Most helpful critical review
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Not without merit
on September 20, 2005
First, the good. What is it about being twelve years old that makes most women remember it so vividly? The emotional turmoil, the feelings of isolation, the perception of one's self as spearate and imperfect. Willard captures that beautifully in the character Hope, who is, in my opinion, the only authentic character in the book. The author reveals her true talent here, as she gets into the mind and motivations of a young person in a way that few have managed (Virginia Woolf and Judy Blume come to mind, even though they represent different ends of the literary spectrum).
But otherwise I found myself wanting more authenticity as I read. Ruth is the heart and soul of the book, and is very likable, but I have a hard time believing that anyone who uses the expressions as my grandmother wore black concert T-shirts in high school back in the early 80's. Aimee is too superficial to be believed, and Sara Lynn is too underdeveloped. I suspect that is because she is based on the author, and while Willard knows her own quirks and motivations, she doesn't let us in on them, so I was often perplexed by Sara Lynn.
I was rather shocked by the level of class-unconsciousness displayed here. The story line is so implausable, and many of the inconvenient details are ignored. Who pays Ruth's health insurance, for example. And how exactly does Ruth contribute to the household expenses? And what, really, goes through the mind of a single-mom diner waitress who finds herself pregnant? But of course, Ruth is not really a single mom, when she lives in a mansion and has a multigenerational support network of rich ladies. Perhaps that is the Southern feel of the book that so many have referred to, the romantic idea that the "family retainer" is really part of the family, raisin' the chilluns and fryin' the chicken. In New Hampshire she's a piece of white trash with a skinny rear end and a mouth like a sewer, but the fine society ladies take care of her needs as long as she cleans the toilettes.
I'd have liked more details about the arrangement, but instead I got pages and pages of Cartier watches and Kate Spade bags and other status symbols peppered throughout, so that the affluent can recognize eachother and exclude the rest of us. That part of it reminded me of Naomi Wolf, and I do not mean that as a complement.
Willard clearly has talent, and I hope that she channels it in the right direction. She does adolescent girls extremely well, and I DO mean that as a complement. If she continues to write about characters like Hope, or she permits a little more self revelation for characters like Sara Lynn, or if she just gets a little more realistic view of the Ruths of the world, she'll produce something wonderful.