Maggie Reviews Frog Music by Emma Donoghue

Please welcome Maggie to the C-Spot Reviews Crew!

The latest work from Emma Donoghue is one that will stick with you for a while. Frog Music is a gem. Set in the scalding summer of 1876 in the midst of a smallpox epidemic, Donoghue’s story surrounding the little-known unsolved murder of Jenny Bonnet unfolds. From the very beginning, she pulls the reader into the heat and the period with imagery that isn’t verbose but also doesn’t leave you wanting. The artful insertion of French and American song excerpts throughout only adds to the ambience that the author has created, and she addresses the song choices in her notes at the end for those who are extra curious about such things. The author’s note was a pleasure to read, and I usually skip over those. She also includes a bevy of French words and phrases to make the characters more authentic, all of which are interpreted in the glossary, for which I thank her.

Donoghue brought real people back to life in this vivid historical fiction piece, inventing only five named characters and doing so smartly. Jenny Bonnet is a young woman who breaks the law every day as she walks around San Francisco in trousers instead of the time’s proper female attire. This cross-dressing frog catcher is an inquisitive person, to say the least, and even as the author fills in gaps about this woman’s background, there is still room for the reader to speculate as to the motives for her actions, which maintains Jenny’s mystery and intrigue.

Then there is Blanche, a young French burlesque dancer and prostitute who is literally bowled over by Jenny’s entrance into her life, and it is this woman whose point of view we follow as she is transformed by her short but turbulent relationship with Jenny. The action moves back and forth in time between the day Jenny and Blanche meet and three days after the murder, which creates a natural suspense amid the already titillating plot points. The characters are interesting and memorable and all important to the story in their own way. This novel is poignant, funny, and lyrical. It was crafted to envelop us in the world of Jenny and Blanche and give us a very intimate glimpse into their lives. Emma Donoghue does not disappoint.

You can download a sample or purchase Frog Music by clicking here.

Define ‘Normal’ by Julie Anne Peters

This story is about “two girls–a “punk” and a “priss”–who find themselves facing each other in a peer-counseling program and discover that they have some surprising things in common” (from the blurb).

Antonia is a straight-A student, who spends all her spare time taking care of her younger siblings, as her mother is fighting a losing battle with depression since her husband left. Although she is only 14 years old, Antonia’s responsibilities have made her grow up far too fast. She keeps to herself, has no real friends at school, and really has no one to talk to about her daily troubles. Because of her lack of spare time, she has been forced to drop the after-school clubs she so enjoys in deference to her family’s needs. At one point, she is approached by the school counselor to do ‘peer counseling’ for another student who is experiencing troubles at home as well. Much to Antonia’s dismay, her ‘client’ is Jasmine “Jazz” Luther, a punk with an inflammatory attitude.

The girls get off to a tremendously horrible start, and Antonia almost gives up several times before they can even find anything in common. Eventually they both begin opening up and becoming unlikely friends. This happens at the perfect time, as Antonia’s problems at home begin to escalate, culminating in her mother’s hospitalization. Antonia comes to depend on Jazz’s friendship, and they grow to become each other’s trusted confidant.

This was a quick read, and aside from some painfully jarring attempts at ‘young kids slang,’ I feel that the author did a good job describing the very different worlds that formed these characters. Antonia has many obstacles that I can’t imagine dealing with at the age of 14, but I know there are many out there that are painfully familiar with the theme. For their sake, I am glad this book exists to give them hope. Although the writing and subject matter isn’t as good as some of her other books (See Rage: A Love Story, those looking for a serious angst-ridden abusive emotion-fest), I did enjoy this book and will continue to recommend this author to young and old adults.

Define “Normal” by Julie Anne Peters