Thursday, January 24, 2013

Skin Deep by E.M. Crane

           Cancer, pet dogs, and a "zombie" protaganist"! All in this week's review! 

            When I first started reading Skin Deep I wasn’t intending on doing a review for it. It wasn’t until I was eighty pages in that I decided that this book would mark my reviewing debut.
            Within those eighty pages the book beat me down. I was on the verge of giving up on it, a sacrilegious act for me, and if it wasn’t for me doing this review, I probably would have. But I think I am probably getting ahead of myself.
            The story starts with Andrea, a fifteen year old girl who makes it her mission in life to stay unnoticed. Just another girl with just another face going through the routines of life. To accomplish this, she has honed the skill of not engaging people. If you don’t talk to someone, don’t look them in the eye, then they won’t notice you. She is one craving for brains away from being a zombie.
            Away from the public eye, Andrea has her Lean Cuisine meals with her mother and the soaps. Her father left years ago as did her only friend.
            Andrea’s one love is dogs, a passion that has endured even through her mother’s refusals to get one. Instead of having an actual dog, she imagines she has a dog with her when she takes walks in the woods.
            This all sounds like the promising beginnings of a coming of age novel. And usually that would be the case. But in the case of Andrea, it becomes an experience comparable to having your teeth pulled. Slowly. Her lack of character (no opinions, no passion, etc…) breeds a lack of caring. If I don’t care what happens to and around her, then no matter how exquisite the plot, it won’t engage me.
            Skin Deep suffers from this failure to engage more than any other book I can think of because the author wants us to feel nothing. It is an intentional act so we feel like Andrea. At this, E.M. Crane excels. This feeling of nothingness is so masterfully done that it is hard to believe. But, it doesn’t matter if you are good at what you’re trying to do, if what you’re trying to do is shit.
            Then, a life-changing event happens to Andrea. Her mother gets her a job taking care of the neighbor’s dog, a short haired St. Bernard named Zena, while the neighbor is in the hospital.
            After only a few days, the neighbor, who we learn to be named Honora, comes back from the hospital. She is a life-loving artist who almost immediately takes center stage and does not relinquish it at any point. She is the counter point to Andrea. Full of energy and an unstoppable love for life. She keeps an herb garden, paints, rakus her own pottery and sells it.
            The problem is, Honora has cancer. Because of this, she takes Andrea on as an assistant so she can keep up with her everyday activities even through chemo, radiation, and all the hell that treatment entails.
            It is not until this point that the book starts getting good. Through Honora, Andrea starts to grow and open up to the world. This is the other thing that struck me about the book, how good of a job the author did at making Andrea change. It was slow and subtle and Andrea showed frequent doubts about this change. I never felt like she just became a new person who’s just woke up and seen the follies in her way. Instead the change is implemented using introspective looks at herself and questioning. “It’s time to accept the outside world for what it is. Time to explore the inside of your head for what’s there, instead.”
            Honora also allows the book to explore some interesting themes from the types of beauty a person can possess to the states people die in. It’s your usual fair but still is interesting nonetheless.
            While there are many good things this book does, I have to go back to Andrea’s character. She got in the way of my enjoyment of the book. All around her are a cast of bright, likable characters but the dullness of Andrea overpowered them and set up a barrier for me to get past. No one wants to be forced to fight to enjoy a book but that is exactly what I found myself doing here.
            At least the book managed to avoid an unnecessary romance. Experiencing Andrea falling for someone would be painful. How can such an unpassionate person fall in love? It would just turn into a ridiculous “The only thing in the world I care about is you” story. Maybe this is a disappointment for some of you, and in this case I can almost agree with you. It would have made a nice change to have her feel something strong somewhere. But for the already mentioned reasons, I don’t think that would make that much of a story.
            So, in the end I would have to say it was a below average book. The slow beginning coupled with the dullness of Andrea overshadows the things the book gets right. You’ll have to make your own call on this one though. If you really like coming of age stories, don’t mind a protagonist like Andrea, or mind that the first third of the book is excruciating, then this may be worth checking out from a library. I can't however recommend purchasing this book, especially when there are so many fantastic coming of age stories out there. If you are itching to read one, let me point you to Deadline by Chris Crutcher or maybe What Happened to Lani Garver by Carol Plum-Ucci, both of which are fantastic, especially Deadline which makes my top ten favorite books.
            And because apparently my opinion isn’t the only one that matters, please take a look at this review also on Reading Keeps You Sane. She offers a very different view on this book and I suggest you read it before taking any of this too seriously.


  1. Hey Cain!! You are very Abel!! lol

    This is well written and thought out. I am looking forward to your next entry. Keep it up and keep on reading!!

  2. I'm a fan. Never read this, but I may have to...

  3. You have an engaging style, and I enjoyed reading your commentary. You provide some fascinating insights into the novel. I look forward to your furure writings.