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March 08, 2010

Reading Update

Outside Beauty by Cynthia Kadohata

The Nonesuch by Georgette Heyer

Outside Beauty  is interesting to compare with Hiromi Goto's The Kappa Child, since both are about Japanese American (or Canadian) families of four sisters, who are trying to survive difficult parents. But they are almost the opposite story. I mentioned before that The Kappa Child approaches the world from a pov of disgust. Something I explain to my students is a part of world-building or setting: the narrator's attitude towards the world. It infuses the world and determines what is and isn't possible in it. The daughters, beaten down by their abusive father, their ineffectual mother, and their alienation from familiarity, accept the disgusting things of the world with blankness and a dull lack of surprise. It makes the book difficult to read, because there's no hope in this point of view. The action of the book is for the girls to try to find hope, or some sort of motivation to live, in a world that is full of "no" and disgust.

Outside Beauty, on the other hand, approaches the world from the point of view of delight. The four girls, daughters of a beautiful JA mother, each from a different father, are raised with the flighty, manipulative, superficial, commitmentphobic mother's view of the world as an endless adventure. The action of the book is for the girls to understand what happens when the thin veneer of delight and adventure gets broken and the real world intrudes. The girls, taught to revere beauty and the joy that comes with it, don't respect most of the fathers, who present them with conventionality, irresponsible passion, and eccentric geekiness. The only father they like is the good-looking one. Of course, it turns out that the strangest father, the eccentric, geeky, foreign nonentity, is the best father of them all, the one who ends up taking responsibility for them.

The book ends up being a little too light. Things are resolved too easily. I think that's a problem with too much YA: the desire to introduce realistic conflict, but not to scare young readers by making the conflict too difficult to resolve. And The Kappa Child does show the danger of that: its unrelenting disgust can disgust the reader to the extent of driving her away (as it did to me.)

Georgette Heyer: I tend to read three of her books in a row when I get on Heyer bender and it seems I'm starting a new one now. Love her! Although this one seems like it was unusually poorly edited.

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