Friday, November 30, 2012

The Juliet Stories by Carrie Snyder

When my YA book discussion group chose to read Carrie Snyder's The Juliet Stories, I had already  placed it on hold at the library because it was shortlisted for the Canadian Governor General's Awards. (The group occasionally reads adult titles, like this one, that have appeal for teen readers.) I didn't end up making it to the discussion because I had to work that evening, but I hadn't yet read the book anyway. I've only just now finished it, actually, having several other books on the go at the same time.

I liked The Juliet Stories very much. The weird thing is that I never noticed that the book is a series of interconnected short stories until I'd finished it. I assumed it was a novel and didn't read the inside flap or back cover until today: "A stunning new novel-in-stories set against the backdrop of the political turmoil in 1980s revolutionary Nicaragua." The 's' on the end of 'Stories' should have clued me in. I love story-cycles in general but this is the first time I've read one all the way through without noticing the format. When I'm reading short stories, I usually read them one at a time, interspersing them with other reading. And that's exactly what I did with The Juliet Stories, putting it down between chapters.

One of the things that I read in-between was a post on the Ken Haycock blog which looked at readers who skip between books like I do. It's actually about how books in digital format allow companies to track reading behaviours.

"Barnes and Noble has determined, through analyzing Nook data, that nonfiction books tend to be read in fits and starts, while novels are generally read straight through, and that nonfiction books, particularly long ones, tend to get dropped earlier. Science fiction, romance and crime fiction fans often read more books more quickly than readers of literary fiction do, and finish most of the books they start. Readers of literary fiction quit books more often and tend to skip around between books." (Your E-Book is Reading You.)

Anyway, back to Carrie Snyder's wonderful stories/novel. The nuances of family relationships - between siblings, between husband and wife, and between parents and children -- are deftly delineated. Setting -- both time and place -- is another of Snyder's strengths, especially as seen through a child's experience.

"Ronald Reagan is the president of the United States of America. He is fighting the commies. Commie is short for communist, a thick plank of a word that is used often and ominously on American television; on American television communist means evil. But Juliet takes her definition from Gloria, who says that communists are people who share everything. (Imagine fighting against people who share! It is the punchline to a joke. Juliet writes a skit on the subject, and Keith plays Ronald Reagan with gusto: "I declare a war on sharing! There will be no more sharing!")"

Later, when Juliet's family moves from Nicaragua to Canada, there's a whole new cultural environment to negotiate. "Hockey is a violent sport that rewards angry men and boys. Ringette is an unsolved feminine mystery."

Snyder's memorable characters and poignant insights into family dynamics make The Juliet Stories a very rewarding book -- whether it is approached as a single novel or as individual stories.

Readalike: The Forrests by Emily Perkins

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