I have two titles worthy of note this week. I didn't totally love either one, although a lot of people did on Amazon.com.
Arcadia by Lauren Groff - I heard about Arcadia because it kept appearing on "best books" type of lists. A group of idealists and dreamers abandon their former lives and drop out of society to follow a Utopian dream of building a communal society, living off the land and off the grid. The story is told from the viewpoint of Bit, the first child born into their communal society in 1968. The first half of the book details their lives as they found a commune called Arcadia, through its high point and gradual decline. Bit watches his parents labor for the commune, doing backbreaking work, suffering poverty and hunger in the name of the greater good, until things fall apart. The second half of the book turns futuristic as Bit and the other commune residents return to the outside world, with most of this section set in 2018. The world has become a scary and dangerous place, with a pandemic looming. Bit longs for the Arcadia of his childhood, and when his mother becomes ill, he returns to Arcadia to care for her. But the community is long abandoned and Bit realizes that the sense of community that he craves has migrated to urban areas, since you can't have a community without people. I have to say that I liked the second half of the book more than the first half. Maybe it's because Bit as a child is definitely a watcher, while in the second half of the book, he is forced to be more involved in life. There are parallels to Animal Farm in the first half of the book, when one of the newer residents asks why some people lived in the splendid mansion on the grounds and did very little work, while others lived in hovels and were expected to labor from dawn to dusk. I was dissatified with some of the unexplored or unexplained relationships - why bother introducing them if they're just going to be left hanging? Recurring themes include hope, dreams, and love, found and lost and found again.
Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt - I waited a long time to get this book from the library, and there was a lot of hype about it, so I really wanted to love it. The narrator, June, is 14 years old. Her favorite uncle, Finn, who is a famous painter, is dying of AIDS. June believes she is a misfit and that Finn is the only person who understands her. When he dies, June learns that Finn had another "special friend," Toby, his long-time partner who knew all along about June and relates to her sense of loss. June feels betrayed because she thought that Finn belonged only to her. Like many children, June thought Finn's life revolved around her, and although she resents Toby, she wants to spend time with him to learn more about their life together. Tell the Wolves I'm Home is a coming of age story, and June does a lot of growing up during the course of the book. The author does a great job of capturing the paranoia of the early 1980's, in the days before AZT and other drugs when AIDS was still a death sentence and many people had no idea if AIDS could be transmitted through casual contact like a handshake. The parents are silent and secretive at a time when they should be helping their children to deal with their grief. In a lot of ways, June is a cool kid with a vivid imagination: she is interested in art and music, she likes to pretend she's from the Middle Ages, she wants to be a falconer. Greta, June's older sister, is the pretty, smart, popular, talented one, but she is incredibly jealous of June's relationship with Finn. The relationship between the two sisters is unneccessarily dramatic and overwrought. Greta is obviously meant to be the villain of the piece, the person you're supposed to hate - I just found her annoying. Only later in the book do you realize that Greta feels just as much a misfit as June does, but in different ways. I liked some parts of the book but others just dragged or seemed like filler.