Cover Image: Becoming Bonnie

Becoming Bonnie

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History is a little skimpy on the details of who Bonnie was before she was part of the infamous duo of Bonnie and Clyde. Becoming Bonnie imagines who the girl was and what shaped her before she became known for her criminal partnership and death. It's the late 1920s and Bonnie is a high school student, trying to help her family scrape by in sleepy Cement City. Her best friend, Blanche, convinces her to start working with her at a speakeasy, and though straight-laced Bonnie (known, in this book, as Bonnelyn) is uncomfortable at first with this scene of drinking, gambling, and general debauchery, she's taken in by the money to be made and, soon, by the illicit glamour of it all. In this story, Bonnie doesn't officially meet Clyde until quite a ways into the story, and he comes into her life at a time when she's already been let down by her life in a lot of ways. She finds Clyde daring, attractive, and is a little uncomfortable with his past, but, as we all know, there will be something about him she just can't resist. 

The first half or so of this book felt a little slow, but overall the book did a great job of describing the place, the time, the challenges that could have led Bonnie to become the person that history knows. The story gets a lot more exciting when Clyde becomes a part of it, and I can't wait to read the author's follow up about their lives together. Jenni Walsh did a really nice job combining history and fiction to create a world and a person that are very memorable.

Advance e-galley provided by Netgalley and the publisher for an honest review.
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" Life will do what it wants with you, huh? Eat you up, spit you out. Comes a point when you got to push back, make things happen for yourself" - Becoming Bonnie, Jenni L. Walsh

One of my favorite kinds of novels are bildungsromans, coming of age stories. A young man or woman goes on a journey to find themselves, and typically, by the end of the book has evolved into an older, wiser, and more reasoned individual. There are so many excellent examples of this story- "To Kill A Mockinbird", "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn", and "Ender's Game", to name a few. "Becoming Bonnie" takes that same age old structure structure and flips it - telling the story of a good, smart girl who after her own trials and adventures becomes the infamous Bonnie of Bonnie and Clyde. How does one go from a young girl married to her high school sweetheart to a gun wielding criminal side kick?

Historic details
I love historical fiction, but truly struggle with the genre when it depicts the emotions and actions of real people. I have a weird relationship with that particular type of story telling, and generally dislike it - how are we to know what a real person was thinking or feeling, what their motivations were, etc. Starting "Becoming Bonnie" I wasn't sure what to expect from the story- besides the name Bonnie & