I read books of all sorts, but mostly kids' lit and young adult literature and speculative fiction for all ages—usually from a feminist perspective.
I've adopted a personalized version of the CHOICE reviews approach to recommendations/star ratings:
***** = Essential, a.k.a. truly love, absolute must-read, buy it now
**** = Highly Recommended, a.k.a. this is a really good book; I would buy it as a gift
*** = Recommended, a.k.a. pretty good; worth reading
** = Optional, a.k.a. meh
* = Not Recommended; a.k.a. this is not a good book
What is there to like?
▪ First, the language blends and balances lyricism and colloquialism in its dialogue and first-person narration beautifully.
▪ I love that the story shifts in perspective as a means to show the progression of what happens on Rollrock through the generations: the before-, the as-, and the after-it-happens. It’s a skillful, yet genuine way of accomplishing the next point that is so well done, namely…
▪ …the way that the reader is slowly able to piece together what happens, based on the way the characters speak to each other in keeping with what is and isn’t given knowledge from their point of view—which changes over generations (which is fascinating but also makes so much sense!). I loved, for example, the way the dialogue allows the reader to figure out why there are no girl children on Rollrock, in just a tiny exchange between the Rollrock boys. The mystery is slowly and naturally revealed, such that both the suspension of the mystery and the gradual understanding are a pleasure for the reader.
▪ Occupying the border between magical realism and outright fantasy, this book, like Tender Morsels, uses fantastic elements to tell a story that is deeply involved in some of the darker issues of women’s lives, places in society, and treatment by men. Though I confess that I was able to enjoy The Brides of Rollrock Island more than the often-devastating Tender Morsels, Brides is still troubling, challenging, and rewarding.
What's not to like?
▪ The cover photo and jacket copy! Seriously, this is problematic—I would never in a million years have picked up this book in the store or library based on the cover, and if that were how I decided to read most of my books these days (sometimes it still is!) I would have missed out. I’m actually really mad at Knopf’s marketing team for not doing their job of helping Lanagan connect to her readers.
▪ This is really just nitpicking, but there is a bit of highly-unbelievable logistics going on in the second Daniel Mallett chapter. But this is a really minor flaw. I'm only mentioning it to maintain some critical credibility, honestly.
It’s not really all that similar to Lanagan’s previous book, Tender Morsels, but I would certainly recommend it to anyone who finds him- or herself intrigued by Lanagan’s style and the themes in Brides.
Likewise, I would recommend Pretty Monsters, by Kelly Link, for people interested in stories about women with a hint of slightly unsettling fantasy.
What made me pick it up?
It got five starred reviews, according to Elizabeth Bluemle’s roundup of 2012 Starred-Review Children’s and YA Books, which I am steadily working through! Also I had it on my to-read list anyway.
Overall Recommendation: Highly recommended.