Posts Tagged ‘gypsies’

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.

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: Thinner by Stephen King

Skeletal man gripping own face.Summary:
Billy Halleck is an overweight, high-powered lawyer in a wealthy Connecticut town.  He’s getting a bit irritated at his wife and a bit frustrated with his weight, but he loves his teenage daughter.  One day, a band of gypsies come to town, and Billy accidentally runs one of them down with his car, killing her.  His law firm and the cops, naturally, get him out of the manslaughter charge, but nobody can protect him from the lead gypsy’s curse, uttered while stroking one finger down his cheek, “Thinner.”  Now he’s dropping weight no matter how much he eats, and he must race against the clock in an attempt to save himself.

A book about gypsy curses could easily slide into racist territory, but in fact Thinner actually criticizes the treatment the gypsies have received in the United States over the years, in spite of them not always being the most sympathetic characters in the book.  They may be a bit non-mainstream and overly quick to exact their own vengeance, but Billy Halleck and his cronies are a much more frightening type of bad.  They’re the bad that comes from too much money and power.  The bad that comes from being so self-centered and over-indulgent that you’ve stopped noticing the rest of the world exists.

So, the social commentary is good and not offensive, what about the horror and thrills?  That is, after all, what one reads a King novel for.  The grotesqueness definitely builds gradually over time, making this much more of a thriller than a horror.  At first Billy’s weight loss is welcomed.  He was, after all, overweight before.  Gradually, though he starts to freak out about how much weight he’s consistently losing in spite of eating as much as he possibly can.  He starts to investigate and discovers two others with their own unique and, frankly, much more frightening curses.  Although the beginning may feel a bit slow, that is exactly as it should be.  Billy goes from normal life to life under a curse to racing against  the clock to save his own life.  The horror builds perfectly.

That said, this still doesn’t quite read as sophisticated as some of King’s later work.  It does almost seem like a bit too obvious an allegory.  A bit too obvious a statement being made.  In spite of the story providing chills, it’s not quite terrifying or mind-blowing.  It’s a fun read, but it’s no Dark Tower.

Overall this thriller provides chills, horror, and a good social commentary.  I recommend it to fans of horror and thrillers alike, although slightly more to fans of thrillers.

4 out of 5 stars

Source:  Harvard Book Store

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