Thursday, March 5, 2015

Being a Teenager Can Be Murder... Literally.

I'm home in New Brunswick this week and next. Staying with my mum in her new little home. Mum moved out of the old farmhouse a couple of years ago, and into a much smaller, and more manageable house, but it's still on the farm. So, I'm not exactly sleeping in my big white-painted iron bed, in my old bedroom in the farmhouse, where I slept as a teenager. But close.

I can look out my window at the same view that I saw growing up. I can see up the hill, beyond the barnyard, past where the brook tumbles over the rocks when it's not frozen and covered in snow. Up through the trees, to the right, to the old saw mill where my stepfather used to saw the logs that he cut "out back" and hauled home with his team of horses. He had two tractors, but he loved to use his "team," as he called them. Or up the hill across the snow covered pasture to the small orchard of apple trees on the left. Not that I really need to look. I can see all this perfectly well if I close my eyes and imagine.

But it's kind of ironic to be here at home where I spent my teenage years, stressing over my hair (fuzzy and unmanageable), over boyfriends (or the lack thereof), over high school exams and major life choices... at the same time that I'm reading a book about just that. Yesterday, I finished reading To the Power of Three, Laura Lippman's engrossing mystery novel about teenage angst and murder.


I only recently discovered Laura Lippman's work through an article by Laura Miller in Salon.com. Miller claims that the best crime fiction writers these days are women. Including Lippman. I think she's right on both counts. Although there are great male crime writers, my favourites are usually women. And Lippman's work is right up there with Kate Atkinson, Denise Mina and Tana French.

www.parnassusbooks.net
To the Power of Three is the story of three teenage girls and their long time friendship, which falls apart in their last year of high school with devastating consequences. It's also about the secret life of girls, girl cliques, and girl power, in a way. Although not the "Spice Girls" variety of "girl power." The narrative flips back and forth between the attempts of two homicide detectives to unravel the events of a school shooting and the lives of the three friends from grade three when they bond as a trio, taking vows of friendship, until grade twelve when the bonds are shattered. 

Let me be very clear...although this is a book about teens... it's NOT a teen novel. I was fascinated with Lippman's characters. The girls, of course, but also the adults. The male detectives especially Lenhardt, who has a daughter himself, the female guidance counselor, and the parents of the girls ... all with their own complex and sometimes bewildering lives. But don't just take my word for it; have a look at Jane Gross' review "Laura Lippman: When Friendship Fails You." It's a great article about Lippman's book including some fascinating biographical stuff about her inspiration for the novel. You can read Gross' article here.


Reading Lippman's book reminded me of the Tana French novel The Secret Place, which I read a few months ago. Also about teen agst, highschool, friendship, shattered vows and murder. And the secret lives of girls. I love French's work. Similar to Lippman's book, The Secret Place flips back and forth between the adult world and the world of teenage girls, the baffled and beleaguered homicide detectives who are determined to get at the truth, and the high school girls who seem just as determined that the truth shall remain hidden.



www.abc.es
And speaking about teenage girls, and secrets and angst. Yesterday, as we always do when I'm home, Mum and I paid a visit to our favourite second-hand bookstore. Gus has a great collection of Canadian novels, mystery and crime fiction...and well, just about everything. He unearthed for me a copy of Muriel Spark's novel The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. I've never read it... nor have I seen the movie with Maggie Smith. I plan to remedy both situations this week.

www.theguardian.com
I was thinking about the Muriel Spark book because the guidance counsellor in Laura Lippman's novel gives one of the girls she is counselling a copy of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. The poor girl has no clue how the book is supposed to be relevant to her life, or help her ... and she finds it just plain boring. And never having read the book myself, although I know generally what it's about, I'm not sure what Lippman is getting at here. Is Alexa, the counsellor, supposed to be as misguided as Miss Brodie? Does Alexa hope that Eve will see herself in one of Spark's characters? Am I reading way too much into this minor scene? Maybe. Probably. But that little loose end is bothering me. Plus...I should probably read the book anyway. So I will.

www.penguin.com.au
This is the corner of the woodshed on the back of the old farmhouse. Looking not that different from when I was in high school. I look back on those years fondly...mostly. But NOT with any wish to relive them.
Which reminds me of an incident a few years ago. A female student in my grade eleven class approached me one day when I was alone in the classroom and tearfully said..."Miss, my mum says that these are the best years of my life. Is that true?" "No way, Tiffany," I replied. "Being a grown up is the best!" I don't think I've even seen a kid look so relieved.


