Friday, November 7, 2008

Book Review: Chasing Windmills

Title: Chasing Windmills
Author: Catherine Ryan Hyde
Genre: Literary Fiction
Grade: A+

Summary (from Random House.com): The subway doors open and close, and in one moment Sebastian’s and Maria’s lives are changed forever...

Both Sebastian and Maria live in a world ruled by fear. Sebastian, a lonely seventeen-year-old, is suffocating under his dominant father’s control. In the ten years since his mother passed away, his father has kept him “safe” by barely allowing him out of their apartment. Sebastian’s secret late-night subway rides are rare acts of rebellion...

Maria, a young mother of two, is trying to keep peace at home despite her boyfriend’s abuse. When she loses her job, she avoids telling him by riding the subways during her usual late-night shift. She knows her sister, Stella, is right: She needs to “live in the truth” and let the chips fall where they may...

When Sebastian and Maria wind up on the same train, their eyes meet across the subway car, and these two strangers find a connection that neither can explain or ignore. Together they dream of a new future, agreeing to run away and find Sebastian’s grandmother in the Mojave Desert. But Maria doesn’t know Sebastian is only seventeen. And Sebastian doesn’t know Maria has children until the moment they leave. Ultimately, Maria brings one child, her daughter. Can she really leave her little boy behind? And, if not, what will it cost her to face her furious jilted abuser?

Review: I got this book from J. Kaye Oldner because she graciously selected me to help her host next week's Noontime Book Chats over on her fabulous blog. I picked the book up yesterday, hoping to be able to read over the course of the next week or so (in order to be reading it and having it done by the end of the book chats next Friday); however, I could not, I repeat could not put this book down. This book was so riveting, the characters so multi-hued, the writing so beautiful, the struggles so real that you simply had to keep reading.

I originally wanted to help lead the book chats on this book because, judging by the title (which isn't necessarily always the smartest way to pick a book), I thought it would be a modern retelling of Don Quixote... I saw "windmills" and thought, "My, that sounds Quixotic." Later, after agreeing to participate, I actually read the synopsis of the book which said it's supposed to be a modern retelling of West Side Story (the re-telling of Romeo and Juliet).

All that to say that, even though there were numerous references to both WSS and R&J in the book, this book was totally Quixotic. More than their shared romance, which was beautiful and earnest, the reader gets totally wrapped up in each individual's quest for self-understanding and learning how to perceive and think about the world. Both of them have moments where they are a modern-day personification of Don Quixote.

Also, I think it's pert near impossible to have major references to windmills (which Chasing Windmills does) without bearing that refence to Cervantes--that's too put into our modern literary consciousness to be over-looked.

I truly came to love these characters and Hyde, who weaves together two first-person narratives, is an amazing writer who was able to easily put on both sets of skin and bring both Maria and Sebastian to life. When she was Maria, I cringed and wrestled with understanding abusive relationships; when she was Sebastian, I wondered at the difficulties of growing up in an oppressive environment. She was spot-on, 100% able to nail both characters.

I can't possibly think of anything I would have changed about this book (which is really saying something for me, I know). You don't get the ending you thought you were going to get, but neither did Sebastian or Maria; however, you walk away having grown to understand their relationship and their love and their world, and you'll find yourself okay with it all.

This book was sensational. I recommend everyone pick up a copy (and join us next week for the book chats... should be good times)!

4 comments:

Jamie Moore said...

I'm adding this book to my list, thank you very much!

Heather said...

Your list is starting to get pretty lengthy.

Shooting Stars Mag said...

I'm glad you liked the book so much. I'm a bit of a ways into it and I must say, I'm really loving it as well. Just posted my thoughts on J.Kaye's blog!!

-Lauren

Zeinab Gamal said...

ok i love this blog, love it, love it. LOVE IT, i guess it's so freaking helpful, i mean i have to go through hell to find a decent book to read because i'm so picky, but seriously i love this blog, i'm writing thing on my own but it's still unedited and "not that good" so if you criticized me i will get a "f" or something, i'm definitely going to read A Reliable Wife and hate list"