"The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." — Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

By the Time You Read This by Lola Jaye

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Summary: After his death, a girl is given an advice manual written by her deceased father, with advice for her life from age 12 to age 30. 

Having just read Council of Dads, I feel slightly disappointed in this book. The concept is really touching. Knowing he has only a few months left to live, Kevin Bates writes The Manual, yearly advice for his daughter Lois, to be opened when she turns 12. 

Lois is very lonely and struggling with her mother's remarriage when she is given The Manual, but when Lois feels as if everyone has abandoned her, she knows that her dead father has not.

The book gives us a glimpse into Lois' life at each birthday and each chapter opens with a new letter from her father.  This is where the amateurish writing showed the most. 
"Miscellaneous: Your first real kiss
I couldn't figure out where to put this, so I stuck it in the miscellaneous section (if I had my own way it wouldn't even be a section, because I'm not sure I want some guy kissing you). But if my dreams of you having kids and growing old with your family around you are ever to materialize, then a kiss is probably likely.
Sooooo . . .
Here goes (deep breath, deep breath).
Your first kiss.
You've probably just had it or are about to. All I can say is, it will feel ... well, rather crap actually. The good (or bad) news is, it definitely gets better with practice."
Lois lives in south London and has what may or may not be a typical English teen upbringing. She goes to school dances, deals with first kisses, bullies, and decides to continue her education. Lois, at age 18, claims she has never known anyone to get a divorce before. She also spends three months in America, where she has sex for the first time. Lois gets a temp job, which leads her to get a degree in IT. She gets more and more financial success, but keeps her family at bay, still resenting her mother for remarrying and then having the nerve to have another child, whom Lois only identifies as the Sprog. We don't get an actual name for her sister until the sister is six. 

The concept was so good, but I felt like Lois was cold, reserved and rather uninteresting. (Is it just because she's British?) She dates men, and then gets annoyed with them (hey, join the club, sister, that's half the women in America!) and dumps them. She makes no real friends, really only staying close to her childhood friend Carla because her dead father advised her too. Once Lois continues on to school, she is only friends with Carla, despite their obvious lack of shared anything - values, lives, interests, jobs. Carla is, of course, her childhood next door neighbor and I was left feeling that Lois usually chose the path of least emotional resistance when it came to relationships or letting people in. 
"Luckily, traveling to different sites meant "friendships" could be kept brisk and light, just the way I preferred things."
My other quirk was the poor transcontinental idiom editing.  Her father Kevin played football, what we Americans call soccer, yet it's referred to as soccer in the book, instead of football the way a Brit would. And Lois gets paid in dollars, not pounds, even thought it's obvious from all the references that she is English and living in London. And when Brits get more money, it's called a "pay rise," not a "pay raise." And potato chips in a bag are called "crisps" overseas, not chips, as we do here in the U.S.

I'm gonna leave you with one last quote to show you what I mean about the writing:
"The only good thing about losing someone at five years old is the strange luxury of not recalling the actual moment it happened. The moment the first man I have ever loved was ripped away from me like an errant chin hair by a angry pair of tweezers."
I know I should be sympathetic, but that sentence just makes me want to make an appointment with my waxer. 

Consider instead Things I Want My Daughters to Know.

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