Publishing slows down considerably in November, but I do have two great books for you anyway!
Favorite Book of November 2020
Plot Summary: While an undergrad at Harvard, Cooper hears the story of a 1969 murder of Jane Britton (a Harvard Anthropology graduate student and daughter of Radcliffe VP) in her apartment…the rumored (and unsolved) story so intrigues her that she begins a decade long quest to investigate what happened.
My Thoughts: Literary true crime (The Devil in the White City, In Cold Blood, In the Garden of Good and Evil) is one of my favorite sub-genres and the good ones are rare finds! We Keep the Dead Close is part true crime, part memoir (Cooper shares her own story of investigating Jane’s death and the effect it had on her) and reminded me of I’ll Be Gone in the Dark in that way. It has a super atmospheric setting and Harvard feels like a romantic, yet sinister character. The story is full of intriguing, larger than life personalities. It also feels a bit like a gossipy expose of Harvard and the Anthropology department specifically…the rampant sexism, the insular “protect Harvard’s reputation at all costs” mentality, and the interdepartmental politics of academia. Cooper’s writing is excellent and that’s not something that generally jumps out at me when reading true crime. Though this book is long, it’s broken up into smaller sections and has pictures throughout, so it moves faster than you’d think. It will likely be the last book I add to my Best Books of 2020 list and is one of the better true crime books I’ve ever read!
From the moment I heard the story about the murder, so much about it barbed me. It wasn’t because I believed it—it seemed outlandish and obviously embroidered—but because I could believe it. The very things that made me love Harvard—its seductiveness, its limitlessness—also made it a very convincing villain. Harvard felt omnipotent.
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Plot Summary: Ivy, the daughter of Chinese immigrants who struggles against her parents’ strict rules, has a crush on a wealthy and popular boy (Gideon) at her school, which gets derailed by her parents. When she runs into him years later, their stories intersect once again.
My Thoughts: First, I need to talk about the marketing of this book. The publisher made this story seem like one of obsession and used words like “sinks her claws into” to describe Ivy’s relationship with Gideon and his family, but I don’t think that’s quite accurate. In my view, this is a story about a girl who is trying to figure out who she is, bristling against her parents’ traditional Chinese rules and customs and desperately wanting to fit in among her American peers. As an adult, Ivy thinks she should live a certain type of “respected” life, but constantly battles a darker wildness inside her that doesn’t line up with the life she thinks she’s supposed to live. It’s about who Ivy wants to be versus who she is at her core. It’s a character-driven coming of age story, but I wouldn’t call it slow or quiet…tension simmers throughout. I loved the exploration into Chinese immigrant culture and the struggle more Americanized children face trying to keep a foot in both worlds. And, I loved the social commentary on the wealthy from Ivy’s outsider perspective. I saw the ending coming, but it didn’t kill the book for me…but, I suspect some readers won’t love it. Finally, White Ivy is being compared to a wide range of other books (Everything I Never Told You, Social Creature, Luckiest Girl Alive, Little Fires Everywhere), but I think Everything I Never Told You is the most accurate.
She would have given anything to be like Gideon naturally—to be good—but she was not good. She was jealous, petty, vengeful; experience had taught her to hide these characteristics behind a veneer of sweetness and humility. The more diligent she was in the Speyers’ presence, the more difficult it was to rein in her lesser impulses when she was alone.
What’s the best book you’ve read so far this month?
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