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Reviewletts: ‘Americanah’ and ‘The Girl on the Train’

One of the most dangerous things that can happen to a pretty good book is that it gets over-hyped. I love gushing about books as much as the next reader, but sometimes a book can get praised so highly that it’s impossible for it not to be disappointing. The two books I’m writing about today both had a lot of hype when they first came out. One held up, while the other didn’t quite survive the marketing madness.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion – for each other and for their homeland.

Man, how many things did I love about Americanah? So many things. It’s just such a quietly funny and incisive novel about race and family and how our relationships are affected by where we come from and the identities we carry. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie doesn’t hold anything back as Ifemelu makes her way through some less-than-flattering parts of modern America, but it felt like she approached her commentary with a generosity of spirit. The book does suffer, a bit, from sections with dialogue-as-lecture, but the parts I loved far outweighed that small annoyance. I highly recommend picking this one up.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

the girl on the train by paula hawkins

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life – as she sees it – is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost. And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

For me, The Girl on the Train was one of those books that suffered because of the hype. All of the marketing for the book that I saw called it “the next Gone Girl” which is both a very high and very specific bar to clear. The comparison works insofar as this is a book with an unreliable female narrator with a few unexpected twists, but other than that it falls short. The Girl on the Train is a decent, page-turning thriller, but it’s not nearly as smart or interesting as Gone Girl when it comes to relationships and character development. I liked this one, but I just didn’t really love it.

Disclosure: I purchased both of these books for myself!

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  • Sandy February 24, 2015, 6:08 am

    I’ve been wanting to read both, although Americanah intimidates me a tiny bit and I don’t respond well to being lectured. But it is exactly the type of thing one of my book clubs would read, so it’s just a matter of time. Now Girl on the Train I do have on my nightstand, because the OTHER book club is reading it. My hopes are high, I hope I’m not too disappointed.

    • Kim Ukura March 1, 2015, 12:14 pm

      I think the “lecturing” in the book didn’t seem as off-putting as it could have because it was coming from characters where it made sense they’d be lecturing. And I don’t think that Adichie would suggest that we admire those characters, even if parts of what they are saying meshing with the overall messaging in the book. Does that make sense?

  • Sarah's Book Shelves February 24, 2015, 7:02 am

    I’m with you on The Girl on the Train…I liked it a lot, but didn’t think it was anywhere close to GG and did suffer from the hype and GG comparison. Esp since the ending wasn’t that hard to figure out. I wrote a spoiler discussion on this one.

    • Kim Ukura March 1, 2015, 12:15 pm

      It took me a long while to see where the book was going. I did figure it out, but I think in about the pace I was supposed to realize that things were off. And it kept me turning pages, just not the in same way as Gone Girl.

  • Shannon @ River City Reading February 24, 2015, 7:20 am

    I’ve been waiting on Girl on the Train for that reason…I think it’s been hyped up too much for me at this point. And I adored Americanah. About to pick up Half of a Yellow Sun!

    • Kim Ukura March 1, 2015, 12:16 pm

      Adichie got added to my list of authors that I look for every time I’m out scouring used bookstores or shopping — Americanah was just so great.

  • Kay February 24, 2015, 9:03 am

    I’m liking THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN better now after being a few weeks away from finishing it. Nostalgic? Maybe. Ha! But, I will say that I will look for Paula Hawkins next book. She has a twisty mindset and I like that.

    • Kim Ukura March 1, 2015, 12:16 pm

      She is twisty! I’d read another one of her books, maybe as a summer by the lake read.

  • BermudaOnion(Kathy) February 24, 2015, 9:06 am

    I read The Girl on the Train before all the hype and loved it. Sorry it was disappointing for you.

  • Trisha February 24, 2015, 10:10 am

    I have now had two hype-fall-out experiences – Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Station Eleven (although I still have hope for the second as I stopped reading it and plan on picking it back up and starting over in a month or so). I have The Girl on the Train waiting to be read, but I may push it off as well.

    • Kim Ukura March 1, 2015, 12:17 pm

      I feel sad about those hyped experiences, since I loved both of those so much! I’d wait a bit on Girl on the Train, it’s good, but just can’t quite hit the high ceiling of hype that’s been created!

  • Heather @ Capricious Reader February 24, 2015, 2:33 pm

    I was a bit worried The Girl on the Train was over hyped. I may put it off for awhile. I’m glad to hear Americanah was a great read for you! It’s on my to read list for the year.

  • susan February 24, 2015, 3:25 pm

    I have yet to read Adichie’s books yet but it’s only a matter of time. I’m quite intrigued to read all of them. I guess I’m not very interested in the Girl on a Train book. Too much to read at the moment. Thanks!

  • Leah @ Books Speak Volumes February 24, 2015, 8:20 pm

    I really need to find time to read Americanah soon; it seems to have consistently gotten good reviews even since the initial hype wore off.

    On the other hand, I can’t bear to read another review of Girl on the Train. I feel like I’ve heard so much about it that I really don’t need to read it.

    • Kim Ukura March 1, 2015, 12:19 pm

      It’s a tough book to write about, I think, since most of the interesting parts are part of the plot but you don’t want to spoil the plot by writing about it. Gone Girl had more depth, and more things to comment on than just the twists.

  • Sheila (Book Journey) February 24, 2015, 9:13 pm

    I agree with you on Girl On The Train 100% my review was quite similar and as you said, not at all the book that Gone Girl is.

  • Christine @ BookishlyB February 24, 2015, 11:18 pm

    Loved Americanah! I wasn’t a fan of Gone Girl, so I’m not too enticed by the hype by The Girl on the Train.

  • Belle Wong February 25, 2015, 12:33 am

    I guessed correctly which one disappointed you. I still intend to read The Girl on the Train, but I’m going in with much lower expectations. Hype can be enticing, but it’s not always accurate.

    • Kim Ukura March 1, 2015, 12:20 pm

      Girl on the Train is less of a “typical” book for me, so that might be why it was easy to guess 🙂

  • kay February 25, 2015, 11:43 am

    I felt similar about The Girl on the Train. It was a good thriller, maybe a tad better than most, but definitely not on the level of Gone Girl. I think maybe I enjoyed it a bit more than you did, but I definitely agree about it being overhyped!

  • Katie @ Doing Dewey February 26, 2015, 9:25 am

    I feel like it’s particularly hard for a thriller to live up to a lot of hype, because I expect really good twists and those can be tough to manage!

  • Jennine G. February 26, 2015, 10:03 pm

    I don’t think The Girl on the Train fell short when read as its own story. Those comparisons never hold up. It definitely held the unsure what’s going on piece longer than Gone Girl did. But Gone Girl was more “omg” than The Girl on the Train.

    • Kim Ukura March 1, 2015, 12:21 pm

      I think that’s a good point — if read on it’s own, for the book that it is, I think it’s a well-executed thriller. But it was hard to separate myself from the marketing on this one, since the only reason I picked it up was because of the comparison that was hyped, a ton, by the marketing behind the book.

  • Jennifer March 21, 2015, 1:05 am

    Great reviewlettes on both books.

    I’m considering Girl on a Train as summer reading for seniors. I haven’t started it yet but the level I teach on is feeling a lot of positive hype about this book.

    I agree that sometimes comparisons to other books (especially when we really like said other book) can have a rather negative impact on whether or not we are able to really enjoy a book. I’m trying to be better about avoiding hype where possible.