Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Review: Sister Golden Hair by Darcey Steinke

When Jesse’s family moves to Roanoke, Virginia, in the summer of 1972, she’s 12 years old and already mindful of the schism between innocence and femininity, the gap between childhood and the adult world. Her father, a former pastor, cycles through spiritual disciplines as quickly as he cycles through jobs. Her mother is dissatisfied, glumly fetishizing the Kennedys and anyone else that symbolizes status and wealth. The residents of the Bent Tree housing development may not hold what Jesse is looking for, but they’re all she’s got. Her neighbor speaks of her married lover; her classmate playacts being a Bunny at Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Club; the boy she’s interested in fantasizes about moving to Hollywood and befriending David Soul. In the midst of it all, Jesse finds space to set up her room with her secret treasures: busts of Emily Dickinson and Shakespeare, a Venus flytrap, her Cher 45s, and The Big Book of Burial Rites, which she reads obsessively. But outside awaits all the misleading sexual mores, muddled social customs, and confused spirituality. Girlhood has never been more fraught than in Jesse’s telling, its expectations threatening to turn at any point into delicious risk, or real danger.

Paperback, 336 pages
Expected publication: October 14th 2014 by Tin House Books 
Genre: Coming of Age/Historical Fiction/Young Adult

Kristine's Thoughts:

I received an advanced readers copy of this book from Tin House Books via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!

This book is definitely a coming of age story about Jesse from the age of twelve to fifteen. It begins with her family in limbo after her father loses his job as a pastor. After travelling from place to place they end up in a duplex in the Bent Tree housing development. From here Jesse struggles with all different kinds of young problems in an effort to figure out who she is and where she fits in. Through interactions with neighbours and the kids at school, we learn about her struggles. Not only is she at an age of great change while living in a new community but at the same time she is trying to balance her somewhat unbalanced family. Her father doesn't seem to know what he wants to do with his life and her mother is obviously suffering from some sort of mental illness. It does not specifically say that she has an illness but gathering from the fact that Jesse rates her moods by numbers it is easy to infer.

What I enjoyed most about this story is all of the references to trends, music, television and fashion of that time. Although it took place a few years before I was born I could identify with the majority of things mentioned. The only thing that was referenced quite frequently that I wasn't sure on was a jelly cup. What the heck is a jelly cup?? Did I miss out on something great during my childhood?

What I wasn't too fond of was that with all of Jesse's trials and tribulations during this time frame there never seemed to be any resolution or real moment of clarity for her. Perhaps this was intentional with the story ending when she was only fifteen and there is still so much growing to do, but I found it just kind of ended abruptly. There was no real beginning, middle and end.

In the end I did like the book but I was left wishing there was just a little more something to make it great.

About the Author
Darcey Steinke is the author of the memoir Easter Everywhere (a New York Times notable book) and the novels Milk, Jesus Saves, Suicide Blonde, and Up Through the Water (also a New York Times notable book). With Rick Moody, she edited Joyful Noise: The New Testament Revisited. Her books have been translated into ten languages, and her nonfiction has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, the Boston Review, Vogue, Spin, The Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and the Guardian. Her web-story "Blindspot" was a part of the 2000 Whitney Biennial. She has been both a Henry Hoyns and a Stegner Fellow and Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mississippi, and has taught at the Columbia University School of the Arts, Barnard, The American University of Paris, and Princeton. She lives in New York City.

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