Saturday, February 11, 2012

Two Minervas You Should Meet

Without particularly meaning to, I listened to two books with excellent protagonists named Minerva, who go by Min (not Minnie), with unruly hair and strong voices and romantic problems. Other than that, they're not a lot the same story, but both are told so well.

In Why We Broke Up, written by Daniel Handler and illustrated by Maria Kalman, Min Green is a 16 year old with a broken heart. She was never one of the popular girls, but got along well with her don't-call-them-artsy friends. Then she and Ed, the star of the basketball team, got together. Their relationship was intense and charming and doomed. The novel is the letter that Min writes Ed to accompany the box of memorabilia that Min hoarded over the course of their relationship. Each section is a story that relates to the objects that Kalman illustrates.

Min's voice is so lovely and true. Maybe she's a little emotionally prescient, but she has all of the passion and obsession with minutia and Grand Romance that makes this novel a success. Ed is a pretty amazing character, too, at least as seen through Min's eyes. How much of the generous, compassionate, sensitive soul yearning to break free from the constraints of his popular, charming jock persona is truly him as opposed to what Min invests in him remains to be seen. But in my imagination, Ed actually reads - and reflects on - the box of memories and the accompanying letter, and some day he breaks free of those chains of his own accord. Min is given a perfect blend of earnestness, heartbreak, naivete, and intelligence by narrator Khristine Hvam. The audiobook includes a PDF of Kalman's charming illustrations, which you need to get the full impact of the text.

My other Minerva is Min Dobbs, heroine of Jennifer Crusie's Bet Me. This novel opens with Min being dumped, though she is less devastated by it than Min Green was. Of course, the jerk who dumped her, David, hasn't got the redeeming features of Handler's Ed. Then again, it doesn't look like Cal has a lot of redeeming features of his own. Still, when Min overhears a bitter David betting a skeptical Cal that he can't get Min to sleep with him, she decides to spite David by accepting Cal's dinner invitation. The fact that Cal only meant the bet to be for a meal provides most of the misunderstandings between them for the next month, but David and Cal's ex also do what they can to drive a wedge between the two.

Min has issues with her weight - her mother is, among other things, terrified that she'll make little sister Diana's wedding look bad because Min is too fat. Cal has issues with his emotional intelligence - struggling with dyslexia as a child in a successful family means being perceived as stupid is a hot button for him. And although Min and Cal find plenty of other reasons to push each other away and ignore the rightness they feel when they are together, they each see immediately through the biggest issues. Jumping to each other's defense, and helping each other reframe their issues in a positive light, they get under each other's skin. It's very Cinderella for both of them, and very charming and sweet and thought-provoking, to boot. Narrator Deanna Hurst is always a great bet for contemporary romance - she is light and clear and you can hear the smile in her voice.

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