What I’m Reading: Hum if You Don’t Know the Words

From the book jacket:

Life under Apartheid has created a secure future for Robin Conrad, a nine-year-old white girl living with her parents in 1970s Johannesburg. In the same nation but worlds apart, Beauty Mbali, a Xhosa woman in a rural village in the Bantu homeland of the Transkei, struggles to raise her children alone after her husband’s death. Both lives have been built upon the division of race, and their meeting should never have occurred… until the Soweto Uprising, in which a protest by black students ignites racial conflict, alters the fault lines on which their society is built, and shatters their worlds when Robin’s parents are left dead and Beauty’s daughter goes missing.

After Robin is sent to live with her loving but irresponsible aunt, Beauty is hired to care for Robin while continuing the search for her daughter. In Beauty, Robin finds the security and family that she craves, and the two forge an inextricable bond through their deep personal losses. But Robin knows that if Beauty finds her daughter, Robin could lose her new caretaker forever, so she makes a desperate decision with devastating consequences. Her quest to make amends and find redemption is a journey of self-discovery in which she learns the harsh truths of the society that once promised her protection.

Told through Beauty and Robin’s alternating perspectives, the interwoven narratives create a rich and complex tapestry of the emotions and tensions at the heart of Apartheid-era South Africa. Hum if You Don’t Know the Words is a beautifully rendered look at loss, racism, and the creation of family.

My review:

I will admit that my knowledge of Apartheid is minimal, aside from perhaps a small scene in Lethal Weapon 2. So, I was curious about this book and drawn to it with hopes that I’d learn a little bit more.

While I gained a slightly better understanding of the various events that occurred during this time period, I wasn’t pulled into the story like I had hoped I would be. Robin’s character development took a particularly odd turn near the end; while her desire to seek redemption was understandable, the way she set out to do so was a bit of a head scratcher. Beauty’s storyline was much more intriguing and interesting to follow; if Hum if You Don’t Know the Words strictly revolved around her I think I would’ve enjoyed it more.

While Marais did a decent job showing compassion and acceptance during a time of hate and despair, somewhere along the storyline this stopped mattering and over-the-top actions took its place. Hum if You Don’t Know the Words was likened to The Help but I’m not so sure it carries the same amount of passion. Perhaps it’s a personal preference, but I just didn’t love it like I thought I would.

My rating: ★★★/5 stars

What I’m Reading: Leaving Time

From the book jacket:

For more than a decade, Jenna Metcalf has never stopped thinking about her mother, Alice, who mysteriously disappeared in the wake of a tragic accident. Refusing to believe she was abandoned, Jenna searches for her mother regularly online and pores over the pages of Alice’s old journals. A scientist who studied grief among elephants, Alice wrote mostly of her research among the animals she loved, yet Jenna hopes the entries will provide a clue to her mother’s whereabouts.

As Jenna’s memories dovetail with the events in her mother’s journals, the story races to a mesmerizing finish. 

My review:

When I’m wanting to read a real, solid book, Jodi Picoult is pretty much a no-brainer. Leaving Time is a few years old now, but I’ve yet to read it so I thought I’d give it a go thanks to a special deal on Kobo.

While I’ll admit that it was a little long in some areas, I really enjoyed reading Jenna, Alice, Virgil, and Serenity’s stories. Reading about the elephants, however, was probably the most heart-wrenching but captivating parts of the book for me.

The ending, like many reviewers before me, took me for a loop but I loved it. Honestly, I didn’t even clue into the twist until the moment it happened. Slow clap for Picoult!

Perhaps it was the slog of the last book I read, but I really, really loved Leaving Time.

My rating: ★★★★★/5 stars

What I’m Reading: Everything I Never Told You

From the Book Jacket:

So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos.

A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.

My review:

Part of me really enjoyed this story, and the other part of me really disliked it. I don’t know if it’s because I really enjoyed Little Fires Everywhere and I had big expectations, but something about Everything I Never Told You just left me feeling unsatisfied.

I’ll start by saying that Marilyn and James Lee really annoyed me. They were your stereotypical “I want my child to beeverything I wish I was when I was growing up” kind of parents, and I couldn’t stand them. I get that parents often live vicariously through their offspring, but they were ridiculously selfish.

That being said, a big kudos to Celeste Ng for making me loathe them so much but at the same time wanting to know more about them. My heart hurt for their children, whether it was because they were being pushed into being something they didn’t want, being ridiculed for having a passion, or being ignored completely.

I’d almost give Everything I Never Told You four stars, but there’s some nagging feeling holding me back. I think I just wanted more out of it; it felt way too short for the subject matter and I feel there’s some kind of void that’s been left unfilled.

My rating: ★★★¾/5 stars