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Isis Holt

Book Review: Feb 2022

This month the reading I did varied slightly from January. I read less, but more on the topic of feminism. This was something that seemed to happen quite incidentally. Across the three books I read this month you will find strong female voices. Each book reflected themes of feminism, sexism, misogyny, and abuse. This was unintentional, but for me, led to a month of reflection and many a dinner conversation about the expectations placed on both women and men in society. I am excited to read more on this topic. Despite enjoying all three books to varying degrees, each has something to offer in terms of insight into what agency, power, and love mean to different people.



The three books I read this month were:

  1. My Body Keeps Your Secrets by Lucia Osborne-Crowley

  2. Circe by Madeline Miller

  3. It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover


My Body Keeps Your Secrets

(TW: recounts stories of sexual and emotional abuse)

Author: Lucia Osborne-Crowley

Genre: Feminist non-fiction

Rating: 9/10

Pages: 303


“In My Body Keeps Your Secrets, Lucia shares the voices of women and trans and non-binary people around the world, as well as her own deeply moving testimony. She writes of vulnerability, acceptance and the reclaiming of ourselves, all in defiance of a world where atrocities are committed and survivors are repeatedly told to carry the weight of that shame.” (goodreads)


I found this book to be incredibly powerful and personal. While Osborne-Crowley recounts stories of women and non-binary people all with a unique perspective and set of circumstances, I couldn’t help but feel that each story reflected a truth of my own life or experience within relationships with men. This is not an easy book to read. I found myself emotionally exhausted, shocked, and sometimes feeling physically sick at the relatability of recounted stories of sexual assault and relationship trauma. The concept of trauma and shame is not one I have encountered often in books, or even in my studies at school and university. I think each of these stories inform an important narrative around the commonality and diversity of sexual abuse and emotional trauma. I couldn’t write this review without a trigger warning, I had to have long periods away from this book to process both the content and my own understanding of it. My only condemnation for this book would be the narrative style. While I found each personal story to be incredibly well told, I did find the narrator to be somewhat repetitive in her attempts to relate to her interviewees.


Circe

Author: Madeline Miller

Genre: Fantasy/ Fiction

Rating: 10/10

Pages: 393


Circe is the name of a young woman who grows up in the household of Helios, God of the sun. Unlike her siblings, Circe appears to not have inherited any significant divinity. As such, she becomes an outcast among gods. Eventually Circe discovers her powers as a witch, carefully refining her craft away from the burning gaze of her father. When Circe is banished to an abandoned island, the narrative follows her as she discovers the power and agency she holds in some of the most beautiful and terrifying ways. This book is powerful in its message of female empowerment and independence, emphasising the value of hard work and resilience.


Having read The Song of Achilles last year, I was curious to see what else Miller had to offer. I adored ‘The Song of Achilles’ so much I went out and bought the hard cover version after reading it on my Kindle. I should have just gone straight for the hardcover when I decided to read Circe. Miller’s writing is some of the most beautiful and captivating I have ever read. She somehow captures imagery, emotion, and violence with such poise and candour that nothing ever feels overdone or exaggerated. As someone who has always had a self-proclaimed aversion to fantasy, Miller’s writing has changed my views entirely. This is a story of a woman who finds agency, power, love, and peace in the most unlikely places.


It Ends With Us

(TW: contains themes of sexual and emotional abuse)

Author: Colleen Hoover

Genre: Romantic Fiction

Rating: 5/10

Pages: 384


This is a difficult book to review given the traction it’s gained online. It also feels like the only book I can adequately reflect on in conversation. Having said that, I didn’t particularly enjoy this book, although, I can understand why people did. The story follows a young girl who falls into a toxic and later, abusive relationship with a man. The narrative flicks between her previous experience with her high school sweetheart and her current relationship. The book attempts to address issues of abuse and manipulation in a romantic, heteronormative setting.


While I think Hoover does a good job of establishing a male love interest, that is a walking red flag, I don’t think it is done with much subtlety. As such, the relationship and its trajectory felt obvious to me and a little superficial. Hoover does an excellent job at highlighting the cycle of abuse in families and across generations; however, the execution of her writing occasionally feels clumsy and patronising. I respect the fact that this book is geared more towards a Young Adult (YA) audience and, therefore, may justify the simplicity of the language. However, the childlike expressions juxtaposed with adult themes made for an uncomfortable read. I will say that the second half of the book appealed to me significantly more. Hoover does a brilliant job at exploring the complexity of leaving an abusive relationship and manages to evoke empathy in the reader for both the abused and the abuser.


I can understand why this book may have resonated with many young people, particularly women. I would say that books such as ‘My Body Keeps Your Secrets’ by Lucia Osborne-Crowley or ‘Women Don’t Owe You Pretty’ by Florence Given may be a more appropriate read when looking for a clear depiction of female agency in the face of toxic relationships.


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© 2022 by Isis Holt. Brisbane based.