Book review: Breathe and The Good Women of China

Breathe, by Abbi Glines

Book description: It was only supposed to be a summer job, not a summer fling. Just a quick way for seventeen-year-old Sadie to earn some money for her very helpless – and very pregnant – single mother. But even with the help of her cute and friendly coworker, Marcus, Sadie learns firsthand that working as a domestic servant is tough, especially when the house is owned by none other than Jax Stone, one of the hottest teen rock stars in the world. Sadie’s instructions are simple – she is to be neither seen nor heard. But not even Sadie can turn invisible when Jax Stone catches a glimpse of her in a maid’s uniform.

Jax Stone can have any girl he wants, but it only takes one quick look at Sadie’s soft, nervous smile and he is a dead man. But he can tell Marcus wants her too. And though he feels an instant connection with Sadie, Jax knows it will never work. In his crazy world, relationships mean nothing but heartbreak, and Sadie deserves better than that.

My review: At first, I was reluctant to give this book a completely bad review, but then the more I thought about it, the less I liked it. This is a classic Cinderella story, and what bothers is that Sadie’s character is exactly everything wrong about how women are portrayed in media. She’s the perfect ideal of a soft, feminine woman, with no way of actually doing anything for her own. She is literally perfect – how beautiful and hot she is, how she is innocent and naive, yet as soon as she experiences sex is crazy good at it, how she is soft and subservient and selfless, the brave little lamb that everyone wants to save. Ugh, that stereotype of the “perfect” woman makes me cranky.

This has spoilers, but I don’t think you should read this book so don’t worry about it. She works herself soooo hard and sacrifices sooooo much – for a baby, no less – until she collapses into a coma and has to be nursed back to health by the hottest man in the world. Then they live together happily ever after. And there’s a lot of referring to giving away each other’s souls, and how they are each other’s air. Ugh, again. I hope that if I have daughters, they get to read better books than these, about women who have actual personalities and the capability to survive in the world without the intervention of a man.

 

The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices, by Xinran

Book description: An employee for the Chinese state radio system in the late 1980s, Xinran had long wanted to help improve the lives of Chinese women. But when she was given clearance to host a radio call-in show, she barely anticipated the enthusiasm it would quickly generate. Operating within the constraints imposed by government censors, Words on the Night Breeze sparked a tremendous outpouring, and the hours of tape on her answering machine were soon filled every night. Whether angry or muted, posing questions or simply relating experiences, these anonymous women bore witness to decades of civil strife, and of halting attempts at self-understanding in a painfully restrictive society. In this heartrending and inspiring collection, Xinran brings us the stories that affected her most and offers a graphically detailed, altogether unprecedented work of oral history.

My review: Okay, this book could not be more different from the last. I find the juxtaposition of these two books almost hilarious, and a little depressing. The Good Women of China is a series of stories, or essays, by female Chinese journalist Xinran, on the secret lives of women in China. It was published in 2003, but many of the stories come from an earlier time, and most of the women had been affected greatly by China’s Cultural Revolution, which lasted from 1966-1976, and seemed to put a suffocating stranglehold on all things personal or social. Just the fact that Xinran delved into this topic, even decades after this time and during a period when China was starting to “open up,” (but not really), is pretty epic. Women in China is not a topic many people would even consider looking into. I mean, we’re talking about a generation of women who grew up where discussing anything sexual at all, even with their spouse, is illegal. That’s bound to lead to some issues, don’t you think? Every one of the women Xinran spoke to for this book was abused by a family member, gang raped or forced into marriage.

When asked what the book was like, my response was: “Depressing. Incredibly sad. I like it.” Xinran does a fantastic job of treating the subject matter delicately, with her own personal tales and impressions blended in to create a sympathetic viewpoint. The women depicted are strong, or self-sacrificing in a very real way, and earn either our admiration or our pathos. There are not a lot of happy stories from these women, at that time. Quite frankly, I find it terrifying. I does make me curious as to the social state of women now. These stories were not from that long ago. What does growing up as a woman in China look like now?

Word of the day:

Virago: a loud-voiced, ill-tempered, scolding woman; shrew; (archaic) a woman of strength or spirit

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2 thoughts on “Book review: Breathe and The Good Women of China

  1. When I first read “domestic servant” I thought: historical novel! But then there was a rock star? But she still can’t be seen or heard? And the health care is SO POOR girls can fall into COMAS over some housework?! Is this some sort of futuristic, dystopic novel? Shed some light, please 🙂

    • Nope, not historical fiction, or futuristic dystopia. She’s just poor. And so incredibly selfless. Domestic servants are to be neither seen nor heard – I think that’s just how things are done in Alabama (I actually forget where this was set, but somewhere poor and Southern). And she fell into a coma because she was SO giving and SUCH a martyr that she just couldn’t live with it. Ugh.

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