Saturday, January 22, 2011

Review - Other Words for Love

Lorraine Zago Rosenthal
Though this book's summary makes it sound like a story of love and heartbreak, it's really more complicated than that. Set in the late 1980s, Other Words for Love is a coming-of-age story in the truest sense of the word and it follows Ariadne, a teenage girl who seems to be an observer in her own life. Intimidated by her beautiful, brilliant, and bold best friend and overshadowed by her married older sister who suffers from post-partum depression, Ari tries to be the best daughter she can for her mother, who expects her to make up for her older sister's mistake of getting pregnant and married as a teenager. Feeling guilty about her jealousies and the lustful crush she has on her sister's husband, Ari continually tries to uphold other's expectations of her, often at her own expense, a habit she only breaks (and then only somewhat) when she meets the Ellis family and falls for Blake, a guy who seems as trapped in his family as she is in hers.

This book surprised me in a lot of ways and I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about it. There was much more sexual content than I was expecting and a lot of it felt unnecessary, especially as the romantic relationship didn't seem to be the primary focus of the novel. Additionally, having the story set in the 80s gives the whole novel a distant, almost blurry effect, as if it were a Polaroid snapshot. The feeling of distance works well in this slow-paced book but the time period is strange as there doesn't seem to be a lot of historical significance to anchor the reader and it's relatively recent, though not recent enough to be remembered by many YA readers. As a general rule I think that in order for a story to be told in a nontraditional way or set in a nontraditional place or time there should be a specific reason for it; the decision should be demanded by the story. In this case I didn't see that and felt that the story could have been told just as well and possibly better if it were set in the present day.

However, in spite of this distance there's a certain enchantment to Ari's story and Ari herself. She's a well-written, multi-dimensional protagonist that, though quiet and unassuming, completely pulls the reader in because she's just that real. The people in her world (her family and few friends) are also well-developed and realistic, from her overbearing mother to her hot-and-cold older sister, and the things Ari goes through at the hands of those she loves are both heart-wrenching and completely believable. Ari is in an odd place in her family of being taken for granted while at the same time expected to exceed and fulfill her mother's aspirations of her. Likewise in her friendships she's also in a precarious place as her best friend (who for a long time has been her only friend) has no trouble ditching her when other, more interesting people come around but expects Ari to always be around for her and gets jealous when she begins to develop other friendships. The paradoxes of Ari's situations are, to me, incredibly interesting and realistic, which gives weight to the story.

Honestly, at times this book feels tedious, especially when it comes to Ari and Blake's ill-fated relationship. Though the writing is good and had its moments of beauty, it isn't enough to carry through some of the more boring scenes and since the book is so slow-paced I sometimes found myself wishing there were more action. But then I got to the end. And though there was some boring bits in between, the ending of this book really pulls the whole thing together, tying the story up nicely and in the best possible way as some of the storylines that didn't even seem important are pulled to the forefront, making the entire novel better and ending it in both an incredibly realistic and hopeful way for this character who definitely deserves happiness. The slow pace and lack of excitement may put off some readers, but stick with it and you might find a story to love.

1 comment:

  1. love this review. ive wanted to read the book ever since i found out about the summary...haven't done so yet, but will soon :)