Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Review: The Talk-Funny Girl by Roland Merullo

Title: The Talk-Funny Girl
Author: Roland Merullo
Publisher: Crown
Release date: July 5th 2011
Pages: 320
Genre: adult contemporary
Source: publisher
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In one of the poorest parts of rural New Hampshire, teenage girls have been disappearing, snatched from back country roads, never to be seen alive again. For seventeen-year-old Marjorie Richards, the fear raised by these abductions is the backdrop to what she lives with her own home, every day. Marjorie has been raised by parents so intentionally isolated from normal society that they have developed their own dialect, a kind of mountain hybrid of English that displays both their ignorance of and disdain for the wider world. Marjorie is tormented by her classmates, who call her “The Talk-funny girl,” but as the nearby factory town sinks deeper into economic ruin and as her parents fall more completely under the influence of a sadistic cult leader, her options for escape dwindle. But then, thanks to a loving aunt, Marjorie is hired by a man, himself a victim of abuse, who is building what he calls “a cathedral,” right in the center of town.
Day by day, Marjorie’s skills as a stoneworker increase, and so too does her intolerance for the bitter rules of her family life. Gradually, through exposure to the world beyond her parents’ wood cabin thanks to the kindness of her aunt and her boss, and an almost superhuman determination, she discovers what is loveable within herself. This newfound confidence and self-esteem ultimately allows her to break free from the bleak life she has known, to find love, to start a family, and to try to heal her old, deep wounds without passing that pain on to her husband and children.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The Talk-Funny Girl is not the kind of book I'd normally enjoy. It's an adult novel; it was pitched to me as having YA crossover appeal, but it's still definitely an adult novel. And the description sounds kind of strange, to be honest, too out there for me to pick up the book at a bookstore. So to say I went in with low expectations would be an understatement. But The Talk-Funny Girl really took me by surprise - I ended up loving it!

The novel was a little hard to get into for me, I guess just because it's so different from the stuff I usually read. Even though it's about a seventeen-year-old, the writing style definitely makes this an adult novel, not YA. It's very long-winded, descriptive, and detail-focused, which bored me a little, in the beginning. But it's really just because I'm not used to that much description - once I got used to the more adult writing, I really enjoyed the author's style.

The plot is really weird, but amazing, in a way. The Talk-Funny Girl is not an easy book to read; there are some terrible, terrible things happening here. On some level, I didn't want to know what was happening, didn't want to know people could be so terrible. But I couldn't stop reading; the plot is fascinating, in a sick, sadistic kind of way. I'm not even sure why, since it's not like there's lots of suspense - there's a mystery aspect, but the solution to that becomes obvious pretty early on; the plot is generally pretty predictable; and we know everything will turn out all right, since the story is told by future-Marjorie. But the story still had some kind of energy that made it impossible to put the book down.

I'm not sure what I can say about the characters; I can't judge them like I normally do because everything in this book is too weird and terrible. Marjorie isn't exactly someone I can relate to, but I definitely felt for her. The parents and Pastor Schlect are... I don't even know what to say. I loved Marjorie's relationship with Aunt Elaine, of course, but I would have liked to have some more background to Elaine's motivations; I know this sounds terrible, but I didn't quite see why she's so invested in Marjorie's life, since she's not close with her stepsister. I don't know how realistic it is that she stuck around, living close to them, all this time, given the circumstances. But I don't even want to think about that, because thinking about what might have happened without Elaine's influence in Marjorie's life would just be too terrible. Then there's Marjorie's relationship with Sands, her boss. I had some issues with that storyline, but that's not the author's fault - for some reason, I just imagine him as a 50-year-old man instead of the 24-year-old, which makes the later developments in that storyline kind of, umm, problematic. But if I hadn't gotten that strange idea - I don't even know why I imagined him as that old, I just did - that storyline and relationship would have been great too.

I know The Talk-Funny Girl doesn't look like much, judging by the cover and the description. But if you're looking for something that's more mature in style but still relates to YA themes, I encourage you to give this book a try. It's disturbing and powerful, in the best way possible.

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