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Two Books That Probe the Darkness Beneath
Today we look at two books that take very different looks at the dark secrets we keep. In Bittersweet, Miranda Beverly-Whittemore’s plays up the skeletons in the closets of the wealthy Winslow family for fun and entertainment: as a young college student begins to uncover the secrets of her new roommate’s family, the tone turns almost towards the absurd. In Allison Moore’s memoir, Shards, the tone is decidedly darker. As the subtitle explains, she lays out the history of her descent from a vice officer in Maui to a methamphetamine-addicted prostitute. Though Moore has obviously made it through her ordeal, she still deals with the emotional fall-out of it ever day, including anxiety and PTSD, as she explains in this interview in Cosmopolitan.
The reasons for the difference in tone are obvious: for one thing, Bittersweet is fiction and Shards is nonfiction. For another, Bittersweet is essentially a beach-read thriller/mystery, while Moore is aiming for a cautionary tale. But despite the tonal difference, there are surprising resonances between the books. Both play on the reader’s sense of schadenfreude, and both offer the reader a look at a side of society they may not want for themselves but want to see. Most importantly, both are fabulous reads that teens will tear through.
BEVERLY-WHITTEMORE, Miranda. Bittersweet. 400p. Crown. May. 2014. Tr $25. ISBN 9780804138567; ebk. ISBN 9780804138574.
Mabel is the somewhat plain, definitely socially awkward, and lower-class college roommate of Ev, one of “the” Winslows, a family so wealthy that each child, upon turning 18, is expected donate a significant piece of art to a museum. (Ev chooses a Degas for the college gallery). There isn’t too much bonding between the two at first, but by spring break they’re close and then the incredible happens: Ev asks Mabel to spend the summer at Winloch, the family compound in northern Vermont. Ev has finally gotten her own Winloch cottage, Bittersweet, and needs Mabel’s help getting it ready for a family inspection. Mabel falls in love with the cottage, with Winloch, and all things Winslow, but quickly realizes that there is something Not Quite Right here. Charged by Aunt Indo with organizing the family archives, Mabel searches for a mysterious folder and tries to decode the diary of Ev’s grandmother. There are two deep secrets here: the source of the Winslow wealth and the hold the family patriarch, Birch, has over all the others in the family. More than anything, Mabel wants to be a Winslow and live at Winloch, and uncovering the answers may jeopardize that opportunity and her love for (or summer fling with) Ev’s brother. Fans of Victoria Holt, Daphne du Maurier, or Anne Rivers Siddons will embrace this story, which is perfect for light summer reading.—Laura Pearle, Miss Porter’s School, CT
MOORE, Allison with Nancy Woodruff. Shards: A Young Vice Cop Investigates Her Darkest Case of Meth Addiction–Her Own. 288p. Touchstone. Apr. 2014. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9781451696356. LC 2013026028.
It’s not often that cops write memoirs about their own descent into corruption: Shards is a terrific book to fill the void. Moore opens with her plan to kill the man she calls “the dealer” and then herself. Living in hell, she was desperate to escape. She describes the personal integrity that led to her rise as a hardworking vice cop in Maui, followed by her brutal descent into meth addiction. Her memoir details the extreme manipulations of an addict and the painful reality of betraying oneself and others. In order to leave Maui to score and use drugs, she told the married cop she was having an affair with that her grandmother died, and then her mother. To explain how sick she looked, she deceived her fellow officers and her family into believing she had cancer. Her fellow officers took up the cause, donating sick leave and hosting fundraisers for her “treatment.” Meanwhile, Moore was living with an abusive drug dealer in Seattle, held prisoner, raped, and tortured, completely in the grips of addiction. Ultimately she escaped and was then faced with 25 felony charges. Tightly written, the narrative is pulse pounding and relentless. Moore comes across as sympathetic primarily because of her truthful account and because she takes responsibility for the trust and relationships she destroyed. Teens who like gritty biographies, particularly fans of Nikki Sixx’s The Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star (MTV Books, 2008), will enjoy this one.—Amy Cheney, Alameda County Library, Juvenile Hall, CA
About Mark Flowers
Mark Flowers is the Young Adult Librarian at the John F. Kennedy Library in Vallejo, CA. He reviews for a variety of library journals and blogs and recently contributed a chapter to The Complete Summer Reading Program Manual: From Planning to Evaluation (YALSA, 2012). Contact him via Twitter @droogmark
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