Friday, June 12, 2015

Book Review: How to Be a Heroine: Or, What I've Learned from Reading Too Much by Samantha Ellis

A delightful book! Part memoir, part literary analysis of books featuring heroines, Samantha Ellis takes readers on a meandering path through adolescence and growing up, showing us the literary heroines who have lead the way for her, and what she learned from each of them.

With characters as different as Jo March and Scarlett O'Hara, Elizabeth Bennett and Flora Poste, Samantha has clung to her fictional friends as both protectors from the scary "real world," and also as big sisters to look up to and learn from how to navigate uncertain and sometimes frightening situations. She grew up in a household of outsiders as her parents were immigrants from Iraq now living in London, she's also Jewish, and children of immigrants often feel like outsiders in their own homes. Her parents and grandparents are telling her one way to live, are worshipping a homeland they likely will never return to, and her religion is also telling her a specific way to live, but the outside world pulls her in yet a third direction. What to do? Read a book. Figure out what Jane Eyre would do.

Each chapter can be read as a stand-alone essay, although the book does progress chronologically through Samantha's life. Each chapter also is based around a theme, whether it's the role of religion, independence versus obedience, and the nature of love. It's nice because you can pick it up and put it down. I never did completely feel connected to this Jewish-Iraqi Brit although I think we would be friends. But I was disturbed by her love of Catherine Earnshaw and her romantic notions about Heathcliff. While she does acknowledge that he is abusive and that Catherine really didn't have any other options than to do what she did, she still seems to think that Heathcliff could have been a nice guy, if only.... Blech. No, he was awful. I am baffled by women who see him as a romantic hero. Which makes me think Ms. Ellis and I would never get beyond being casual friends. But then, how can she also love Elizabeth Bennett and Flora Poste, who would never give Heathcliff the time of day? I think if Ms. Ellis continues to see her future in the direction of those two young women, and gives up her romantic notions of Wuthering Heights, she can have a very happy future. Hopefully one filled entirely with books. I hope she does.

A friend, who works at a bookstore in New Hampshire, sent me this book.

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