his readers as he explores the vagaries of Scandinavian life and culture.

Booth is an inquisitive and wide-ranging journalist, but you will get the most out of the book if you are expecting a humourous and insightful travelogue rather than an in-depth work of sociology. A more serious social inquiry wouldn’t leave the most likely explanation for Scandinavian happiness to a drive-by comment in the epilogue: “One of the keys to happiness, experts tell us, is autonomy in one’s life—the luxury of being able to decide your own destiny and achieve the fulfillment of self-realization.” The economic equality, educational opportunity, and social mobility of the Nordic countries provide this autonomy in spades. Booth has nevertheless made a concerted—though not scholarly—effort to delve into the Nordic psyche.

Whereas the rest of the world tends to idealize the Nordic countries, proximity has given them their own brotherly rivalries, and Booth turns to these stereotypes and jokes to interrogate the strengths and weaknesses of these modern Utopias. Why do their neighbours all think the Finns are drunks even though they consume no more alcohol than the European average? Why do Finnish men think Swedish men are effeminate? Booth has many theories about these perceptions, and he floats these balloons out to his various interview subjects with abandon. He allows them to poke holes in them, never particularly offended if one of his ideas doesn’t pan out. He is a sharp interviewer in that his ideas elicit interesting responses rather in that he is always right in his initial observations.

Despite some griping, it is quite clear that Booth is actually very fond of Scandinavia, something which is never more evident than in the blusteringly humourous chapter about Nordic monarchies. It is one instance where Booth seems to be wearing his own rose-coloured glasses as he views the region, venting his bewildered outrage about the fact that these supposed paragons of modernity are still clinging to such an “absurd, anti-democratic carnival” as monarchy. As the flustered English republican puts it, “That’s the kind of nonsense us class-ridden, postcolonial, socially desiccated Brits cling to; this is not the cut of social democracy’s jib!” Even as he views their faults, Booth can’t help but idolize the Scandinavians a bit as well.

Overall, the reader is less likely to emerge with a negative impression of Scandinavia than a newfound sense of differentiation and complexity amongst five countries that North Americans tend to regard as basically similar. Though I have spoken in generalities for most of this review, I now know more about the aftermath of the Icelandic banking collapse, the impact of Norway’s $600+ billion sovereign oil fund, Sweden’s open door immigration policy, and Denmark’s chart-topping personal income tax, in addition to more humourous topics like oil-rich Norwegians hiring Swedes to peel their bananas, and long-locked Swedish soldiers donning hair nets in the 1970s rather than submitting to a military buzz cut. Booth has both an eye for the weird, and a nose for the serious issues that cause Nordic life to fall somewhere short of our idyllic fantasies.

Top 5 Fiction Reads of 2014

These are my favourite fiction books read or reviewed (not necessarily published) in 2014. Click the title for links to the full reviews. Check back on Friday for my top non-fiction reads of the year.

All I Love and Know 

ISBN 9780062302878

Cover image for All I Love and Know by Judith FrankDaniel and his partner Matt live a peaceful life in Northampton, Massachusetts. Their quiet existence is torn apart when Daniel’s twin brother Joel, and his wife, Ilana, are killed by a suicide bomber in a Jersalem cafe, leaving behind two young children. Both Joel’s parents and Ilana’s assume they will raise Gal and Noam, but neither set of grandparents knows about the promise Daniel made Joel and Ilana on his last visit to Israel.  Author Judith Frank lived in Israel for several years as a teenager, and her own twin sister still lives their with her husband. All I Love and Know is a complex and challenging novel that deals with not one but two important contemporary issues–gay parenting and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict–wrapped in a love story about a couple struggling to find their way back to one another after a devastating loss.

Categories: LGBT

A Thousand Pieces of You

ISBN 9780062278968

Cover image for A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia GrayMarguerite is an artist, but she is the daughter of two brilliant scientists, inventors of the Firebird, a groundbreaking device that enables inter-dimensional travel. When one of her parents’ graduate assistants murders her father and escapes by stealing a Firebird and jumping into another dimension, Marguerite teams up with another graduate student, and gives chase. Her mission: KILL PAUL MARKOV. With a twist on the idea of multiple universes, Claudia Gray invents a device that projects the consciousness of the user into the body of their alternate selves in other dimensions. While this eliminates the usual trope of accidentally encountering other selves, it creates its own set of moral and ethical quandaries when characters hijack the lives and choices of their counterparts. As Marguerite pursues her father’s killer through multiple dimensions, Gray has a forum to show off her talent with multiple genres, from science fiction, to contemporary, to historical in this fast-paced adventure.

