Tag Archives: Fiction

Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

27 Feb

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.  Riverhead Books, January 2015

  • ISBN-10: 1594633665
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594633669
  • Thriller, psychological thriller, mystery, suspense

The plot

Image courtesy of Goodreads

Rachel takes the same train each day on her commute to and from London.  Each day she looks out at the houses that parallel the train tracks.  She begins to actively observe the lives of a seemingly perfect couple who she sees as her daily train moves past their house.  One day while reading the newspaper, she discovers the woman she has been watching each day is missing.  Feeling as though she has a connection with the couple, Rachel decides to investigate the woman’s disappearance. She is quickly drawn into a complex web of conflict and deceit that she could not have imagined in her daily observations of the perfect couple whose life she watched as her daily trains trundled past their house.

Book Snitch’s thoughts

I honestly could not put this book down once I had read the opening chapter.  Whenever I take a train, I enjoyed spending time looking out of train windows and imagining the lives of the people whose houses I can see from the tracks.  Humans tend to be voyeuristic, and I have found we often tend to see the ‘flawless’ versions of people’s lives and we wonder what it would be like to live like someone else.  I think that Hawkins cleverly played on the idea that we like to observe others, so I enjoyed the premise of the flawed perception that Rachel has of the couple she watches.  Hawkins has alternating first person narratives, including the voice of the woman who goes missing, which has a similar feel to the style Gillian Flynn uses in Gone Girl.  She cleverly plants a lot of cryptic clues and a couple of false leads which kept me guessing throughout the novel until the finale.  Hawkins definitely manages to maintain suspense and a punchy pace throughout the narrative.  Rachel, the primary protagonist, is a flawed narrator with a drinking problem that results in only fragmented perceptions of events.  This was a clever gimmick which made the novel an nail-biting read.

 Who should read this?

I would recommend this to anyone looking for a page-turner, and more specifically fans of mystery or thrillers.  If you enjoyed the likes of Gillian Flynn’s contemporary psychological mysteries Gone Girl or Sharp Objects, this would also be a great choice.  My older students might enjoy this as a holiday read, and I will be recommending it to them for their Spring Break book list.

Book Snitch rating:  5/5 stars

Review: Wintergirls

31 May

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson.  Speak (2009), Viking (2009) Scholastic (2011)

  • ISBN-13: 978-0-14-241557-3
  • ISBN-10: 0-14-241557-X
  • YA fiction

“I     won’t     pollute      my       insides     with    Bluberridazzlepops or muffins or scritchscratchy shards of toast, either.  Yesterday’s dirt and mistakes have moved through me.  I am shiny and pink inside, clean.  Empty is good.  Empty is strong.”

Wintergirls, chapter 003.00

The Plot:

Eighteen year old Lia suddenly learns that her former best friend, Cassie, died alone in a motel room.  Cassie and Lia used to be inseperable, united in their life-threatening quest to both be size oo.  Haunted by the fact she didn’t answer Cassie’s calls on the night she died, Lia struggles to hide her deadly secret…her promise.  Lia is still determined to be the skinniest girl in school.

Book Snitch’s thoughts:

Narrated by Lia throughout, this novel squeezes your insides with horror from the opening chapter.  Anderson’s narrative style is constructed so that we see the frightening pathology of anorexia nervosa right from the second chapter where Lia makes excuses for not having any breakfast:

Beacuse I can’t let myself want them because I don’t need a muffin (410), I don’t want an orange (75) or toast (87), and waffles (180) make me gag.”

The power of the novel is delivered through Anderson’s vivid symbolism, which conveys the impact that anorexia has on Lia and her family.  Lia’s grossly distorted perceptions of herself are conveyed through her unforgiving stream of consiousness, and the chilling coldness motif  which shows her physical and emotional deterioration.  Anderson portrays Lia’s obsessions with weight in obvious and subtle ways, including writing the chapter numbers as though they are on a scale, and in Lia’s careful lists of food (with the calorie count always added in parentheses).

Who should read Wintergirls?

Book Snitch recommends this novel for mature YA readers.

Notes for educators

This novel doesn’t sugarcoat the reality of anorexia. The narrative is intense in several places, containing descriptions of death, physical and emotional self-harm and the supernatural.

This novel would work well as supplimentary independent reading in a unit based on the theme of identity.  Book Snitch would recommend responding to the text through activities related to imagery and symbolism in Wintergirls.

One possibility is to have students create their own book trailers using Creative Commons licensed images would be a great way to see if they have understood Anderson’s use of symbolism.  Alternatively, students could create their own films promoting awareness of anorexia, particularly the emotional impact it has on the sufferer and their friends and family.

More information about using iMovie and Creative Commons licensed images with your students is available on Resources and Teaching ideas page.