September 16, 2014

Mystic Thompson: "Fighting Kudzu"

Title: Fighting Kudzu [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: Fighting Kudzu [?] (1st of 2 books [?])
Author: Mystic Thompson [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Contemporary
Year: 2014 (first published 2009)
Age: 14+
Stars: 3/5
Pros: Intense coming-of-age story. Lead has a distinct voice. Pre-teen chapters make a strong impact.
Cons: High school years are just touched over, if not for a single incident (then book proceeds on to college). Some too convenient occurrences and situations.
WARNING! A drunk parent and a death. A not-overly-graphic sex scene between two girls. And, if you're over-sensitive about animal dying in books, you might approach this one with caution - though it's only an off-screen occurrence.
Will appeal to: Those who like coming-of-age tales. Those who are interested in GLBTQ+ stories.

Blurb: In 1972 on a hot, late spring day in Georgia, five-year-old Noble Thorvald plays contentedly, alone in her suburban backyard. Her only imaginary professional football team. As she plays in her world of wonder and adventure, Noble is unaware of the challenges life will hurl in her direction - challenges that will redefine her more than once. Fighting Kudzu is the lyrical saga that traces Noble's life as she emerges into adulthood and discovers herself. (Amazon)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I received this novel from Musa Publishing in exchange for an honest review.
A quick note before I get to the juicy part: as the blurb itself states, this is a contemporary novel, only not set in the present. It starts in 1972 and proceeds on to the '80s - which doesn't mean an awful lot though, if you don't count some music references, the lack of cell phones and Internet, and the basic fact that homosexuality was more frowned upon back then. Having said so, the prejudice has not gone away in what we like to think of as our more enlightened era. This is a coming-of-age and coming-out story, and in that it is timeless enough. Also, the book follows Noble since when she's only five, and barely touches her high school experience, before it comes to a closure with her first year in college - which makes it a YA/NA hybrid at the very least (I don't use the MG label for obvious reasons).
Noble's story opens in a suburban garden in Atlanta. The prologue immediately draw me in: a 5 y.o. female who chooses a whole football team - the Dolphins - as her imaginary friends is not something you see everyday ;). Their made-up interaction is very touching, inasmuch as not only Noble envisions herself as the first female player in the NFL, but also relies on her imaginary fellows for support and advice. Despite her two older siblings Rachel and Chad being a bit rude - or at best nonchalant - about her, Noble's family sounds like a safe least she does have two parents living together (Dave and Mel)...but there's more under the apparently uncomplicated surface. The dad is nice to Noble, but doesn't really seem affected by what happens around him; the mom's behaviour is slightly unsettling from the start. She often treats Noble as if she were an adult, all while worrying about her having to grow up and lose her innocence. At a very early age, Mel introduces Noble to the two concept that will leave a mark on her for years: replacement (if you fail to do what needs to be done in the lives of the people you love, you risk to get discarded and replaced) and heartbreak. On the other hand, we get the sense of Mel's love for her own daughter, and some of their moments together will also stay with Noble for all the years to come, even when the hell has already broken loose. Because, the fact is, Mel will turn into an alcohol addict soon, ultimately breaking up the family (though, well, don't let me start on Dave - I can't spoil the whole book for you, can I?), and scarring Noble - the only one who refuses to give up on her - in more than a (crude) way. [...]

Despite the amount of unsettling incidents, the first part of the book is my favourite: I loved seeing Noble relate to the events and adults in her life, trying to build an impossible balance and to make sense of impossible things. Her mother is an alcoholic, but it's not like the rest of the family isn't damaged. This first section of the book also hints at Noble's fascination with other females, kids her age she feels attracted somehow; the topic is just touched upon though, and in a sensitive manner.
The following, brief interlude about Noble in high school is where the book lost me a little. On the very first day, she walks in with a perfect plan in order to become popular, but even more, to succeed - first in school, then in life. She soon becomes the best in everything, from academics to sports to extracurricular activities. Everyone, from teachers to students, love her. Mm, really, no. Not only Noble suddenly and effortlessly morphs into the school rock star, but this transition is recounted in a mere few paragraphs, which also adds to the distinct impression that we're reading about a different character altogether. We don't really get a sense of Noble's high school experience, also because this section of the story pretty much centers around a single incident: her relationship with a teacher, Ms. Brock. Now, it's not a physical relationship by any means, and I did appreciate that (because, you know, the whole pupil-plus-teacher scenario). On the other hand, the friendship and its development sound (again) too easy and convenient to me. Also, a rumour about Noble's sexuality dies of a premature death, so to speak...which I can't believe, being high school what it is.
The third part of the book (the same size as the first one, more or less) follows Noble in college at Murray, North Carolina. While reconnecting with her mother, she finds herself attracted by Lucy, a girl who recently re-enrolled after a scandal. My biggest issue with this section was, again, the convenience of this situation: everyone knows about Lucy...Lucy is first Noble's friend, then girlfriend (and someone has first-hand knowledge of that)...lots of people seem to find homosexuality "disgusting"...but the two of them apparently never get bullied. Well, that's a huge stretch...
I don't want to spoil the ending for you - suffice to say, things are wrapped up, but there's still room for a sequel (tentative title Downhill Running) that Thompson is already working on. I hope we get to know what happened to Noble's brother, who had earlier vanished from the story after a tragic occurrence, and is pretty much the only real loose end we've been left with.
I'm sure that most of you (especially if interested in GLBTQ+ themes and relationships) will be drawn to the NA section of this book...but for me, little Noble wins hands down. She will stay with me, and I will, from time to time, find myself running images in my head of her and the Dolphins playing a football game and trying to make sense of the world :).

Original 2009 cover

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  1. I haven't heard of this one before, but the premise has me curious-I may have to look for it next time I'm at the library :)


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