Review: (You) Set Me on Fire

(You) Set Me on Fire
Mariko Tamaki
Penguin Canada
2012
9780143180937

Allison has been burned in the past – literally and figuratively. A failed high school romance resulted in emotional and physical scars, but now Allison is off to college, where she can be whoever she wants to be. When she meets Shar outside a frat party, Allison is instantly drawn to her. The two quickly become inseparable, blowing off school to party and making fun of the “normal” girls in their student residence. As their friendship begins to become toxic, will Allison once again go down in flames?

I was inspired to read this book after hearing author Mariko Tamaki read from it at The Word on the Street in September. I guess this book could be considered part of the emerging “new adult” trend since it is about the college experience. I found this to be a nice change from reading about younger teens in high school. While I can’t say my university life was anything like Allison’s, having recently finished graduate school at a school where last night’s partying was a frequent topic of discussion among the undergrads on the bus, I can still somewhat relate. Allison finds herself in a number of awkward situations throughout the book, and these stories, such as getting sick from too many shots after climbing the “Tower of Power” at a frat party, are laugh-out-loud funny. Tamaki does an excellent job of capturing a young adult’s dialogue and worldview. Readers will cringe at Allison’s misfortunes while still rooting for her to get her life in order.

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Review: The Marriage Plot

The Marriage Plot
Jeffrey Eugenides
2011
Alfred A. Knopf Canada
978-0-307-40186-1

Set in the 1980s, The Marriage Plot follows the post-graduation lives of Madeleine, her boyfriend, Leonard, and her old friend Mitchell, who happens to be in love with her. When Madeleine and Leonard move to the Cape for his research fellowship, Leonard’s manic depression threatens to drive a wedge between them, while Madeleine tries to figure out what to do with her life after being rejected from graduate school. Meanwhile, Mitchell develops an interest in religion and sets off to Europe and then India, all the while convinced Madeleine is destined to marry him.

I decided to read this book because I had never read Eugenides before and I remember Middlesex being quite popular. I am also a fan of Jane Austen and thought the marriage plot concept of Madeleine’s thesis sounded interesting. However, this concept didn’t really play out in the novel the way I expected it to. There is a section of the book that describes Madeleine’s past romances, all of which went wrong one way or another. But the marriage plot thread seems to be dropped somewhere in the middle and then quickly resurfaces on the final page. As a former English major, reading this book reminded me of fourth-year seminars discussing literary theory, and I have to admit that is not really a time I want to go back to given how pretentious I found many of the comments made by some of my classmates. I couldn’t help but find this book a little pretentious also and I felt that it would have made more sense had I read more of the works mentioned. It was an interesting enough story but not one I would wildly recommend to others.