Book Review: Roar by Cecelia Ahern

 

From the bestselling author of P.S., I Love You, a fiercely feminist story collection that illuminates–sometimes in fantastical ways–how women of all kinds navigate the world today.

In this singular and imaginative story collection, Cecelia Ahern explores the endless ways in which women blaze through adversity with wit, resourcefulness, and compassion. Ahern takes the familiar aspects of women’s lives–the routines, the embarrassments, the desires–and elevates these moments to the outlandish and hilarious with her astute blend of magical realism and social insight.

One woman is tortured by sinister bite marks that appear on her skin; another is swallowed up by the floor during a mortifying presentation; yet another resolves to return and exchange her boring husband at the store where she originally acquired him. The women at the center of this curious universe learn that their reality is shaped not only by how others perceive them, but also how they perceive the power within themselves.

By turns sly, whimsical, and affecting, these thirty short stories are a dynamic examination of what it means to be a woman in this very moment. Like women themselves, each story can stand alone; yet together, they have a combined power to shift consciousness, inspire others, and create a multi-voiced ROAR that will not be ignored.

Roar is a collection of fantastical stories, rooted in the real world, in which the unnamed women at the heart of the different tales experience life through a series of metaphors that have somehow become reality.

The titles of these 30 stories all begin with the words The Woman Who. Each focuses on a woman experiencing some sort of literal manifestation of the types of issues we all encounter more figuratively in our worlds.

The collection opens strong with The Woman Who Slowly Disappeared. The premise is very reminiscent of the season 1 Buffy episode Out of Mind, Out of Sight, about a high school girl whose peers never seem to notice her, and who ends up becoming invisible. In this story, the main character is a woman in her 50s who has gradually faded, becoming less seen over time as she ages, becoming unnoteworthy to the crowds of people around her:

On the worst days, she would go home feeling completely overwhelmed and desperate. She would look in the mirror just to make sure she was still there, to keep reminding herself of that fact; she even took to carrying a pocket mirror for those moments on the subway when she was sure she had vanished.

After fading away to just a glimmer, the woman finally finds hope in the care of a doctor who provides a diagnosis and treatment plan:

“Women need to see women, too,” Professor Montgomery says. “If we don’t see each other, if we don’t see ourselves, how can we expect anybody else to?”

In The Woman Who Was Kept on a Shelf, a woman’s husband builds her a shelf where he can display and admire her, but over the years of her marriage, she finds the shelf keeps her on the sidelines of the life around her.

She’s spent so many years sitting up here representing an extension of  Ronald, of his achievements, that she no longer has any idea what she represents to herself.

Other favorites of mine are the stories The Woman Who Walked in Her Husband’s Shoes, The Woman Who Was a Featherbrain, and the The Woman Who Was Pigeonholed. But really, they’re all terrific. The tales are simple. You might at first glance find the premise a little obvious, but really, taken as a whole, these fables illustrated different aspects of what it means to be a woman, how we are defined by society, ourselves, and each other, and how perception and awareness can change everything. There’s a lightness and humor in many stories, even as the situations, taken to their logical (or illogical) conclusion can be nightmarish.

In The Woman Who Wore Pink, there’s an actual Gender Police that issues warnings and fines as people step outside their prescribed gender roles, with all of one’s interactions — even down to the daily Starbucks order, being identified as either “penis” or “vagina”. It takes the woman’s six-year-old daughter’s angry argument, “If I”m not me, who else am I supposed to be?” for the woman to open her eyes and consider the pointlessness of separating all habits and options into either penis or vagina categories. There’s a particularly funny episode after the daughter is denied the “penis” Happy Meal that comes with a dinosaur, as the woman starts to question why dinosaurs are considered boy-appropriate only:

“I’m just saying. I mean, there were female dinosaurs, too, you know, and I don’t think any of them were pink.”

I ended up loving this entire collection. The thirty stories are a mix of far-fetched, grounded in the familiar, comedic, and painful. All are told in a straight-forward manner, where we take the fantastical elements as reality and are faced with considering how our world’s definitions of women’s lives and women’s roles might look if all the euphemisms and catchphrases for the assumptions and barriers facing women became literal parts of the everyday world.

Roar is a fun, thought-provoking set of stories with plenty to chew on. I think it would be a great choice for a book club to discuss. Reading this book made me wish for a group of friends with copies in their hands, so we could each pick a favorite story and compare notes — and imagine ourselves literally falling through the floor, unraveling, melting down, or discovering our very own strong suit.

Check it out!

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The details:

Title: Roar
Authors: Cecelia Ahern
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: April 16, 2018
Length: 288 pages
Genre: Short stories
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Top Ten Tuesday: My top 10 favorite heroic women in fiction (plus a few extra… )

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Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is “Top Ten Favorite Heroines From Books (or movies or TV)”.  The term “heroines” suggests a certain amount of adventure and thrilling heroics, and we’ve got plenty of that here. These women (and girls) take the lead, take charge, and are just overall amazing.

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1) Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp Randall Fraser (Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon): Claire is the strongest, smartest woman around in any century. Fiercely loyal, dedicated to her friends and family, a gifted scientist, and a passionate lover, Claire’s got it all. Plus, who else do you know who makes home-made penicillin?

2) Mercy Thompson (The Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs): Auto mechanic, martial arts master, magical shape-shifter, and just overall an incredibly brave woman. Definitely the person you’d want on your side when the big baddies come to call.

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3) Lyra (His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman): Lyra is dedicated to her friends, loves adventure, is highly curious, and puts herself at risk even when she’s afraid, if there’s something important on the line.

4) Diana Bishop (All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness): Witch and historian, Diana is a perfect combination of brains and magic.

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5) Cassie Sullivan (The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey): How do you keep going when everything you know is gone? Bravery, commitment to a promise, and a sheer determination to make things right or die trying.

6) Scout Finch (To Kill A Mockingbird): Okay, what’s not to love? Scout is a little Southern tomboy who learned her values from an amazing father. Scout stands up for the people she loves and doesn’t understand injustice. Love her.

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7) Harry Crewe (The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley): Harry goes from sheltered daughter to a wielder of a magical sword and one hell of a horsewoman, among other achievements. She’s a perfect example of a fantasy fiction woman who most definitely is not a damsel in distress.

I want to use the rest of my list to give shout-outs to a few bunches of amazing women:

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8) The women of Fables (by Bill WIllingham): I love just about everything about this graphic novel series, especially the amazing female characters such as Snow White, Rose Red, Cinderella, and Beauty, to name but a few. These are no Disney princesses. Really, if you haven’t read Fables, go get volume one immediately! You’ll be happy you did, I promise.

9) The Stark women (A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin): Arya, Catelyn, even Sansa — all have been through enormous trauma, and manage to hold onto their courage even in the face of unbearable loss and misery.

10) The women of Harry Potter (the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling): Hermione is amazing, but so are Molly Weasley and Minerva McGonagall, not to mention Luna Lovegood, Lily Potter, Nymphadora Tonks, and so many more.

Okay, that’s 10 — but I do want to give three cheers to some of my favorite women on TV right now:

  • Elizabeth Jennings (The Americans)
  • Peggy Carter (Agent Carter)
  • Jane Villanueva (Jane the Virgin)
  • Zoe Hart (Hart of Dixie)
  • The women of Black Sails: Eleanor Guthrie, Anne Bonny, and Max. (Does Max have a last name? Couldn’t find it.)

Oh, and one more just because no list of powerful women is complete without the one and only Slayer, Buffy Summers:

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Who are your favorite heroines? Please share your links!

(Note: All images scavenged from miscellaneous Pinterest boards…)

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