The Short Review: Intriguing, thought-provoking, detached. If you like books about Florida, books revolving around the lower class, or books with a strong female protagonist, you might like this one.
The Long Review: Here’s the hard part about going into a book like Gun Love—at least for me, personally. I read this immediately after it was listed as a National Book Award longlister for fiction. There wasn’t any hype about this book, and then all I saw were people posting about this book and comparing it to Lauren Groff and Karen Russell. So, not only did I expect this to be a worthy contender for one of the top book awards of the season, but I also expected it to meet the standards set by two of my favorite authors, since that’s all I heard this being compared to. On top of that, the seven books I’d read before this one all had 4 and 5 star reviews. I’m a firm believer that the moment you read a book determines just as much about your reception of a book as the book itself. Because of all of these factors, I think Gun Love wasn’t right for me at the time I read it.
I think a great comp. title, at least for the first half of this book, is Room by Emma Donoghue. If you remember how the writing was very child-like but still poetic in it’s own way, that’s how the narrator of Gun Love is. Pearl is fourteen, and she sees things in a way that only a child would see them. I admired the way Clement captured the nuances of a child’s gaze. There’s a lot of repetition in the novel, similar to Joyce Carol Oates work. Pearl echoes what she hears around her. It’s clear that her surroundings have built her from the ground up, from the way she talks to the way she interacts and normalizes things. I think you have to be a really intelligent, observant person to write about the normalization of trauma, neglect, and poverty in the way Clement writes it. That was something I really admired in this.
I won’t go into why—avoiding spoilers—but this book also reminded me of White Oleander by Janet Fitch (which is also a favorite of mine). It’s regarding the government and the way they handle children, but you’ll know what I mean if you read it.
The plot was fine, but this wasn’t really a book where the plot was a focus. I actually love a character study, and I don’t mind a thin plot. But the problem was, some of the characters were thinly drawn, and it felt like there should’ve been something to justify the investment. That’s another reason it felt detached to me. There wasn’t a lot to connect to with some of the characters.
This book does handle gun violence and addresses the trafficking of guns across the Mexican boarder. But here’s the thing; for a book called ‘Gun Love’ I think I was expecting a little more discussion about guns. I love nuance, but there comes a point where I felt like the point was heavily buried and I wasn’t getting it. I’m not as intelligent a reader as some, so maybe this is just me, but I was left wondering what exactly the point of the plot points were.
I think this book would make a good book club book. It’s got a lot of discussion points and I think I might like it more if I had discussed it with some people after reading it. But, books are meant to be enjoyed in isolation. Books are written for us to process on our own first, and then later with other people. So, if I only think I’d like this book more if I discussed it doesn’t seem like a good enough reason to mark it as one worth the read in general.
Anyway, I’ll cut myself off so I don’t ramble, but that was my experience reading this on a spoiler-free level. If you have any questions about the book or if you read the book and had similar feelings or you loved it, whatever it is, if you want to discuss it, please leave a comment down below or find me on Instagram @shelfbyshelf. Hope you have a great day and I’ll be back with another review soon!