This week I read Amaryllis in Blueberry by Christina Meldrum. I want to apologize because I was out late this morning at the Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 2 midnight showing, and I am exhausted. I really should have written this post earlier in the week, but such is life. I will keep this review short and to the point considering I can barely read the screen due to my blurry vision.
I chose this book because it is the July Books-A-Million Literary Book Club selection. They are almost always very good recommendations. I could not put this book down, and it is a very quick read. Amaryllis in Blueberry is the coming of age story about a family with four daughters (ages 11 -18) all named "Mary": Mary Grace, Mary Catherine, Mary Tessa, and Amaryllis. Did you catch that? Four Marys: Mary Grace, Mary Catherine, Mary Tessa, and Amaryllis. The oldest three daughters share their parents' blonde, Nordic good looks, except for Amaryllis, who is dark with piercing blueberry-colored eyes. She is also clearly the mother's favorite daughter. The book reminded me of The Virgin Suicides because the girls are all terribly troubled in four very different ways, and the parents do not have a clue. They are actually part of the problem due to neglect and denial. When the "devoutly" Catholic father, Dick (aptly named), has a crisis, he decides to take the entire family to Africa. His priest suggests the move: Dick could become a medical missionary on the dark continent. The irony here is that Dick is a pathologist, and he is not adequately trained before leaving; neither is the family, and this is what perhaps annoys me most about the book: the abrupt decision to go on the mission field, and the lack of mission field training. Growing up Southern Baptist and being involved in Girls in Action and then as a GA leader, I had never heard of such a thing.
The story is told (primarily) from the four sisters, Seena (the mother), and Dick's points of view, with only Amaryllis's expressed in first person. I did not mind the multiple points of view because it gives the reader insight into how everyone misreads and misinterprets each others' actions. I also enjoyed the setting: summer and fall of 1976. Like Amaryllis, I was also eleven in 1976, and Meldrum did a fantastic job with the cultural references. I also liked that there are more twists and turns in the plot than a Gringotts mine car ride (sorry for the Harry Potter reference); it is perhaps the most unpredictable plot I have read in a very long time. I also think that Meldrum is an excellent writer.
I did not like the way Meldrum addressed African cultural differences. For example, I think she portrays the Dipo rituals in a very condescending way. I also do not appreciate the treatment of religion and faith in the book. The book jacket's synopsis states that the family is healed by secrets. This is untrue; there was not really any healing. I also found Seena's constant Greek mythological references tiring. Rather than enjoying her time as a stay at home mother, Seena wasted far too much time reading about myth, and far too little time caring for her daughters. Seena's given name is Christina, but obviously she can't bear to be called a name with Christ's name as a part of it. I understand that this is a work of fiction, and I also can see the juxtaposition of Catholicism, mythology, and African mysticism in the book, but it is definitely not rendered as well as Meldrum's complex characters.
I wanted to like the characters, and I found this difficult until the very end of the book. There is only one character I truly wanted to see happy in the end; I did not care about the rest of them.
Just a reminder that our What We're Reading Linky Party will be on Wednesday, July 20. Please join Bonnie @ The Boatwright Family; she is hosting this month!
Until next time...