Sometimes, the blogosphere goes crazy over a book, and you read it and fall in love. But sometimes a book that garners tons of praise leaves you feeling underwhelmed. The second thing happened to me with two books in recent months.
Tender by Belinda McKeon
Set in 1990s Dublin, Tender is told from the point of view of Catherine, a sheltered girl leaving home for the first time to attend university in the big city. She quickly develops an intense friendship with James, a charismatic photographer struggling with what it means to be gay in a culture that doesn’t accept open homosexuality. It’s a compelling psychological novel, and I loved how it pulled me into Catherine’s growing obsession — right up until the end. Just when the story reaches peak intensity, McKeon pulls away for an ending that provides a tidy resolution without showing readers how the characters got from point A to point B. I would have liked to see more of that character development on the page, and the last chapter felt like a let-down after the rest of the book’s dark power.
The Martian by Andy Weir
Six days into the first manned mission to Mars, a dust storm forces the crew to evacuate. On their way to the Mars Ascent Vehicle, debris strikes Mark Watney, leading his crew to believe him dead and to leave the planet without him. But Mark, the mission’s botanist, is still alive, and now he must find away to survive on a planet that is trying to kill him. With immense patience, extreme cunning, and a healthy does of gallows humor, he solves problem after problem. But will it be enough to get him home? Honestly, I liked The Martian better as a movie. This novel reminded me why plot-driven novels aren’t typically my jam; for most of the book, I was just wondering how many more problems Mark would have to solve before NASA inevitably rescued him. Additionally, as a visual learner, I had trouble following some of Watney’s engineering fixes; I was able to understand them more easily on the screen than on the page. This wasn’t a bad book; it just wasn’t for me.