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Customer Review

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A weak classic, September 2, 2011
This review is from: Ramona (Hardcover)
There is no doubt that Helen Hunt Jackson's novel Ramona is a classic -- the fact that it is still in print more than 125 years after it was first published is testament to that. The novel is primarily a love story set in Old California at a time when three cultures -- Mexican, Anglo and Indian -- were colliding. Jackson's intent was to create a story (and much of the events in the book were real-life events that she wove into her tale) that would bring the plight of the Indians to the attention of the white American population. And in that she had a fair degree of success, as her book was popular and there did seem to be some shift in sentiment towards Native Americans in the wake of its publication.

All that being said, Jackson's writing is undeniably weak. Although she was a successful and popular writer in her day, to the modern reader her style is overly melodramatic. All of her characters are one-sided and under-developed. Aunt Ri, who is one of the more interesting ones, unfortunately speaks in a dialogue that is practically indecipherable. Near the end of the book, when some of her speeches go on unbroken for a page or more, I had to skip them entirely because it just took more mental effort to make sense of them than I was able to muster.

Ramona, the main character around whom the entire story revolves, is just the sort of heroine that Walt Disney would begin to crank out, starting with Snow White in the 1930s. Abandoned as a child, raised in a loveless home by a foster mother who bordered on cruelty and neglect, Ramona is nevertheless sweet and good and perfect in every way. Oh, and captivatingly beautiful, also (natch). She starts out perfect on page 1 and remains so all the way to the end, and inspires near-reverence in everyone who encounters her. She is a total bore.

This isn't a terrible book -- as a picture of the long-lost culture of Old California it is both effective and unique (I know of no other novels set in this time period that are so well-known as Ramona). But it is definitely not all that engaging, as evidenced by how long it took me to read it. I should have easily finished the book in two or three days but it took me more than twice that long, because I just wasn't compelled to pick up the book and read it.

For those who are particularly interested and intrigued in the setting of Old California at the end of the Mexican era and the dawn of the American one, I could recommend this. Just don't expect it to rock your world, and you shouldn't be too disappointed.
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