Title: Skeleton Women
Author: Mingmei Yip
What's it about?
Camillia is a young, 19 year old girl in 1930's China and her life is anything but boring.
After growing up as child in an orphanage, never meeting her parents, she was adopted. She'd been dreaming being adopted her whole life but this was not what she had imagined it to be. Instead of being adopted by family, she was adopted by Big Brother Wang, the second largest gang leader in Shanghai. And she was adopted for a purpose; to become a spy to take down Master Lung, the largest hang leader in Shanghai.
But this this job is neither as easy or as glamorous as it sounds as she thrives as a lounge singer gaining fame and becomes Master Lung's favorite girl (or mistress). Now that she's out in the world to do her job, she finds her self questioning who she is, who she wants to be and if the world is really the way she was taught it is. How do you to that when you don't know who to trust and the consequences for succeeding AND failing is death?
What did I think?
This review is a little different then most of the ones I write. That's because this book is a little different then many I read. This book felt like a vast contradiction on paper, which is not to say that it's bad, but complex.
At first, I found that this book was hard, not becuase it was super slow or the words were too big, but because something about the writing style didn't mix with my dyslexia. It was hard and exhausting. Instead of reading 50-100 pages a day, I was spending the same amount of time to read 20-30 pages for the first half of the book. Finally, though, found my stride, got used to the book and was able to read the last half of the book in larger chunks.
The book is written in 1st person, which I think is the perfect choice for this story particularly because it helps to perpetuate the mystery surrounding the other characters. I liked that awe had no other information then Camillia had, leaving us wondering who was trustworthy, who to like as well as what others were thinking and what their intentions were. However, I think that part of my struggle with reading was that more about the writing itself. Ms. Mingmei Yip was born and raised in China before going to college in Paris and then moving to New York. I feel like her international experiences, her speech patterns and even some of her verbiage is a little different then what I'm used to. I feel like this is part of why I struggled at first. With that being said, even though it was a bit of a challenge at times, and I sometimes had to re read something to ensure that I was understanding what she said correctly, in the end I felt like it was worth it. It was kind of cool to experience a different way of speaking.
Another reason I said that this book was kind of contradiction is because I can't quite determine my favorite and least favorite characters like I usually do. Well, I guess that's not entirely true. I do know who I liked the least. Wang and Lung. They were cold, cruel, heartless, vindictive, vicious, misogynists, selfish people (I may have left out a few words in there, too). To be fair, I know that they had to be otherwise, what kind of gang leaders would they be? They had to be untrustworthy jerks for them to be gang leaders so, in that sense, Ms. Yip did her job well.
But, I don't have such a cut and dry answer for who I liked. The truth is, I didn't love anyone. Pretty much every other person had me dancing across the line between likening them or disliking them. They would do/say/think something and I'd think, "Oh! I like you! I didn't think I did, but I do!" and then, sometimes even before I got to the end of that page, they'd do something else that made me rethink the very thought I just thought! I'd go from, "I like you!" to "Ugh! No! I don't like you very much!" Because I couldn't land on either side and ended up more neutral on most of the characters, I don't really have a favorite. Even the person I thought was my favorite left me very suspicious in the end.
As far as my favorite part and least favorite part, I feel like it was similar. I can tell you the two parts I disliked the most, but I'm not sure I could pick a favorite. My tow least favorite parts were very different. One of them was a sex scene that just felt really uncomfortable for me and left me feeling kind of gross after reading it. The other was a part with snakes in it. That's it. I just really, really, really don't like snakes.
Speaking of sex scenes... There aren't a ton of them in Skeleton Women but there are some. I'm not against sex scenes, but I prefer mild, less detailed scenes. These were not graphic, per say, but their was something about them that made feel like they were a little more then my preference, then again, upon further consideration maybe it was less about the details and more about the presentation. Maybe it was just the bluntness it, or the names for the sexual organs. Those, sometimes, just felt gross.
Now, I know it sounds like I'm complaining a lot about Skeleton Women, but I liked it. It was different from my typical reading and I absolutely respected that the contradictions I spoke about, added depth and complexity to the characters. They were neither all good or all bad. They were both. I appreciated that many of the characters had backstories that explained their selfishness, their decisions and sometimes even their desperation. Those back stories were part of why I had a hard time completely disliking anyone (other then the gang leaders).They often made me wonder who these people would have been had their circumstances been different and if their pasts were happier and just overall better.
It was not a perfect read, but it was an interesting read and I did enjoy it. I'm glad I embraced the struggles I had at the beginning. It's not one I would come back to and read again and again, but I'm very glad that I took some time to hop out of my box and read something that doesn't usually gravitate me to it.
What do I rate this book?
I give this book a