2 Stars · Book Review · Bust · Gonna Need a Stiff Drink For This One · thoughts · YA

Meg Elison is officially the queen of trauma porn

Oh boy, it’s been a while since I’ve visited the blog. Between working, running my Pilates studio and homeschooling the minion, life’s been crazy busy. I’ve been reading daily, but finding time to share thoughts has been slim pickings lately.

So where do you find new books to read? In the good old days, I’d spend ages browsing in the library, sifting through books by size, color, cover art, title, and interesting first pages. Since getting a kindle, I’ve depended on recommendations from friends and whatever looks interesting on Kindle Unlimited. A few friends have recommended Good Reads, but I have such a hard time using that platform, it doesn’t feel fun or natural.

Amazon First Reads has been awesome to get a free book every month, but I noticed I’d collected a ton of unread books from the program, so 2021 started off with a deliberate effort to read every free book I’d downloaded in 2020 BEFORE buying/downloading any new books.

So let’s start 2021 with where we left off in 2020…Meg Elison. The author of The Unnamed Midwife, which I absolutely hated, wrote another book called Find Layla which found its way into my reading queue via Amazon first reads.

Written for a YA audience, Find Layla follows fourteen year old street wise and book smart Layla Bailey as she navigates her mother’s mental illness and the subsequent neglect, abuse, and responsibility as she ekes out a delicate survival for herself and her six year old brother, on top of the usual school bullies and teenage angst. All of this takes place within the realms of Layla’s science obsession and under the microscope of social media and the twitter’s sphere.

While Elison starts out strong and the reader develops a genuine concern for Layla, this book suffers from the same over emphasis on trauma, gaping plot holes, and lack of character development as The Unnamed Midwife.

For me, the plot holes are always the biggest hang up. In Finding Layla, the plot holes and lack of character development go hand in hand. To start with, Layla’s mom was very one dimensional. She was the evil mother with poor hygiene, poor social skills and completely incapable of caring for herself or her children. But what wasn’t explained was how she got that way. We see how the mother’s affliction affects Layla and her brother, Andy, but there’s never any background for how things got to where they were.

Was the mother a drug addict? A hoarder? Some other mental illness? How did she manage to have relationships that produced children? How was she able to care for the children as babies? How was she able to get, keep and maintain jobs seemingly easily over and over in new places with her poor hygiene and lack of social skills? Without these answers, the book never really fleshes out.

Layla’s best friend and classmates are equally lean characters. They are stereotypical “mean girls” that really push the limits on terrible behavior. While I know bullying exists and is infinitely worse with social media, the way Elison portrayed it here just felt completely over the top. It would have been nice to see a little more complexity and depth in the teenage characters to help round them out a little bit.

The adults in the book are as stupid and ineffective as the teenagers. This creates a continuing plot hole, leaving the reader wondering how so many adults could fail to respond, particularly when the situation for Layla and Andy is so dire and so very apparent to anyone in contact with either child.

Layla herself is the most developed character, but even she falls flat, particularly when the plot depends on the depth of another character, which just isn’t there to support her.

One thing I strongly dislike about Elison’s writing is her complete dependence on trauma to keep the reader engaged. Whenever a plot thread starts to unravel or get tangled, she throws in a heavy dose of extreme trauma. This was the same plot device she used to propel The Unnamed Midwife. The trauma portions of the book are incredibly well done. They’re graphic, evoke strong emotions and trigger the part of the brain that can’t stop rubber necking at a car crash. Unfortunately that doesn’t make for high brow reading and I found myself thoroughly disappointed at the amount of time I’d spent on another of Elison’s books when this one ended.

This one has 4.5 starts on Amazon right now, and close to 3,000 ratings but only 439 actual reviews. I was actually surprised by the lack of written reviews, considering how many ratings the book has.

Sorry for another negative book review. Those somehow seem easier to write and it seemed fitting to pick up where we left off on the last update. I have read some truly great books this year, so can’t wait to share those!

Until next time, cheers and happy reading!