Categories: Young Adult, Science Fiction

I’ll Give You the Sun

ISBN 9780803734968

Cover image for I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy NelsonThirteen-year-old Jude and Noah are twins, but also polar opposites. Jude is popular, outgoing and adventurous, where Noah is shy, introverted, and deeply weird . He is also in the closet. But despite their differences they are like two halves of the same person, both smart and creative. Three years later, the twins are unrecognizable. Noah is normal and socially competent, and Jude has withdrawn into herself, dressing in baggy clothes and shunning social interaction. They are also barely speaking to one another. Told in alternating perspectives, Jude and Noah relate how their family and their bond broke, and the secrets they are keeping from one another that prevent them from repairing their relationship. Poet Jandy Nelson has a beautiful way with words that translates into fluid prose and striking imagery. I’ll Give You the Sun is a dazzling, exuberant work of fiction full of art and passion, jealousy and loss.

Categories: Young Adult, LGBT

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

ISBN 9781250037756

Cover image for Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin SloanWhen the recession shuts down his San Francisco start-up, Clay Jannon finds himself working the night shift at a peculiar 24-hour bookstore. Not only are customers few and far between on the night shift, but they come in not to buy books, but to borrow them, from a special collection Clay is forbidden to read, but must carefully track in a log book. When Clay tries to digitize the process, he  accidentally cracks a centuries old code with his computer and a sense of humour. With the help of a couple of techie friends, Clay turns the power of the digital age on the mystery behind the secret code hoping to succeed where others have failed. Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is  humourous mystery with something for both book-lovers and tech geeks alike. Robin Sloan has written a novel that both embodies the anxieties of the digital age, and shows digital and manual technologies working alongside one another.

Categories: Mystery, Humour

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

ISBN 9780316213103

Cover image for The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly BlackA raging epidemic of vampirism has swept across the world like wildfire, contained only by the invention of Coldtowns, government-run ghettos that are home to vampires and infected humans alike. Anyone can go into a Coldtown, but it is almost impossible to get back out. Inside Coldtowns, the most powerful vampires are internet reality stars, streaming a facade of decadence to the world that draws in human acolytes and misfits. The reality is much darker, as Tana finds out for herself when she and her ex-boyfriend, Aidan, are potentially infected at a party, and she turns them both in. Holly Black tackles the vampire novel with dark humour and a willingness to skewer tropes at every turn, while also acknowledging her debt to her forerunners. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is both a reimagining of the vampire novel, and a tribute to the classics of the genre.

Categories: Young Adult, Fantasy

That’s it for me! What were your favourite fiction reads of 2014?

How to Build a Girl

Cover image for How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moranby Caitlin Moran

ISBN 978-0-06-233597-5

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book at ALA Annual 2014. All quotes are based on an uncorrected text.

“Because what you are, as a teenager, is a small, silver, empty rocket. And you use loud music as fuel, and then the information in books as maps and coordinates, to tell you where you’re going.”

After humiliating herself on local television, fourteen-year-old Johanna Morrigan decides it is time to reinvent herself. She is desperate to move to London, and gain some distance from the poverty of her childhood growing up in a council house with four siblings, and an alcoholic father on disability payments. Borrowing CDs from the library at 20p a shot, Johanna begins reshaping herself through popular culture. Taking up the pen name Dolly Wilde, she leaves school at the age of sixteen to become a music critic for D&ME magazine, trying to make her way in an industry where her older, male colleagues generally regard teenage girls as “fannish.” As the enfant terrible of D&ME, she pens scathing, bitchy reviews, writing only about bands she hates lest she herself be deemed fannish. But no matter how hard she works to build Dolly Wilde, Johanna keeps finding flaws in her new persona.

