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Home Girl: Building a Dream House on a…
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Home Girl: Building a Dream House on a Lawless Block

by Judith Matloff

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I received this book as an early review copy and in the process of my own move, lost it. I could have faked a review and been done with it, and then continued to have access to the early review copies, but that is not how I work. I needed to read the book to write the review. Finally, the other day while cleaning out some stored boxes, I found it. Finally. Yay! I've been looking for it for years now.

Home Girl was mostly an enjoyable read. Matloff's writing has a decent flow and her prose is down to earth but the story itself has an odd unbalanced feel to it.

I've not traveled the world like she has, but I've been to Rio and Sao Paulo. I've lived in neighborhoods much like she wrote about in Home Girl with the local drug dealers working the corner across the street and colorful characters next door or down the block. I even had a character living next door that was much like the Salami in her book.

From both a sociology standpoint, and a nostalgic one, I loved her descriptions of the neighbors, the neighborhood and it's colorful denizens. But aspects of her story bother me. I felt that sometimes she wrote dispassionately and lacked any emotional connection, then further on would attempt to remedy it. That sort of shift felt very disjointed as if she added parts later to present herself as more compassionate. Unfortunately, I wasn't convinced. Those parts of the story felt very disingenuous to me. I begin to feel that she was obsessed with the house and didn't care much about anything else, and by the end, I didn't really like the author as much as I would have liked.

We don't always have to like the protagonist, but in a memoir, it helps if we're emotionally invested somehow. Matloff's journalism background served her well in writing a book that detailed the social shift in the culture of drugs and community gentrification and it's very possible that her journalistic objectivity was what kept her from being able to write in a way that fully engaged the reader. But ultimately, the book was very readable and did have great moments.

(I would like to add that this in no way means I think the author is unlikeable in any way. It just means that, by the end of the book, the sense of self Matloff conveyed was distant and I didn't feel any emotional connection to her at all.)

If you do read the book though here is Matloff's site with a video of her home and some of the faces from her book. http://www.judithmatloff.com/video.html

I think photos added would have helped ground the story. There might be photos in the later editions, I don't know. I have only the review copy. ( )
1 vote zimbeline | May 17, 2011 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
A poignant, honest portrayal of a woman searching for home, Home Girl is an intriguing if sometimes wandering, snapshot of a ex-pat putting down roots. She doesn't candy-coat, and I think that is what keeps the majority of the memoir from becoming trite. A good read. ( )
  amandaking | Apr 4, 2011 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The one thing that bothered me the most about this book was that I really had no sense of her husband. She worried about his reaction to the house, but it was glossed over. Almost anything having to do with her husband was glossed over. It was interesting to read her take on the neighborhood activities and the inevitable gentrification. ( )
  emcelroy | Feb 27, 2010 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I had a difficult time staying engaged with this story because it tended to wander a bit and get bogged down in tedium. However, I did enjoy reading about the history of the area and Matloff's journey to home ownership. ( )
  curiouschild | Feb 5, 2010 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I really enjoyed following the author while she found a home and renovated it. It was an interesting read in watch what and where you are buying when looking for a house to buy. It was interesting to read after watching so many house buying stories on TV.
Her obstacles were incredible as she works on trying to make this house into a real home. I sometimes had trouble believing all the problems. Overall it was an interesting read. ( )
  hope3957 | Jan 10, 2010 |
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After twenty years as a foreign correspondent, Judith Matloff returns to New York City to start a family with her husband, John. Buying a fixer-upper in West Harlem, this is a memoir of their odyssey.

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