Monday, October 19, 2009

Review: Hummingbirds & Giveaway

Summary: A wonderfully compelling debut novel about the intertwining—and darkly surprising—relationships between the teachers and students at an all-girls prep school Spend a year at the Carmine-Casey School for Girls, an elite prep school on Manhattan's Upper East Side: the year when the intimate private school community becomes tempestuous and dangerously incestuous as the rivalries and secrets of teachers and students intersect and eventually collide.

In the world of students, popular and coquettish Dixie Doyle, with her ironic pigtails, battles to wrest attention away from the smart and disdainful Liz Warren, who spends her time writing and directing plays based on the Oresteia. In the world of teachers, the adored Leo Binhammer struggles to share his territory with Ted Hughes, the charming new English teacher who threatens to usurp Binhammer's status as the department's only male teacher and owner of the girls' hearts. When a secret is revealed between them, Binhammer grows increasingly fascinated by the man he has determined is out to get him.

As seasons change and tensions mount, the girls long for entry into the adult world, toying with their premature powers of flirtation. Meanwhile, the deceptive innocence of the adolescent world—complete with plaid skirts and scented highlighters—becomes a trap into which the flailing teachers fall. By the end of the year the line between maturity and youth begins to blur, and the question on the final exam is: Who are the adults and who are the children? -- Harper

I had pretty high expectations for the new novel HUMMINGBIRDS by Joshua Gaylord after I read the book's description and saw a few reviews for it. I usually am drawn to stories about relationships and especially ones that deal with teens and adults, so I was thinking this book was right up my alley. I thought the interactions between male teachers and their female students had the potential to be extremely interesting (and they were.) But I have to admit that HUMMINGBIRDS was not totally what I was expecting. I can't really say that I loved this novel, but I can say that I appreciated certain aspects of it.

Probably the first thing that really struck me about this novel was the author's writing style. The prose is most definitely like no other book I've read, and I often times had difficulty with it. I thought the book was extremely well written, but I had to really work at times to follow the author's way of telling this story. In fact, this book took me quite awhile to read because every time I picked it up, I had to get used to the author's style all over again. The author also had flashbacks within the current story that threw me for a loop before I realized what he was trying to do. Once I locked in on the story, I definitely got used to Mr. Gaylord's style and even enjoyed it. All I'm saying is that I had to work a little harder to read this book and it wasn't exactly an easy read for me.

The next thing that really stood out for me about HUMMINGBIRDS was the very unique cast of characters. What I found odd is that I really didn't "like" or relate to any of the characters in this book (except maybe Liz), yet I still enjoyed reading about them. I found them all to be flawed and very complex; and probably because of these traits, I found them to be very interesting. I think the author did a wonderful job of bringing these characters to life. I also thought he really forced the reader to think about all of the characters and their interactions (and especially the motivations behind their actions.)

As I mentioned earlier, I had to work a little to get through this book. However, once I got to the last third of the book, I really became absorbed in the story (so I guess my advice is to keep with it.) The author did create some very intriguing characters along with a well-written story, and I thought Mr. Gaylord was quite successful in his debut novel. I loved how he was able to juxtapose the rivalry relationships between the two high school girls and the two male teachers. And, I really liked how Mr. Gaylord showed how blurry the lines are between the students and the teachers in this prep school. I can definitely say that HUMMINGBIRDS gave me a great deal to think about.

As I read this book, I couldn't help but think that it would make a wonderful discussion book for book clubs who enjoy literary fiction. Since this book is heavily character-driven, there is just so much to talk about pertaining to the cast of characters and the reasons behind their actions. The author did a wonderful job of showing the similarities and differences between the teachers and the students, and I truly believe some serious analysis could take place over a glass or two of wine! There is a reading guide with some very thought provoking questions to further enhance your meeting.

Does HUMMINGBIRDS sound like a book that you'd enjoy? If so, please leave a comment telling me why you want to read it -- make sure you leave a way for me to contact you. To double or triple your chances, you can blog and/or tweet about this giveaway with a link back to this post. This contest will be open until Monday, November 2nd at 11:59 p.m EST, and I will notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. and Canada mailing addresses only -- no p.o. boxes please. Good luck!

Thanks to the publisher for sending me an ARC of HUMMINGBIRDS and for sponsoring the giveaway.


bermudaonion said...

Hummingbirds sounds like it might be just a little over my head, so please don't enter me. I have a lot to read right now anyway.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

No need to enter me, either, Julie. I'm dropping in to say thanks for the e-mail. I've got this posted at Win a Book for you.

A Bookshelf Monstrosity said...

Please enter me: I really enjoy character driven books and I love the cover.

I tweeted this (I'm @bookmonstrosity).


pinkflipflops said...

looks good!

Pam said...

I am intrigued by the characters in this novel, imperfections and all. It sounds like their development is what really makes this story.

melacan at hotmail dot com

Anonymous said...

Strong charaters and characterization always draw me into a novel. I think I'd like this book. Thanks for the possibility.


Beth F said...

It sounds really interesting, but I have so much on my plate now, I think I'll pass for the giveaway.

Debbie Rodgers said...

I'm curious about the author's writing style. Please DO enter me.

tatamagouche AT netbundle DOT ca

Anonymous said...

I like the premise of the book...would like to read it.

karen k

Gayle said...

thanks for the review. this book arrived at my house yesterday and i've been curious about it!

writergal said...

Your review makes this sound like quite the challenging read! Though I didn't go to a girls prep school, I did go to a women's college and so it interests me. And to have men write about that even more so.


sharon54220 said...

This definitely sounds like a very good read. I would love to be entered. I also love the cover.

Thanks for the chance.

lag123 said...

This sounds like a book that I would like. Please enter me.

enyl said...

As a teacher, I'm curious about how others perceive the profession.


Linda Henderson said...

This sounds like a very interesting read. I have two teenage granddaughters so I would be very interested in reading this book.

seriousreader at live dot com

Serena said...

I have so many things to read, but this is a book I've been looking forward to and would love a chance to read. I just love these stories about intergenerational relationships, particularly when its between teachers and students.

Amy said...

I enjoy books that are character-driven and I really like books about students and the relationships among them and with their teachers. The fact that this book is set in Manhattan is a total plus since I live in NYC!

Thanks for a great giveaway!

ddurance said...

Sounds like an interesting read. I've always been intrigued by prep school, boarding school and what lurks beneath the supposed calm surface of life there.

deidre_durance at hotmail dot com

cqueen2 said...

sounds like a very interesting read thanks
wadesherry@hotmail dot com

Anita Yancey said...

I'd like to read this book, because it sounds interesting, and I really like the name of the book. Please enter me. Thanks!


etirv said...

I like character driven novels like this, count me in!


Belinda M said...

It sounds like a really interesting book and I would love to read it

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Julie said...

Sounds like a great read thanks