I was a junior in high school when Mrs. Sabraw's English class read The Scarlet Letter. I only have one vague memory of that unit; I made some smart remark how standing on a platform and holding an infant all day while people mocked wasn't really that bad of a punishment. My teacher responded by piling textbooks into my arms, placed a Snoopy dog on top, and then had me stand in front of the class for the rest of the period. It sounds like something I would do to one of my students. And now that I have a child of my own to hoist around, I know that it would be exhausting to stand all day holding a baby. And that the social stigma that accompanied Hester Prynne's A would have been, in fact, a hard burden to bear. (Imagine that, my English teacher was right!)
And it was with this background that I received my first ARC.
I love getting ARCs. An ARC (pronounced ark) is an Advanced Reading Copy that publishers send out to enthusiastic readers (usually booksellers or professional reviewers) to get some media buzz on the new book. I've been fortunate enough to receive a small stack of these. All I had to do was request a copy and the publishers sent them to my home, postage paid and all. Nothing is more satisfying than getting a brand new book- Free! Plus, these are brand new to the market, not even available yet. So I'm also getting the opportunity to read future best sellers before they ever become that. The downside is the risk; the books might not be all that good.
Since I've been so fortunate to get a few of these books, I figure the least I can do is post reviews about them. So here are two ARC reviews. I believe that both are now available for purchase in any book store.
The first would be Angel and Apostle by Deborah Noyes. This is the continuation of Hester Prynne's story from The Scarlet Letter. I probably should have reread the classic before picking up this second part but I just wasn't motivated enough. I last read The Scarlet Letter when I was a junior in high school, so the details were quite fuzzy for me. I cheated by using spark notes to refresh my memory. Anyway, this novel focuses on Hester and her illegitimate daughter Pearl.
Pearl struggles with being an outsider and an outcast. She is a loner who is much more comfortable exploring the New England forests and seaside by herself than being in the company of the villagers. Hester is a loving mother, though she is frequently caught up in her own isolation and pain. She has also withheld the name of Pearl's father from her daughter. Pearl knows enough of the adult world to pick up clues about her mother's past, knows that the pastor has a strong connection with her family, and knows that the fascinating doctor who just returned from England also has a strange power over her mother. Pearl is just too young and to put it all together.
Eventually, Pearl's wanderings, combined with her curious nature and carefree attitude lead her to a neighbor's home, where she meets Simon and persists in forming a friendship with him. Simon is an adolescent who should be teetering on adulthood, however, Simon is blind and his family is very overprotective of him. These two outsiders become fast friends and Pearl is able to earn the trust of Simon's family.
In order to protect Pearl and try to give her a better life, Hester arranges for her and Pearl to travel back to England as passengers on the trading ship of Caleb Milton, Simon's father. While on board, Simon's older brother, Nehemiah hides Simon away from Pearl. He is very upset because on one thoughtless occasion she left Simon alone on the beach.
Time passes, and the predictable finally reveals itself: Hester and Nehemiah fall in love and marry. I saw this plot line coming a mile away, and though it probably wasn't supposed to be entirely a big secret, it still bothered me that it was so thinly veiled from the beginning. Then, of course, Pearl follows in her mother's footsteps and has an affair (with one minor sex scene that would make any Puritan blush). This bothered me because a) it was predictable, too and b) I had hoped that the character would rise above this. I had hoped that the author has some sort of plan of redemption or of growth in spite of overwhelming temptation. I had hoped that the second generation would learn from the mistakes of the previous.
Forest Gate is a book I can recommend. This was an entirely gripping novel, even if it was one of the most depressing books I've ever read.
Within the first few pages we learn that two friends jumped from the rooftops of two London apartment buildings with ropes around their necks. One boy died. The other didn't.
Meina and her brother immigrated from Somalia. They were able to get out of their home country after their parents were murdered in tribal, political warfare. But in London Meina's brother Ashvin was not able to find any kind of peace.
Peter grew up in London. He was a surprisingly mature and driven young man, considering his five older brothers were arms and drug dealers and his mother was a crack addict. However, he found himself repeatedly dragged back to the life he hated and resented.
And then Peter and Ashvin met at school. They were kindred spirits who opened up and shared everything with each other; their past, their hopes, their fears, but mostly their struggles and angst. So these two friends decided to be done with life. They both felt that all the odds were stacked against them, and that those odds were impossible to begin with.
So they jumped. Ashvin died and Peter didn't.
The author, Peter Akinti, tells a remarkably believable and heart wrenching story as Meina and Peter try to put the pieces of life back together. This novel also employs rarely seen narrative structures. The chapters bounce between Meina and Peter as narrator. There was also one particular gem that I enjoyed in terms of identifying the characters that I'll let you discover for yourself.