Friday, March 4, 2011

Bitter Mellon

Frances, a Chinese-American student at an academically competitive school in San Francisco, has always had it drilled into her to be obedient to her mother and to be a straight-A student so that she can go to Med school. But is being a doctor what she wants? It has never even occurred to Frances to question her own feelings and desires until she accidentally winds up in speech class and finds herself with a hidden talent. Does she dare to challenge the mother who has sacrificed everything for her? Set in the 1980s.

Beth says 4 Stars...

I found this book rather fascinating and disturbing at the same time. I can only liken the relationship between Francis and her mother to a train wreck; I both wanted to and couldn't look away. The setting of the book was fine, but not that astounding. Although the apartment where Francis lived became relatively well described, most of the actual scenery wasn't terribly well defined. I found it interesting as well that I couldn't tell the time period when the book took place. In fact, if I hadn't read that it was set in the '80s I honestly would have assumed it was meant to be contemporary. I have yet to decide if this is a good or bad thing, because although it allows for a closer connection with readers it shows a lack of definition which could spell trouble in another novel. I will say that it didn't harm the book, but just should be something to keep in mind for future books. The plot did wander more than a bit, but a good bit of that was Francis attempting to figure out what she wanted to do. A highly linear narrative would have made the story feel contrived and pained.

Francis by herself could pass for a respectable character. She did have some depth and didn't fall flat, which counts. The meat of the story was in both her process of self discovery and in the changes in her relationship with her mother. I must say that I couldn't believe that a mother could treat her daughter so harshly. From my perspective it really felt more than slightly abusive. I really hope that this is a case where reality becomes embellished for the sake of a narrative, because if not then that sort of maternal behavior poses a problem. I will say that it made me appreciate my parents all the more for not trying to run my fate. There have always been parameters set, but nothing so blatant as choosing a career for me. I pitied both Francis and her mother because even though they did everything for one another, they had no emotional closeness. All of the other characters merely circled around the two of them in some way, shape or form.

This book surprised me in many ways, both good and bad. I was shocked at the central relationship of the book and how brutal it was. However, I got sucked into the novel and just kept reading it once I picked it up. Also, the cover is fantastic. It's striking and not ordinary in the slightest, which sums up this novel.
Book from Publisher


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