Friday, February 20, 2009

Tomato Girl by Jayne Pupek

In Tomato Girl, Jayne Pupek writes from the point of view of a young girl, Ellie Sanders, whose life is falling apart. Her mother has "moods," which is a nice way to say she is mentally ill and getting worse every day. Ellie usually knows what her mother needs and how to calm her, but when her mother falls down the stairs, badly injures herself and her unborn baby, and her father brings home a local girl who sells tomatoes in the general store to care for the house, her mother is furious and sinks deeper into insanity. Ellie might be young, but she's very wise and quickly understands that her father is in love/lust with the beautiful, teenage tomato girl.

The book starts at nearly the end of the story. Ellie's mother is lost in another world, and her father has run away with Tess, the tomato girl, leaving Ellie responsible for things back home. From there, Pupek takes us back to the time of the accident, and through Ellie's eyes, we see her mother's thin ties to sanity break and her father--the one person she felt she could always count on--abandon his family emotionally and physically for a girl not much older than his daughter.

Pupek's writing is exceptional, making it impossible to turn away from the scenes that I can only describe as haunting. She brings Ellie to life--her insecurities, her vulnerability, her strength, her unconditional love for her parents, her loyalty to her mother--and I loved her from the first page. I felt sympathetic toward Ellie's mother because she seemed to love Ellie, and the hurt she caused her daughter was tied to her illness. I felt bad for Tess, too, when I read about the home life she escaped, which eventually pushes Ellie's father to action and out of his daughter's life. But I wish I was able to reach into the book and give Ellie's father a serious slap in the face and kick in the rear. On one hand, I understand the pain and loneliness he must have felt being married to a mentally ill woman, but he seemed to make one bad choice after another without showing any signs of realizing that his actions were wrong. He was so taken by Tess that he put her needs ahead of his own daughter, and most of the time he was more like a father to Tess than a lover. His relationship with her was wrong on so many levels, and his ultimate betrayal of Ellie had me near tears.

Here's a passage from Tomato Girl that showcases Pupek's beautiful writing and her ability to perfectly capture Ellie's guilt and heartache.

I don't know how long I cried, but it felt like hours. For the first time in days, I felt clean inside. It had taken so much of me, trying to be good for God and to keep Mama from sinking into her sad mood. I'd held so much inside, I couldn't hold it any longer. I needed somewhere to let my worries go. Clara's arms was just the place.

When my sobs slowed, Clara wrapped me in a heavy blue quilt covered in stars. My fingers traced the gold stitches. 'This quilt belonged to my mother,' she said. 'Whenever I have a hard day, I curl up in Mama's quilt and dream my troubles away. You give each worry you have to one of the stars. Remember that. Don't matter how many worries you got because there are always more stars than worries. (pages 212-213)
Ellie's friends Clara and Jericho are bright spots in a dark book. Ellie is forced to deal with things most adults couldn't handle, and to hear the events that transpire in the voice of an innocent child makes Tomato Girl a difficult read. But Pupek's strong writing and captivating characters make it impossible to put the book down. Tomato Girl will make you cry, it will make you angry, it will make your heart hurt, but it's well worth the emotional roller coaster.

Tomato Girl also was reviewed by:

bookgirl's nightstand
Jackets & Covers
Redlady's Reading Room
She Is Too Fond of Books
A Season to Read
Book Addiction
Peeking Between the Pages

If you've also reviewed it, let me know in the comments, and I'll add your link!

Disclosure:  I received a free copy of Tomato Girl from the author for review purposes.


(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

This was my favorite book of 2008. I love dark, dysfunctional stories (pretty weird huh?)

Sandy Nawrot said...

I've read some reviews of this book the way, you've done it justice. Great review! What a heartbreaking story. It just tears me apart to read about the injustices placed upon young children (just finished one). I feel like my heart has been wrung out.

Some Kinda Wonderful said...

I'm not sure I should read this book, but I loved your review. You got across very well what the book is about, I think. I just try to stay away from sad stories.

Anonymous said...

That's an awesome review Anna! I really want to read this book now! been hearing such awesome things about this one!:)

Michele said...

I'd really like to read this one...your description of it is just fabulous!

Mari said...

Thanks. This sounds like a great book.

Lenore Appelhans said...

This was also one of my favorites of 2008. I think you really captured the beauty of it in your review too.

bermudaonion said...

Great review. You're right - this book does take you on an emotional roller coaster ride, but I loved it.

Jeannie said...

I don't usually enjoy reading sad stories, but I've heard some great things about this book. And now that I've read your thoughts on it, I'm really tempted to give it a try.

Hope you're having a wonderful week, Anna. Talk to you very soon.

Anonymous said...

I think that Pupek's background as a social worker allowed her to write those difficult and heart-wrenching scenes with great sensitivity (not sensationalism, despite the atrocious circumstances).

A well-written review of this well-written novel!

April said...

Excellent review! I have been wanting to read this for a long while now. It sounds soooo good! I may have to get the audio version and sneak it in!

Ladytink_534 said...

I know books like this are usually worth the emotional response but that tends to put me in a severe reading funk :(

Eva said...

This sounds like a great book! Loved reading your review. :)

The Bookworm said...

I've heard such great things about this book, I have it in my wish list.
Great review! I like the passage you chose.

Alea said...

Hey Anna! Just in case you don't see my comment on my blog, i would be honored to have my Flygirl review linked to on the book reviews page at War Through the Generation!

Darlene said...

Great review Anna. This was one of my favorite books last year. Hard to read but well worth it.

Iliana said...

Oh this reminds me I need to hurry up with my review of the story! I finished a couple of weeks ago but it was really an emotional tale wasn't it?

Like you I had such a hard time reading about the father. As much as I wanted to sympathize with him for enduring life with a wife who was mentally ill, he threw it all away when he betrayed his daughter. Ugh.

Great review, Anna!

Jenners said...

This sounds really good and something I would like. I'm going to put it on my "try to get soon" list ... which is growing with each blog I visit! Arrrggghhh!

Lisa (Southern Girl Reads) said...

This was my favorite book of 2008. I love Jayne Pupeks words. They were wonderful!

Staci said...

I read this last year and loved it! Jayne Pupek started a group for her readers on Goodreads and has been very active there. Loved your review and it reflects the way I felt about most of the characters too!!

Framed said...

Fantastic review. This book sounds like it was so well written and heart wrenching. For that reason, I will probably not read it for a while, but I will add it to my list.

Susan said...

This sounds sad, but really good. I'm adding it to my TBR pile. Thanks for the review!

Anna said...

Diane: Not weird at all. Or maybe I'm weird, too. I enjoy dark stories as well, even when they make me feel sad.

Sandy: Thanks! Stories about abused children are hard, I agree.

Some Kinda Wonderful: Thanks! Sad stories can be hard to read, but I've found a lot of good ones that are worth reading so I don't avoid them. However, there are a few topics I just can't do.

Ramya: I hope you do read it. It'll definitely on my list of faves for this year.

Michele: Thanks! Hope you get a chance to read it.

Mari: It was!

Lenore: Thanks! I'm not surprised it made your favorites list.

Bermudaonion: I love it when a book pulls at your heart and makes you glad you went along for the ride.

Jeannie: I hope you get a chance to read it. I'd love to know your thoughts.

Dawn: I didn't know the author's background, and you're probably right that it helped the story seem real.

April: Thanks! You definitely should make time for this book!

Ladytink: I know what you mean. I find I can't dwell after reading these types of books. I have to pick up a new book right away.

Eva: Thanks!

Naida: Thanks! I hope you get a chance to read it soon.

Alea: Thanks! Will do.

Dar: I can see why the book was a favorite. It's one of mine now, too.

Iliana: I took a few days to digest the book before writing my review. It's hard to put in words everything you feel for these characters. I look forward to reading your thoughts.

Jenners: That's the worst thing about these book blogs, right!?! I see something new that I want to read at least a bazillion times a day.

Lisa: I agree! Pupek is a great writer.

Staci: Thanks! I'll have to look for the Goodreads group. I don't usually have a lot of time to spend on that site, but I should probably make more time for it.

Framed: You'll have to let me know if you eventually read it. I'd love to know your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by!

Susan: It's hard to describe how sad some of the scenes were, but I didn't want to put the book down it was so good. Hope you get a chance to read it soon.

Serena said...

is this another one of those great reads I need to move up the TBR pile? looks like it.

Teddy Rose said...

Wonderful review Anna! This book is on my TBR.

Sandra said...

Great review, I love longer reviews although I hate writing them myself. This is among my favourite books read in the past year. I thought she got Ellie just right. I reviewed it too.

Toni said...

Outstanding Review. I don't know anyone that hasn't liked this book. I want to read it for sure.

Anna said...

Serena: It sure is! I can't wait for you to read it so we can have another one of our discussions.

Teddy Rose: Thanks! I'm looking forward to your review!

Sandra: The length of the review for me depends on how much I have to say. There were so many things to say about this book that I couldn't help myself!

Toni: Thanks! I hope you get a chance to read it! Pupek deserves all the praise she's been getting.

Amy said...

looks like a god emotional-type read...

Anna said...

Amy: Definitely! Thanks for stopping by!

Wanda said...

I agree, Tomato Girl was an impossible book to put down!

Great review Anna, I'll link to mine. (Let me know if you're not OK with this...)

Anna said...

Wanda: Thanks!