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Summary: (from Amazon) Isabelle Goodrow thought her move to the small mill town of Shirley Falls would be temporary-just until she decided in which direction she wanted her life to head. Now her daughter, Amy, has fallen in love with her high school math teacher, and he takes advantage of the teen’s infatuation. When the relationship is discovered, Isabelle is furious with her daughter but also a little jealous that Amy has found sexual fulfillment while she has not. As mother and daughter try to rebuild the trust and closeness they once shared, the private secrets of many citizens of Shirley Falls are revealed.

Review: Beautifully bleak. That’s how I would describe Elizabeth Strout’s Amy and Isabelle.

“Now an OPRAH WINFREY PRESENTS Movie on ABC”  the cover screams and I quickly think “No good can come from this”. The only Oprah TV movie I’ve actually liked was The Women of Brewster Place and that was over (CRINGE) fifteen years ago.

This book moved me for reasons that I may not be able to articulate. Both mother and daughter, Amy and Isabelle Goodrow, live pretty boring & isolated lives. Isabelle (the mother) goes from work to home. She has no friends, she doesn’t keep in contact with family. She hasn’t managed to quite fit in at her job, a job she’s had for over 15 years. All she has is Amy. Her sole existence is work and Amy.

In the beginning Amy’s existence was the same. She goes from school to home. She has one friend, Stacy, with whom she smokes cigarettes with at lunch. She doesn’t fit in with anyone else. She has no contact with anyone other than her mother. At 16, this is especially hard because this an age where you are curious about everything. You’re on the brink of adulthood, you want to know what life really is…and that’s in any location. So imagine your awakening taking place in a small judgmental town similar to Cheers where everybody knows your name.

It’s rough.

So when Amy’s teacher, Mr. Robertson shows her a bit of attention, when he seems to understand her love for poetry, her need to just talk to someone, Amy feels alive. She’s no longer going through the motions. There’s this older man who listens to what she has to say. Who wants to meet with her everyday after school. Who enjoys her company. Who desires her. That’s a powerful thing. It is this new relationship, discovered with Amy in a compromising position,  that tears mother and daughter apart.

This is not a book dedicated to a LeTourneau-like story. Mr. Robinson is not the focus of this story. He instead is used to reveal the longings of both these women. It is his presence that finally allows us to see their suffering, to learn their secrets, to reveal the cracks in this relationship.

I liked this book a lot. I like that Strout took her time telling this story, that it just naturally evolved. She hasn’t used tricks. There were no twists and turns…it’s a simple yet well told story about the suffering of two women so close, but so far apart.  She peels layer after layer until we see that while these two women love each other, they haven’t developed a close enough relationship to like each other. They’re family but not friends.

The best part of how she does this is her use of the Goodrow women’s community. Their interaction helps define who they are and why for the reader, and helps each character to develop their own sense of self-awareness. Her use of the community , which is so vividly real, and her story of this relationship is a wonderful read.

LitSnit Verdict: B+

Summary: (from the back cover) New to town, Beatrice is expecting her new best friend to be one of the girls she meets on the first day. But instead, the alphabet conspires to seat …and more. New to town, Beatrice is expecting her new best friend to be one of the girls she meets on the first day. You know the type: very cheery, very friendly, very average. But instead, the alphabet conspires to seat her next to Jonah, aka Ghost Boy, a quiet observer who hasn’t made a new friend since third grade. He’s not a big fan of people in general…but he’s willing to make an exception for her. Maybe.

Bea and Jonah are not going to have a friendship like other people have a friendship, where it’s all based on gossip and parties and what everybody else thinks. Instead, their friendship comes form truth-bound conversations, shared secrets, daring stunts, and late-night calls to the same old-timer radio show. They help each other and hurt each other, push away and hold close. It’s not romance, exactly – but it’s definitely love. And that means more to them than either one can ever really know…

For anyone who’s ever entered the wonderful, treacherous, consuming, meaningful world of true friendship, How to Say Goodbye in Robot will strike a deep and lasting chord.

Review: Beatrice Szebo (affectionately known as Bea or Robot Girl) is a 17 year-old girl imposed to the gypsy lifestyle by her father, a biology professor who is always on the lookout for better staff positions. This translates into a string of family relocations, the latest of which takes Bea from Ithaca, NY to Baltimore, MD. Once there, Bea is promptly enrolled an uber-preppy high school attended by the city’s riches and brightest. Initially, her school life resumes as usual; Bea’s classmates seem friendly but shallow, allowing her to adopt her typical semi-outcast demeanor. But then, purely by happenstance, Bea meets Jonah Tate (not-so-affectionately known as Ghost Boy). Desiring to be the exemplary high school outcast, Jonah always eats lunch alone and has a policy of ignoring everyone…everyone except for Bea.

Jonah and Bea click instantly, brought together by a common fascination with a quirky late night radio talk show called the Night Lights where participation is always welcome and anyone can assume any identity. As the teens begin to make new friends over the FM wavelengths, they find much needed acceptance and a new, more welcoming niche in the world. Slowly, they start to transform into the happiest people they have ever been-a pair of misfits that perfectly fit one another.

Then, out of nowhere, Jonah’s life is completely altered when he receives a unexpected message from his twin brother, Matthew. Without going into any spoiler details, the sudden reappearance of Matthew has a staggering impact on the whole plot. Driven by their desire to uncover Matthew’s mysterious predicament as well as rescue him from it, Jonah and Bea turn into a pair of high school sleuths, performing undercover operations that include gender altering disguises complete with wigs, fake IDs and a few other things.

This seem like fun adventures at first, but it isn’t. Jonah has a lot at stake, much more than Bea could ever know, and as the plot takes one last sharp turn south, the Krazy Glue-like love that Bea and Jonah have for each other is no longer enough to pin him to the happiness they once shared. There is a falling-out and Jonah retreats into himself, deeper than ever, too deep for Robot Girl’s reach.

I really liked this book. Jonah and Bea are a great pair of imperfect teen characters. I didn’t like them most of the time but I loved them all of the time. It was their platonic love for each that did it. Their relationship, which I can only liken to a mixture of what siblings and soul-mates have, was wonderful. Every time Jonah disappeared, I felt the hole, the missing piece in Bea. But how do you make room for a new soul-mate when you already have one in your twin brother? Standiford answers that question by conjuring up a most interesting conclusion. A conclusion that is eqaul parts splendid and savage. At least those are the words that came to me as I read it.

I was also impressed by the supporting characters in the book. Standiford didn’t do anything groundbreaking by including a semi-depressed mother, a workaholic father and sting of shallow high school classmates, but she used all of them advantageously. They weren’t over-dramatized, and so I never got bored or exasperated when they popped up here and there inside the plot.

Finally, I have to give a shout-out to the designers of this book, particularly the ones who worked on the layout of the pages. The cover is nice, but the inside of the book is really beautiful. That gave my reading experience a bit of a kick.

Lit Snit Verdict: B (I do want to give this book an A, but I hold back because I feel it lacks a certain conventionality. Objectively speaking, I just don’t think everyone will see what I saw in it. So it’s a personal A and a Lit Snit B)

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