Anita and Me – Book Review

Book name : Anita and Me
Author: Meera Syal
Genre : Fiction (semi-auto-biographical)
Awards won: 1996 Betty Trask Award ; Shortlisted for Guardin 1996 Fiction Prize
Publisher: Harper Collins ( Flamingo)
My rating : 4/5

Synopsis from Good reads

The prize-winning coming-of-age novel about a young Indian girl in northern England. Winner of the Betty Trask Award and finalist for the Guardian Fiction Award, Anita and Me, which has been compared to To Kill a Mockingbird, tells the story of Meena, the daughter of the only Punjabi family in the British village of Tollington. With great warmth and humor, Meera Syal brings to life a quirky, spirited 1960s mining town and creates in her protagonist what the Washington Post calls a “female Huck Finn.” The novel follows nine-year-old Meena through a year spiced with pilfered sweets and money, bad words, and compulsive, yet inventive, lies. Anita and Me offers a fresh, sassy look at a childhood caught between two cultures

What I thought of the book :

Oh,I loved this book!. The comparison to “To kill a mockingbird” is not misplaced,but the style of writing is different.Anita and Me ishillarious,irreverant,refreshing and poignant at the same time. This semi-autobiographical book by Meera Syal is about a young immigrant girl growing up in a British mining village in the 60’s. Meena (the protagonist) is torn between two cultures: her Punjabi roots and the need to fit into the mainstream Tollington culture. She prefers Fish and Chips to Chappatis ; Christmas to Diwali. The narrative is slow and idyllic ,but is spiced with exceptionally cheeky writing by Meera. Her take on her parent’s friends-the uncles and aunties that visit them and her parent’s relationship with one another is heart-warming and funny at the same time. The way she describes the neighborhood and her neighbors is chuckle-inducing.

Meena’s life changes when Anita walks into her life.Anita is brassy and in-your-face and everything Meena is not.This is precisely what fascinates Meena and she desperately wants to be Anita’s friend. Meera expertly paints the relationship between the two girls in not just blacks and whites but in shades of grey. Meena and Anita become the best of friends,despite several undercurrents that run between them and Meena finds herself doing uncharacteristic things like lying and stealing. She knows on some level that Anita is bad influence on her,but continues to toe Anita’s line,listening to her whims and fancies.Rest of the story is about what happens between the two girls and other members of their “gang”. Meena learns hard lessons in life about love ,friendship ,bereavement and “grows” up in the process.

The narrative is not fast-paced,but it felt like every word in that book was there for a purpose . You can find oodles of witticisms thrown liberally in the book .A must read for anyone who likes witty, coming of age stories. I am so glad i picked this book!. My last book was also a coming of age story (The secret life of bees), which I didn’t like too much This book is feisty and spirited,whereas I found secret life of bees needlessly meandering and(a little) boring.

Anyway,pick up this book- you won’t be disappointed.

My rating : 4/5

Teacher Man – Book Review

Book Name : Teacher Man
Author : Frank Mc Court
Genre: Memoir
My rating:3/5

I have raved and raved about Frank’s earlier books,Angela’s ashes and Tis’. I find his style of writing irresistible with dollops of self-deprecating wit. It’s really surprising that this slim book took me almost 2 years to finish.Some books are just destined to get read in snatches , I think.

Synopsis from Goodreads

The author of Angela’s Ashes and ‘Tis has been winning such superlatives since he broke onto the literary scene as a self-proclaimed “old man.” In this third volume of memoirs, the Pulitzer laureate turns to one of his first loves, teaching. He describes his sometimes-bumpy coming-of-age in the classroom and explains its integral relationship with his writing career. McCourt’s ability to fine-tune even short anecdotes eventually makes readers feel like partners in his apprenticeship

What I thought of the book:

I wouldn’t say I loved it.It was entertaining in snatches and Mc Court’s legendary squabbles with the corridors of power at schools gives a lot of scope for humour.Somehow,the book falls flat in stretches and was self-indulgent to the point of irritating me. Let me tell you more about the book. Mc Court reminisces about his teaching career spanning almost 30 years-a career that was spent among pimply teenagers surging with adrenaline in some of the meanest vocational schools in New York.Now,teaching teenagers is one heck of a challenge and more so if they are from some of the shadiest neighborhoods where education really isn’t priority. Traditional methods of teaching English and creative writing would definitely not work with these kids.