2 Stars · Autobiography · Book Review · Bust · Gonna Need a Stiff Drink For This One · thoughts

Rock Needs River by Vanessa McGrady

91TRgrrdKtL._AC_UL436_There’s nothing worse than being home sick with the flu on a beautiful day.  I did get in about a million naps and was able to finish Rock Needs River by Vanessa McGrady which had been in my list for a few weeks.

Adoption is something that has always interested me and I was hoping to learn more about the entire process, especially open adoption, which seems to be gaining more popularity as adoption becomes less stigmatized.  Unfortunately, Rock Needs River didn’t really answer any of my questions about adoption or teach the reader anything about the adoption process.  Instead, this book was a hot mess of the author oversharing other people’s lives and it was depressing to read.

McGrady spends the first part of Rock Needs River detailing her love life, failed relationships and desperation for a baby.  This portion felt a bit too personal and unfocused in the broader scope of the book.  The sections about McGrady’s family were also a bit cringe worthy and there was a bit more personal family business shared than really needed to be.

Rock Needs River switches gears about halfway with McGrady’s marriage to Peter, and the eventual birth and adoption of her daughter, Grace.  McGrady and her husband accept a last minute adoption after the birth parents pulled out of an arrangement with another potential adoptive mother, leaving them with just a few weeks to get ready for the baby.  The process of working with the adoption agency, how they found them and how they prepared mentally and emotionally for the adoption was not addressed, leaving a gaping hole in the story from “let’s adopt” to “the baby is here!”.   McGrady also glosses over the first few months to first year of Grace’s life, leaving another hole in the story for how she experienced new motherhood as an adoptive mother.  I was interested to know how this experience of having a baby two weeks after notification differed from a birth mother’s experience of mentally and emotionally preparing for nine months.  I also wanted to know how McGrady’s experience compared with maternity leave, hormones, lactation, pain, and all of the leftover physical symptoms of giving birth.

The McGrady’s and the birth parents, Bill and Bridget, choose an open adoption but never outline or define roles for how the birth parents will interact with Grace, leaving Bill and Bridget moving in and out of Grace’s life rather haphazardly.  When Bill and Bridget end up homeless, the now divorced McGrady asks them to live with her and Grace for a while.  This creates an entire situation of boundary issues, with McGrady essentially taking on a nagging disappointed mother role for two adults who can’t get themselves up to her standards.  McGrady essentially laundry lists the ways Bill and Bridget fall short of her expectations and “the real world”.  A similar approach is taken to her husband’s drinking and their subsequent divorce.

Honestly, I was so uncomfortable reading this book and couldn’t imagine how the birth parents or her ex-husband felt with all of their life history, mistakes and painful decisions laid out for strangers this way.

Despite her attempts to help them with a place to live and the occasional cash, clothes and food gifts after they leave, McGrady treats Bill and Bridget with utter disdain and disappointment.  Her expectations of a couple who knew they were not capable of the stability required to raise a child, are just astounding.  Rather than accepting the gift of her daughter and moving on with her life, McGrady inserts herself over and over again in the birth parent’s business.  Eventually, she follows them to Texas to hear their side of the story, which is disappointingly NEVER shared in this book.  Of all the things I wanted to know about this couple, their decision to give up their child and their experience of the open adoption process, was number one.  McGrady glosses over this section with a quick statement of how they felt used by the adoption agency and then runs away to take a walk.  So disappointing!

The book ends rather abruptly, without any real resolution or conclusion and utilizes an epilogue to update readers on Peter, Bridget and Bill.

After reading this book, I was so upset with how McGrady treated Bridget and Bill that I did a quick google search to see if either of them had given any interviews about the book or the adoption process.  While there wasn’t anything from either of them, I did come across McGrady’s blog.  Several of the stories in Rock Needs River were taken directly from her blog, however the tone in which they were written on the blog was beautiful and loving and a little bit confused on how she could help and what she should do, and most importantly empathetic with their struggles.  In the blog, McGrady comes across as a woman who genuinely cares about Bill and Bridget.  Unfortunately, this love and genuineness was edited out of the book.  Whoever edited Rock Needs River, did a great disservice to McGrady, Bill, Bridget, Grace and the reader.

All in all, 2 stars.

Until next time, Cheers and happy reading!

-R