I have discovered that if I don't post right after I finish a book, I don't remember what I wanted to say. Bad puppy! Whack whack puppy!
Nothing But the Truth (and a Few White Lies) by Justina Chen Headley (Little Brown, 2006, 224 pages).
Patty Ho -- half-Chinese, half-white, all-confused -- is an insecure underachiever. Her mother is a force of nature, her father is nowhere to be found, and her brother, having secured admission to Harvard, can seemingly do no wrong. Against her own wishes and better judgment, Patty enrolls in math camp at Stanford for the summer (SUMaC, for the uninitiated), and there starts to figure out who she is and what's important to her.
Nothing But the Truth is your basic bildungsroman, but Patty's status as a hapa (a word she's never heard until her wild-child SUMaC roommate explains it to her) gives the novel a little extra resonance. That said, I found some of the racism Patty encounters in her small-town Pacific Northwest high school a little hard to swallow. Perhaps I am simply naive, but do people really walk around randomly calling out "chink" anymore? The blissful ignorance Patty's hometown friends display ("is that some weird Chinese-y thing?") rang truer for me.
Patty is worth rooting for, and though her internal monologue sometimes goes in circles, her journey is a fun one to take. Give this to the smart girls.
Physical by James McManus (FSG, 2006, 272 pages).
An adult nonfiction title about the state of American healthcare and the state of one middle-aged man's personal health.
Jim McManus is given a plum assignment: go to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, get one of their $8000 "executive physicals" (paid for by his employer), and write about it. And that's what he does -- for about the first third of the book. He gives the reader background on the Mayo, on each test he is given, on his own health (or lack thereof), and on the state of the US healthcare system in general.
But once the physical is done, McManus veers off into political territory, pontificating on the future of stem-cell research and the short-sighted idiocy of the current administration with regard to SCNT (somatic cell nuclear transfer, or embryonic cloning). Whether I agree with McManus's views or not (and I happen to agree with him), the sudden shift from straightforward, sometimes breezy tales from the exam room to a heavy-handed dissertation on bioethics was jarring, to say the least. Later on McManus intimates that the stem cell chapters were originally separate pieces for a magazine (Esquire, I think), so it seems he just decided to throw them into this book to fill a few more pages.
Overall, a decent read, but not something I'd recommend too heartily.
Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart (Delacorte, 2006, 192 pages).
Gretchen Yee is a loner, an outcast at a school for outcasts. She has one close friend and one ex-boyfriend, but aside from that, she spends her days at her Manhattan high school for artsy types sitting alone, sketching Spiderman comics. After wishing one afternoon that she could be a fly on the wall in the boys' locker room, just to figure out what the heck is up with the boys, Gretchen wakes up just that: a fly on the wall in the boys' locker room.
As a fly, Gretchen is privy to the boys' conversations, conflicts, primping, and of course, naked bodies. Her sudden awakening to lustful thoughts was handled well -- nothing shameful, and nothing too far, but simply a normal response (that, since Gretchen was a "lower" form of life at the time, seemed less controversial than it might've been were she still a girl). She comes to understand the fears and motivations of her fellow Art Rats, especially those of Titus, with whom she is deeply in like.
The body-part slang (gherkins and biscuits, etc.) was a little tiresome, but I probably wouldn't have enjoyed reading "penis penis penis" over and over again, either. Though the story's logic strained a bit at times (it just took a wish? then why didn't Gretchen wish herself back right away?) and some moments felt a bit message-heavy (Titus's "it's okay to be gay" speech, for example), overall it was a fun, if forgettable read.
In response to the question about "chink," in some areas, unfortunately, it is still used. I grew up in a 99.9 % white community in Iowa, and a Vietnamese girl moved to our town when I was in fifth grade. In middle school and high school she was called that awful word by a few less-than-politically-correct members of my class. It's sad but true.
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