Fruit by Brian Francis

Fruit by Brian Francis ~ Barnes & Noble Summary:

Peter Paddington is your typical thirteen-year-old paperboy with a few exceptions. He’s 204 pounds, at the mercy of an overactive imagination, and his only friend is a trash-talking beauty queen reject from across the street.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, Peter’s nipples pop out one day and begin speaking to him, threatening to expose his private fantasies to an unkind world.  Peter knows that if he could just lose weight, develop a brand-new personality, and get rid of those pesky talking nipples, he’d be able to find the acceptance he desperately craves.  But it isn’t easy to change who you really are, and Peter, ready or not, is finally forced to confront his secret self.

I was asked to read this book by a friend of mine, Sean Cisterna who recently directed and produced the movie Moon Point.  I didn’t know what to expect – Fruit is not the kind of book I would pick up to read.  I begrudged every moment I had to open the book even though each time I sat to read, I became interested in Peter’s story.  I would read and read, but nothing happened.

Sadly, I will admit that this book defeated me.  I pride myself in finishing every book I start.  Not once have I left a book unfinished.  I guess there’s a first time for everything.  Fruit will be that book for me – the book I just couldn’t bring myself to keep reading to the end.  Nothing in this book stirred me enough to keep going.  I was half way through when I looked at my husband and said “I just can’t do it.  This is not enjoyable for me.  I can’t keep doing this to myself.” I closed Fruit and left the book mark out.  It has been sitting on my kitchen counter closed, mocking me, ever since.

Not everything about Fruit was boring for me.  Brian Francis gives us an honest narrator:  a simple boy who presents the complexities and anxieties of adolescence with humour and pathos.  Peter Paddington does not have much going for him.  He’s overweight, has one friend (a foul-mouthed girl), is from a dysfunctional family with an overbearing mother, two sisters who alienate him and an overworked father.  Plus, he is confused about his sexual orientation.  Things are not exactly set up to be easy for Peter Paddington.

I laughed out loud many times as I read Peter’s narrative.  His naivete and general opinions about the world reminded me of what it was like to be thirteen.  Francis writes Peter’s story eloquently and at no point did I feel that this was an adult trying to give voice to an adolescent boy.  This book is fluid and very well written.  It’s messages and ironies are conveyed subtly.

However, as an adult woman I found it very hard to connect to the protagonist – which I normally must be able to do in order to enjoy a book.  I’m by no means an authority on what boys will read, or adolescents by that matter.  If I can’t connect to the novel, I can’t see myself selling this book to high school students, even grade 9s, the closest age group to the protagonist.  Most adolescents in my experience require lots of action or lots of development of character and relationships – this book has very little of these or at the very least, they develop slowly (remember, my opinions only reflect the half-way point of Fruit).  It is one boy’s internal monologue as he struggles through a difficult moment in his life.  Granted, many adolescents go through this…I just believe I would find it a hard sell.  I’m sure there are many young readers out there who will appreciate this book more than I did.

I think you have to know your child and the kind of books they read before suggesting this one.  In any case, I must reiterate that from what I read it was well written and funny.  It’s just not the kind of book that appeals to me, I’m sure there are many out there who would disagree.

Everything Was Goodbye by Gurjinder Basran

Everything Was Good Bye by Gurjinder Basran

**spoiler alert** I will discuss the novel’s conclusion near the end of this post!

The opening sentences of this novel perfectly capture the kind of reading experience you will have with Everything Was Goodbye:

The smell of chai – fennel, cloves and cinnamon – tucked me into my blanket like a seed into a cardamom pod.  I steeped myself into waking, listening to the sounds of Sunday morning. (2)

Basran poetically spins her tail with beautiful images that intimately expose the spice and vibrant emotion of Indian culture.  Simultaneously, it is an ordinary tale of a girl, Meena, on a journey of self-discovery that severely clashes with the journey prepared for her by her culture.  The book trailer found on Basran’s website offers a good sense of what this book is about.  I had not idea books had trailers (where have I been?) nonetheless, here it is.

I loved Meena.  Basran makes it easy to sympathise with her protagonist.  She is a seventeen year old who is angry, isolated, introverted and who must participate in the traditions of Indian family life.  Anyone who is from immigrant parents can relate to this in varying degrees.  It can be like living a dual life:  the Canadian you and the other you.  The you that is Canadian at school and with friends and the you that speaks another language, eats different food and tries desperately not to anger parents and elders with the Canadian you because it is a danger to cultural preservation.

Meena has dreams of writing that she must squirrel away because it is not the kind of career that would make her a desirable match for fine Indian young men.  She has feelings of love for a Canadian boy, Liam, that she must bury because it would never be allowed.  This novel pulls at your heartstrings with eloquence.  There is nothing trite about Basran’s treatment of the everlasting effects of young love.  Although I do wish there would have been more severe judgment on the drowning of a girl’s voice and goals in present-day Canada.

I found it very difficult to relate to Meena’s mother, aunts and older sisters because of their compliance with cultural expectations.  I wrote about the betrayal that women experience throughout this novel at the hands of other women recently.  Upon finishing the novel, I realize that though I still feel this way, these characters really do the best they can in the context of their lives.  The women in this novel do (for the most part) create a network of support in time of (severe) need.  Mostly, however, they are of the belief that it is a woman’s role to make do, to accept, to conform in order for family life to persevere.

The men in this novel are easy to dislike.  Fathers who spoil sons and ignore daughters.  A father-in-law who understands the plight of his son’s wife, yet remains silent in his wife’s verbal berrating of her.  Young men who are bribed into marriage with hefty sums because it is time to settle down, all the while, they love another, yet they do not challenge parental expectations because they’ll lose all that money.  Men who physically and emotionally abuse their wives.  It is a patriarchal culture – no doubt about it.  Women survive and men thrive and no one does a thing about it.  I was appalled by the behaviour of most of the male characters in this novel, and had to keep reminding myself that this is a culture that is unknown to me…stop judging with Western beliefs.

