The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie SocietyThis was a very last-minute pick for my library book club, with the conversation going something like this:

A: “What’s the next book?”
B: “I don’t know, you haven’t told me.”
A: “We have a list somewhere, but I don’t know where.”
C: “I read a book about a potato society once and it was really good.”
B: “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society? I have heard good things about it.”
A: “Okay, that’s our next book!”

This is how all the best decisions are made.

Well, actually, this was a pretty good decision. The book is lovely and perfect for book clubbing, following The Nightingale‘s note that World War II books are prime book club fodder.

Like The Nightingale, this book also covers a geographical area I’d never considered before in relation to World War II, the Channel Islands. Part of the Commonwealth but not of the UK proper, and located rather closer to France, these islands were occupied by German forces and their Todt slave laborers but their inhabitants were apparently, comparatively, left alone to weather out the fighting. I learned all sorts of new things reading this book!

I also rather enjoyed the story part of the story, which is told in the epistolary style I adore so much. Our main character, Juliet, finds herself in correspondence with a man on Guernsey who picked up a book she used to own in a used book store and wrote to her to learn more about the author. As… you do? I don’t know, I didn’t live in the late forties. Anyway, Juliet is a writer looking for a new book idea, and her new pen pal turns out to have a fantastic story. He and his neighbors put together a sort of book club on the island to hide some illicit activity, and that club helped a lot of the members through the war. Throughout the book Juliet writes to these people and they write back to share their stories, and we get these great little vignettes of the war from several different viewpoints. Well, “great”. Most of them are terrifically sad, especially the sort of through-line through everyone’s stories about a neighbor lost to a concentration camp. Nazis are awful, I think it is safe to say.

There’s also a love story, but I cared about that very little except that I am satisfied with how it ended. There’s also also some sly social commentary that may or may not be historically accurate but I will happily believe that it is.

I liked the book quite a bit, and my sister-in-law and my book clubbers all seemed to absolutely love it, so I think I can readily recommend it if you’re looking for a quick, sad but happy, history-teaching novel.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky (27 September — 1 October)

How did I manage not to read this book any time in the last ten years? Jeez, self. Get with it.

This is another book without a discernible plot, and another book without a discernible plot that I liked. Something is wrong with me. I need to go read some Grisham or Patterson or something (no! false!). This book is also a freakin’ epistolary novel, which would normally irk me but good but this book did not! Chbosky is a genius or something.

Um. Right. Topic: this book is about a kid called Charlie, who is entering high school and is a little worried about getting through freshman year okay. Charlie’s got some issues (a few more than the usual), but he’s working hard to make them okay and make some new friends. He totally nails that last part and starts hanging out with some senior kids who are really cool (but not the popular kind of cool) and help Charlie figure out who he is and what he wants from life.

I liked it. Charlie’s life is nothing like mine, but his emotions associated with going to school and doing well and “participating” and making friends are totally dead on to mine. When things went wrong in his life, especially where girls were involved, I was totally rooting for him all the way. Even when some really odd things happened (um, picking up guys in the park, anyone?), I was still totally on board with Charlie’s life being normal, which I think says something. 🙂

This is also one of them “banned books” the parents are talking about (still) these days, and I totally understand why. There’s sex, and pregnancy, and dudes liking dudes, and recreational drug use by a fourteen-year-old, and people going to college at Sarah Lawrence. No good can come of these things! And yet all of these things are good in some way or another throughout the novel, so whatever, book banners. I don’t know what high school you went to, but it was probably just like this one.

Rating: 8/10
(My Year of Reading Dangerously Challenge)

(Also, this is the first book read for my personal Donors Choose Challenge! $2 for literacy!)

See also:
Thoughts of Joy
things mean a lot
books i done read

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

Ella Minnow Pea, by Mark Dunn (13 February)

This is a “progressively lipogrammatic epistolary novel,” or, in other words, a book written in letters (that you’d send in the mail) that has to be careful of its words as certain letters (of the alphabet) are removed from the book one by one.

The premise is that there is an island called Nollop that is beholden to words and tradition: its citizens send letters and read newspapers without help of the internet. It is named after Nevin Nollop, the alleged inventor of the pangram “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” This sentence is placed prominently on a cenotaph (yeah, there’s some vocabulary in this novel!) in town, which becomes a problem when the letter “z” falls off. Ella Minnow Pea, her cousin Tassie, their families, and the rest of Nollop are at first amused when the island council decrees that the letter thus shall no longer be used (or allowed to be used, or read, or spoken of), but grow increasingly apprehensive when “q” falls off, then “j,” et cetera.

We find all of this out through letters between Ella, Tassie, et al, which become more limited as the letters fall. Scott’s favorite line near the end reads something like, “OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.”

Ella Minnow Pea is a book for word nerds but also a commentary on totalitarian societies. Excellent combination!

Rating: 8.5/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge)