Friday, November 18, 2011

Review: Spin the Plate by Donna Anastasi

Wow, it's been a while.
Major things have happened in my life changing it and not always for the better, but anyways...
I think I might try to be active on this blog again, too.

Title: Spin the Plate
Author: Donna Anastasi
Genre: YA/Christian
Synopsis: Time has done nothing to heal childhood wounds inflicted more than a dozen years ago, nor fade the memories. Now as an adult, Jo has given up on the human race, men in particular, investing her energies in tattoo artistry and animal rescue. Francis meets Jo during an altercation between Jo and another passenger on the Boston subway. Francis, the brains and speech writer for Charles Davis a Boston philanthropist and billionaire, is painfully lonely as his job requires that he maintain anonymity plus have constant exposure to the shallowness, corruption, and cruelty of humankind. From the moment he lays eyes on Jo, Francis sees beyond her rough exterior to the genuine, passionate, fearless, and beautiful person Jo is and pursues her with unwavering passion.

In a compelling story on living as an incest survivor and the how-to's of love, faith, and healing, Jo discovers she is not alone in her fight to leave her past behind and move beyond sorrow into joy.

Review:The book is 3 1/2 stars for me, it is a book worth reading, especially if you want to read a book about the consequences of child abuse and how one can overcome it.

The novel follows Julianne or Jo, a woman who has suffered sexual abuse at her father's hands as a child and preteen, till - due to several circumstances- she ended up in Juvie and gradually started to take control of her own life. She is working as a tattoo artist, one who is known for her unique ability to capture every client's wishes in her designs. She is able to extrapolate from her client's words and stance, exactly what kind of design would be perfect for them. Her only friend seems to be Keisha, the co-owner of the tattoo shop. However, there is more to Jo and by night, taking advantage of her mass (she is extremely tall and well- built, even a little bulky)she saves strays from animals to people and punishes the rude, the criminals and anyone she deems as a threat. Along the way, she receives the attention of a young man, Francis, who is not only intrigued by the way she is trying to shut everybody out, but also fascinated by the way she sheds her hard exterior and exposes her warmer, softer side when at night she is a self-proclaimed protector/vigilante.

I have to admit that I really appreciated the premise of this story. It is not an easy issue. On the contrary it is a very delicate one and the author handled this issue of child sexual abuse with competent respect and devotion. I could tell she had researched the whole thing, what with the numbering of the episodes Jo has resorted to, in order to always remember and categorize what has happened to her. It was extremely painful to read about her remembering the instances of abuse and referring to them as episodes (128 in all)where there were various kind of abusive acts, with or without actual penetration, but always emotional and psychological scaring.

Of course, knowing that Jo has suffered so much and survived it, you are inclined to sympathize with her and feel for her. Root for her, if you like. Being unable to protect herself as a child from the molestation that happened to her, she feels deep shame, regret and of course, anger.
It is really horrific to know that your own father could do this to you, under false pretenses and even try to present it as a special type of love. I think I literally cringed at the point where Jo remembers that once her father made her a pink dollhouse, only to take it back and destroy it, when Jo refused to "repay his kindness" in "kind". What is even more disturbing is that her own mother knew about it (as I have read it happens in some cases), but refused to actually acknowledge it. It made my heart cry when Jo herself said that at one point, the look her mother gave her said: "Why can't you just be a good girl and take it, without causing any trouble?".
How a mother can, actually or implicitly, ask this of her own flesh and blood is beyond me, so Jo's lack of bonding with her mother, didn't surprise me. It actually made me feel a strange satisfaction, that maybe her mother towards the end saw the error of her ways.

I also liked the fact that Jo is self-sufficient and has learned to rely on herself for virtually anything and she takes time to enjoy the things she likes. It made for good character development and showed that a victim could move on with her life.

