One thing I hoped for after graduation has come true: I have a lot more time to read. I finally have a full-time job, so my days are spoken for, but I no longer have to make room in my evenings for homework. So books have made it back into my life on the regular, thank goodness!
It’s not summer for me without a Sophie Kinsella book, and this is the newest one, published in February of this year. It follows the classic Kinsella style of zany characters and hilariously ridiculous situations, but it felt a bit more serious than her earlier books, especially the Shopaholic series. In this, Katie Brenner is a recent college grad (like myself) who is trying to break into the world of branding. She lands a job at a prestigious firm, but is a bit intimidated by her boss, whose social media accounts make it look like her life could not be more perfect. Katie is simultaneously in awe and repulsed, but when she gets fired she has a whole host of new problems to deal with.
I enjoyed this because it’s the first Kinsella protagonist I’ve read who was just starting out in life. I identified with Katie, and I admit felt a bit jealous that she is working in her field so soon after graduation. But Katie is definitely not perfect either, and that made her so easy to root for. I saw myself and my friends in her, and I wanted her to succeed. She learns a lot of hard, adult-y lessons throughout the book, but it still has the nice, satisfying ending that is characteristic to Kinsella books.
Universal Harvester is one I wish I could have read in school, or even in a book club, because it begs to be re-read and pondered and analyzed. Set in the late 90s, it follows Jeremy, who works at a video rental store. Jeremy, who has lived alone with his father since his mother died in a car accident, is settled into his routine, and likes it that way. But he can’t help but be curious when several tapes get returned with extra scenes edited in, scenes that seem to have been shot not far from his house.
When I started this, it felt like a creepy thriller. The mystery surrounding the tapes seemed dark. Once I realized that — spoiler alert — the narrator is not the author, but another, unknown character, it got even creepier. But as I got even farther into the book, the creepiness melted away, and it just felt horribly sad.
I know I’m being vague about this book, but it’s the kind that demands to be read to be understood. You can go read the description on Amazon or Goodreads if you want more info. What I will say is that Darnielle’s writing style is incredible. Reading a novel with an unreliable narrator is one of my favorite things in the world, and he executed that perfectly. This is going to be one I beg other people to read so we can talk about it.
Yo! is by the same author who wrote How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, which I loved. This I have not loved nearly as much. But part of it is because at first I didn’t realized that this book continues the story Yolanda, one of the Garcia girls, throughout her lifetime. It’s an eventful one, too — she angers her entire family by writing about them, gets kicked out of college, and marries — three times. If I had realized that this Yo was the same as the Garcia Girls Yo at first, maybe I would’ve liked it better.
But another reason I haven’t loved this is because I am reading it in Spanish. While I have no trouble reading and comprehending words, comprehending voice is a different story. In this book, each chapter has a different narrator. Sometimes they are named, and sometimes they aren’t. I also didn’t realize that at first, because it does take a little more effort for me to understand Spanish novels. I found that it helps immensely if I read out loud, but I can’t read the entire thing aloud to myself. I did finish the book, but I think I would have enjoyed it much more in English.
That said, it’s still an incredible work. (Also, some of my issues may stem from the translation, since it was written in English originally.) But even with my somewhat foggy understanding of the book, Alvarez’s unique writing style comes through. Her characterization and place settings are both beautiful in their own way, and the fact that she wrote every single chapter in a different voice speaks to her talent. Even though I haven’t enjoyed this nearly as much as How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, I’d still recommend it, and I may end up reading it again in English in the future.