Book Club: Dreadful Sorry by Kathryn Reiss

In the interest of full disclosure I have to start this with the confession that I am extremely biased to this book because I read it several years ago and fell in love with it. However, after re-reading it I think it really holds up.

It’s a confusing book to explain but basically a high school girl has a phobia of water that she can’t explain and confrontations with it causes her to hallucinate about another girl from a hundred years ago. She goes to Maine to visit her father, and there her hallucinations become more real than ever as she recognizes the house as the one from her dreams.

While overall I did like this book, for the first third it was all I could do to not rip out all the pages and scream at the top of my lungs. Molly’s mother is the worst. The fact that Molly, previously an outstanding student when to the lengths of forgery to escape having to swim might indicate something more is going on. She doesn’t even both to ask Molly why she feels that she actually can’t swim, let alone won’t. She doesn’t even bother to ask. I honestly felt so relieved when they said that Molly had been diagnosed with a phobia and it was accepted as an excuse. Mental health matters people! Maybe if the adults in Molly’s life had been a little more open to listening, then the whole scene at the pool wouldn’t have happened.

Jared is another character that I didn’t love, but I also didn’t hate him like I hated Molly’s mom. I really wanted to empathize with Jared since he was having strange hallucinations like Molly. Just like her, he was remembering songs and feeling lost memories, but unlike Molly’s memories of Clementine, the restless spirit in him felt vengeful. I think this book could have benefited from at least one chapter from Jared’s perspective, because it was so easy to empathize with Molly because I was in her head, and empathizing with Molly inevitably meant not trusting Jared.

I love the flashback chapters in this book. Besides the fact that basically everyone there sucks, even Clementine. I love how Clementine is basically Belle from Beauty and the Beast. She literally calls the townspeople “provincial.” She loves reading and nobody else in the town gets why she won’t just be a normal girl.

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Not if you drown in your own selfishness.

So, at a superficial level, Clementine is a selfish moron who is willing to destroy and abandon anyone and anything in order to get what she wants. She’s not a fair or honest person. But I get where she’s coming from. Being a woman in the 1900’s was absolute crap, and much worse than this book begins to describe. I definitely can relate to wanting to get out of your small town, since I also grew up in one. I don’t want to excuse Clementine’s actions, but especially after her uncle locked her into her room and burned up her atlas, what else was she supposed to do? He clearly had not even the smallest semblance of compassion for Clementine. A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.

Can I also mention how much I love Paulette. She is kind, compassionate, understanding, and also hilarious. She is the only character in the book that I truly empathized with besides Molly.

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I think Paulette wrote this.

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So for this book you want to make sure you get the most recent addition, because they updated it to reflect modern cell phone and internet usage. And there are some content warnings for this month’s book. Skip down if you don’t have any triggers and don’t want spoilers! Warning for domestic abuse, violence, drugs, alcohol, rape, sexual violence, stalking

 

Leslie’s Journal

by Allan Stratton

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Leslie can’t seem to avoid trouble, whether it’s at school or at home. Just as life seems at its lowest, Jason McCready, the exceedingly cool new guy at school, enters her life.

Now Leslie is the envy of all the girls. But Jason’s appearance is deceiving — he is determined to control every aspect of Leslie’s life, and he begins terrorizing her in unimaginable ways.

When a substitute teacher reads the private English-class journal in which Leslie reveals Jason’s abuse, Leslie is suddenly forced into hard choices and terrifying action to take back her life.

Updated to reflect the contemporary world of the Internet, cell phones and text messaging, Leslie’s Journal is a suspenseful, fast-paced story about love, friendship and what it means to stand up for yourself

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7 thoughts on “Book Club: Dreadful Sorry by Kathryn Reiss

  1. Lisa says:

    I really enjoyed Dreadful Sorry, even though I ended up disliking many of the characters.

    I agree completely that the mom was a really hard character to like. I couldn’t really imagine a mother who would so completely ignore how much something was bothering her child, and ignorantly force her to continue doing something she so clearly hated. I was so glad when Molly finally went to see her dad, who was the only reasonable adult about her phobia.

    I couldn’t get behind Clementine’s character – she was just way too selfish with a complete disregard for the people (children!) she was hurting with her actions. And her actions at the end were just completely idiotic, so she kind of got what was she deserved. I guess the whole point of her “haunting” Molly was that she ended up regretting her actions. And you’re right – it was a completely different time, and she was put in an awful situation by her uncle (who was by far the worst human being in the book).

