Tomato Girl – Book Review

Jars line my cellar shelves. Some are filled with fists of yellow-veined tomatoes. Others hold small onions and chopped leeks, white pearls floating in an opaque sea. Sometimes the light falls on a jar of boiled quail or the slick, dark meat of a rabbit. There are unexpected moments when I see the slit of an infant’s mouth, or the curl of a tiny fist behind the glass, and I run up the steps, back into the open light of sky. I gasp for air and tell myself the past is a distant thing, no longer able to reach me or hurt me. And yet, at times, it seems the past will always send its long thin fingers toward me, reminding me of all I want to forget. -From Tomato Girl, prologue-

Jayne Pupek’s debut novel, Tomato Girl, is not a story for the faint of heart…nor is it one which the reader will likely soon forget.

Set in the South, the book is narrated from the innocent point of view of eleven year old Ellie Sanders who is forced to grow up far too early. Ellie has learned to depend upon her father Rupert to guide her through the confusing maze of her mother’s mental illness. But when Ellie’s mother has an accident and Rupert introduces Tess (a girl who delivers tomatoes to the general store where Rupert works) to “help out” at home … everything changes.

Through Ellie’s eyes the reader meets the memorable characters who people the novel: Mary Roberts (Ellie’s precocious and practical best friend), Clara and Jericho (the black couple with love to spare), Sheriff Rhodes,  Miss Wilder (Ella’s lesbian teacher who tries to help), the frightening Mason Reed, young Tess (who threatens the security of Ellie’s family), Rupert (who flounders in his ability to provide emotionally to Ellie), Julia (Ellie’s very ill mother), and Baby Tom. Through Ellie the reader experiences the pain of loss, and the terror of living with a mentally ill parent.

This is a tough book to read. It is raw and far too real. But it is also beautifully written. Pupek has captured Ellie’s character perfectly – a young girl on the cusp of becoming a woman, but who is still wrapped in the innocence of childhood. Pupek never veers from Ellie’s point of view, skillfully revealing the workings of adult motivation through the eyes of a child.

There will be readers who will find this book too disturbing to read. Some scenes are graphic, disheartening, and completely unforgettable. Tomato Girl is a novel which will not go away once the final page has been turned. Pupek has created a character who like Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird and Ruth Ann in Bastard Out of Carolina will tug on the reader’s heart and demand to be heard.


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    • Kim on October 19, 2008 at 14:19

    what a lovely review you have written about this book. I actually think I want to read it–but I will need to be in the right frame of mind to tackle it, I think.

    On a lighter note–hey! Great job on the read-a-thon! The first two winners of my mini-challenge have emailed me their picks, so now it is your turn to pick–assuming you want one of the books on the list. The Book Thief and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn have been chosen–so just let me know which one you would like and give me your address. My email is:
    kimmery4 at yahoo dot com


    • Kathy on October 19, 2008 at 15:14

    Excellent review. I loved Tomato Girl and look forward to Jayne’s next novel.

    • Diane on October 19, 2008 at 15:21

    Wendy…I love, loved this book. So far my fav of 2008. It is one of those books the reader will not forget.

    • lenore on October 19, 2008 at 23:57

    This is one of my favorites of the year too.

    • Wendy on October 20, 2008 at 07:04

    Kim: It is a tough book…but so good. Just be prepared for the difficult subject matter when you read it! Thanks for the congrats on the Read-A-Thon…I will go over to your blog later and pick my book 🙂

    Kathy: I would definitely read another book by this author.

    Diane: I’ve been hearing that a lot. I deliberately did not read reviews of this book until after I’d read it 🙂 It truly is a book which is hard to “leave behind” when you are done with it.

    Lenore: *nods* It is a good book.

    • Lisa on October 20, 2008 at 11:58

    I’m in the middle of the book now and loving it! You’re review was terrific!

    • Leah on October 20, 2008 at 12:17

    I am so intrigued by this book, it has gone straight on my wishlist. Loved your review!

  1. Me wants it. My precioussss…
    It’s going on my TBR list immediately!

  2. I am so happy to read this review because I got a copy of this book on Monday! Whoo hoo! I can’t wait to read it. I loved Bastard out of Carolina and To Kill a Mockingbird. Yeah!

    • Wendy on October 22, 2008 at 09:19

    Lisa: So glad you are liking the book…and that you enjoyed my review!

    Leah: Thank you!

    Chartroose: LOL – I think, knowing the books you read, you will like this one!

    LH: Oh, lucky you! Enjoy!!

    • Tara on October 22, 2008 at 14:03

    I’ve heard such good things about this one and it’s definitely on my list. Great review!

    • Teddy on October 22, 2008 at 16:00

    Wonderful review Wendy! This one is on my TBR and it sounds really good, though depressing.

    • Wendy on October 26, 2008 at 23:16

    Tara: Thank you…I hope you like the book when you read it!

    Teddy: Thanks…it is very good, and very disturbing; the writing is some of the best I’ve read.

    • Anna on October 28, 2008 at 10:27

    Great review! Jayne recently sent me the book, but I haven’t had a chance to read it yet. Now I’m intrigued. Sounds like a powerful book.

    • Wendy on October 29, 2008 at 08:04

    Anna: it is a very powerful book – disturbing, yes…but well worth the read. Hope you enjoy it.

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