Book Reviews, Books, Seltzer, Seltzer Reviews

Book + Seltzer Review: All the Missing Girls and AHA Blueberry + Pomegranate

Posted by The Carbonated Scholar

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Today, I’m review All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda paired with AHA Blueberry + Pomegranate Sparkling Water. I read this book to participate in my mom’s book club. Since I’ve been at home with my mom during quarantine, I’ve been able to participate more (via Zoom)! I wouldn’t normally read a book like this. I usually steer clear from psychological thrillers, but I appreciate getting to explore this genre and discuss it with thoughtful people. It was also fun to read it alongside my mom. We spent a nice afternoon swimming in the pool and attempting to wade through the plot and characters.

As you’ll soon find out, this book didn’t hook me. In my darker moments with this book, I considered pairing it with Walmart off-brand club soda — a bit salty, flat, and bland. But I decided that would be cruel and unfair, so I’ve decided to go with AHA Blueberry + Pomegranate Sparkling Water. I decided on this pairing not because of taste but because of mood. Blueberries and Pomegranates are the dark and moody members of the fruit family — and sometimes give you an unexpected sour kick in the mouth. I felt that was appropriate. Find my full review below!

All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda

All The Missing Girls, Megan Miranda; year 2017, Simon & Schuster, 400 pages

In All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda, the narrator Nicolette Farrell (Nic) finds herself back in her hometown in rural North Carolina to help her brother sell her ailing father’s home. While away from her life in Philadelphia, complete with a WASPy boyfriends and job as a school counselor, she must confront her past, mainly the mysterious disappearance of her high school best friend Corinne ten years earlier, when another young woman Annaleise goes missing from her hometown.

The majority of the book tells the story of the two weeks after the disappearance of Annaleise from Nic’s point of view but in reverse order. After we meet Nic when she arrives in her hometown (on Day 1), the book skips forward to day 15 near the conclusion of the story. Each subsequent chapter moves back in time — usually announced with the chapter break “The Day Before.”

If you aren’t expecting this, it could certainly be confusing. My mom completely missed that it was going backwards for the first couple chapters. She actually started the book over, because she thought she had fallen asleep with the audiobook running. She hadn’t! The chapters just discuss events and the results of these events before you get to experience them in the narrative. So for instance, early in the book Nic discusses her feelings and emotions following a baby shower, but it will not be for several chapters until the reader gets to put Nic’s feelings together with the narrative of the baby shower itself.

I’ve never read a book told in reverse before, and I appreciate the attempt at bringing a unique narrative device. I also like how she used the Kierkegaard quote and the reverse storytelling to contribute to the overall  themes of the book. I think it particularly highlighted the fact that Nic hasn’t been living her life forward and has allowed her past (or the avoidance of her past) to control her life story.

As a way to deliver a psychological thriller, I don’t think this narrative technique is successful. The aim of good storytelling is to show and not tell. When telling a story in reverse, you are almost always narrating past events. So, the plot kind of plods along in a haze of description and an unreliable narrator.

Also, I always got the impression that Nic (and the author) didn’t quite know what had happened in the previous two weeks. I get that the author actually wrote this backwards, but unless Nic was very psychologically troubled (or maybe took too many of those sleeping pills or maybe it’s just the lack of sleep), she should remember what had happened just a few days before. Her choices seemed not to reflect a knowledge of the recent past. I do think a rereading of this book is necessary to confirm this impression.

While I found the reverse story-telling problematic, it was also a really bold narrative choice and took an incredible amount of skill to tell a story in this way. I can appreciate the difficulty and respect the courage in the choice Megan Miranda made. I think this technique might be especially interesting if she had also had multiple narrators — though the technical difficulty of writing such a story would be immense.

I have to say, I didn’t love this book. Part of the problem was the choice to tell the story backwards, but mainly I didn’t like any of the characters and thought their lack of growth was unrealistic. Also, the story was boring. It is certainly not a psychological thriller. It’s neither thrilling nor really that psychological, any more than Nic seriously needed to have spent the last ten years in therapy.