On the other hand, this same development felt a little incomplete to me, or maybe a bit skewed, in the sense that Jo focused almost exclusively on the practical, the physical. Naturally, she didn't want to feel like a victim or even a potential victim, and as she was big and heavy, she decided after meeting Nick (and his personal trainer wife), as a client at the shop, to capitulate on her assets and start exercising using several sumo wrestling, ballet etc techniques. As a result, she was still quite imposing and big, but now she was, swift, agile and strong as well, with lean muscles to prove it.
But, instead of using this to feel better about herself, safer, she has taken it a step further by continuously seeking to assert herself on others. Provoke them into reacting nastily towards her, so that she can literally "stand up" and intimidate them. This is how the book started, with her managing to get to a bus seat faster than a random man - causing him (wrongly of course, on his part) to be angry at her and make a nasty comment, so that she can "retaliate". And this is how Francis finds her, who is not intimidated at all, but he somehow sees through the facade, just like that (because he has had dreams of a female warrior he is supposed to help) and tries to offer her guidance and encouragement through "Jesus" phrases. (like Jesus loves you or Jesus sees the real you and you are beautiful).

I think for a woman as tormented and as angry as Jo was, it was disappointing for me to see that she didn't take a stand against her father until the very end, whereas she was strong enough and well, she had nothing to lose. Then again, this simultaneous vulnerability and strength made for a fascinating read. A person who has gone through an ordeal like that, probably doesn't exactly think like the rest of us, as she/he might have fears and weaknesses we might not be able to grasp.
(This was also shown by her internal conflict of whether to let her father just "rot" in jail or keep visiting him. It surprised me how she made a decision, but her way of thinking was a measure of her tormented and fragmented psyche, torn between being his victim and being his dutiful daughter who was supposed to take care of him in his old age)
I would have liked to see Jo be a bit angrier at her dad and less at random people, although since she was really young, this childlike weakness might have stuck with her. I mean her father was supposed to protect her, she was supposed to be able to look up to him, but he himself shattered his own image and this alone is an utmost betrayal, one a child (and later on a woman) can hardly get over. Maybe this was why Jo, seemed unable to form any kind of meaningful relationship, even with Keisha. Sure, they were supposed to be friends, but apart from when they were at work ,they didn't seem to interact much (if you exclude the Nick thing). I would have liked to see Jo be a closer friend to Keisha, seek consolation and comfort in her, but then again every person copes differently with loss, anger and pain.

Francis, on the other hand was a character that initially came across as weak and that made me think that he wouldn't appeal to Jo, but somehow this seeming fragility of his, seemed to work and made him endearing to her. I loved that their relationship progressed really slowly and in an unorthodox way, because it made sense with a person as broken as Jo. The start of their relationship though, with Jo accepting his going out proposal out of the blue, seemed a bit abrupt, because she was very cautious and didn't seem like the impulsive type at all.
I blame this to the whole fragility and "puppy-eyed" quality that Francis projected.
He really seemed harmless and maybe that was why she agreed.
Francis had faced a tragedy of his own, losing his affluent parents at an early age. He was a secret billionaire - philanthropist, who used David as a frontman. He wanted to maintain his privacy, so that he could be unassuming and continue with his charity work.
I liked how his father's philosophy of being frugal and smart with money was instilled into him, fact which allowed him to appreciate the value of money, especially as he kept into perspective how people were dying of famine and poverty, whereas he could have whatever he wanted.
Also, his attachment and sweet feelings towards Jo were very heart-warming and meaningful.

However, for a man that had initially spent three years after his parents died, squandering his money away on toys and parties, just because he then could (not under his father's strict hand anymore), he was overly naive and innocent. Surely, after all the things he had seen in the duration of those three years, yes he would achieve a new kind of appreciation on money and its importance, but he should also be able to look a woman in the eye without blushing or acting like a teenager. This was at times endearing and at times unappealing. It didn't seem as likely.

But if you overlooked that, you could actually see that the two of them actually worked and their relationship progressed in a very sweet and believable way, leading to the very sweet end.

Overall, Spin the Plate was a very intense experience of a read, which I would recommend to anyone enjoying this genre.
Thanks go to the author for allowing me to read her novel. :)

Where you can find:
The Author: Goodreads || Site/Blog || Twitter

The Book: Smashwords || Amazon || Bookdepository