Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Review: Certain Girls

Certain Girls by Jennifer Weiner
4 stars

Reasons for reading: I like Jennifer Weiner's books and I chose to celebrate her March 28, 1970 birthday for the Celebrate the Author Challenge

Description: "Readers fell in love with Cannie Shapiro, the smart, sharp-tongued, bighearted heroine of Good in Bed who found her happy ending after her mother came out of the closet, her father fell out of her life, and her ex-boyfriend started chronicling their ex-sex life in the pages of a national magazine. Now Cannie's back. After her debut novel -- a fictionalized (and highly sexualized) version of her life -- became an overnight bestseller, she dropped out of the public eye and turned to writing science fiction under a pseudonym. She's happily married to the tall, charming diet doctor Peter Krushelevansky and has settled into a life that she finds wonderfully predictable -- knitting in the front row of her daughter Joy's drama rehearsals, volunteering at the library, and taking over-forty yoga classes with her best friend Samantha. As preparations for Joy's bat mitzvah begin, everything seems right in Cannie's world. Then Joy discovers the novel Cannie wrote years before and suddenly finds herself faced with what she thinks is the truth about her own conception -- the story her mother hid from her all her life. When Peter surprises his wife by saying he wants to have a baby, the family is forced to reconsider its history, its future, and what it means to be truly happy."

First line: "When I was a kid, our small-town paper published wedding announcements, with descriptions of the ceremonies and dresses and pictures of the brides."

My thoughts: Unfortunately, I couldn't remember much about Good in Bed, though I know I enjoyed it and related to the fat-girl aspects. I think 7 years is a wee bit long to expect people to remember enough to read a sequel. Although Weiner did a pretty good job of reminding/introducing elements from the first book, there were a few moments (like her mom coming out as a lesbian) where I said to myself. "I don't remember that!"

At the beginning of the book, Joy's truculent tween-ness really made me hope I don't end up having girl children! At least I won't have to bar or bar mitzvah anyone - it seems like those events are getting up there with weddings when it comes to over-the-top productions. But she grew on me a bit - as everyone kept saying to Cannie, she is (almost) a teenager and that's what they do. I also hope I don't become an intensely-overinvolved mom like Cannie! (Although her reasons for this behaviour are eventually explained.)

Joy getting hold of Cannie's book and trying to make sense of it was what really made the book interesting for me - 10 years ago Cannie never imagined that her toddler daughter would grow up to read the about the (fictionalized) promiscuity of "Allie" and her (true but short-lived) horror at discovering she was pregnant. When Joy does read the book, she's understandably shocked and ashamed and tries to get answers out of anyone but her mother, who she was already treating with adolescent hatred even before she read it.

There's a lot going on in the novel - Joy and Cannie's relationship, Joy's growing up, Cannie and Peter's relationship and his desire for a baby... Lots of family dynamics, self-examination, memories, sorrow, pain and, of course, joy.

The verdict: While I didn't like waiting so long, this sequel has Weiner's signature humour mixed with her true-to-life examinations of issues facing women, from marriage to career to motherhood.

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