So that's it for me for tonight. Tomorrow Mum and I are shopping for furniture for her living room. I will need my beauty rest for that adventure. On the weekend I'll be seeing friends that I only connect with when I'm here... except on Facebook. That will be fun. In between, Mum and I will overdose on Jane Austen. We'll probably watch Death Comes to Pemberley. And maybe some of our other favourites. We haven't watched Sense and Sensibility for a few years. I do love the scene where Fanny finds out that Lucy Steele is engaged to her brother Edward. I know that Emma Thompson messed about with the characters and some of the original scenes....but I still love this adaptation.

Any thoughts on crime novels about teenagers.... these or others?




18 comments:

  1. Met her once - she is married to David Simon who wrote the wire. I haven't read this book and to be honest crime iwth teenagers for me is a bad mix only bc in most shows - the foil is always a teenager who causes issues or is the source of much consternation and problems!
    This is a genre that I have only recently come into the last few years but migth get around to these books in a bit -coulda shoulda woulda

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    1. I read that they were together. Must have interesting dinner conversations!

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  2. I always like it when someone recommends a good mystery, thanks for suggesting The Power of Three.

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  3. Thanks for the book suggestions. I love both a good mystery and young adult fiction (if it reads believably). Have a great time with your mom--very special to have these times together.

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    1. Me too, although these books aren't "young adult fiction" just about young adults. Thanks. Mum and I do enjoy our time together. Thanks for reading!

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  4. As always I find your writing whether it be about books or fashion interesting. As I am still working my way through a list of crime fiction you recommended it will be a while before I get to this! Loved your recent post about jeans. Like you always a challenge to find the right pair. Good luck with your hunt.

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    1. Thanks so much, Cnristy. The jean quest will continue when I get home. Thanks for reading!

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  5. Well I loved The Secret Place, so I will definitely check out The Power of Three. Thanks for the recommendation.

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    1. Tana French is great isn't she? I think you'll like the other book too.

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  6. Sounds like an interesting read. Might also give Tana French another chance. I didn't really like "broken harbour" but her newer book sounds interesting. How do you rate Louise Penny. I read a few of her books after seeing some blogger recommendations but didn't really warm to the characters or her writing style. I think you'll enjoy Jean Brodie and Maggie Smith's portrayal. Iris H

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    1. My favourite Tana French is Faithful Place, but The Secret Place is a close second. I have tried to like Louise Panny; she's very well thought of in Canada. I first read Bury Your Dead which takes place in old Quebec City and the history was really interesting. But further reading of her books did not go as well. I find them a bit to "soap opera-y" for me. I can't put my finger on what it is exactly. It's like everything is in soft focus, if that makes any sense. I like a very lean style of writing,although I love description, it has to be gritty and absolutely necessary to the plots or I grow impatient. My friend calls this my Dickens-phobia. Did you ever read Anita Brookner's Hotel du Lac... very lean, not a mystery, but so affecting. That's the kind of writing I love. And Penny is toomuch telling (instead of showing) and too sugary for me. Hope this makes sense. I'm typing on my i-pad mini and it won't allow me to go back and edit...it freezes. So I apologize for errors!.

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    2. Yes I have read and enjoyed Hotel du Lac. I love Anita Brookner 's writing. I agree with your take on Louise Penny. Interested in your exchange with mater 're Kate Atkinson's Jackson Brodie books which I loved, was less taken with her last novel although the concept was interesting. I see she has a new book out but haven't read it. Hope you're having a nice visit with your mother Iris

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  7. Do you know young Flavia de Luce? The protagonist of Alan Bradley's books is not quite a teen when the series starts but she's moving in that direction, and she's a rare and wonderful delight (a brief synopsis here: http://materfamiliasreads.blogspot.ca/2010/03/two-female-sleuths-and-cello-suite.html ). And I love the young girl in Kate Atkinson's When Will There Be Good News (wrote a bit about it back in this post, http://materfamiliasreads.blogspot.ca/2008/12/kristeva-again-and-kate-atkinsons-when.html ) Sorry for the links, but no time to write more here now and I think you'd enjoy these.

