Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Review - Not That Kind of Girl by Carlene Bauer

Not That Kind of Girl by Carlene Bauer
276 pages
published 8/09

Synopsis from publisher:

Raised in evangelical churches that preached apocalypse now, Carlene Bauer grows up happy to oblige the God who presides over her New Jersey girlhood. But in high school and college, her intellectual and spiritual horizons widen, and she becomes skeptical of the judgmental God she's been given. Still, she finds it hard to let go of the ideals she's been raised with, and to rebel as she knows she should. She loves rock and roll, but politely declines offers of sex and drugs; she thinks the Bible and the Norton Anthology of American Literature are equally authoritative guides to life. Since there are no churches worshipping the Jesus Paul Westerberg sang about in Can't Hardly Wait, and no tidy categories for those who are neither riot grrrls nor altar girls, she hovers between a hunger for the world and a suspicion of it.

In her twenties, however, determined to make up for lost time, Bauer undertakes a belated and often comic coming-of-age in New York City. Between late blooming at parties and staying late at work, it seems that she might become as bold as she'd hoped to be — even if the late blooming is a little more hapless than highly erotic. And yet the city and its pleasures do not distract her from another hope: that she might learn how to have a faith that she can truly call her own. Enter the Catholic Church, and a conversion. But then she falls in love, and loses her religion — which leaves her wondering just what it means to be good.

Sharply written, hilarious, and touching, Not That Kind of Girl is the story of one young woman's efforts to define worldliness, ambition, and love on her own terms — while believing in, among other things, The Smiths, Virginia Woolf, and the transformative power of New York City. Fellow restless seekers will find solace in Bauer's struggle to create meaning in the face of overwhelming doubt, and fall in love with the highly original voice at the center of this unforgettable debut.

My thoughts:

I think one of the most interesting and telling things to learn about a person is the journey they have made to their chosen spiritual center. Whether they are cradle Catholics, or born-again Presbyterians, or people who choose not to identify with any particular spiritual creed, I find a person's spiritual path to be fascinating. So this memoir, about a young woman raised in an Evangelical setting who decides to search for her own road to God, sounded like something I would devour.

Of course, my own Evangelical upbringing was certainly part of my interest, and I found myself relating to so much of the author's experience growing up in private Christian school, attending retreats and taking Bible classes. While our situations were quite different, the essence of our early training was very similar, and I couldn't help but chuckle at many of the situations she found herself in.

The parts of the book that deal with the author's spiritual journey I did find quite compelling - in many ways, I could relate to her dissatisfaction and frustration, and appreciated her desire to come to know God on her own terms; to feel like her intellectual capacity did not have to be checked at the door of the church of her choice; to find the place that felt like home. I enjoyed Bauer's narrative voice, and her intelligence sparkled off the pages.

Where I felt the memoir fell short for me was in it's seeming lack of focus - rather than the story of her spiritual quest, it seemed to become a chronicle of her job insecurities and failed love interests. While I understand that those things all played a part in the journey she was taking, I felt much less compelled to read about her late-night exploits, and honestly had a hard time keeping her boyfriends straight.

I really enjoyed the first part of this book, but unfortunately the latter half lost its spark for me. I do think Bauer has an interesting and intelligent perspective on the world, and I would read another book by this author. I have a feeling that she still has a long way to go on her journey, and I would be interested to see the next installment in her story.

Finished: 7/11/10
Source: Review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours - thank you!
MPAA Rating: probably R for plenty of language and sexual situations
My Rating: 6/10

Don't just take my word for it! Check out what these other fabulous bloggers have to say:

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Wednesday, July 28th: my books. my life.

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