Heidi

Rating: 
Author: Johanna Spyri
Genres: Children’s, Middle Grade, Classic
Pub date: 1880 (read Jan. 2019)

Oh Heidi, a girl after my own heart. I bought a new copy of Anne of Green Gables last year after my childhood copy was accidentally donated and decided to pick up copies of both Heidi and the Secret Garden, which had cute matching covers. I never read Heidi as a child, but I was into the mountain setting and was basically hoping for Anne of Green Gables set in Switzerland.

Heidi definitely does not have the same charm as Anne, who is one of my all-time favourite female characters, but I could appreciate her love of the simple life and the fresh mountain air. Heidi is a little orphan girl who, up to the age of 5, lived with her Aunt in the small Swiss town of Dorfli. At the age of 5, her aunt decides she has spent enough resources on Heidi and drags her up the mountainside to instead live with her Grandfather. Her grandfather is seen as a bit of a hermit by the townspeople and is fairly misunderstood, so they all pity Heidi when they see her on the way up the mountain.

However, Heidi immediately settles into life at her Grandfather’s cabin and is totally enamored with the beautiful mountain views, the wildflowers, and her neighbour Peter, the local goat-herder. Likewise, her Grandfather’s life is taken over by Heidi and he starts to find a new joy in life. I thought the whole mountain setting – two misfits finding love with one another – story was brilliant and was totally into this book at the beginning. I can see why it’s a classic, but like I said, Heidi just doesn’t have quite the same charm as my other beloved children’s books and it’s pretty slow moving. I struggled through the story at times and unfortunately, the ending of the book hasn’t really aged all that well.

It is a sweet story with christian undertones and themes. In the middle of the story, Heidi is extremely distraught when she is removed from her grandfathers and forced to live in Frankfurt. She finds the town so dark and dreary and she doesn’t understand the way of life, so she is misunderstood by those around her and yearns more than anything to return to Grandfathers. She learns about God and is taught to put her trust in his plan and is ultimately rewarded by her prayers and faith. While some elements were problematic, I was impressed that this book features both a girl in a wheelchair and a blind person.

I can’t write this review without discussing the ending, so if you’re unfamiliar with this classic and plan to read it, please stop reading here. SPOILERS AHEAD.

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So I didn’t really like the ending of this book. I definitely don’t fault the author for it because this was written in the 1800’s, but in my opinion the ending doesn’t really hold up today. I had two issues with the ending, the first of which is that Peter sucks! Peter is a pretty big introvert, whereas Heidi loves people and making new friends, and he is constantly threatened by Heidi’s other relationships and acts out pretty aggressively in his jealousy (both with the Doctor and Clara). My problem was that Peter’s behaviour was totally wrong, but he never really suffered any consequence from it. He destroys Clara’s chair for heaven’s sake and though he feels bad after, no one ever holds him accountable to his actions. They were just teaching him it’s okay to be an asshole.

My second issue was with Clara suddenly gaining the ability to walk by sheer force of will and the power of fresh mountain air (supposedly). I don’t fault the author because I’m sure people with disabilities had it rough in this era and their disabilities were not as well understood. So gifting her character with the ability to walk again seems like the perfect ending to a childhood story. It just doesn’t really stand up today and I’d hate for little girls in wheelchairs to read this book and be preached the message that if they just pray and want it enough, they might be able to walk again too. Or to feel like they can only achieve happiness by the curing of their disability and that the ultimate dream is to escape your disability. I liked Clara because despite her disability and sickness, she had a great attitude and didn’t actually seem that hampered by her disability. Being in a chair is nothing to feel bad about and is not an impediment on happiness. So I just don’t think this ending holds up in light of the body positivity movement and is a little insulting to the less able-bodied.

3 stars for the sweet story and setting, but beware some of the ideas are a little preachy and out-dated.