Caitlin Moran would like you to know that How to Build a Girl is not autobiographical. The copyright page reads:

This is a work of fiction. Real musicians and real places appear from time to time, but everything else, the characters, what they do and what they say, are the products of my imagination. Like Johanna, I come from a large family, grew up in a council house in Wolverhampton, and started my career as a music journalist as a teenager. But Johanna is not me. Her family, colleagues, the people she meets, and her experiences are not my family, my colleagues, the people I met, or my experiences. This is a novel and it is all fictitious.

Additionally, the dedication reads: “To my mother and father, who thankfully are nothing like the parents in this book, and let me build my girl how I wanted.”  Nevertheless, How to Build a Girl will be familiar to anyone who has read How to Be a Woman; even the titles are similar. But while the story and the themes may be a bit familiar, Moran is nevertheless on the money about what it feels like to be a teen who tackles adulthood with a fake-it-until-you-make-it attitude. Her candour and humour carry the day.

Although featuring a teenage protagonist, How to Build a Girl is, in some respects, more for adults than teens. In the introduction to the advance reader’s edition, Moran, rather than hoping the reader likes the book, writes “I hope more that you remember it, all over again.” Indeed, How to Build a Girl feels very retrospective, and not just because it is set in the 1990s. There is a ruefulness in Johanna’s narrative voice as she recounts her teenage escapades, an embarrassment that occasionally verges on shame. It is not condescending, but neither does it reflect the typical way teens see themselves, and thus may appeal more to Moran’s adult fans than teenage readers. However, there is plenty here that we could do to see more of in YA, from a poor, overweight protagonist, a gay brother, and sex seen through a feminist lens. Moran’s cheerful honesty about sex and masturbation, and Johanna’s rage against sexist double standards regarding her “swashfuckling” status as a Lady Sex Adventurer are both refreshing and welcome.

How to Build a Girl has all of Moran’s signature humour, but retreads familiar territory given the striking parallels to Moran’s own life. However, fictionalization also gives Moran latitude to explore social and feminist issues beyond the bounds of her own autobiography.

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Cover image for Moranthology by Caitlin MoranAlso by Caitlin Moran: Moranthology

Listen to the Squawking Chicken

Cover image for Listen to the Squawking Chicken by Elaine Lui by Elaine Lui

ISBN 978-0-399-16679-2

“I am the Squawking Chicken’s only daughter and her only true friend. It can be a burden, sure. But mostly it is my life’s honor.”

Elaine Lui is better known as Lainey, author of the popular celebrity smut website Lainey Gossip, and one of the hosts of CTV’s Etalk. But the real star of her memoir is her mother, who bears the unenviable Chinese nickname Tsiahng Gai, or Squawking Chicken. Born to a poor family in Hong Kong, where she acquired her unflattering nickname for being loud and assertive in a culture that expected women to be dainty and shy, Lui’s mother immigrated to Canada after she married. With a combination of Feng Shui blackmail and large helpings of shame, she raised her daughter in Toronto, where her parenting style was very much at odds with prevailing culture.

Feng Shui plays a prominent role in the Squawking Chicken’s efforts to shape her daughter’s behaviour. For her part, Lui sometimes finds practical lessons in her mother’s unusual stories and supernatural beliefs. When Lui’s uncle berates his daughter to “walk like a lady,” the Squawking Chicken casually bats down his sexism by saying “my grandfather always told me to walk like an elephant. It scares away the ghosts. Ah Leuy [my daughter], you should always walk like an elephant. A real woman doesn’t creep into a room.” On another occasion, Lui found a bracelet on the subway and wanted desperately to keep it. Her mother flatly refused, telling the story of a pair of ghosts that hitch hiked into a house on an umbrella picked up on the street. From this Lui draws a lesson about not coveting other people’s possessions.

Just as often, however, Lui simply buys into her mother’s supernatural beliefs in a way that makes her story very unsatisfying for the skeptical reader. Lui likens the belief in Feng Shui to a religion, a not inaccurate comparison, in that she simply has to have faith since her mother frequently refuses to tell her why she must submit to certain Feng Shui practices. Lui has been eating a papaya every day for years, despite the fact that she doesn’t like papayas, because her mother said she should, but refuses to say why. Nevertheless, Lui is constantly looking for evidence in her life to confirm these beliefs, even though she knows that her mother will say a certain coloured dress is bad Feng Shui when she doesn’t like the cut, and approve a different style of dress in the same colour a week later. These baffling inconsistencies in Lui’s attitudes towards Feng Shui go unexplained. Lui is certainly capable of being critical of her mother, but that criticism is selective.