    In any case, it was a really great read! Looking forward to diving into the next one. 🙂

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    • nicklesthename says:

      Yeah it’s certain that Clementine was a huge jerk. I mean she started off wanting something pretty simple to out modern times, but I think the more that her family tried to stop her and with every little taste of freedom she got, she lost another shred of self awareness. She didn’t stop and think about what would happen when she left her aunt or if she made all those false promises to her cousin. She just got a narrower and narrower perspective. I agree with what you were saying about how it’s clear that she must have had a moment of clarity before death, which is why she came back as Molly. The ending was a bit cheesy, but I was stupid happy that everyone got the closure they needed.

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  2. Olivia says:

    I would have honestly DNF’d this book if it were not for book club. However, the point of this is to expose me to other books than the small group I would normally self-select for. I think this novel felt a bit like a first novel and I am listing my main issues below:
    1) Everyone including the main character seems to be very 1 dimensional and exist only for one or two purposes, they do not have drive outside the main conflict of the book which can make them boring when the plot lulls.
    2) Singular plotting syndrome, if a novel only as one direction to go it risks becoming predictable and this book fell into that trap.
    3) Description error, sometimes this book went on and on about one thing and sometimes it did not describe a situation in adequate detail to picture it. I especially felt this at the last cliff scene in the novel which I read twice but still cannot get my head around.

    ** Note: Issues 1-3 could be explained by the intended audience of this book. It is a young adult/middle grade novel which are occasionally sparse in plot and description to make for easy reading for their age group. ***

    4) Extra exposition, in this I am referring the end of the the book so spoilers ahoy!

    The librarian has this monologue at the end which really bugged me. It was all about how Clementine was a feminist in an era with oppression and so we couldn’t judge her. I was disappointed in this because it felt like the author was recognizing the issues with Clementine as a character but not choosing to fix them on purpose. Clementine came off more as a weak anti-hero or actual villain than what I believe was her intended purpose, a tragic figure in a difficult situation. I think this is the main reason why I didn’t like this book as I felt like it made the ending fall flat.

    As much as I wasn’t a huge fan of the book I did appreciate trying something new since I am all to frequently trapped in my sff/romance bubble.

    Goodreads Review: ⅖

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    • nicklesthename says:

      Interesting points for sure! Another interesting fact that I think might contribute to issue 1-3 is that the author actually thought of Clementine’s story first, thought it wasn’t enough story to write a whole novel, so she added the modern dimension of Molly.
      I also personally disagree about the characters being one dimensional. Although it’s clear that everyone’s lives is suddenly all about Molly, it’s because of this trauma she just endured. It might be my previously mentioned bias in favour of this book, but I think the parallels between the past and present characters is complicated by differences in culture.

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  3. Scott says:

    My turn. So its not everyday a book post is longer than the actual book. Well, today is not everyday. If you don’t read all this, I won’t blame you. It got long.

    So I have to admit I have some feelings about this book. I am with Nicole, in so far as I had particular trouble with the first third, but felt that the book picked up after that. Most of my feelings revolve around the characters, so as long as I am retreading ground, lets talk characters, starting with Mom.

    I struggled with the Mom’s character in particular because of her complete disregard for obvious issues her daughter was having with swimming. An otherwise model student and daughter forges a note about having completed swimming lessons, and then walks out of a scheduled lesson, and this does not prompt the Mom to have any type of discussion with her daughter to find out why. Following this, nearly drowns, is diagnosed a phobia, still no reaction from Mom. I understand that mom is supposed to be a hard-ass lawyer-type, but still I had trouble making sense of this.

    Similarly, Clementine’s actions seem somewhat bizarre. Her desperation to leave in the face of compelling reasons stay at home being the main culprit. Clementine has all the time in the world to bide her time, and formulate a thorough plan to leave her home. She is so intent on leaving immediately that instead she leaves within 12 hours of making up her mind to do so, gets caught in the process, and then leaves again 12 hours after that, during a storm, while her Aunt was dying. The desperation seemed out of place for someone who seemed to be living, if not happily, then at least comfortably, in the situation for some time.

    My impression as to why is two fold. Mainly, I feel that in general this book would have benefited from some more thorough fleshing out of many of the characters, Mom being the prime example. She shows a lack of concern for her daughter that borders on neglect. From what information we are given the Mother and Daughter seem to have a pretty functional relationship. It seems then this must be out of character, but the protagonist never acknowledges it as such. As a result the reactions of both characters seemed out of place. Similarly unnecessarily desperate need to run away Clementine displays seems an overreaction. Perhaps with some more insight into the characters, or their lives before the book, the impetus for these actions might have been clearer. This just may also be down to the intended audience for this book. It felt a bit like this was a teenage view on what adults are like. Mom was just an uncaring hard-ass who just didn’t get it. Dad was the sympathetic parent who you can go to in a crisis.

