Thursday, June 16, 2011

Review: Anthropology of an American Girl by Hilary Thayer Hamann

This is a rather chunky book and one that has gotten a lot of buzz, having initially been self-published, found a devoted following, and ultimately picked up by a major publisher. It's the publishing equivalent of being discovered by Hollywood. So I was very curious to read it and see what all the fuss was about.

Eveline Auerbach is about to start her senior year in high school. She is still reeling from the death of her best friend's mother, whom she loved very much, over the summer and her own unreported rape. Curling into herself and retreating, depressed, Evie navigates the end of high school and her tortured relationship with the solipsistic and emotionally creepy Jack. It is in this final year of school that Evie meets the tortured and artistic Rourke, drama teacher extraordinaire. And the philosophizing, self-referential cycle starts again albeit this time with the "love of her life." There are markers of the time scattered convincingly throughout the novel and anyone who lived through the late seventies and early eighties will recognize the references, grounding the book firmly in time. But this is only ever the anthropology of one girl, not a more general take, as I might have hoped.

I think it has just been too long since I was in high school or college but I struggled with the angst and the self-conscious philosophy, finding it all too desperately earnest. I am not so old that I don't remember the navel gazing discussions and disagreements of late teen-life but I didn't find them terribly appealing to read. Then again, I never did like Catcher in the Rye, even when I read it in high school, so perhaps I'm not the target audience for the book given that the major marketing comparison here is to Holden Caulfield. I didn't find the characters particularly likeable nor, in the face of this lack, all that interesting and that is not good when a thin plot is meant to be character-driven.

This could, perhaps, have been saved by exquisite writing but similies and metaphors overwhelmed each page and some of the writing was absolutely head-shakingly incomprehensible. I'd even read sentences aloud to see if I could figure out what Hamann intended if I heard it rather than just read it. Descriptions were overdone, lending none of them more weight than the others and completely overshadowing the story. Sometimes simplicity in writing is not a bad thing. Obviously, given the enormous positive buzz I've heard, my reservations are by no means universal. The jacket blurbs are incredibly glowing and I have since read some gushing reviews. I really wanted to be one of the gushers but it just wasn't to be. Check it out yourself and feel free to come back and tell me what all I missed, because I certainly missed that something intangible that makes me want to force everyone I know to read a book and it's clearly there for quite a lot of readers.

For more information about Hilary Thayer Hamann and the book visit the book's website and Facebook page or follow Hamann on Twitter.

Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.


  1. Darn, I'm sorry this one didn't turn out to be as good as you'd hoped. Maybe your next read will be better!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.

  2. I've been curious about this for a while. You are right - there was quite a buzz around this book initially, but lately, most of the responses have been pretty lukewarm. I'm undecided at the moment.

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  4. I actually started this one the other night. I bought it last summer and then promptly forgot about it, until I noticed the TLC book tour. I tried hard to get into it, but after 50 pages I decided to put it aside for awhile. It was just way too serious, with a self awareness I surely didn't have as a teenager. So far, it has struck me as disingenuous, like perhaps Eveline takes herself way too seriously. Or perhaps it's the author. I really don't know. I also think I am just not in the right state of mind to read it at the moment, which I hope is true because I really would like to pick it up again at some point.

  5. Good to know! I also hated Catcher in the Rye (which I came nowhere near finishing) so this is not going on my list! Thanks for taking the bullet.

  6. Nice to find I can scratch one book off my wishlist.


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