Frank talks of the unorthodox methods of teaching he used like letting a class sing recipes ,taking his students to a potluck picnic (to introduce new gourmet related words in their vocabulary),asking the kids to write excuse letters and many such “fun” things.Oh,how i wish I had a teacher like Frank.Infusing fun into classrooms is a laudable idea ,but at times I really wondered what the point was. Was it just Mc Court’s way of rebelling against the principals and review boards.Teachers have to stick to a teaching plan that is normally filed in beforehand,something Frank didn’t believe in.He freewheeled in his classes and told the students stories of his Irish upbringing and his childhood impoverished conditions.

Frank has never shied away from exposing his deepest thoughts .In his first book Angela’s ashes ,he barely manages to disguise the contempt he had for his father.In Teacher Man he takes us through his crumbling marriage and how one fine day after teaching hundreds and hundreds of kids for years,he finds himself in a dead-end job and in a rut. His hate-hate relationship with the Catholic church obviously gets mentioned (many, many times) in the book.What did impress me was Frank’s unwavering belief that education was not about letting kids cram pages and pages of literature only to have them vomit it out in the exam,but was about equipping them to find their footing in the world- something Mona lisa smile and The dead Poet’s society also talk about. Whatever Frank was not,he loved his students as individuals and not just as random kids sitting at random desks in a classroom.

Despite an engaging narrative,the book somehow didn’t work for me in the way his first two books did. Frank just came across as a self-absorbed writer who just wanted to fill the pages of his book. Not as entertaining as his first two books.Maybe,I can’t read books by self-absorbed writers any longer.. Overall,its an okay read. Not earth shattering,but a decent read that delves into the “business of education”. I would recommend it to teachers and people who work with adolescents and would rate it 3/5.

I am off on vacation for a week and wont be able to read your posts. Have a super week and stay safe ,people.

Monster by Jonathan Kellerman



Book name : Monster
Author : Jonathan Kellerman
Genre: Psychologoical Thriller

ISBN : 0345413873 (ISBN13: 9780345413871)
Book source: Own copy


Synopsis from Goodreads

Consulting psychologist Alex Delaware has a novel approach to crime-solving: he uses his training to unlock the secrets in the minds of the victims and jiggles the clues he finds there until the right scenario emerges. So when Alex’s LAPD buddy Milo finds the hacked-up body of a woman psychologist named Claire Argent in an abandoned car trunk–the second such murder in eight months–Alex heads for her place of employment: the Starkweather State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.

One of Argent’s patients at Starkweather is Ardis “Monster” Peake, imprisoned for the unbelievably brutal murders of his mother and the family she worked for, including a small child and a baby. There’s at least one eerie similarity between the mutilation of their bodies and Argent’s: in all the bodies, the eyes were taken or destroyed. But Peake, diagnosed as schizophrenic and psychotic, is a well-behaved vegetable due to a steady diet of Thorazine, and he hasn’t left the hospital since his incarceration 15 years before. How is it, then, that Claire Argent’s assistant, Heidi Ott, swears she heard Peake say, “Dr. A. Bad eyes in a box” soon after he hears only the bare fact of her death? And why does Alex find Peake so empathetic, in spite of his violent past and chillingly vacant mind? When other mutilated bodies turn up, Alex and Milo begin to suspect that the real monster is very much at large.

My Thoughts
Monster is the third Kellerman novel I’ve read and with every book read,I like his writing even more. I picked up this book at a bargain at a second hand store as i don’t normally buy my copies of thrillers and borrow them from libraries.Faintly reminiscent of The silence of the lambs and more of ,Hannibal Lecter, I found the book spine chilling and gripping.The pace is not really high-adrenaline inducing,but Alex Delaware and his LAPD buddy Milo chip away industriously at uncertainty to make sense of madness behind Monster’s random babble. Narrated from Alex’s point of view,Monster is 13th in the row of Alex Delaware books.I was surprised at Jonathan’s style of writing -vivid descriptions and flowery words somehow don’t normally get associated with crime writing,more so with a psychological thriller,but you’ll find that in this book.What I find fascinating about books like these is the psychological profiling that unravels during the course of the investigations.The book gives you a sneak peak into the workings of an institution for mentally unstable criminal-Starkweather hospital in this case.It also made me wonder about the safety of the carers and the techs that man these facilities.Either they must be highly motivated or paid very well to take up a job that is fraught with so much risk.

Character-wise I can’t choose between Milo or Alex and say who I liked better.I also liked the way how Kellerman lets us see a bit of Alex’s personal life in between the investigations.The murders that take place are slightly disturbing and not for the faint-hearted and in most cases Kellerman describes the crime scene almost clinically,going over details of the onslaught on the victim.Almost 200 pages into the book,we get to know who the possible murderer might be and its more a question of the duo locating him.

Overall ,this might not be the best psychological thriller I’ve read till date, but it was good nevertheless.4/5 for this book. I recommend it to people who like reading psychological thrillers.