Friday, October 5, 2012

Review Me Twice- What My Mother Doesn't Know by Sonya Sones

This is the first book we're reviewing here on Review Me Twice and that's largely because it fell on this year's list of banned or challenged books in the #8 slot.  It's not hard to see why What My Mother Doesn't Know falls on that list.  It talks about divorce (OMG!), kissing (scandalous!), even (GASP!) sex.  And what's more, it talks a lot about Sophie keeping these things from her mother.  Parents tend to want to keep books like these away from their kids because they don't want them to get the idea that they should be doing things like lying to their parents... or kissing boys for that matter.  And don't even get me started on the sex.  Parents often don't think their kids are mature enough.

Personally, I think that's a load of bull.  But each parent can think what they want.  My problem is when you start enforcing that opinion on other parents.  This book, you can tell, is really marketed towards early high school students.  I think that's more than an appropriate age to start talking about boys and your interactions with them.  

So, more about this book.  I, personally, liked Sones approach to mother/daughter relationships the most.  I hate reading about mother/daughter relationships that are picture perfect things.  I hate when they're oh so best friends and how life is just terrible when the mother/daughter duo have a fight about something absolutely stupid in a book.  Real life just isn't like that.  Mother and daughters are complicated.  They are the most complicated relationship in the entire world and even the most healthy of those relationships aren't as perfect as they're often portrayed in books.

Sones manages to pretty accurately capture the complexities of mothers and daughters.  Sophie never seems to want her mother to know anything.  She hides things, never tells her mother what's going on, gets indignant when her mother shows any sort of concern or interest in her boyfriend.  On the other hand, when her mother is indifferent, sunken into depression, as she often is, Sophia wishes that her mother took any sort of interest, cared at all, despite the fact that she's constantly telling herself she wants her privacy.

I like that Sones disguises this book about mother/daughter relationships in a romance.  Sophia keeps talking to us about boys, boys, boys (and in fact, there is not one moment when she is not in a relationship, talking about a potential relationship or about how she is going to tell her friends about the relationship that she's in.)  However, her relationships with boys reveal more about her relationship with her mother than anything else.

Really, the only thing in this book I didn't like was probably the poem free form format, which is really more of a personal preference than anything else.  The only author I've read who has done that style, and has made me like it, is Ellen Hopkins and I think I've already told you how much she is made of awesome this week.  I just don't think Sones writing style is strong enough to support writing in free verse.  To be honest, it came off to me more like she was writing that way because she wasn't sure she'd have enough to make it a full fledged novel.

My Bottom Line: 3 1/2 out of 5

My turn!

Maybe it's because I'm 26 years old, or maybe it's because I've always read edgy, racy things (my mom didn't stop me from reading her true crime books or Stephen King when I was in high school, and it never fazed me)... But this book is really innocuous.

I can understand why some parents might not want their child reading this: Sophia, our main character, is dating a boy who wants her to do more than make out (but she tells him no and sticks to it, and doesn't make a huge fuss over it). There are occasional bad words, where appropriate (meaning when she's upset). It's also listed for nudity, which I think is particularly funny, because I know exactly which scene they're referring to: Sophia and her friends go out in public wearing nothing but long raincoats, because it is daring and bold and funny. This scene is one page long, and completely incongruous with the rest of the story. It felt sort of like an intermission, actually.

This is a short book. My library's catalog record says it has 259 pages. So if you're trying to encourage a reluctant teen reader, it's a decent choice. There's just enough mention of sex and bad language to entice them into turning the page, and before they know it, they'll run out of pages.

I like the ending. It's a little cliche and obvious, but I like it. I'll leave it at that so I don't ruin it for you, if that's possible.

Also, the family dynamic is sad, but realistic. Each member of her family sort of does their own thing and they don't play much part in each other's lives. (This is typical in YA lit, because it makes it easy for the teen to have lots of leeway and freedom, without having to be an orphan. But more on this another time.) This is particularly resonant in Sophia's relationship with her mother, which is distant to say the least, which Sophia reinforces, but sometimes she wishes it were different. It's not the typical flat, blanket "ugh I hate my Mom" narrative that we usually get from bland YA books. There is tension and potential for resolution and it's not Disney-style resolution where suddenly someone apologizes and "sorry" is a magic word that rights all wrongs. It is clear that both parties will have to put in effort to fix their relationship if it is going to succeed.

I'm positive that none of the challenges to this book came from it being included in a school curriculum, because I don't think any teacher would assign it. It doesn't have much literary value. The only reason a teacher would likely mention it to a student is as an example of free verse style. But if I had a student who was advanced enough to be really studying free verse style in detail, I would recommend Ellen Hopkins (edgy though her books are... rife with drugs and sex and prostitution and abuse and all sorts of stuff that is really, really interesting to read about).

I enjoyed it, have no doubt, but I won't be picking it up again, because I've already gotten out of it all there is for me to get out of it. Which is fine... some books are like that for some people. I probably would have simply overlooked it if it weren't on the banned books list. So congratulations, whoever challenged What My Mother Doesn't Know! You gave Sones two extra readers by doing so.

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