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Top 5 Reads of 2018

This is the companion post to my Top 10 Books of 2018, which features my favourite reads of the year that were actually published in 2018. This post will feature my top 5 books of the year that weren’t published in 2018. This works out well for me because its hard to narrow it down to just 10 books and the majority of the books I read are new releases. So here’s my top 5 reads of 2018 in no particular order:

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez

You know how sometimes you read a book and you really like it, but then the more time passes, the more unsure you are of whether you actually liked it as much as you thought? This book was the opposite of that for me. I really liked it when I read it, but the further removed I’ve gotten from reading it, the better I think I actually like it. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter tells the story of Julia, the teenage daughter of Mexican immigrants, and how she deals with the death of her older sister Olga. I know some people aren’t a fan of this book because honestly, Julia is super unlikable and confrontational in the story, but I thought it was such an accurate portrayal of a raging, rebellious, grieving teenager. Julia is struggling with accepting the death of her sister, who was the perfect daughter in her parents eyes, and she acts out against her parents traditional Mexican values. She struggles to understand her parents and her parents struggle to understand her. It’s ultimately a coming of age story about grief and the struggles of immigrant families. I listened to it as an audiobook and I would highly recommend this format – the narrator was fantastic and the whole reading experience was super enjoyable, despite the heavy topics.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

This was probably my most unexpected read of the year. I set an informal goal for myself to start reading more classics. I tried some Jane Austen and wasn’t the biggest fan, but I found Wuthering Heights on audiobook for a really cheap price and decided to give it a go. I’m not sure whether to credit Emily Bronte or Joanne Froggatt (the narrator) for how much I liked this, but together they made me absolutely LOVE this book. I don’t always love classics because they tend to wane on too much about nothing, but I loved the drama of Wuthering Heights. Evidently I have a thing for unlikable characters because NO ONE in this book is very likable. I think most people are familiar with the plot, so I won’t get too into it, I’ll just say that it’s an inter-generational story about the cycle of abuse and the human ability to both love and hate. I’ll still give Bronte most of the props, but Froggatt’s narration definitely played a role in making me love this as she does a fantastic job with all the characters and accents!

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

Girl in Translation was one of the first books I read this year and while it was a slow-read novel, I really loved it. This book tells the semi-autobiographical story of 10 year old Kimberly Chan and spans about a decade in scope. Kim and her Ma are sponsored by her Aunt and move to New York from China. It’s based off the author’s experience immigrating to America and I thought it was such a well crafted story about the struggles immigrants face to build a new life and climb their way out of poverty. Kim and her Ma live in a run down apartment and work in her Aunt’s sweat shop sewing clothing. It’s technically Ma that works in the shop, but the workers regularly enlist the help of their children since they work on commission and it’s the only way they can make decent money. Kim attends school during the day and is driven by her desire to learn and get a job that will enable her to lift her family out of poverty. Like I said, it’s a quiet sort of story, but powerful and I really loved Kim’s character and perspective.

The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed

I’m just now realizing that I read 3 of the 5 books on this list as audiobooks (this being the third), which is actually super impressive since I tend to dislike audiobooks a lot more than I love them. But I guess I found some real winners on Audible this year! The Nowhere Girls tells the story of 3 very different high school classmates: Grace, Rosina, and Erin. The biggest thing I can say about this book is: great representation. Grace is a fat, Christian girl; Rosina is a gay, Mexican girl; and Erin has Asperger’s. Grace is new to town and when she learns that the former resident of her bedroom was a high school girl who was essentially driven out of town when she claimed she was raped at a party the year before, she starts a secret club to do something about it. I really liked this book because it was diverse and it addressed relevant social issues that any teen girl can relate to. Plus, it has another great narrator!

