I finished Hungry Heart, and I loved it. It was an emotional journey through Jennifer's life, and a vehicle to reminisce about my own life in Connecticut through her storytelling. Obviously, because I'm older, it was a different perception of place and time.
First of all--Simsbury--I loved that town, unlike Jennifer. I moved there as a newlywed in 1990, bought a modest Ensign Bickford-style house in a neighborhood near Central School, then proceeded to have my two children, both boys. We'd spend hours at the tire swing in the Central School playground; I experienced no high school bullies; I loved the trek to the Simsbury library, a newer one near the library that Jennifer used to visit, past her depressing Belden school, which had been converted to a practical and efficient town hall when I lived there--I was 28 when I moved there, 34 when I had my eldest child. My children, as far as I knew, experienced no school bullies in Simsbury as we left there when my oldest was just 7 years old. Most everywhere you drove in that town, you were surrounded by purple hills that cozied the valley below and were guided by the stark but beautiful silhouette of Heublein Tower above, like a lighthouse.
Incidentally, I attended five different high schools, mostly overseas. And, I must admit, the theme was similar to Jennifer's years spent in Simsbury, feeling new and different, sometimes ostracized. Trying to fit in. Eyeing that lunch table for friendly people. Sometimes not belonging no matter how hard you tried.
In grade school, I was called four-eyes. I had glasses--not your token thin-lensed glasses with stylish frames--mine were owlish due to being born pre-mature and myopic after having too much oxygen pumped into my incubator; the lenses were thick, Coke-bottle like glass. And I was skinny--I wore floods, and was a spelling bee champion. In Ohio, I tested horribly during the entrance exams to see where you'd be placed in sixth grade--I was put into a classroom that ended up not being advanced enough for me. When they moved me to the "smart" class, I was bullied by a guy named David, who used to chase me around the playground calling me traitor and smarty-pants. But then I got contacts and was "pretty"; high school did become easier after that. But, none-the-less, I was bullied again when I was sixteen, after being evacuated from Iran and treated "specially."
I decided to chronicle a part of that in my novel Unrest. The fact that bullying occurs on many levels and in many places--not just in one town, like Simsbury, Connecticut. You can be fat, myopic, too smart or not smart enough. At least Jennifer's quick wit and self-deprecating humor drew her out after her high school years, made people like her; made people love her, actually.
Many of the things Jennifer talks about at great length in her book are important and can be personal to many people in different but parallel ways: women's rights, the right to be who you are, who you should be; the notion that beauty should come from within and not from the surface, that publishing is darn-hard work and not for the fool-hardy, that it is changing and has changed. If people are critical of chick-lit, I happen to love it--and Jennifer writes so well, it isn't chick-lit. I love a good story about love and redemption; I love a good movie about love and redemption. I love love stories. I abhor people who criticize someone who is talented. Those reviewers that are cruel without thinking about the heart and soul that is poured into writing a novel or a memoir, or an article, or realizing all the years at college or after spent honing your craft (Princeton no less for Jennifer). And unlike Jennifer, people may enjoy smaller successes (hers were huge), like me seeing my novel in the "local author" section of my community bookstore. Heck, joy is joy.
Her memoir (collection of stories) entertained me. I liked the part about the bear they tranquilized and moved, and how it reeked. The life change experienced by her mother. But her story also saddened me. A condominium in Rocky Hill. I could imagine it; I'd been there. I knew of the Institute of Living. I've been to Simsbury Manor Drive. Butterflies Restaurant. West Hartford Center. Hartford. Her story brought back so many life memories, it made me feel old. Yet, it invigorated me: Jennifer's off-the-chart successes. Sweet rat terriers and other dogs (like my precious, Fenway, and how I also put a picture of her in my debut novel). How you should and should not tweet. Parents that hurt children. Mothers who love children. Wonderful Nannas. Funny sisters. Sweet brothers. Failed relationships. Good relationships. Family.
It made me understand that we all have similar experiences and common dreams, but we all experience them a little bit differently.
The picture below is Heublein Tower, Simsbury's (and Avon's) "lighthouse." Walk up there in the fall and revel in the colorful foliage below. It is spectacular!