A Year on the Fringes of a Shrinking World
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Travels in search of the merely exotic.

Debut author Forman, well known to readers of Seventeen, takes a teenager’s delight in casting herself as an outcast, a “Weird Girl” whose journeys tend to involve adoption by immigrant florists or drag queens or street performers, and who has thus seen several countries from perspectives generally denied the casual tourist. When she and her husband decide to spend a year wandering from one remote outpost to another in the wake of 9/11, the two—accompanied, sad to say, by big-wheeled suitcases to which they’d given names—naturally drift into some unusual circles. In Tonga, for instance (which Forman inaccurately describes as “rarely visited by tourists,” even though in the year of her visit there was one tourist for every three natives), she spends time among “fakaleiti, a strange third gender of half-men, half-women” who apparently fit right into Tongan society until the arrival of “American-style religious fundamentalism.” Presto: thanks to the Mormons, Tongans now know that they’re out of touch with the civilized world. Just so, in Beijing a doctor collars her into correcting an English phrasebook he’s been writing, even though he doesn’t know much English (sample phrase: “Is this the file you desired?” “Not that file, you retard”); the doctor’s lack of sophistication, Forman writes, will cost him, for whereas by her account Chinese don’t much care about the niceties of grammar, they do care about what it means to be an American, just as Tanzanian teenagers have made a near-Derridaean study of the collected works of Vanilla Ice. Forman writes breezily and pleasantly, though some of her set pieces go on too long and run out of steam. Her book, too, could have benefited from a more closely followed overarching theme of the kind that Franklin Foer worked so effectively in his globalism-dissecting How Soccer Explains the World (2004), which makes many of the same points.

A mixed bag, then, of some interest to armchair travelers, if not to Weird Girls everywhere.

Pub Date: April 1st, 2005
ISBN: 1-59486-037-8
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Rodale
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2005

Kirkus Interview
Gayle Forman
author of I WAS HERE
January 27, 2015

In I Was Here, Gayle Forman’s latest novel after the release of the movie version of her novel If I Stay, Cody’s best friend Meg drinks a bottle of industrial-strength cleaner alone in a motel room and Cody is understandably shocked and devastated. She and Meg shared everything—so how was there no warning? But when Cody travels to Meg’s college town to pack up the belongings left behind, she discovers that there’s a lot that Meg never told her. About her old roommates, the sort of people Cody never would have met in her dead-end small town in Washington. And about an encrypted computer file that Cody can’t open—until she does, and suddenly everything Cody thought she knew about her best friend’s death gets thrown into question. “An engrossing and provocative look at the devastating finality of suicide, survivor’s guilt, the complicated nature of responsibility and even the role of the Internet in life-and-death decisions,” our reviewer writes. We talk to Forman on January 27 on Kirkus TV. View video >