I am lucky to be a part of the best book club in (online) town, The Pink Fibro Book Club facebook group, hosted by the wonderful Allison Tait.
Every month, we read a book. And every month, we talk about it. And, every month, the opinions are as varied as the group members, and no consensus is reached.
This month we had a choice of two books. I read them both. And I had so much to say about them, that I decided to turn it into a blog post.
The Shining Girls / Lauren Beukes
Harper stalks his shining girls through the years – and cuts the spark out of them. But what if the one that got away came back for him?
A time travelling serial killer? REALLY? I’ve gots to read me this book!
I really want to like The Shining Girls. I enjoy the guilty pleasure of a thriller I can sit down and read in one sitting, so the description of a time travelling serial killer didn’t turn me off the way it did some others in the group. Quite the opposite.
It’s a very clever book. The logistics of the time travel, the side stories, the girls, the clues. The questions of cause and effect raised by the very concept of time travel – what came first, the chicken or the egg? It’s all an intricate web that Kirby, the girl that got away, tries to unravel so she can solve her own should-have-been murder.
But it just didn’t click for me. Perhaps it’s too clever. I spent more time dwelling on said logistics and wanting to go back and read overlapping time travelly events from the original perspective again (but being unable to find them because the times and dates got too confusing).
Harper seeks out his ‘shining girls’ and cuts the spark out of them, using a house that enables the movements through time as his base. We’re never sure why. Perhaps Harper himself doesn’t know why. That’s fine – I’m okay with not having a killer’s ultimate motive fully understood and realised. What bothers me is not understanding what made them shine for him in the first place.
I don’t feel that I get to know any of the girls in the book. I also don’t feel that any of the murdered girls has a distinct voice. Harper has a distinct voice, and Kirby has a distinct voice. But the other shining girls share a single ‘other shining girls’ voice. They all bleed into each other (no gruesome pun intended) and feel like distractions and side stories to the Kirby-Harper chase.
I read the whole book quite quickly, which is a good sign. In fact, once I’d reached a certain point, I couldn’t put it down.
But the ‘why?’ is still hanging over my head. Why did Harper find the house of time travel? Or why did it find him? Why did the girls shine? Why did it all come crashing down? Why was the end seemingly wrapped in a neat bow, but without really answering anything?
I think the answer may be one I often give to my three-year-old when she’s asking me her millionth ‘why’ question for the day: just because.
The Fault in Our Stars / John Green
Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.
I love The Fault in Our Stars. I love everything about it. I love the characters. I love the writing. I love the irreverence that never becomes rudeness. I love the wit that never becomes sarcasm. I love the use of Capital Letters to turn everyday things into (usually ironic) Important Things.
The characters are smart. Some reviews have said that they are too smart, and that it’s difficult to get lost in the banter when it’s nothing like banter you’d realistically hear anywhere else. But I didn’t find it unrealistic – in fact, the conversations remind me of a particular high school friend of mine and the debates we’d have over the meanings of different words, phrases and musical terminology. (Although I’m sure I sprinkled said conversations with far more umms, aaahs, likes and y’knows than Hazel, Augustus and their friend Isaac do.)
The writing is brilliant throughout, but particular lines and phrases stand out. My favourites include:
- As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.
- My thoughts are stars I cannot fathom into constellations.
- The world is not a wish-granting factory.
- “You are fairly smart,” I said after a while.
“You are fairly good at compliments,” he answered.
This book squeezed my heart the whole way through, and punched me in the guts a few times for good measure. I felt for everyone in the book, from Hazel to her occasional friend Kaitlyn, through to Augustus and his parents with their house full of Encouragements.
But even though it touched me deeply, I was able to read it in one sitting, without taking time to regroup (or restock the tissues). When I finished, I felt content with the book and with the world. Which makes it all the more powerful; there’s something masterful about a book that can make you feel, believe, and empathise, without draining you completely.
Have you read The Shining Girls or The Fault in Our Stars? What did you think?