    The plot I generally liked, with two caveats. First, the endings *spoilers warning I guess* were somewhat predictable. The two people who disappeared during a storm, one of which was confirmed as having drowned, drowned together; the old guy looking for Clementine was in the one place the two went to together that was special to both of them; you cant really have two miscarriage deaths in the same ending; and the male and female character who didn’t get along at the beginning got together. Second, it was slow to get started, tension revolving mainly around Molly and her mothers conflict around Molly not completing her swimming requirement for approximately the first third. However, once the Clementine plot-line got started, we were introduced to two persistent characters and plot-lines, and things felt like they picked up. It was interesting watching Clementine’s story play out, and through her Molly’s story line develop as we experienced Clementine as she attempted to unravel Clementine’s mystery. I particularly liked the parallel happy and sad endings for either character.

    Last paragraph is a miscellaneous bin of things I didn’t know where to stick. I had some nitpicky issues with some of the writing. The narrative perspective is a bit weird. I particularly noticed this in the scenes with Molly’s mom, where we keep going between referring to her as Mom or Jenn, depending on whether she is being referred to by the third person narrator or not, which I found jarring at times as the narrator’s perspective is essentially Molly’s perspective. Some of the water metaphors felt forced in places. Some of the descriptions felt unclear to me, particularly the cave scene at the end, which was undercut by the fact that, reread it as I might, I couldn’t seem to picture Jared’s perilous position. And finally I had particular issue with the Librarian’s monologue at the end. It felt out of place in the scene and something of a discredit to the reader. It felt to me that the author didn’t want readers missing the feminist themes during the Clementine chapters, so made sure they were explicitly laid out at the end, rather than trusting the reader to get there on their own. None of these issues were particularly problematic on their own, but together, to borrow a gaming term, broke my immersion in the narrative each time they came up.

    All done finally. Well that was pretty critical. My impression of this book was not as harsh as that diatribe implies, but criticisms are easier to level. Overall, I did have a number of issues, and did feel like at times those issues took me out of the narrative, but the book was compelling enough once it got going that I was looking forward to seeing it through to the end.

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    • nicklesthename says:

      Wow Scott you had so many feels.
      I agree that the mom is a sketchy character, but her strictness being a massive part of her divorce with her husband. It’s clearly a problem. And Molly mentions that her relationship with her mom has always been functional because there wasn’t any reason not to be. Molly was a perfect, successful student until the swimming thing. Jenn also probably didn’t understand where it was coming from because she didn’t know that Molly had been putting it off, let alone lying about it until too late. As someone with mental health issues, there are many people in my life that think they are helping by showing “tough love” because they think it’s all in my head. It’s not because they’re evil, which is what the book went for, but because they just don’t get it.

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  4. Alex says:

    Okay mine is super late, but I feel like a work conference and then being on vacation is an excuse…No? Okay 😦

    I’m going to start off by saying this review may sound harsh, but I must admit that this book got me caught up in it. There was one night where I had to force myself to stop reading and going to bed.

    So my feelings on this book are very similar to Scott’s. We talked a couple weeks in when we were just getting started and bounced some ideas back and forth. One of my major complaints was there writing style, I don’t know exactly what it was but it felt very odd.

    The only concrete example of this that I can think of is how the narrator addresses the parents. Whenever the main character refers to her parents she calls them mom or dad, but the narrator always refers to them by name. It makes it seem like a disconnect between the narrator and the main character, even though it is a first person point of view.

    I don’t know if this is her style, because it was a teen book, or because it was supposed to be from the perspective of a teenager. But it threw me off for the first couple chapters. I did get past in as I started to get into the book though.

    I also felt like a lot of the characters were very flat. Each character was there for one purpose, the mother was there to push Molly to do things the things she didn’t want to do, the father was there so she could get away from her mother and the step-mother was there as a mechanism to tell the tale of Clementine. Because these characters were all so flat, there are only two characters you can really relate to, Molly and Clementine.

    Now I did not like Clementine, she was just so single minded in her obsession to escape. And there seemed to be a false urgency to her story. The entire second half of the book is her trying to escape right now. There is no reason given for why it has to happen right now. For any of her escape attempts she could have waited a week or a month. Now I can understand that she has been there for a lot of her life and she is getting tired of it and wants to leave. But she already has a plan to escape, get a job and save up for school. This isn’t going to happen in a week, there will still be jobs later.

    For me this book plateaued around the middle. I felt that the ending was very disappointing and the more I learned about what was happening, the less I cared. I’m glad I read this book, because it is an interesting concept, but I felt it could have been executed better.

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