June Book Review: Becoming Bonnie

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Becoming Bonnie (Bonnie #1) by Jenni L. Walsh

Release Date: May 9, 2017

Rating: 3.5/5 beakers

 

*Spoilers ahead!*

 

“Bonnelyn,” he repeats.  “Well, that name doesn’t sound pretty enough for the likes of you.  I reckon Bonnie suits you better.”  Bonnie.  He nods, seeming satisfied.  Then Clyde bends, smiling up at me as he presses his chilled lips to my hand.  “Hi, Bonnie.”

 

This is the story of Bonnelyn Parker, who made all the wrong decision for (mostly) the right reasons and ended up places she never imagined she’d be.  It’s exactly what the title claims: the tale of how “Saint” Bonnelyn becomes the Bonnie of the infamous criminal duo.

Not a lot is known about Bonnie Parker’s early life, so the author takes a lot of liberties with her life leading up to her relationship with Clyde Barrow, but it works.  Bonnelyn begins the novel as the typical good girl, playing the piano at church every Sunday, getting straight A’s in school, dreaming of a future with her steady boyfriend and a career as a teacher.  But not everyone gets to follow their dreams, and in a time when the economy isn’t exactly booming, Bonnelyn loses her job.  What follows is a downhill slide of one misfortune after the other: sickness in the family, deception, heartbreak, and financial loss.  It’s easy to follow Bonnelyn from point A to point B, and it’s completely believable to see what could turn a girl as innocent and naive as Bonnelyn into a girl hardened enough to plan a jailbreak and sneak a gun into prison.

I really liked Bonnelyn.  She was sweet, and I admired her ability to dream when so many others had given up.  She worked hard to provide for her family, and she loved her boyfriend Roy, even if she wasn’t exactly ready to get married yet.  The loss of her job hit Bonnelyn hard, and the fear of her family being out on the street pushed her to do things she never would’ve considered, mainly taking a job in a speakeasy.  I loved Bonnelyn’s gradual acceptance of her new circumstances, just as I loved the reason she chose to put aside her values to surround herself in all things illegal.  Bonnelyn’s motives were purely selfless, unlike her friend Blanche, who took the speakeasy job as a way to get out of finding legitimate work.  Blanche annoyed me for most of the book–especially her way of referring to herself in the third person–but she was there for Bonnelyn when it mattered most, so I at least have to give her that.

Blanche’s bad decisions aside, I loved Doc’s.  I could really feel the air of excitement and apprehension, could hear the jazz and the clink of poker chips, could taste the giggle water.  The world of the speakeasy was really brought to life, and I couldn’t bring myself to blame Bonnelyn for finding a home there.  The friends Bonnelyn made at Doc’s were initially the kind you have only because you share a secret, but they became true friends, helping her deal with Roy’s betrayal and working to keep her as safe and happy as possible.  I really appreciated Buck in particular for all he did for both Bonnelyn and Blanche.  And it didn’t hurt, of course, that he was the one who led to the introduction between Bonnelyn and his brother, Clyde Champion Barrow.

Clyde was pretty much the way I imagined him.  I’ve always read that he was charming and reckless with more than a bit of a temper, and that’s the Clyde we get here.  But he’s also incredibly sweet and truly dedicated to those he loves.  I know you’re not supposed to root for the bad guy, but Clyde was the sort of bad guy who began doing bad out a desire to do good.  Of course, he became the sort who did bad just because he could, but the Clyde that Bonnelyn meets is exactly the sort of person she needs: steady and dedicated and unabashedly who he is.  He’s not afraid to show his criminal side, but he’s willing to put it behind him to win Bonnelyn’s heart.  He’s there to help whenever she needs it, and he works to win her over with his honesty and his songs.  I loved that Clyde wrote songs–no idea if that was true, but it was really sweet, and it gave Bonnelyn a chance to show off her writing skills.  These two together are certainly trouble, but it was interesting to see Bonnelyn shift into Bonnie, especially as, with the crash of the stock market and the loss all her hard-earned money, she realizes that Clyde’s criminal exploits may be the only way any of them manage to keep their heads above water.  It’s sort of a sad turn, although not an unexpected one, but it’s also mostly well-intentioned, with Bonnie once again trying to look out for her family through whatever means possible.  She’s grown into a woman who has the skills and the determination to do whatever it takes to help her loved ones, and with Clyde by her side, she’s ready and able to take on the world, guns blazing.

So why did I only give Becoming Bonnie 3.5 beakers?  Mostly because it’s an origin story.  When you hear ‘Bonnie and Clyde,’ you don’t think about shameless flirting or song writing or trips to the Gulf.  You think about guns and car chases and kisses in the heat of the moment, and this book lacked the action I wanted.  However, that’s promised in the next book, so I’ll definitely be checking out Being Bonnie, which comes out sometime next year.

As an origin story, Becoming Bonnie is a solid setup full of secrets, tough choices, and realizations about who you want to be and who you have to be to survive.  It’s a fun romp through the bright and illegal world of speakeasies and bootlegging while also being a tale of heartbreak and desperation.  Bonnie Parker may have gone down in history as a notorious criminal who wrote poetry, but the circumstances that led her to become such a person (however fictionalized) make you root for her all the same, leaving you hoping that she’ll end up as she dreams she’s meant to be: part of Bonnie and Clyde, alive and free.


Favorite Quotes:

  • One day I won’t be poor with dreams.  I’ll have money and dreams.
  • Mama’s got more pride than a lion and makes certain we’re dressed to the nines, even if our nine is really only a five.
  • No point marrying a man you wouldn’t catch a cold for.
  • The Barrow boys are nothin’ but trouble.  Though I reckon I’m the reason why they put themselves in a precarious situation this time.  I’m the reason Clyde stole a car.  Perhaps I’m nothin’ but trouble, too.
  • Someone like Clyde Barrow probably steals hearts faster than cars.
  • “I don’t want to stand in your way, Bonnie.  I want to stand by your side.”
  • “When one door closes, another one opens, right?”  He smiles shyly.  “But, on the chance it don’t, you can always pry it open.”
  • “We’re born whole, then life takes a little more from ya each day, each experience, each loss.  It ain’t something you can get back.”
  • And in my heart, I know nothin’ has ever been more true.  We’re Bonnie and Clyde.
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