Saturday, January 16, 2016

Book review: Domestic Arrangements by Norma Klein

It's so interesting as an adult to reread Norma Klein's YA novels. I picked this one up because it was the first Norma Klein book to be republished by Lizzie Skurnick's imprint at Ig Books. It wasn't my favorite when I was a teen. I think it was one of the later ones I read and I might have been a little too old. I tended to read up with Ms. Klein's books, so when I was 14, I loved the books where the characters were 17. But this book's main character, Rusty, is 14, and that's not as interesting for a 17-year-old who is only reading these books in order to identify with the main character and get some advice for how to deal with potentially tricky situations in the future. I also didn't identify with Rusty's situation--she was in a movie with a semi-nude scene and the publicity and reputation that goes with that isn't what she expected. Not super-relatable.

But, what I missed the first time around was how that wasn't really the story. Ms. Klein is not someone who normally writes about fame, and the title of the book should have clued me in. It's about Rusty's family. Her kind of prickly older sister who is less experienced than Rusty and is resentful, her mother who is an actress who never achieved the fame she wanted and is considered past her prime at 39, and her father who didn't want Rusty to do this in the first place, is worried Rusty is doing this in order to live out her mother's fantasies, not really her own. Not to mention Rusty's own relationship with her on-again-off-again boyfriend Josh. Over the course of the book's many months, we find out that both of Rusty's parents are having affairs. Rusty and Josh's relationship is pretty volatile, with serious trust and jealousy issues, and his lack of respect for her choices. (Ah, only 16-year-olds can truly have the earnestness to dis any movies other than Ingmar Bergman's as trash.) I'm particularly impressed with the subtle way Ms. Klein writes every character's dialogue in their own voice. You never have to wonder who is talking. When Rusty's mother is talking, her lines are filled with italics and exclamation points. Her father's language is formal with bigger words and it's more thoughtful. I also loved that while Rusty says "ironical" a couple of times, her mother uses the word "ironic" correctly, as I, and I'm sure many other teens, did pick up some SAT words in her books' sophisticated language. But that specificity of character is really skillful, even more so when it's done with such a light hand that it's unnoticeable to an average reader.

I'm so glad I reread this book as it exceeded my expectations this time around! With rereads, you've always got to worry about being disappointed, but instead I was pleasantly surprised. Not everyone will identify with Rusty or with the superficial problems she has regarding sex and fame, but they will understand navigating difficult relationships and how sometimes things don't work out.

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

I have owned this book since the 1980s.

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