Reading in Threes: Smart Girls, Reckless Lives

Over Christmas, I noticed I had read three books in a row with a pretty clear theme and started thinking about reviewing them together. Similar to 3 On A YA Theme over at Book Riot, I hope to start gathering up some books based on common threads, which will give me space to share more titles.

Binary Star by Sarah Gerard
Published by Two Dollar Radio on January 13th, 2015
Source: Publisher
Pages: 172
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Binary Star follows a young woman as she works to balance a long distance relationship and the start of a teaching career while dealing with the struggles of anorexia. In moments of reflection, she looks back on the cross-country trip that allowed her relationship a shared space and continues to sort out its purpose in her present.

At just 98 pounds when the novel starts, Binary Star‘s narrator paints a piercing picture of life with anorexia, dictated by lists and centered on control. While the routine and distance of her relationship feels comfortable, it only serves to fuel her disease and aid in her downward spiral. Though bits and pieces call to the style of other novels (most recently, Jenny Offil’s Dept. of Speculation), Binary Star feels like a welcome, wholly original way of relaying life through writing.


A Bad Character by Deepti Kapoor
Published by Knopf on January 20th, 2015
Source: Publisher
Pages: 256
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Abandoned by her father and orphaned by her mother’s death, the twenty year-old narrator of A Bad Character feels stifled by both New Dehli and her aunt’s relentless search for her husband. When she meets an older, mysterious man in a cafe, he pulls her into a life and an affair she never expected.

There is much to love about Deepti Kapoor’s debut: the gorgeous prose that seamlessly meanders back and forth in time, the unique look at New Dehli from a shifting perspective and the irresistible pull of self-discovery. In the small space of a near-novella, Kapoor is able to dip into her character’s past while also exploring the newness of the present Yet, the novel’s intense character study fizzles too soon, allowing the end of the short book to fall flat in a way that distracts from its overall impact.


Excavation: A Memoir by Wendy C. Ortiz
Published by Future Tense Books on July 15th, 2014
Source: Purchased
Pages: 242
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Lacking the careful attention of her increasingly alcoholic parents, Wendy Ortiz is left to fumble her way through girlhood in the late 1980’s. When her middle school English teacher crosses the line from mentor to predator she easily falls into the attention and power the relationship brings. Despite her teacher’s warnings, Wendy meticulously records the ups and downs of the five year relationship, which makes up the first layer of Excavation.

While Excavation swirls in the same circles as novels like Lolita and Tampa, Ortiz is able to offer completely new perspectives; both that of the longing teenager and the reflective adult. As the chapters progress, readers hold constant hope that the secret relationship will find an end while also coming to understand its delicate place in Wendy’s life. Thankfully, nearly every disturbing, heartbreaking moment is bracketed by an equally eye-opening one, making Excavation a powerful reading experience.

You can hear more about Excavation on the Literary Disco podcast or read a full review at Literary Exploration.

  • Elena

    I can see the connection between all the books, but I’m particularly interested in Binary Star. I love lists, I had some issues with control, and after a terrible relationship, I found myself at 99 pounds (although doctors didn’t diagnose me with anorexia) and about to drop out of my senior year, because really, I didn’t want to do anything but stay in bed. So, well, I’m interested in the book, and quite afraid it’ll wake up some memories that are better left behind now that I’m happy and healthy, although I’m still passionate about lists!

    • It would probably feel very familiar to you. It’s a really unique narrative, so I’d be really curious to see what you thought of it.

  • The first and the third books both sound like those tough reads that I love to sink my teeth into. I’ll keep my eyes open for them. Definitely.

  • These sound right up my alley. On my radar! Thanks, Shannon!

  • I love how you grouped these reviews together. I often find that I read a few similarly themed books in a row, and I think it’s because, if I found the first one good, it leads me to more. But, sometimes it’s just coincidence. All three of these sound rough, but good!

  • I love the “theme reviewing”. I could have done that last year with fiction based on true crime (Certainty, Wife/Maid/Mistress, and Monday Monday) and parents having no idea what their kids are up to (Everything I Never Told You, The Fever, Reconstructing Amelia)! It’s funny how one theme can repeat itself in successive reads…I wonder if you’re subconsciously choosing them that way or if it’s random. For example, I wonder if I kept picking fiction based on true crime last year since I loved Wife/Maid/Mistress so much (probably)? Excavation sounds interesting to me.

    • Yeah, I was wondering the same thing about it being subconscious or random…sometimes I do think I kind of get on a kick after reading about the same topic, but I’m not sure if that’s always the case.

  • These all sound great, but I think I’d jump on A Bad Character first. Great approach to reviewing these, Shannon!

    • Even though the end was rough for me, I really liked the different way India was presented. It was a refreshing change.

  • Amy Sachs

    Binary Star was already on my list, but the comparison to Dept. of Speculation makes me want to read it even more!

  • Binary Star sounds like it would be worth checking out. Also thanks for the shout out.

  • Anita LeBeau

    I like reviewing this way, good job! I actually found myself reading/listening to three books that all had breast cancer as a major or minor theme in them. One of the books I think it’s the twist or link to characters and not given in the tease, so I won’t review them together and link them. I did immediately think of Tampa when I saw the premise of Excavation. Three interesting books, thanks for sharing.

    • I think you’re right that it might be tricky sometimes to not reveal spoilers reviewing this way – it will be something to keep an eye out for!

  • Wow, Excavation sounds difficult to read. But interesting! And I tend to find that kind of story more bearable as nonfiction.

  • These all sound fantastic. I remember the Literary Disco discussion of Excavation, and now I’m even more intrigued.

  • I didn’t love Lolita, but I’m intrigued by both Excavation and Tampa. I really like your idea of reviewing books on a theme together. I’d like to do more of that myself. I enjoy reading diversely, but I’d also like to do a little more immersing myself in single topics for a while.

    • Tampa is not an easy read at all. It’s…really gross and disturbing, but I just love how brave it was. Excavation feels like the real, flip version of that.