Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Girls Don't Fly by Kristen Chandler

Myra is a doormat, people walk all over her and all she does is welcome them in. She can't help it though, people rely on her. Howard, her horrible boss; her chaotic family; and Erik, her perfect boyfriend. Myra is content to take care of everyone until Erik breaks up with her so he can get laid, Myra's genius older sister drops out of college because she has an unplanned pregnancy, and Myra gets fed up with Howard and walks out. With more pressure from her parents for Myra to take care of her four younger brothers and make money to help support her family, she finds a mental escape in applying for a research opportunity in the Galapagos Islands. She finds herself empathizing with the flightless cormorants and evolving from a doormat to scientist with the help of her grad school mentor Pete. But as her senior year comes to a close, Myra isn't sure if her newly found confidence will carry her through to the end, or if she will fall into her old habits and let people walk all over her.

I think I liked this? Myra was a really interesting character. She obviously has self-esteem issues brought on partially by her relationship with Erik and partially from her family's dependence on her. She has some rather disturbing OCD traits that I think someone should tell her to seek psychological help for. She is a doormat, and yet not a fatalistic doormat. She doesn't whine a lot about it, I think she truly does things for others out of the goodness of her heart which is rather endearing. Her family interactions rang true, and even at the end there were still issues that needed to be worked out. Everything wasn't wrapped up in a pretty bow which I appreciated. The themes of self-actualization and evolution were handled really well. Not too over the top and yet they weren't dropped half-way through.

P.S. Spoilers ahead.

I thought that it was interesting that this is set in Utah, and that Myra's family is Mormon. I have to admit that I inwardly groaned as I thought that there would be a ton of Mormon-esque values being stuffed down my throat a la Stephenie Meyers. But to my absolute delight Ms. Chandler uses her knowledge of the area and the culture to create a more realistic and engaging setting. Awesome, it really made me feel like this was a well crafted story as opposed to a literary vehicle for religious values. Which I appreciate.

So generally a strong book, great main character and interesting setting. But there were some rather major hiccups that game me some strong reservations as to whether this was a good book. One of which is the romance. Myra is dumped and as a part of her healing process starts liking Pete, the grad student who is mentoring the applicants for the Galapagos research. He is at least 23 and she's not yet 18. Gross. Seriously gross. And why does she need to have a romantic interest in anyone? Why couldn't she come to realize her self-worth by herself? Her boyfriend seemed like a subtle emotional abuser (Myra does come to realize this and tells him off which was super gratifying) and I was therefore a bit confused when she then wanted to commit to a relationship to someone at least five years older than her. Especially when Pete's the one to encourage her to do things for herself and her own improvement. I don't know, it seemed kinda conflicting.

I also did not like most of the secondary characters. Her family seemed to be rather unsupportive, except for Carson, and too focused on their own individual problems to be true. They all seemed a bit one-dimensional next to Myra's three-dimensional quirky personality. Erik was psychotic. Pete seemed a little condescending and weird. The other applicants were forgettable. I did like Ranger Bobbie, Myra's boss at the Marina, but she was not really present a lot.

 The last thing I had issues with was the plot. It seemed a bit all over the place. There was almost too much going on. There was almost more focus on Myra's job at the marina vs. her research for her scholarship proposal. And what is she going to do with this? I mean, prior to her sudden interest in biology she was planning on being a dental hygienist. So she goes off to the Galapagos Islands for two months and then comes back to what? Dental school? What's the point? I also found the whole setup of Myra's research of birds tying in with her own evolution to be rather poorly down. Mostly because I thought the research for her proposal to be a non-issue. They tried to go for it, with chapter titles of bird vocabulary but it just wasn't a strong enough plot to really carry through.

I'm torn. I liked Myra, liked the setting, liked the themes, did not love the plot, hated most of the secondary characters, and hated the romance storyline. I also feel like this was a rather choppy review. I had a hard time explaining myself and my response to this book. I felt conflicted about it, and I think you can tell from the review. I guess we have to leave it with it was OK. Some parts were good, but there were some serious issues.

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