Allison's Book Bag

Crewel by Gennifer Albin

Posted on: January 19, 2013

Have you ever read a book that didn’t quite suit your personal tastes? Did you stick with it or give up without giving it a chance? Sometimes as a reviewer, I receive books that I realize quickly within the first chapters aren’t the type I’d pick of my accord. Yet when I put those biases aside, I might discover a book that I end up liking despite myself. That’s the case with Crewel by Gennifer Albin, which tantalized me with its plot and absorbed me with its unique setting.

Let me first explain why Crewel doesn’t fit my typical reading fare. First, it has too much romance. While I might enjoy the light-hearted and moralistic romance of My Fair Godmother by Janette Rallison, the frequent caressing found in Crewel makes it more adult. In a similar vein, while I might want Anne to end up in Gilbert’s arms by the end of Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, I’m also interested in the many other issues at stake such as Anne dying her red hair green, surviving in the Haunted Woods, developing a friendship with Diana, and excelling at school. Unfortunately, although I know Adalice desires to find her sister, learn the truth about her parents, and distinguish herself as a spinster, the numerous male relationships dominate center stage. Okay, in truth, there are only three guys, but that number seems excessive when these men all started out as strangers to her. Second, Crewel spotlights a lesbian relationship. Because of my conservative Christian beliefs, this makes for uncomfortable content—and so I normally leave books of this nature to those reviewers for whom it isn’t an issue. To be fair, this storyline only lasts a couple of chapters. I find Crewel overly adult for other reasons too. Part of it this amounts to the number of references to smoking, drinking, and frequenting of bars. There’s also the political element, similar to which readers saw in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, which leads to government intrusion into the lives of its citizens to the point where marriages are arranged and family sizes are restricted. Anyone who refuses to comply tends to end up dead. The difference between The Hunger Games and Crewel, however, is that in the former I always felt as if I were reading about a smart teenager whereas in the latter I couldn’t swallow that Adalice is only sixteen. Crewel has been compared to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, an adult novel about a woman being forced into sexual slavery on account of her rare fertility, and Crewel’s tone seems akin to it.

Cover of "THE HANDMAID'S TALE"

Cover of THE HANDMAID’S TALE

Because I also enjoyed much of Crewel, I’m now going to turn to the more pleasurable part of this review where I applaud its appealing qualities. First, there’s the plot. Imagine if every action you took were under the control of spinsters–in Crewel, a spinster is a woman with the ability to weave the very fabric of life. Take that a step further and imagine that you have this power to control the lives of everyone around you. Except your parents don’t want you to be taken away for that cloistered life where you can never marry, and so they push you to hide your gift. Unfortunately, one day your abilities slip through and then suddenly your family is running for their lives, while you’re being locked away until the Guild can determine how to control you. You’ll need to buy into string theory to accept the outcome of Crewel, but either way the plot’s an intriguing one. Second, there is the setting. Gennifer Albin has effectively created a dystopian setting where men rule, women’s roles are dictated, boys and girls are segregated, and girls are forbidden from wearing cosmetics, dressing up in stylish clothes, or marrying until of a certain age. The list goes on. I appreciate that Albin also extends beyond the theme of male dominance to explore other issues such the genetic engineering and the place of the elderly. The Guild has the power to wipe or replace memories, which allows it to better control its deviants but also to rewrite history. Moreover, the spinsters rip the weakest links from their loom, ending the lives of the elderly. These are complex ideas, which kept me reading a tale which otherwise would be just another romance.

What I find most ironic about Crewel is that although its theme is about the restrictive roles placed on women by men, Adalice seemed to spend as much in the arms of her various lovers as she did at her loom. I also learned as much as fashion as I did about science. And yet, it’ll be interesting to know what happens in the subsequent two books. Because of the creative plot and strong writing, I’m encouraging you to be open to Crewel.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

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