Thursday, February 19, 2015

Review: Beyond the Gardens

Title: Beyond the Gardens
Author: Sandra C. Lopez
Page Count: 432
My Rating: 2 TURTLES: A so-so read. It had some redeeming qualities, but not enough to recommend.
 At the age of 18, Esperanza Ignacio begins her college years at an upscale Los Angeles art school, where she studies to fulfill her long-term dream in Animation. But she soon learns the truth to the old folktale: "you can take the girl out of the barrio, but you can't take the barrio out of the girl." Even though she's getting financial aid, Esperanza works a part-time job during her break from classes just to make ends meet. Her roommate, Anna, is what she calls a "chicana from Beverly Hills" because of the rich daddy and the new car she got for her quinceañera.

Things get a little confusing for Esperanza when an old friend comes
looking for her, hoping to start a meaningful relationship. But is Carlos
the right guy for her? She never even considered him to be anything more than a friend since high school. Then comes Jake, a gorgeous mechanic, who shares her passion for books and loves her for who she is. What's a girl to do?

Strength and determination help pave the way for the future. And, as she approaches her graduation, she is faced with a difficult decision: should she leave Los Angeles and leave behind her family, her home, and everything she's known? Ever since she was born in the California barrio of Hawaiian Gardens, she's always had to look over the fence, wondering what she's been missing. Now she's taking a flying leap over to see what's beyond the little barrio. What's beyond her family, her friends, and her past? What's beyond the little nothing town, where dreams don't exist? What's beyond The Gardens? Is it life, love, a future? The story of Esperanza is finally concluded in this wildly entertaining and heart-warming sequel.

I received this book for review from the author. I had reviewed her other book, Esperanza, last year and liked it well enough to want to read the next installment in the story. Unfortunately, much of the same things that annoyed me in Esperanza continued in Beyond the Gardens. And while I might have been able to overlook these things to an extent in one novel, having to read four hundred more pages with similar errors and annoyance made me less inclined to rate this book favorably.

One of my big issues with this book was the amount of grammatical errors, particularly with tense agreement. As a writer, I know how easy it is to be plugging along in past tense and switch over to present without thinking about it, but when the discrepancies make it onto the final product, it can be really disorienting and disrupting for the reader. I also recently read a book that switched tenses so badly I never actually figured out which tense it was supposed to be. Thankfully, this book is nowhere near that inconsistent, but that book did make me particularly sensitive to books randomly changing tenses, no matter the length of time.

Another thing I noticed in the first book that reoccurred in this one was the plot structure. Esperanza followed the title character through all four years of high school and ended with graduation. Beyond the Gardens was the same, except it followed her through college. This structure made more sense in the first book since it followed Esperanza’s path from adolescence to adulthood, but even then it dragged. With Beyond the Gardens, though, I thought the structure worked even less because their wasn’t even the overarching goal of Esperanza reaching adulthood. It felt like a lot of sub-plots strung along for four years that all tied up around the time of Esperanza’s college graduation. It might have been the author’s intention to have college be the overarching plot, but the only scenes we have of her college experience where in depth descriptions of some of her classes, down to snippets of the professor’s lectures. Any conflict that occurs within this area – such as Esperanza struggling in a subject – resolves itself within a few pages. This book took me a while to finish because I was bored, I didn’t feel the plot had direction. Even memoirs that follow a person’s life tend to focus on one aspect of a person’s life, they don’t try to follow it in its entirety.

On top of the plot, part of the reason the book was a slower read for me was that I couldn’t really get invested in the characters. Many of the minor characters, which could have been interesting were cheapened either by Esperanza’s shallow, generalized descriptions of them or by the fact that they revealed themselves to be fairly one sided through the plot. Two characters, that really grated against my nerves were Carlos and Carla, twins who were Esperanza’s best friends growing up. They got a little on my nerves in book one because the only thing Carla would talk about is how perfect Esperanza would be with Carlos after Esperanza repeatedly said she didn’t see Carlos like that. This book was a continuation of that. Esperanza gives it a try with Carlos and then the twins stop talking to her altogether when she realizes that she’ll never be more than a friend with Carlos. These were supposed to be her best friends in the world! Carlos I understand more, and least for the first few months, because he was hurt, but Carla? She gets mad that Esperanza can’t fulfill her fantasy and goes so far as to say it is Esperanza’s fault because she went to college. I just had a hard time believing all this, because it was basically reducing these characters’ purpose in this story down to this one drama that did not really affect other aspects of the story at all.

The last thing that I will touch on in this review is Esperanza herself. Something that bugged me in the last book showed up her too, and that would be Esperanza’s negativity. I completely understand she did not have the easiest upbringing, but that doesn’t really redeem for me the rudeness and complaining that Esperanza disguises as humor. It’s prevalent throughout the book and made me like her less as a character, which is tricky when the story hinges on you rooting on the main character.

I’m bummed because the story has potential to be really inspiring, but it just fell flat for me. I know there are people who have loved this book and were not bothered by the things that bothered me, but I personally cannot recommend this book.

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