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

I’ve been raving about this series since I read it back in August. I included the sequel Wundersmith in my Top 10 Books of 2018 post, and I have to include the first book in this list. I can not say enough good things about this series. It is the smart, fun middle grade book that I’ve been looking for since Harry Potter. It tells the story of cursed child, Morrigan Crow, who is whisked off to the magical land of Nevermoor on the eve of her death day by the enigmatic Jupiter North. There she participates in the trials to become a member of the prestigious Wunder Society, all while trying to hide the fact that she’s an illegal immigrant to Nevermoor. This book is so whimsical (it has a giant, talking cat and flying umbrellas), but what I love most about it is that it has depth. It’s so well written and crafted that this magical world pretty much builds itself. It’s obvious that there’s a lot more to the plot than Townsend reveals upfront and I think we’re in for a multi-layered, multi-book series that has the potential to be just as popular as Harry Potter. I really, really loved this and I can’t wait to see what Jessica Townsend publishes next!  

Wuthering Heights

Rating: 
Author: Emily Bronte
Genres: Fiction, Literary Fiction, Classics
Pub Date: 1847 (read on Audible Sep. 2018)
Audiobook Narrator: Joanne Froggatt

This was AMAZING! I know most people read Wuthering Heights in high school, but it was never on my curriculum for some reason. I read Jane Eyre a few years ago and didn’t really like it that much, but when I saw Wuthering Heights for sale on Audible, I decided to try it out. I listened to Emma earlier this year, so audible has been helping me knock back some classics.

I did not expect to like this. I haven’t had that much luck with classics, they tend to be slower paced and the writing is often difficult to get through, but every now and then you find an old classic that totally surprises you! I can see what this book is so polarizing. People seem to either love it or hate it. I can totally understand why people would hate this. None of the characters are likable and Heathcliff is just downright evil. But if you’re able to enjoy books with unlikable characters, then Wuthering Heights may be the book for you!

I loved it. Granted I found it a little bit confusing at the beginning because I couldn’t tell who was narrating the story and I was overwhelmed by all the characters and what their relations were to one another. But once I figured out all the characters, I was totally enthralled with this from start to finish! I was not expecting the level of drama that I got from this book and the 18th century scandal was just delicious to read about.

Wuthering Heights tells the story of the passionate love affair between Catherine and Heathcliff (the goodreads synopsis describes their love as “intense and almost demonic” and that is pretty much the most accurate description ever). Catherine grew up at Wuthering Heights, wandering the lonely moors as a girl. And boy is this setting lonely. There is a neighbouring village, but the only other neighbours are the Lintons, who live at Thrushcross Grange. Heathcliff is a poor orphan boy adopted by Catherine’s father, but loathed by her older brother Hindley. When Catherine’s father passes away, Hindley becomes extremely abusive to Heathcliff, forcing him to be a servant to the family. Nonetheless, Catherine and Heathcliff grow close wandering the moors together and fall in love.

The story follows a series of 18th century dramatic events in which Catherine ends up marrying her neighbour, Edgar Linton, and Heathcliff disappears in a rage. He returns years later, now wealthy and determined to enact his revenge upon the entire Ernshaw and Linton families.

It’s an interesting story in that it is told (mostly) from the point of view of Nelly Dean, a housekeeper who has played maid to both the Ernshaw and Linton families over many years, as she recounts the story to the visiting Mr. Lockwood. So it does call into question the reliability of the narrator. She has some obvious biases. but overall I liked her. The story is really split into two parts, the first focusing on the original Catherine and Heathcliff, and the second half focusing on the second generation. Nellie has been involved in the lives of both generations, so she brings an interesting perspective to the story.

So why did I like this? Besides being super entertaining, I loved all these characters, despite how horrible they are. I couldn’t help but root for Catherine and Heathcliff early in the novel. Heathcliff is abused at the hands of Hindley Ernshaw and brought extremely low, so you can initially forgive him for his hatred of Hindley’s family and the wealthy neighbours, the Lintons. Catherine is fickle and ignorant of her privilege. She regularly belittles Heathcliff and despite loving him, accepts Linton’s marriage proposal because she feels he is more of her station and social standing.

“He’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.”

