Belinda's Rings / Corinna Chong
Edmonton: NeWest Press, c2013.
When I first noticed this book in a catalogue at work, I was immediately intrigued. It features two sisters, half Chinese and half English, living in Western Canada. Told from the perspective of the younger sister (or middle child), this book explores what happens when Belinda, their mother, leaves the family to go back to England and explore the phenomenon of crop circles.
Our narrator Grace (she prefers Gray) is a young teen, and speaks like one. She tries to be tough and act like she doesn't care, but she is hurt by what she sees as her mother's desertion of the family. Gray and her older sister Jess, and young half-brother Squid, are left with her stepfather, the unstable Wiley, to fend for themselves. Gray takes on a mothering role, with a few missteps along the way.
Meanwhile, her father is clueless that they are in this situation, despite seeing them for dinners and so forth. These girls are completely on their own.
Gray is an intelligent narrator, fascinated by giant squid in particular, and sea life generally. She peppers her conversation with facts about squid, relying on science for any sense of reliable fact in her life. Her mother, in contrast, "only believes in things she can't see." Belinda is obsessed with alien visitations, particularly crop circles. She decides that leaving her children and going to England to work with some crop circle enthusiasts is a great idea, even if it does mean she might run into her estranged sister at some point. And of course, she does, and it's terribly awkward, and Belinda is even more emotionally stunted than it appeared at first.
There is a lot going on in this book. Family dynamics, sibling rivalry, crop circles, Gray's scientific facts, relationships, emotional issues, and more. I felt that there was perhaps too much going on, distracting this reader from the primary storyline, having to jump around between the emotional pain of too many characters for my own liking. And Gray's voice sounds reminiscent of Holden Caulfield's, not something I appreciate in many novels, being a non-fan of Holden's.
But as a first novel, it showed a lively style with a strong narrative voice. I enjoyed the setting, and how Chong takes on the story of two half-Asian sisters becalmed in Western Canada. The motif of rings, or circles, echoes through the story. Crop circles, family circles, Belinda's wedding rings that Gray takes to wearing, which leave a physical mark on her skin that reflects her emotional scarring. I also quite enjoyed Gray's fascination with undersea life; she makes the giant squid a mysterious creature, and the impression of the quiet isolation of the deeps in which it lives seems to be another aspect of her interior life.
I was sent this book by Chong's lovely publicist at the Saima Agency and am grateful for the discovery! They are also offering one of The Indextrious Reader's own readers a chance to win a copy for your own delectation. (Canada and U.S. only, please) I`ll draw the winner`s name in a week, in the evening of Tuesday, June 4th.
To enter, simply leave a comment sharing one of your own teenage fixations or fascinations.
As for me: I was not then fascinated by squid, myself, but I did find deep space utterly absorbing, reading astronomy magazines and jumpstarting my interest in astrophysics which continues to this day. What enthralled you?
I loved The Beatles, to the point where they were forbidden as dinner conversation by my family, who couldn't take it anymore...ReplyDelete
But I'm sure they still loved you, yeah?Delete
Hmmmm: I was curious about this until you mentioned how the narrative voice sounds. I don't get along well with that style narrator. Oh well!ReplyDelete
Oh, it's not entirely Holdenish, just enough of an echo that it stood out for me. It is more modern, and girl-like, but if you're not keen on disappointed teens you might not connect.Delete
Thank you for offering this wonderful giveaway, Melwyk. The book sounds well written and fascinating. As a young teen growing up in NYC, I was interested in travel, and would "send away for" travel brochures, from places like Montana, "big sky country". Fortunately, I've had many opportunities to travel since then.ReplyDelete
How funny that you wanted to travel elsewhere as a New Yorker -- the centre of any travel dreams I ever had as a young person!Delete
I wish I could say I was fixated on something as "out there" as giant squids as a teen, but I can't think of anything that held my attention as much as heavy metal. I know I was a cliche, but I hope it suffices to have my name entered into the draw.ReplyDelete
Yes, giant squid is pretty out there... but to some of us heavy metal is as well... ;)Delete
Since there are only 4 entries here, I've decided the winner by a literal roll of the dice... it's #3, Suko! A copy will soon be wending your way...ReplyDelete