Certain Girls

Jennifer Weiner
2008, Women's Fiction
Atria, $26.95, 400 pages, Amazon ASIN 0743294254

Grade: B
Sensuality: N/A

Certain Girls is the follow-up to Weinerís debut Chick Lit bestseller Good in Bed, which I've not read. Luckily, there were no gaping, unexplained points of history, so my enjoyment of the novel was not affected beyond wishing I had read the earlier book in order to share in the "welcome back" feeling Iím certain many readers experienced.

Over a decade ago (and during Good in Bed apparently), Cannie Shapiro wrote a highly sexualized, semi-autobiographical novel about the relationship travails of a plus-size woman. It brought her fame, fortune, and a lot of grief, so she decided to leave her days of provocative literature behind to write science fiction serials under a pseudonym.

Forty-something year old Cannie has a loving husband, a precious daughter and a happy, content life. We first meet her at a bínai mitzvah and find out, as she does, in the back of a conference center, that her husband Peter wants a baby. Cannie had a hysterectomy after a difficult pregnancy with Joy but he thinks they should try in vitro before her eggs dry up. Though Joy has a different biological father, Peter loves her as his own but still wishes for another child to add to their family.

Cannie is attracted to the idea of a baby but is also struggling to hold on to the baby girl she has right now in Joy. Of course, almost-12-year-old Joy is as anxious to become a woman as her mother is to keep her a child. And itís this shifting relationship between Cannie and Joy that is the novelís focal point.

Certain Girls engrossed me; I started it at 11 pm and though it was a work night, I pushed through till four in the morning. Weiner has an approachable writing style Ė or maybe itís that, given the alternating first person point of view between Cannie and Joy, sheís created approachable characters. Whatever the cause, the result is a book that by its very content encourages emotional reader connection. Weíve either been a mother, a daughter, or both - and sometimes I thought that all Weiner had to do was tell us "itís about a mother who wants to shrink wrap her daughter from the world" and her readers could fill in the rest. There would be different names, settings and events but the emotion of it would remain largely the same. However, itís this ease of emotional reader connection that Weiner [ab]uses towards the end of the novel.

I cried. Long, 3:30 am in the morning tears, I cried for Cannie and Joy and even harder for myself as I thought of the flaming wreck of mess I would be if the end to Certain Girls were ever to happen to me (knock very hard on wood!). Honest truth, Iím not even sure my eyes landed on all the words to the ending, I was so embroiled in my own nightmare. But I felt as if my tears were the result of serious manipulation, that the end was there purely to make me cry so that the book could be described as "touching" and "moving" and if turned into a movie, be nominated for an Academy Award or win something at Sundance.

Good in Bed was was categorized as Chick Lit; this follow-up appears to be Women's Fiction. Perhaps to avoid the dreaded Chick Lit tag, you need to make readers cry? Gnash their teeth? Rail at unforgiving gods?

All that said, Iím aware that I have a "please give me a happy ending" reading handicap and Iím also aware that my definition of happiness could be a narrow one, so it speaks to the strength of the book that in the horrible aftermath to that ending, I could still remember the good to Certain Girls; those parts that had me up till four in the morning.

-- Abi Bishop

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