Sunday, January 12, 2014

Imaginary Loves: First read of 2014

Before the end of last semester a friend of mine placed this book in my hand and told me "you must read this." I brought it home, placed it on my bookshelf and there it sat. And sat. And sat. Finals came and went. The holiday rush zoomed by. Next I knew it was the New Year, sparkling new and dangling commitment-free hours tantalizingly in front of me. Hot cocoa in hand, warm pajamas and a snuggle-y blanket I snatched up this promising read.

 I finished Sundays at Tiffany's in the period of two days with interrupted reading. Every moment was worth it. While I cannot vouch that it has been the most life-changing book I have read, or that it is my favorite, it is a well written, heartwarming book with likeable characters, and a plot that spoke to the core of my being. The little girl in me couldn't help but imagine what it would have been like to have my perfect, imaginary friend from childhood step back into my life, for real, as a source of romance. I mean, really...sign me up for that!

Sundays at Tiffany's was my first introduction to Patterson and his writing. I have passed his books on shelves a dozen times and never picked one up. Ever since I got swept into the hype of Twilight for several years, I have been cautious of authors who get a lot of hype or whose writing gets a lot of advertising. It's an irrational caution, the inner rebel in me no wanting to follow the crowd. Honestly, if a friend hadn't placed this book in my hand and praised it so highly, I may never have thought to pick up a James Patterson novel. Which is such a shame.

Until now I have also been unaware of Gabrielle Charbonnet's work; however, I look forward to becoming more familiar with her writing. From what I can tell (if I trust Almighty Google) she's written several books under her pen name of Cate Tiernan. Immortal Beloved especially catches my eye. (It's the fantasy lover in my soul. ;) )

My usual go-to genre is fantasy or science fiction, but on occasion I'll explore outside of that. (The Fault in Our Stars is one of my favorite books and doesn't come close to either genre, for instance.) I have never been disappointed in that exploration. Still, Patterson's usual crime/thriller novels never struck me as something I'd be interested in. This novel has changed my mind.

I was impressed by the writing in Sundays at Tiffany's. I loved the switch of perspectives between 1st person and 3rd person to distinguish between Michael and Jane as narrators. It allowed for a more intimate connection between the reader and Jane and Michael, while also lifting the pace, keeping the plot moving forward. For me, the novel was more character-centered than plot centered. As someone who thrives on well-fleshed characters, a mostly character driven plot was refreshing and exciting. Patterson and Charbonnet give the characters distinct voices and unique personalities. Their attention to details in the characters, even secondary ones, is admirable. They use details to explain characters as well as their relationships, such as shared made up games, personal quirks, favorites and dislikes, tolerance levels and many more.

For any budding writers that want a successful example of character development and growth, the subtle - and sometimes not-so-subtle - changes in Michael and Jane throughout the novel is prime example. Patterson and Charbonnet show how small things such as a new wardrobe, cutting oneself while shaving, and the development of anger or protectiveness can signal character growth without explicitly stating it.

Changes in Jane's personality shine through as she gains new confidence in coming into her own. My only criticism is that I wish these changes weren't spurred by a new male presence in her life, but from her own core, life experiences or some other form of inspiration. The idea that a male gives you new (or renewed) confidence, though true, is not an admirable example for me. My most lasting confidence has always come from within or my own accomplishments. Confidence gained by a male's presence - or anyone else - is fleeting. If they leave, the confidence and changes it inspired can be shattered. Though fitting for the plot of the story, I would have loved to see Jane's character gain that extra depth. Her story, though, and her development, is probably far more the norm, from my experience. It also does not make her a weak or shallow character, by any means. Anyone who has ever struggled with self-esteem understands how very easy it is for external forces to influence confidence and change.

When I read the novel, I was going through an emotionally turbulent time. Jane's negative self-talk and her oppression by those around her was more than my psyche could take as a result; however, Patterson accurately portrays how someone who does not fit the ideal of beauty, has been berated, and has never been put first might feel, act and react. He also accurately portrays how they might allow others to treat them, including accepting love that is less than they deserve. Having known friends who were treated similarly to Jane, shared many of her thoughts and accepted less than they deserved as well, I was impressed by the relate-ability and accuracy of the portrayal. (One of my favorite scenes had to be Jane deciding to buy herself a diamond ring from Tiffany's. The ultimate show of "I can spoil myself, I'm worth it." Love it! Way to pamper yourself!)

Michael is the perfect man - sensitive, charming, an amazing listener, kind and gorgeous - who sweeps into Jane's life to save the day as a child and then, a bit unexpectedly, as an adult. Who doesn't want the opportunity to fall in love with their imaginary friend? There are a few I wouldn't mind that happening with! This story speaks to every woman's inner child whoever developed the perfect man in their heads as little girls. Patterson and Charbonnet bring reality to the childhood game of make-believe. They build a world transposed upon ours where imaginary friends are assigned to children, where they are not human, but possibly not angels either. Where they can choose invisibility or visibility accept for with their assigned children, to whom they are always seen. While anchored in the reality of our world, the addition of living imaginary friends gives the story enough fantasy to feed my fantasy-hungry soul. There is almost a potentiality of truth due to this light dusting of fantasy, as if it could have been.

 I wish that we had been able to see more of and learn more about this imaginary friend world. The idea of it fascinates me. If Charbonnet and Patterson ever decided to do more novels dealing with imaginary friends, I could see it working. It is a story and world I'd love to revisit.

The short of it: the novel is worth the read. I'm so glad to have started of the new year with this book; it really put me in a state of mind to place my best foot forward told my goals in life, live life a bit freer, and stand up for myself more.

One book down, at least four more to go! I'm going to love this year of goals.

What have you read lately?

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