According to Gooodreads, there are 81,688 books with 'Girl' in the title.
Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Good Girl.
Note: I received a free NetGalley review copy of this book.
'Girl' books are popular, but they rarely feature actual girls, they feature women. Peter Gilboy seems to be aware of the inconsistency when it comes to these 'Girl' titles, despite the name of his own book, The Girl on Mill Street. Mill Street does feature a girl, kind of. It also features two women. Annie Taylor was a girl when her mother, Sunny Taylor, went missing on Mill Street, but as she tells her story now she is a woman. The very first sentence of Mill Street is written perfectly by Gilboy.
"I'm nineteen now and no longer a girl. I'm a woman in every way that counts."
The Girl on Mill Street is a classic crime story of who-dun-it, but instead of focusing on the classic detective, it follows the story of Annie recounting her own experiences of the loss of her mother and subsequent charging of her father. Gilboy takes the reader on a fast-paced journey which leaves us guessing as to whether or not Annie's father is as innocent as she believed, and whether our fears truely define us.
Smattered with Freudian quotes, The Girl on Mill Street is also a lesson in psychology, whether you agree with Freud or not. It is clear from the first page that, if Gilboy doesn't have a background in psychology himself, he has at least done a reasonable amount of research into the topic for this book. It lends a sense of authenticity to his writing of both Annie and her father, as well as some of the actions in the book.
At just over 200 pages, The Girl on Mill Street is a quick but satisfying read, perfect for any readers interested in crime stories, psychology, or courtroom suspense novels. My only problem with the story was one event quite central to the plot that was left open by the end.
I'm going to preface this review by saying that, even after successfully making it all the way through this book, I still don't understand the abundance of 4 and 5 star reviews for this book.
Beside Myself is described as a "literary thriller", literary being shorthand for descriptive (but not quite prose) writing, and thriller.... I'm not sure. The book definitely ramps up toward the end, but it isn't an edge-of-your-seat what-will-happen-next thriller. By the middle I was invested enough to want to know Hellie's fate, but that was about it.
Hellie is Helen. Except she's not, she's Ellie. Helen and Ellie are six year old twins who swap places, a 'prank' of sorts, it's really Helen's idea, but suddenly Ellie begins to enjoy the privileges her twin's life affords her and refuses to finish the game and swap back. Helen is pushed into the "Ellie" box, where she is expected to be less than smart, to have some issues, which only makes it harder for people to listen when she insists that she isn't Ellie, she's Helen. It's an interesting idea for a book, and the idea itself deserves the four and five stars, but other than that it falls short.
I don't like Helen, and as much as she is actually a victim in her story, I couldn't really root for her. Normally unlikeable characters are my thing, but her treatment of Ellie from childhood just couldn't make me like her. It's evident to me that a lot of Ellie's troubles are actually from Helen's treatment of her. Helen constantly belittles her, makes fun of her, and bullies her alongside her friends. Why wouldn't Ellie want to be Helen? Helen's the golden child, the one who follows all the rules, the one who their (admittedly off-kilter) mother loves.
None of this was what prompted my below average review however.
Reading this book made me annoyed, then frustrated, then angry. How half of this made it through the editing process I have no idea, and I can't find many other reviews that mention it. Beside Myself is written in chapters that alternate between the present and the past. Except that the present chapters are written in third-person past tense, and the past chapters are written in first-person present tense. It doesn't make sense story-telling wise.
Then, halfway through the book, for no explicable reason, the past chapters switch to second-person present tense (from "I do this" to "You do this"). Needless to say, I was ripped out from my little reading cloud asking "Wait, what?" After some thought I could come up with a reason this might be done, namely to do with Helen's disconnect with her own identity, but if that's what it is it is never explained. I couldn't get past it.
The second thing that bothered me a little that other reviews touched on, was the multiple things characters are referred to. While the main story doesn't have a large cast of characters, each one is often referred to by multiple names. I didn't have trouble in following this, but other reviewers have apparently. Examples include: Helen referred to as Helen, Ellie, and Smudge. Ellie referred to as Ellie, Helen, Hellie (Hellie is a good identifier as it is the Helen version of Ellie), and their step-father being called Horace and Arkela.
Onto the third (it wasn't until writing this review I realised how many problems I had with this book). As in my preface, the term "literary" here is used for descriptive. Evidently the author has never been told that you can have too much description. I actually quite like prose writing and descriptive writing myself, but the problem with Beside Myself is the needless description of everything in every moment, and the repetitiveness of this description. This description is actually problematic in one instance:
"There was a tray in front of her and a pair of chocolate-coloured hands manouvering it into position ... "There," said the nurse in a sing-song Nigerian accent"
There are problems with describing a person of colour as being "chocolate", not to mention the fact that it's an incredibly overused identifier, but Morgan then goes on to explicitly state that she was Nigerian. Most people, I would think, would be aware that Nigerians are PoC.
My fourth and final issue with the book is similar, it is the repetitiveness of some descriptions. Nearly every scene that refers to some kind of sex act is described as "(someone) moving above (her, me, you)". There are probably a million ways to describe this, and while this works as a way to tell readers what is happening, it's dull and repetitive by the second or third time.
Now, some more good words about this book.
While it isn't exactly a thriller it is actually an interesting look into some great themes including Identity, mental illness, suicide, and family. If that is something you are interested in it's probably worth giving this book a shot, despite my less than stellar review. Although I don't think Helen/Smudge's illness is explicitly stated it is clear that she suffers from manic and depressive episodes as well as hallucinations and self-identity problems, and Beside Myself provides an interesting insight into the mental goings on of a character who suffers from this. I would be interested to see the opinions and reviews of someone who may be able to relate to the Helen/Smudge character.
It is important to note though this book should carry some warnings, it does include scenes/mention of: mental illness, suicide, and rape.
Z for Zachariah is an interesting novel. It is a post-apocalyptic tale which focuses on two characters inhabiting this new world and leaves most discussion of what has caused it by the wayside. For the most part, this works well, as the reader is in the same position as primary character Ann Burden. Z for Zacharia tells the story of a man, Mr. Loomis, arriving when Ann believed she might be the very last person on Earth.
Ann is a sixteen-year-old who has survived the fallout by remaining in a small valley where her family's farm resides. The only problem with this is that her mother, father, and two brothers ventured from the valley and have never returned. This poses a problem from the readers' sense as the book is written from Ann's point of view, and it's a very detached one. In my mind, it does make some sense as she may have distanced herself from her emotions in order to survive in this world where she believes she is the only one left, with only the company of some farm animals, but it does leave the character feeling a bit stale.
Z for Zachariah reads at a steady pace, picking up speed toward the end as tensions begin to arise so does make for a quick read. Some might have issues with the very black and white nature of the story, but in this case, it makes for an interesting character study.
Worth a read for anybody interested in the human side of the post-apocalyptic novel and perhaps those looking to write their first book.