This is probably one of the most popular Wuthering Heights quotes, but I love it just the same. I was more a fan of Heathcliff in the beginning because he was at least a victim of his circumstances, whereas Catherine was just haughty and mean, throwing tantrums and letting her temper get the better of her. So I didn’t really see what the attraction was between them, but really it is because they are both the same and have that same darkness and haughtiness in them. They are so enraptured in both themselves and each other and they don’t care who they hurt, so long as they will be happy. Catherine even considers her marriage to Edgar as a way to elevate Heathcliff’s position, which Nelly rightfully scoffs at, as if Catherine, a married woman, could just continue her relationship with Heathcliff after marrying Linton.

These characters are lonely and I feel like they are all victims of circumstance in a way. They have known only their wealth and they are not sympathetic to the plights of others. Lockwood draws our attention to how very out of touch they are with the world and after just a week at the manor, feels compelled to return to London to get away from the drama of it all. The entire novel is chaotic and feels very all consuming. Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights is a world unto itself, focusing solely on it’s inhabitants and their isolated drama.

I preferred the first half of this book to the second. The novel reaches a climax at around the midpoint, which is when the focus switches from the first Catherine, to the second generation: Hareton (Hindley’s son), Catherine (Catherine’s daughter), and Linton (Heathcliff’s son). While I preferred the first half of the book, the second half is what makes this a classic. The second generation of characters parallels the first generation and serves to highlight how the cycle of violence is destined to repeat itself. The use of the same set of names serves to further highlight the cycle. Heathcliff becomes Hindley, Hareton becomes Heathcliff, and Linton and Catherine become Edgar and the first Catherine.

In the second half of the novel, Heathcliff returns to enact revenge on the Ernshaws and Lintons and descends further into himself as the novel progresses. Heathcliff is really a monster of a character, even having been abused himself, he perpetuates the cycle of violence worse than anyone who came before him. He is devastated by Catherine’s death and we are led to believe that he is haunted by her ghost for the rest of his life. Catherine’s daughter is just as haughty as she was, Linton is a sniveling mess, and Hareton is an uneducated servant boy. It is hard to like any of these characters, and yet Bronte has written them in a way that has made me hugely invested in them. I wanted to hate Heathcliff, he is truly awful, and yet I always hoped for him to be redeemed. I kept waiting for him to honour Catherine by loving her daughter, but he becomes so mired in his revenge scheme and haunted by Catherine’s ghost that he looses any sense of humanity and becomes obsessed with having total and complete power over everyone involved. Yet the characters still persevere and despite losing absolutely everything and being indentured to Heathcliff, Catherine is still able to find joy in life – to feel pity for Heathcliff and find it in herself to love another.

Like I said, I can absolutely see how people hate this. There’s pretty much no likable characters, save maybe for our narrators, Nellie and Lockwood. But even they have their flaws. Nellie disliked the first Catherine and tried to help Heathcliff as a boy, so it is maybe her hope for Heathcliff to repent that sustains this feeling of hope throughout the novel. We just keep waiting for Heathcliff to finally decide that his revenge is now complete. But he is never able to fully break the characters and I love when he realizes this at the end. Despite every atrocious act he commits, the young people are still able to find love and happiness through their trials. It is only at this point that Heathcliff is able to recognize how revenge has consumed his life and sanity. He finally realizes the futility of his hatred and thinks only of his longing to be reunited with Catherine.

It’s essential to give credit to the audible narrator, Joanne Froggatt. She is absolutely wonderful in this rendition of Wuthering Heights and probably a big part of what contributed to my enjoyment of the book. Her accents are excellent and I loved the different tone of voice that she used with each character. I was dismayed to learn that she also narrated a version of Jane Austen’s Emma, because I listened to Emma a few months ago and I’m sure I would have enjoyed it more had I listened to Froggatt’s version. Anyways, I would highly recommend this audiobook. It’s probably also worth mentioning that while reading this, I followed up the chapters with a quick read of the Sparknotes chapter summaries. It helped a lot at the beginning with figuring out who each of the characters were. I wish I’d done this for Emma too because I found the cast of characters super confusing in that book too.

So in conclusion to this long winded review – I am definitely a fan of Wuthering Heights! I get why people don’t like it, but it’s also clear why this has become a beloved classic.