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    1. I love Flavia de Luce. And all of Kate Atkinson's books...but you're right that character in When Will There Be Good News is adorable. Have you seen the Jackson Brodie TV series based on Atkinson's books? The young actress who plays Reggie in the When Will There Be Good News episode is spot on! She's as adorable as the book paints her to be. I check out your links...want to read your take on the books. Thanks for this.

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    2. Oh, my "take" is much more cursory than your reviews, only a paragraph or two each. Haven't seen that TV series, but I'll have to check it out, especially since Atkinson's moved on to other writing and is very unlikely to bring Brodie back.

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  8. Hi Susan. In your last post you describe this incredible „end-of-term-frency“( and being a teacher myself I know what you mean all too well!), plus, you say that you love it when books teach you interesting facts about the places or times in which they are set . AND THAT WAS IT : I finally/suddenly decided I had to write to you – after following you/your blog for over a year! And for me, that’s really something very special indeed!!
    Now I simply must say that I love everything you write – be it about the Tour de France, pink dresses, the Trans Canada Trail, books, the Rideau River or French Style in general!
    I am 53 years old, live in a small town in Carinthia/Austria ( if you feel like it, check it out on visitklagenfurt.at - my hometown is only a three hours drive away from Venice), teach in 2 schools ( hlw.at & nms-stveit.iwood.at) and sing in a choir (kammerchor-woerthersee.at). Some years ago I visited Canada with my choir and saw Montreal, Ottawa, Quebec,Toronto, the Niagara Falls and the Thousand Islands – such beautiful,unforgettable places!! Canada is really a great country I will never forget!
    Thanks for your last book review & recommendation – I’m going to order the Lewis trilogy at my local bookstore rightaway! The audio sample was a bit of a challenge though, being a non-native-speaker and trained on RP.... (nonetheless, I adore the Scottish accent!)
    Anyway, in return now, I want to tell you about some books I like – maybe there’s something for you here! Number one, my first tip, is Tracy Chevalier - there was a time when I was absolutely hooked on her books. She writes so vividly about suffragettes, London’s Highgate Cemetry, Johannes Vermeer and Holland in the 17th century, a fossil-seeking young woman in 19th century Dorchester/England, quilt-making English quakers in 1850’s Ohio, William Blake in 18th century London, a young peasant accused of witchcraft in Protestant Switzerland, medieval weavers and famous tapestries in Brussels and Paris.
    I do remember that you say you sometimes feel compelled to look up and search for some pictures or facts that turn up in books – that’s exactly what happens to me !! The Lady and the Unicorn is definitely my favourite novel by Chevalier, not only in in this respect.The story is so gripping and compelling that it soon drew me into the lives and experiences of its characters. I became emotionally engaged in the book and felt the characters’ hopes and sorrows, their joys and disappointments- really a must-read!!
    Next, I also like Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus crime fiction books (quite dark and gloomy but full of interesting local background) and Alexander McCall Smith’s ironic but loving Edinburgh-set 44 Scotland Street- and Isabel Dalhousie Series . At the moment I’m reading Alice Munro , whose short stories often leave me confused and bewildered, but somehow I just can’t put them down.
    Last but not least I want to mention the blog A Bloomsbury life and the old but precious and hilarious British episodes of Fawlty Towers ( on YouTube) which have always helped to cheer me up tremendously on bleak days.
    So dear Susan,
    enjoy your holiday on the Bonnechere River and take care,
    Andrea

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    1. Oh wow...thank-you so much. I'm overwhelmed by your kind comments. You've certainly made my day...no wait...my week! I also love Ian Rankin's novels and Alexander McCall Smith. Love Fawlty Towers...John Cleese is wonderful. And I also read A Bloomsbury Life. Love her visuals and her story telling. Alice Munro is one of my literary idols; so proud she is Canadian. I have heard of Tracy Chevalier but never read her books. Reading your comments, I can't imagine why...but I will remedy that soon...since it's obvious that we have the same taste in books (and blogs) Thanks for that. And thanks for reading!

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All comments, ideas, commiserations, questions, complaints... are most welcome.