The Astor Orphan

Alexandra Aldrich’s The Astor Orphan is a memoir about growing up in the American Aristocratic Astor family with the twist that although she lived a childhood in one of the oldest, largest homes Alexandra grew up in poverty. The mansion was falling apart, her parents never worked, her grandmother almost drank herself to death, and yet their pride of a great family remained.

While this book was interesting to see how the other half lived, I think in order to have a successful memoir, the author should have more insight into the circumstances that she’s writing about. Understandably, it would be difficult to grow up in a former prosperous family where her uncle and aunt seem to still be somewhat successful, Alexandra did not live the life of someone in actual poverty. For example, Alexandra tells that she may have had to figure out how to get enough food, but she and her mother travelled every year or so to Poland. She never discusses where this money came from to support this extravagance. Also, while she complains that she has to wear thrift store clothes, she tells of extraordinary hippie events that her father allowed to be hosted on the property. Alexandra complains that whenever her wealthy aunt came to visit, her grandmother would buy new bedding for her family, but this same aunt paid for her to go to a boarding school.

I understand that this story is told from a young girl’s perspective, but the years should have give Aldrich more insight into how her family’s life was able to remain as it did. Part of the problem is that she is self centered and thinks her part of this family’s story is the one that should have been told, but she’s the wrong point of view for this memoir. Every adult in this novel sounded much more interesting that the whining of a young girl, yet we don’t get the the nitty gritty behind their lives. Where does the grandmother get her money? How do they afford to travel to Eastern Europe enough for her to feel more of a connection with her Polish roots than the aristocratic family she lived with. Who the hell are the Astors? If you’re going to write a novel about how your once great family has fallen on hard times, don’t assume the reader has a clue who your family it…especially if your last name is not Astor.

Anyway, the memoir had some interesting tidbits of a fall from wealth, but it was told from the wrong perspective without enough details to make it a good read.

April 2013

How to Save a Life

Sara Zarr’s How to Save a Life, is a light hearted novel about a Jill, teenager who lost her father and Mandy, a teenager who became pregnant and chooses to find an adoptive family for her soon to be child.

While the novel covers very difficult topics (death of a parent, teen pregnancy, adoption, abuse, abandonment), the tone of the novel is light. The characters deal with difficult issues and end up gaining a family on the process. The story was straight forward and enjoyable to read, but didn’t dive too deep into the issues ripping Jill and Mandy’s life apart. The most insightful character is Jill’s goth boyfriend who understands both girls better than they understand them self. Of course, it isn’t until they have their own personal break throughs that they are able to attain the happiness that is due to them in life and miraculously everyone will get to live happily ever after.

I don’t mean to sound disparaging of this book. I did enjoy reading it and got through the book very quickly. However, thinking about the book afterwards, it was just a little too convenient of an ending. Not very realistic and they never explored the sexual abuse which probably resulted in Mandy’s pregnancy. She lives in a delusional world where her one night stand, a cute boy met at a traveling fair, is the father of the child, instead of her mother’s boyfriend who repeatedly slept with her. (Spoiler alert) The whole novel feeds her delusions even letting her be the one adopted instead of the baby. Sheer lunacy. But somehow felt ok while reading the book.

I think Zarr did a better characterization of Jill, the more typical teenager who resents the only parent she has left, and she felt more real. Mandy’s life felt like a dream someone like Jill would have where everything was the opposite of her privileged life, but of course, she couldn’t let it end realistically. So everyone gets the happy ending.

Read April 2013