Speaking of therapy. She’s a school counselor. I don’t buy for a minute that she wouldn’t have sought (or been required to seek) therapy. She has a MA in school psychology or something similar. I know in the book she says she is bad at therapy and resistant to it. That she makes a good counselor because she is a good listener and actually very bad as a counselor. But still.

Corinne, is that you?!?

The author’s intent was for the book to take a rather common tropes in YA thriller and then revisit the characters after ten years. I think in this she succeeded, if she assumed the characters never actually grew up or had lives in the intervening years. The high school flashbacks come straight out of Pretty Little Liars, complete with a missing, manipulative, mean girl.

The disappearance of Annaleise is rather blah as well (and the resolution is ultimately unbelievable). One of the main problems is that (I’m sorry to say) the world seems to be a better place without Annaleise and Corinne. They aren’t good people. Maybe it’s the fact that they are missing (and not simply murdered) that makes the most impact. The scariest part of the book is that these mean girls could always come back — and that would be worse for everyone.

I want to hit on one final point, the title. First of all it’s misleading. “All the Missing Girls” sounds like we are going to have a preponderance of missing children. Maybe a kidnapper is on the loose, maybe a serial killer, heck maybe aliens. What I didn’t expect is for there to be TWO missing WOMEN. (I would argue that Nic is likely meant to the third missing woman, because she is missing from her own life and is certainly a victim of these disappearances).

In the book Feminasty by Erin Gibson, which I read earlier this year, Erin has a thought-provoking chapter about how the word girl has flourished in the media. You can read an excerpt here.

Think about it: Gilmore Girls, the New Girl, Gone Girl, Girl on the Train, Radium Girls, 2 Broke Girls, HBO’s Girls, Hollaback Girl, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, etc etc etc. Books with “girls” in the title have been #1 NYT bestsellers for four of the past six years. These books are mainly NOT about girls. But in our society, girls sell, and women just do not. We, as a society, care about missing girls; we do not care about missing women.

Girls Girls Girls, or a Feminist Critique on the Sonic Valence of Mötley Crüe

And it’s not just the media, we have GNO: girls‘ night out. I call my friends girls. There is linguistic and social power in youth, especially in feminine youth. And save the “bad boy,” the same isn’t really true for men. Yes, we might not say “man” all the time, but we have other common informal terms for men that are not infantilizing: guy, bro, dude, etc. No one seriously uses gal (and it’s usually sarcastic or joking and sometimes offensive), sis is reserved for a term of endearment, and dudette is ridiculous (and rare) slang. No, the feminine semantic equivalence for guy, bro, dude, AND boy is girl.

I understand in this case it was likely a marketing ploy trying to ride on the tailwinds of the success of books like Gone Girl and Girl on the Train, but it is still problematic and unsatisfying.

Overall, unless the idea of the reverse narrative technique intrigues you, I would say this is a book to skip.  

AHA Blueberry + Pomegranate Sparkling Water

It’s seltzer time!! As I said, I will be reviewing AHA Blueberry + Pomegranate Sparkling Water from Coca-Cola. I’m happy to report that this drink brought me a lot more joy than the book. It’s much more thrilling and has some wonderful surprises and fantastic character development.

We first meet our protagonist Blueberry on the olfactory approach. This seltzer is giving me Starbust. It’s giving me Herbal Essences shampoo. It’s giving me CÎROC Vodka. I’m actually nervous. My expectations are too high.

First taste: You can taste the antioxidants! JK, I don’t think there are actual anti-oxidants in here. But it tastes healthy. The first taste is definitely blueberry. I really love blueberries, and I’ve never had a blueberry seltzer before. This is a really welcome addition to the seltzer flavor profile. And, yes, it actually tastes like real blueberries. No chemical aftertaste!

The flavor is much more powerful than I would have expected. No La Croix whisper flavors here! But, I don’t exactly pick up on the pomegranate. There are some deeper undertones that might be the pomegranate, but I can’t quite distinguish it from the blueberry. 

I would certainly recommend this seltzer. And I recommend BIG GULPS. The flavor is so much better when you get an entire mouthful. Sips aren’t going to cut it! And try not to say “AHA!” after the first taste!

Let me know what you think. Find me on social media or leave a comment below!

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