Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Review: Side by Side by Jenni L. Walsh

From the Back Cover:

Texas: 1931. It’s the height of the Great Depression, and Bonnie is miles from Clyde. He’s locked up, and she’s left waiting, their dreams of a life together dwindling every day.

When Clyde returns from prison damaged and distant, unable to keep a job, and dogged by the cops, Bonnie knows the law will soon come for him. But there’s only one road forward for her.

If the world won't give them their American Dream, they'll just have to take it.

My Thoughts:

I was late to the Becoming Bonnie party, but after receiving a review copy of Side by Side, I knew I had to read Bonnie's story first, and I'm so glad I did. That book brought me out of a month-long reading slump. Bonnie is a character I really wanted to root for, and it was hard to watch her make decisions that I knew would lead to heartache—and worse. In that book, Bonnie and Clyde didn't get together till near the end, and the anticipation of them finally getting together had me burning through the pages.

In Side by Side, there's anticipation of a different sort 'cause everyone knows what happened to Bonnie and Clyde. Even if you know nothing else about their story, you know how it ends.

I have such conflicting feelings about Bonnie and Clyde. Walsh does an admirable job of portraying them as two people who got caught up in a life of crime. In her hands, they are both easy to like.

"I do know a little something 'bout having dreams. I also know something 'bout them crumbling 'round me, clunking me on the head and leaving me with a black eye." ~Bonnie Parker

They justify their actions by their life experiences. Bonnie lost her savings when the banks crashed in '29. Clyde was brutalized by the police in prison and hounded by them whenever he was out, so banks and cops feel like justifiable targets. Throughout their years on the run, living out of one stolen car after another, living off whatever they can steal, sometimes hooking up with others and sometimes on their own—and always trying to stay a step ahead of the law—they never let go of their dream, to live an honest life on a little farm. The problem is that in order to get that honest life, they have to do a whole lot of bad things. Bonnie's in denial, her heart so attached to the dream of a farm, a dream she thinks still has a shot at coming true, right up to the very end, that my heart broke for her.

But on the other hand, they're criminals. In a time when people have so little, they steal people's hard-earned money, not just from banks but from mom-and-pop stores and gas stations, they steal family cars, and they kill people, men who had families depending on them. I think it's also a bit of a cautionary tale. This is what happens when someone wants so badly to be loved, as Bonnie does, wants so desperately to have a partner, places such blind faith in that person, that they are able to rationalize what that person does. In Walsh's novelization, there's no doubt that Clyde loves Bonnie. But not enough to leave his life of crime behind, though the promise of doing so is always dangling just beyond their reach.

And yet I still cried at the end.

You definitely have to read Becoming Bonnie before you dive into Side by Side to get the full experience and understand how Bonnie and Clyde came to be. And if you're a fan of atmospheric historical fiction with a whole lot of action and a little bit of romance, you'll be burning through the pages just like I was.

My Rating:  4 Stars out of 5

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