Although Everything Was Goodbye is about a Punjabi community in British Columbia, many of its themes and characters are universal. There are so many questions raised about relationships and what we owe one another.  Basran does not attempt to address these issues, but does show the depth of pain we can create in each other – and, the consequences of that pain.

What was your reaction to this novel and its characters? Have you read other novels that have given you insight into another culture?

**spoiler alert** I will discuss the novel’s conclusion here:

I cannot believe the way this novel ends.  I was flabbergasted, speechless, left morose and just as lost as Meena.  Finally, finally, the life she wanted and deserved was within her grasp.  She was living with the man she truly loved, they had a beautiful baby girl and she was almost divorced from Sunny Gill her arrogant (product of his environment) jerk of a husband.  And then, it is all taken away!?!  I read somewhere that this novel was a modern day Romeo and Juliet – I see that and I am just so mad that it had to end the way it did.

I felt like Basran really didn’t give Meena any firm resolution.  She was just as aimless, lifeless as she was before – moreso with Liam’s loss.  Only Leena, their daughter, keeps her going.  But, once again, it is a role that keeps her alive.  She was once daughter, then wife and now mother.  Is it only in her role that Meena values herself?  I don’t understand it.  I still grapple with Basran’s choice…which is why I think this is such a great novel.  The author challenges us at every level.  It is not easy to let go of these characters and the sadness in which one leaves them.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Everything Was Goodbye.  Basran writes clearly, passionately and provides an explosive conclusion.  If you enjoy novels that offer insight into humanity, relationships, and other cultures, you will enjoy Everything Was Goodbye.  I highly recommend this novel.

What did you think of the novel’s conclusion?  How did you feel when the final tragedy was unravelled?  Would you recommend Everything Was Goodbye?

New Book Club Selection!

Hope you had a good time reading the last book of Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.  I’m really excited about the next book club selection.  It’s a first novel for a female writer from British Columbia.  Here’s the info:

Everything Was Good Bye by Gurjinder Basran

Everything Was Good-bye centers around Meena, a young Indo Canadian woman growing up in the lower mainland of British Columbia and traces her life as she struggles to assert her independence in a Punjabi community. Raised by her tradition bound widowed mother, Meena knows the freedoms of her Canadian peers can never be hers, but unlike her sisters, she is reluctant to submit to a life that is defined by a suitable marriage. Though a narrative moving between race and culture, it is ultimately a story of love, loss and self acceptance amidst shifting cultural ideals.

I met Basran recently at my local Chapters book store and she was just lovely.  I don’t know much more about the book than the summary provided on her website, but I can’t wait to dive in.  Considering we live in a cultural mosaic and so many of us have to navigate dual cultures, it seems a fitting choice.  I also love that it’s a Canadian novel.  Happy Reading!

End date: May 24th

Can Love Survive 700 Years? The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson Says Yes

It was the cover: a woman’s naked back tattooed with angel’s wings and a glowing red heart at her center.  It was the cover that immediately grabbed me and shook me out of my dulled pacing while I waited to pick up my son from nursery school.  Then, I read the title.  The Gargoyle.  I am a lover of all things Parisian – this book held promise.

I felt its cover and turned the book over curious for more information.  “…story of one man’s descent into personal hell and his quest for salvation”, I like that; and, “…love that transcends the boundaries of time”, that got me; and, “…the immortal power of storytelling” sold it.

Davidson ensnares me with the opening line – and every subsequent word spins a tale that I gladly immerse myself in.

I loved the great lengths that Davidson went through to make his story so believable.  Every detail about the narrator’s experience, from his accident, to the burn ward, the many surgeries, wrapping/unwrapping, sloughing off of dead skin made me tingle and shiver.  It was a horrific fascination with pain, both physical and emotional.  I could not read enough and Davidson delivered.

The narrator’s trauma is finally tempered by the entrance of a mysterious character: strong, fierce, passionate, schizophrenic.  Marianne Engel will convince any skeptic that reincarnation is a fact and any cynic that love, true love, is not limited by the restrictions of place or time.  Her rope-like hair and wild aspect mark her; she is outside of social conventions.  Her tattooed body brings forth questions of faith; a topic that is also outside the social norms of polite conversation.  Marianne Engel slaps you in the face with questions of God, angels, faith and love. We cannot turn away.  We are forced to struggle with our own sense of faith.  What do I believe?  Davidson creates a complex, intricate character that will bring lively discussion to any reading group!

Marianne Engel tells various love stories throughout the novel.  All of them magical, mystical, inconceivable and irresistible.  I found myself eagerly awaiting each one.  They were like four short stories that helped to release the tension of the main plot and that took me away from the pain of the protagonist.  Each one ultimately showed the awesome power of pure love.  Her main story is a wildly passionate, archetypal love story that supposedly took place between her and the narrator 700 years ago.   And, just as the narrator becomes slowly convinced of the veracity of the story, I did too.  I fell in love with the story of how their love began and eagerly awaited for Marianne Engel to reveal each chapter.  Ultimately, Davidson convinced me that the only feeling that matters is love; as long as there is love, we can survive.  Admittedly, with me, that task wasn’t exactly a difficult one.  I am a hopeless romantic and I love a good love story.  Reading The Gargoyle certainly fulfilled that for me without any sappy, mushy modern notions of romance.

I believe readers will be fascinated by Marianne Engel, tormented by the narrator and swept away by Davidson’s powerful narratives about relationships with the self, others and God.  Above all, the core of this novel is love and Davidson eloquently convinced me that love will not fall to the trials of human brutality, suffering nor the passage of time.