Saturday, January 9, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: What's Eating Gilbert Grape?


Gilbert Grape is a 24-year-old grocery store clerk stuck in Endora, Iowa, where the population is 1,091 and shrinking. After the suicide of Gilbert’s father, his family never recovered. Once the town beauty queen, Gilbert’s mother is morbidly obese after seven years of house-bound depression; his younger sister is boy-crazy and God-fearing, while his older sister sacrifices everything for her family. And then there’s Arnie, Gilbert’s younger brother with special needs. With no one else to care for Arnie, Gilbert becomes his brother’s main parent, and all four siblings must tend to the needs of their helpless, grieving mother. 

So Gilbert is in a rut—until an enchanting new girl arrives in town. His family gathers for Arnie’s 18th birthday and Becky, the mysterious and lovely newcomer, breathes new life into Gilbert’s world. But can one person really change Gilbert, or his attitudes about his family and Endora? Rich with memorable characters, biting frustration, and family redemption, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape can’t be missed. 

About the Author:
Raised in West Des Moines, Iowa, Peter Hedges is an award-winning novelist, screenwriter, playwright, and director. He studied drama at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. His first novel, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, was made into a classic movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio in his breakout role. Afterward, Hedges went on to write and direct numerous critically-acclaimed films, including Pieces of April, Dan in Real Life, and The Odd Life of Timothy Green. His screenplay for About a Boy was nominated for an Academy Award in 2002.

M & J’s Review:
Gilbert Grape had many issues, but even he himself wasn’t quite sure which one was eating at his soul more?  If having a mother who is morbidly obese trying to eat her way into Heaven, or possibly Hell; or having a fast-tail 16-year-old sister thinking she’s God’s gift to men everywhere while toting a Bible; or maybe it’s having another sister who has given up on having a life of her very own all for the sake of taking care of the Grape family; oh, but wait, could it be the brother with special needs whom Gilbert loves to refer to as the “retard!”  If you had a family with all this going on, would anything possibly be eating at you?
Growing up in Endora, Iowa gave Gilbert a terrible dilemma.  The most excitement he received was watching others have issues of their own.  He absolutely relished in those moments.  Seeing Arnie, the brother with special needs, run around with food stuck to every aspect of his body and loving life without a care in the world, and here, Gilbert was sick and tired of being sick and tired.  He had a dead-end job he’s held since he was a teen working as a stock boy at a Mom and Pop grocery store.  When the town learned a Food Land had opened in their area, that was about the most excitement anyone could muster.  In this small town, it was the little things that turned into major happenings, where most city folk wouldn’t give two seconds of thought about, in Endora, having a little technology coming their way made their day.  What could be viewed as sad is it took a 15-year old teen named Becky to show Gilbert a completely different side to life.  Call her an angel or the devil, if you will, Becky gave something to the 24-year old Gilbert that no one was able to accomplish—his dignity and self-respect.  She gave Gilbert hope for a brighter day—and let’s face it, up until that point, life was pretty mundane for good ole Gilbert Grape.
I remember watching the movie years ago and it was really good, and after having read the book, I now know why it was so good.  This was a great story told from Gilbert’s point of view with all his sarcasm and wit.  Everyone in the town of Endora brought something to the pages that commanded you turn to find out what the heck was going to happen next.  It’s been many years since I’ve seen the movie, so I think I’ll be watching it to see how it differed from the book.  This book should be considered a dark comedy because it was so hilarious.  Some of the things Gilbert says to the reader will have you in total stitches, and if it doesn’t perhaps you’re suffering from the same problem Gilbert was?  
At any rate, this was an amazing story written with such finesse and grace.  The characters are rich and real.  As the story unfolds, so many things will become clear and it was a joy to receive that clarity right along with Gilbert.  Peter Hedges did an amazing job putting you in Gilbert’s position.  You will see, feel and think everything he does.  A true outstanding read!  I’m glad I started off my new year with this. 
Mello & June gives What’s Eating Gilbert Grape five stars.  If you haven’t seen the movie, read the book first.  It’s always better. 

Happy New Year Intellectual Minds!  Keep up with your reading challenges! 

Kimberly Ranee Hicks, Author/Poet/Reviewer

Is there something eating You?
It's wise to Check Yourself!