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Book Review: The Outside Boy by Jeanine Cummins (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

Boy's legs dangling from a branch.Summary:
Christy is a Traveller, what Irish gypsies call themselves, in the 1950s.  He’s eleven, and his family is about to stay in one town for a whole 40 days and 40 nights for Lent so he and his cousin, Martin, can get ready for confirmation.  Christy has always thought his mam died giving birth to him, but when his grandda dies, he finds a newspaper clipping that shows his mam holding him when he’s months old.  Thus begins a quest to find out who he really is.

Review:
The particular copy I read I won on a book blog somewhere (I’m afraid I didn’t write down the name), but I also received an ARC during one of the holiday swaps one year.  It’s interesting to me, then, that this book wound up on my tbr pile both because I was interested and because someone else thought I would enjoy it.  And of course I did.

It is honestly, immediately abundantly clear that Christy’s mother isn’t a Pavee (a Traveller).  I was thus skeptical that the story would hold my interest, since predictable ones don’t tend to.  I am pleased to say that I was wrong about this on both counts.  Although it’s true that Christy’s mother isn’t a Traveller, everything else about her and Christy’s history is actually quite surprising and moving.  I’m glad I stuck with it.

The book examines many different issues, some universal and others specific to Irish history.  There of course is the issue of identity.  Who we are and what makes us that. Is it nature or nurture?  The often tough relationship between fathers and sons during the son’s adolescence is also wonderfully presented.  Of course a book about gypsies also addresses prejudice, stereotyping, and the norm.  Cummins doesn’t sugar coat things.  She shows the positive and negative aspects of Traveller culture, which is as it should be.  No culture is all perfect or all bad.  What the book does a great job of doing is showing how kids learn prejudice and how multiculturalism can enrich everyone’s lives.  Some people are one way and some another, and neither is necessarily bad.  The book also touches on the animosity between Protestants and Catholics in Ireland, as well as the very real issue of Irish society stealing babies from single mothers in that time period.  I know that sounds like a lot, and honestly I’m surprised now that it’s all listed out at how much was touched upon.  Cummins strikes the perfect balance of touching on real issues without ever seeming pushy or forced.

Although the storyline and characters are good, it didn’t 100% draw me in.  I think it moves a bit too slowly for me in the first half or so of the book.  I also, honestly, struggled to like Christy.  I eventually came to understand his viewpoint and choices, but I still find him kind of annoying.  His father, on the other hand, is incredibly interesting and wonderful, and I kind of wish we had a book about him instead of about Christy.  But, some readers enjoy more slowly paced books and others might relate better to Christy than I did.  It just personally is what made it a book I liked but didn’t love.

Overall, this book is an interesting entry in historic Irish fiction.  It looks at Ireland in the 1950s through the eyes of a small band of gypsies, which is certainly a unique viewpoint.  The writing is fluid, if a bit slow-moving, and the plot is not as predictable as it seems at first.  Recommended to fans of historic fiction and works set in Ireland.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Won on a book blog (If it was yours, let me know, and I’ll link to you!)

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Book Review: How to Be a Hepburn in a Hilton World: The Art of Living with Style, Class, and Grace by Jordan Christy

February 9, 2011 Leave a comment

Little black dress with pearls.Summary:
This book is a call to action for intelligent American women to start addressing our current image problem.  Increasingly, women are willing to give away all the self-respect our suffragette fore-mothers fought for in return for their quick 15 minutes of fame or even 15 minutes of attention from that one dude.  Christy calls on women to appreciate the relatively recent freedom we now have as a gender by pursuing knowledge, class, and dignity in lieu of late-night dancing on stripper poles at clubs.  The book serves not only as a call to action, but also as a how to guide, featuring chapters on classy dress for every personality, good friends, dating, body image, and more.

Review:
I admit that I largely bought this book because the women of classic cinema–from Audrey Hepburn to Katherine Hepburn–are my heroes.  They exuded femininity and strength simultaneously.  What’s more attractive than that?  Overall, though, I think this book is a bit behind where I am in my personal growth as a woman, although that doesn’t make the message any less important.

For instance, I really didn’t need Christy to tell me to love and accept my body and eat healthily.  I already do both those things.  On the other hand, I know some women who would really need that chapter, so I certainly didn’t mind it being in the book.  Similarly, I’m a nerd.  I don’t need to be told not to be a Stupid Girl (as those hoo-ha flashing reality tv stars are often called).  I suppose if I was a bit younger or raised a bit differently though I might be intrigued by this book if for no other reason than the idea that class and intelligence are actually more attractive than that kind of behavior.

The two chapters on style were actually quite useful.  Fashion sense that’s practical and attractive simultaneously while reflecting my personality is something I struggle with.  I found the quizzes to help you determine your style and colors that work best for you to be truly enlightening.  Christy offers up sample core items for the various personality types, and I immediately wanted to acquire the ones that suited my own.  It was worth reading the book for the fashion sense alone.

Overall, I appreciate a book calling on women to respect themselves and behave like intelligent human beings.  To pursue the goals and passions or fore-mothers fought so hard for.  I definitely think those who would benefit the most from this book might be the ones least likely to read it–like oh think of the Jersey Shore female cast members.  On the other hand, everyone has moments when they get tired of the partying lifestyle.  Having a book like this out there for them to grasp onto with such an attractive cover to boot is definitely a good thing.  I’d recommend giving it a go if you’re an intelligent woman seeking for encouragement in your pursuit of class and goals or if you’re a partier thinking about changing your lifestyle.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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