Ashlie’s #CBR5 Review #13: White Oleander by Janet Fitch

I believe that I read White Oleander many many moons ago and I recently reread it due to my participation in a book club with students at the college where I am employed. Lately I’ve been reading comics and slowly slogging my way through “A Song of Ice and Fire” so this was a nice departure into some meaty, but not too meaty, literature.

This is the story of Astrid, and how her life is altered by her mother’s total self-serving and unyielding personality and sociopathic behavior. Astrid’s tale is one of nature versus nurture. As she bounces around the foster care system you wait to see how she is going to fair. She tries to make sense of her mother, her place in the world and ultimately herself as a lone survivor and stumbles frequently and with great consequence.

It’s a slow, painful read and rich in imagery and symbolism. As a former english major it was nice to have this sort of story to dive into without feeling compelled to pick it apart. Instead I chose to just revel in the story and the language and sad reality of Astrid’s life, and her struggle to connect with anyone and climb out from the depths of despair into which her upbringing have pushed her.

Malin’s #CBR5 Review #39: Ett öga rött (One Eye Red) by Jonas Hassen Khemiri

Halim is a teenager in Stockholm, who feels as if he’s in opposition to everything and everyone. When he’s told the Arabic lessons in school have to stop because of funding cuts, he shows his displeasure by covering the school toilets in graffiti. His father, who runs shop selling a little bit of everything,  worries about his academic progress and stresses the importance of speaking good Swedish if he wants to make something of himself. Both feel the loss of Halim’s mother, who died a few years back, greatly. They both try to be supportive of their friend, Nourdine, a washed up actor who’s convinced he’s just the right interview away from a big break.

Read what I thought about it on my blog. 

cutenugly #CBR5 Review #3: That’s Not A Feeling by Dan Josefson



“Thats Not A Feeling” is as much as a coming of age novel as it is about nostalgia and lack of direction that teens expect to go away and adults wonder why they still have. It takes place at Roaring Orchards, a boarding school of sorts for troubled kids. Some have anger issues, others drug issues, or just a general need to escape what the “norm” is. The story focuses on the last year of the school, as the founder, Audrey starts to let things fall apart.  The point of view is from a former student, Benjamin in the future reflecting back on Roaring Orchards as he wanders its now empty rooms. He discusses his then growing friendship with a strange girl named Tidbit, the teachers, and his thoughts on Audrey’s attempt at ruling the school.

Roaring Orchard is not your normal boarding school. Audrey’s philosophy is strange and almost inconsistent. Students can be punished by having their furniture “popped” (they then have to sit on the floor) or be stripped of nothing but a sheet and yelled at by their peers. Even the teachers don’t seem to fully understand anymore then the students do on what the “process” is to finally complete schooling.

Overall I enjoyed the meandering storyline, happy to see bits and pieces of the odd boarding school and its occupants. I identified with many of the characters loss of direction. I’m not amazingly far away from high school, but I could recognize a lot of the same feelings I had at the time. But having been through college and now wandering about, I could attest to the teachers as well, working a job they don’t understand and can’t escape because there just seems to be no where else to go. They all hate the place, but secretly like it too much to leave.  Although sarcastic and bitter, Benjamin, and many of its other residents, still has a soft spot for this place.

The downsides to this novel for me was point of view and the ending. Benjamin often comments on events he wasn’t present at.  He does mention hearing about it later from Tidbit, or calling up an old teacher, but I found it jarring since he seemed quite all knowing in the lives of the people at Roaring Orchard.  I also was a little disappointed in the ending. I was waiting for more of an explosion or revelation and excitement as the school finally fell, but it just made me sad and disappointed. From a book with so many quirks, I felt that the ending played much too real to life, with no possibility of tied up ends.  (Also it has a plug from David Foster Wallace on the cover, which I feel is just a silly marketing scheme.)

If you’ve ever enjoyed the film Manic or the novel Skippy Dies, it makes a good companion piece. I think overall Skippy Dies is a better novel at really grasping what its like to “come of age”, but if you want to have that slight longing for a place you both loved and hated, “That’s Not A Feeling” is one for you.

Malin’s #CBR5 Review #32: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

The year is 1986. Park doesn’t fit in amongst the other kids in high school or in his own family. While both he and his brother are half Korean, you wouldn’t know it to look at his already taller younger brother. Park listens to Joy Division, The Smiths and The Cure, and reads comic books reverently. He feels like he can never quite measure up to the expectations of his very manly father. He’s not exactly popular, but he’s not a complete outcast either.

Not like the new girl, Eleanor, who is chubby, with bright red hair, and dresses in strange combinations of goodwill clothes. Quickly gaining nicknames like “Bozo” and “Big Red”, it’s clear that Eleanor won’t be winning any popularity contests, and Park isn’t thrilled when she ends up sitting next to him on the school bus, and keeps showing up in his honours’ classes. Slowly, but surely, a friendship blossoms, as Eleanor starts reading Park’s comic books over his shoulder. Soon Park is silently lending her comics, and this leads to conversations, and further topics of conversations and mix tapes and soon, Park and Eleanor live for the moments when they see each other again on the bus or in class.

More on my blog