Friday, April 1, 2016

Young Adult Fiction: Untwine by Edwidge Danticat

I was introduced to the writing of Edwidge Danticat the same semester I was reintroduced to the writing of Junot Diaz. Needless to say, that was a very good semester. And since Danticat is one of the few living writers I studied in graduate school that I am still willing to read, I was excited not only when I saw that she had published a new book, but also that it was for young adults.

The Situation: Isabelle and Giselle are identical twins. Family members outside of their mom and dad sometimes have a hard time telling them apart. And even though their parents make it a point to have them live separate lives - different clothes, different class schedules, different hobbies - the pair are still incredibly close, despite having different talents and interests, and even a different set of friends. The two of them cling to each other when it is announced that their parents are separating, and their father even begins to live his own life away from their small family. Giselle keeps going back to the moment they were born, when the two of them were holding hands and the doctor had to pry their hands apart, already unwilling to let go.

The Problem: Dealing with the possible divorce of their parents was hard enough, but when the entire family is involved in a horrific car accident, things go from hard to heartbreaking, making every day a struggle. At first Giselle is in a near coma and cannot move or speak. Doctors, family, and friends come in to see her, but she cannot respond to them, or even ask about the rest of her family. She does the best she can while trying to read the body language of her visitors, as well as listening to what little they say. But she still cannot get the answers to the questions she cannot ask, and often she is not even sure if she wants those answers. Plus, authorities seem to believe that the 'accident' may not have been so accidental. Even after Giselle does wake up, it is obvious she is going to have a long recovery ahead, both physically and emotionally. Before blacking out after the crash, she and Isabelle were holding hands, just like after they had emerged from the womb. But if Isabelle is no longer around, what happens to a twin that is missing their other half?

Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult novel set in present day Miami, Florida. Isabelle and Giselle are twin Haitian-American girls born to parents who came to the U.S. from Haiti as young adults. There is much mention of Haitian culture, language, practices, food, and even some geography, buildings, and landscape around Port-au-Prince. Of course, the phenomenon that is identical twins is also discussed, and there is much to marvel at as these girls have so much in common, and are incredibly close, but still managed to have separate lives at school. With only Giselle as the narrator, the reader actually ends up finding out more about Isabelle, as she knows her better than anyone, maybe even better than she knows herself. And because the book deals with a tragic car accident, the "what if" game is played quite a bit, with Giselle blaming herself for running late, for being irritated at her sister, for taking things for granted, etc. Plus, there is the extensive amount of healing that has to take place after such an event, as well as all of the questions that often do not have answers. And is the car accident going to be enough to brings their parents back together? Life is hard without big tragedies making things worse, but often they will make us focus on what is really important.

My Verdict: I will just go ahead and say it: this one is a crier. But that probably will not surprise you since it involves a tragic car accident and the long road to recovery. At first I found it to be pretty slow moving, but that may be because the first half or so of the book has Giselle, the narrator, in a near-coma and not able to communicate or respond to anyone or anything around her. All she can do is listen, observe, and think. Once she is out of the hospital, things pick up speed considerably, and some of the more common elements found in young adult novels start to appear. As a narrator, Giselle is not at all frustrating or angsty, like a lot of young adult narrators can be. And if she fails at communicating something she is given a pass because of what condition she is in. There are some parts where the point of the story is not entirely clear. And some plot points, specifically when it comes to the driver of the other car, seem forced, like they were put in just to give the book something extra. But overall, I enjoyed the book a great deal.

Favorite Moment: When the entire family travels to Haiti for the annual celebration of the twins' birthday.

Favorite Character: As I said before, Giselle was not at all frustrating or annoying as a narrator. Her limited view, especially as a patient in the hospital, was often trying or difficult, but that was hardly her fault.

Recommended Reading: I recommend Breath, Eyes, Memory, also by Danticat. It follows a young girl who came to the U.S. with her mother from Haiti, but focuses more on their strained relationship as they try to survive in New York.

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