Parklands-Turner Teen Readers' Corner - YA Book Club Recommendations
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
Teen Book Review by TraQuan Cowles
When the novel begins, Edna Pontellier is an obedient wife and mother, vacationing at Grand Isle with her family. Everything seems fine. It's a beautiful vacation spot, the kids are cute, the husband is attentive and Edna is getting hit on in a pretty harmless manner by a dude named Robert Lebrun. Although Edna gradually develops some feelings for Robert, the whole beachside community treats the crush as a pretty innocent way to pass the time. Edna has some hobbies other than flirting with Robert, though. She's learning how to paint and how to swim, and she's spending time with her pregnant friend Adele.
Adele is someone that Edna thinks of as naturally maternal--she loves babies, her husband and knitting. Edna, however, isn't like that. She yearns for independence. Her husband notices this before he goes back to the city to get some work done. In response, he's a little rude and caddish and questions whether Edna's a good mom. Attending to her own personal development, Edna spends a day at the beach, learning how to really swim. When she comes out of the water, there's an unspoken realization that what had been considered innocent flirtation with Robert has become a little more than a harmless crush. There are now some real feelings on the line.
Soon after, the summer ends, and Edna returns to her home in New Orleans. Immediately, she starts acting in a way her husband thinks of as deeply odd. Instead of doing housework, she starts painting obsessively; and instead of taking visitors like a respectable housewife, she goes to the house of a mildly eccentric woman to hear her play the piano. The piano music seems to soothe her lovesick soul. Also, in taking Edna’s emotional shift seriously, Mr.Pontellier goes so far as to ask a doctor about his wife's weird behavior. Rather than validate the husband’s suggestions that Edna is ill or crazy, the doctor insists that not only is Edna absolutely fine, she’s even looking very lively. Her husband’s concern about her behavioral change prompts her to recall and re-examine things she recently has heard, particularly that a woman devoting all of herself to her kids and husband is a false ideal that serves everyone except the woman. For the first time in her life, Edna's feeling real passion, but she's also feeling real pain. Her mixed emotions lead her to make some rash decisions. One of which is moving into a house of her own around the corner from her husband's house as a way of claiming absolute independence. During this new-found independence, Robert returns and visits Edna.
Ironically, the sudden return of Robert throws a spanner in the works. They make out passionately, and pledge their mutual love for one another. In fact, Robert says he wants to marry her. Once Robert starts talking about wedding bells, Edna panics a little. She realizes that what she wants is to belong to herself, rather than be a wifely appendage to another husband. They start to talk it out, but a message soon arrives that Adele is delivering her baby. Edna conveniently runs off to be with her friend, but asks Robert to stick around so they can finish their conversation about love and/or marriage. However, when Edna returns, Robert's gone. He's left a note saying that, although he loves her--in fact, because he loves her--they have to split. Heartbroken and confused, Edna returns to Grand Isle. She knows that she now exists outside of society and tradition, and feels the loneliness of her rebellion. She decides to go for a swim, even though the early-spring water is too cold. While she's far from the shore, her legs and arms grow weak. Contemplating her life and loves, she presumably drowns, which is then stated in the book as her suicide plan.
This book was a good read, and it goes into detail on how women feel about love and commitment to another person and the struggle of staying in a relationship when there isn’t mutual love and connection. If I were to rate this novel, I would give it 8 out of 10 because of the message that it sends to young readers and the unexpected suicide at the end.