Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Review: Certain Girls by Jennifer Weiner

Certain Girls: A Novel
Title: Certain Girls

Author: Jennifer Weiner

Pages: 384

Source: The library where I work

Rating: 5/10

Challenges: Read 'n' Review challenge; Take Another Chance challenge (Challenge 7: Break a Prejudice)

First Sentence: "When I was a kid, our small-town paper published wedding announcements, with descriptions of the ceremonies and dresses and pictures of the brides."

Summary (From book flap):

Readers fell in love with Cannie Shapiro, the smart, sharp-tongued, bighearted heroine of Good in Bed who found her happy ending after her mother came out of the closet, her father fell out of her life, and her ex-boyfriend started chronicling their ex-sex life in the pages of a national magazine.

Now Cannie's back. After her debut novel -- a fictionalized (and highly sexualized) verson of her life -- became an overnight bestseller, she dropped out of the public eye and turned to writing science fiction under a pseudonym. She's happily married to the tall, charming diet doctor Peter Krushelevansky and has settled into a life that she finds wonderfully predictable -- knitting in the front row of her daughter Joy's drama rehearsals, volunteering at the library, and taking over-forty yoga classes with her best friend Samantha.

As preparations for Joy's bat mitzvah begin, everything seems right in Cannie's world. Then Joy discovers the novel Cannie wrote years before and suddenly finds herself faced with what she thinks is the truth about her own conception -- the story her mother hid from her all her life. When Peter surprises his wife by saying he wants to have a baby, the family is forced to reconsider its history, its future, and what it means to be truly happy.

My Two Cents:

I'm going to preface this review with a few caveats. 1) I have never read a book considered "chick-lit" before. 2) I've definitely not read this novel's predecessor, Good in Bed. I had planned to read Good in Bed instead of this one, but my library doesn't have it for some odd reason. 3) I don't like novels in which characters have a changeable flaw, whine about it, but do nothing to change.

We now return to our regularly-scheduled review.

Certain Girls started out fairly strong. In fact, I actually liked it for the first 100 pages or so. It was funny, the writing was solid, and I could kind of see people resembling the characters existing.

Then, it all went downhill from there.

First, Joy bugged me to no end. Sure, she's 12-going-on-13, so she's bound to be annoying and snotty, but Joy was just far, far too snotty for my taste. She snaps and talks back and sneaks around. If she were my daughter and pulling the same stunts, I would ground her and take away all privileges. She routinely (In her narration) calls her mother fat, and that really got to me. I also consistently wondered where she got a lot of the money she was using to buy things and go places. An allowance was mentioned once, and it's pretty obvious that the family wasn't hurting for money, but the ease with which Joy spent her money on things surprised me. Maybe that's just my disconnect from that world that's talking. Joy was definitely my least-favorite character, even at the end.

I also was not fond of the people surrounding the central family. They all seemed much to money-hungry and concerned with status and fame. Of course, a lot of people are like that, but there was just something about how they all handled and viewed their money that didn't sit right with me.

Cannie got on my nerves, too, but I liked her a little better than I liked Joy. I think a lot of the reason why I couldn't stand Joy was because there was nothing in her background story that would cause her to be so mean and bitter. She just was mean and bitter. Cannie, however, had been hurt many times, and she had been deeply hurt, so there was a reason behind her actions. Did I agree with many of them? No, but I could see where they came from.

I wasn't a fan of how Cannie continually thought she was fat or looked dowdy, but never did anything about it. I have struggled, as many women have, with body image issues in the past, but I'm a firm believer in the power of thinking. If you want to change something about yourself, then change it, don't just think about changing it. Cannie was all thought and no action.

Weiner's writing, however, was what saved the rating on this book. She's actually a very good writer, even if I don't like her choice of characters. I found myself laughing out loud at several times.

I've always thought that "chick-lit" is about shallow themes and shallow people, and I'm sure there's plenty of that out there. I nearly picked up The Devil Wears Prada to read for this portion of the TAC Challenge, but I've seen the movie and hated it, so I didn't want to torture myself. Talk about shallow.

Anyway, while there was a lot of superficiality in this novel, there also were some deeper issues: Parental abuse, body image, infertility. It wasn't all fluff and party dresses, which was OK with me. I just don't think I'll be reading anymore "chick-lit" anytime soon.

7 comments:

Julie said...

I have to agree with you on the chick-lit. I think there are some that are okay, but I tend to avoid it for the most part.

I have an award for you on my blog:
http://bookretreat.blogspot.com/2010/02/awards-honest-scrap-and-prolific.html

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

I think this is a good review. Jennifer Weiner sounds like she'd hit too many wrong notes with me, too, so I'm glad you covered everything you didn't like as well as what you did like.

Heather said...

I'm glad to know that there are other people out there that are not fans of chick lit. I sometimes feel like a mutant in my group of friends, many of whom read chick lit among many other kinds of books. I did read Goodnight Nobody, which was a mystery first, I felt, so I liked it pretty well, but most of it I find has no redeeming quality.

Katrina (Bloody Bad) said...

I appreciate some chic lit but I have to agree that superficiality in books drives me mad.


I also have an award for you http://trinsnook.blogspot.com/2010/02/and-award-goes-to.html

Cym Lowell said...

Chic lit is not a genre I like to read but I find this review interesting because my wife and her daughter both like jennifer Weiner. I will have to ask them their thoughts (I do believe that they liked Good in Bed better.).

-CYM

Jenners said...

Well, if you didn't like this, I don't think chick lit is for you as I think Jennifer Weiner is a better example of the genre. However, I didn't read THIS book but I did read "Good In Bed."

Amused said...

I read Good in Bed and LOVED it and I read Certain Girls and it really disappointed me. I was looking for more from Cannie because she was so good in the first book and it was all kind of a let down in the second one and, well there didn't even really need to be a second book in the first place so it was all kind of odd to me. Spot on review.

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