Monday, October 10, 2011

Review: Wallflower by Holly-Jane Rahlens

Reviewed by Christina
[I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.]

Published: First in German as Mauerbl├╝mchen, 2009. Then in English, 2010

It's about: It's Thanksgiving 1989, a few weeks after the fall of The Wall, and Molly Lenzfeld is a sixteen-year-old New Yorker living in Berlin for a year with her theoretical chemist father. That is, she was supposed to stay for a year. After a few months of failing to "connect" with the city and her life there, she has decided to return to New York. A few days before her scheduled departure, she sets off on a mission to visit her late mother's childhood home in East Berlin. On the way she meets 19-year-old Mick, and they spend the day together.

I thought: I pretty much knew I was going to like this book on some level, since I'm a germanophile and I've been curious about the bizarrely divided city ever since visiting there (and loving it) when I was 19. And I did love the anecdotes about East Berlin: the public restroom experience, the hostility that passes for customer service, and the general grayness of life under communism. I also loved the cultural compare-and-contrast conversations between Molly and Mick; I had my fair share of them when I was in Germany, and I miss those discussions. In general, this book made me miss Germany, Europe, and living in a city.
Me in Berlin, 2002

But I think maybe I've been reading/listening to too many YA books lately, because Molly's voice just grated on me. She's so whiny and insecure, and irritatingly incapable of identifying her own (obvious) emotions. It rang true, and maybe would have been relateable for someone ten years younger than me. Molly just made it hard for me to settle in and enjoy the book.

On the back of the book there are a few blurbs from German reviewers mentioning how funny Wildflower is. I'm guessing this must be a cultural difference, because I really didn't think it was funny. Cute (though a little corny sometimes), interesting, and well-written, yes. Funny? Not to me. Maybe it's a "wink-nudge" kind of humor for people who knew Berlin in the late 80's. The "favorite excerpt" below definitely has that feel.

Verdict: Hm... In-Between.

Reading Recommendations: Check it out if you have any connection to or history with Berlin, especially if you're a teenager. You may not be blown away, but you'll be entertained.

Warnings: Some F-bombs. Sex is mentioned.

Favorite excerpts: "I immediately can tell they are East Germans. It's funny, but you can recognize someone from the East a mile away. Their cars you know by the smell even before you see them. The exhaust is really acrid. And the people you identify by the clothes. The stone-washed jeans look is a sure giveaway. The ski jacket. The cheap moon boots they, especially the children, wear everywhere except to the moon. The women with fluffy, permed hair, short in front, long in the back, the men with the same haircut but porcupine-like in front. I call it the 'Rod Stewart.'"

What I'm reading next: Wildwood by Colin Meloy