Lui’s tale is told with humour, and the willingness to embarrass herself as much as the Squawking Chicken, as she lays bare the unique relationship between an immigrant mother and her first-generation-Canadian daughter. Lui writes well and pulls no punches, but their unique mother-daughter bond has off-putting aspects that humour cannot hide. Certainly, many Westerners will be discomfited by the Squawking Chicken’s unorthodox parenting, but what killed this memoir for me was that such a large part of it was not really about listening to your mother, who has lived longer and wants what’s best for you; so much of it was not about the wisdom or practicality of her mother’s advice, but rather amounted to submitting unthinkingly to astrology and superstition.

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Cover image for Coming Clean by Kimberly Rae MillerYou might also like Coming Clean by Kimberly Rae Miller.

Attachments

by Cover image for Attachments by Rainbow Rowell Rainbow Rowell

ISBN 978-0-452-29754-8

“What did he have to mope about, really? What more did he want?…Love. Purpose. Those are the things that you can’t plan for. Those are the things that just happen. And what if they don’t happen? Do you spend your whole life pining for them? Waiting to be happy?”

The Courier newspaper is being dragged kicking and screaming into the new millennium as Y2K creeps closer. The management would rather their employees didn’t have access to the internet, or email, but that really isn’t an option anymore. Enter Lincoln, over-educated, and under-achieving, still living at home and not sure what he wants to do with his life. Lincoln is hired to work the night shift on the newspaper IT desk, where his job primarily consists of reading the emails flagged by the computer software that monitors every interaction. Mostly, he issues the occasional warning about pornography or web gambling. Courier reporters Beth and Jennifer theoretically know that someone is monitoring their email, but they don’t seem to care. And although Lincoln knows they’re technically violating the rules by using their work email for personal communications, he can’t quite bring himself to issue a warning. But he can’t seem to stop reading their conversations, either. Before he knows it, he realizes he has fallen for Beth, but how can he possibly introduce himself to someone whose email he’s been reading?

Rainbow Rowell’s first novel, before her breakout success with Eleanor & Park, Attachments is told in alternating chapters, one from Lincoln’s POV, followed by a chapter of made up of email exchanges between Beth and Jennifer. This necessitates a lot of written revelations that most people wouldn’t dare make on their work email today. I could accept that the conceit of the book allowed us to see Jennifer and Beth only as they appeared in their email, but I wanted more from Lincoln’s POV chapters. I wanted to understand how and why Lincoln’s life went astray, aside from breaking up with his first girlfriend, Sam, nine years before, which is a good precipitating incident, but not a complete explanation. The many flashbacks and emails make for a relatively slow start, so that the conclusion seems very abrupt by comparison.

Despite some issues with structure and pacing, Rowell has a great knack for creating wonderful romantic moments out of mundane details. You can see early glimmers of Rowell’s talent for YA romance in Lincoln’s memories of Sam, and Beth’s description of how she met her boyfriend, Chris. Despite these moments of picture-perfect romance, Rowell also writes relationships with realistic complexities. Beth and Chris live together, but her hours as reporter are at odds with his schedule as an aspiring musician. Jennifer and her husband, Mitch, are mostly happy, but Mitch has baby-fever, while Jennifer isn’t sure she really wants kids at all. There are so many different kinds of love in this book, from Lincoln’s first love with Sam, to Beth’s story of falling in love with someone who always left her wanting more, to Lincoln’s friends, Dave and Christine, who are married with kids, but still host Dungeons and Dragons every weekend. And beyond romantic love, there is friendship and family, from Beth and Jennifer’s supportive bond, to Lincoln’s difficult relationship with his mother and sister.

Quirky and charming, Attachments lacks the polish of Rowell’s more recent work, but has enough of Rowell’s signature wit and humour to satisfy fans.

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fangirlYou might also like Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.