Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Finding Buoyancy

My So-Called Ruined Life by Melanie Bishop


Tate McCoy is sweet 16, and her life is just beginning. Unfortunately, she's got far too much to deal with, even for the child of divorced parents. That's because her estranged mother - who was an alcoholic - was murdered and her father is on trial for the crime. Thankfully, Tate seems to be on the way to figuring out how to handle it all and still have fun - well, at least partially.

Bishop opens her novel with the following compelling paragraph that sets the whole story up perfectly:

It’s one thing to lose your mom shortly before your sixteenth birthday. It’s another thing to know she was murdered. When they decide it’s your dad who did the murdering, nobody cares that you disagree. He is hauled off; you are farmed out. If you are wondering about how this could get any worse, try living with this fact: you and your mother had not been getting along—barely speaking—for almost two years.

Already we can see that this is going to be a rich, character-driven story, with an exciting plot. We also feel Tate's intelligence, and this fluid writing style lends itself perfectly with both her age and situation. Bishop follows this opening with a beautifully written journey of discovery. What makes it even more special is that it perfectly mixes Tate's love of life and her instinct to enjoy her youth together with the tribulations of coping with the seemingly insurmountable obstacles that have been thrown at her.

This makes Tate McCoy an amazing young woman who is also adorable, mainly because she doesn't have the slightest idea how remarkable she is. Sure, things go wrong for her. Sure, she stumbles trying to make sense of things. Sure, things distract her and carry her away, but throughout it all, she keeps her wits and her humor about her, even when this reduces her to tears. How could you not love and admire a girl like that?

What really impressed me here was Bishop's inclusion of tough subjects like divorce, murder and alcoholism. These bring this novel to a level of literature that most YA books wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole. Then she takes all that and injects the friendships and romance parts into this story, giving us something that is so realistic and natural, that we can almost smell and taste it all.

I should mention that I've recently had the privilege of reading some excellent YA novels. Two of note were "The Universe verses Alex Woods" by Gavin Extence, and "Ostrich" by Matt Greene. Like this one, neither of these stories shied away from real-life difficult subjects. Then it struck me that both these books had male protagonists. So I went for a little search of YA books for girls. Unfortunately, from the many blurbs I read, a large amount of what's on offer are female protagonists whose biggest problems are finding, keeping or losing boyfriends or something else that's equally vapid like being popular. Finding a book with this depth of reality and with a young female protagonist with such admirable qualities is truly a rare gem. Tate McCoy is precisely the type of young, female role-model character to whom any mother would want their daughters exposed.

All this also made me think of the Harry Potter books. With all due respect to their success and popularity, many people will agree with me that those books weren't all that well written. Part of the problem I had with was their third person point of view, which tends to be less intimate than a first person narrative. I personally believe that young adults will be more encouraged to keep reading a book if they can quickly connect to their protagonist. That's why I was pleased to see Bishop writing Tate McCoy's story in first person, so the reader has an immediate connection with her.

With all this praise, I should confess that one element near the ending of this book was a bit too easy and convenient for my tastes. However, I don't think it was overly distracting to the story, and this was the only drawback I could find. While I'm not sure where Bishop will take this for the next book in the series, I truly look forward to reading about what the world has in store for Tate McCoy, and how she'll handle it. With all this praise, I can only conclude by strongly recommending this book to mothers and daughters alike, and I'm giving it a full five out of five stars. 


"My So-Called Ruined Life" by Melanie Bishop, published on January 14, 2014 by Torrey House Press, is available from Amazon US, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books (for other eReader formats), iTunes (iBook), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris, Better World Books or from an IndieBound store near you. I want to thank the author for sending me a review copy of this book. (This is a revised version of my review which originally appeared on my Times of Israel Blog and {the now defunct} Yahoo Contributor Network.)

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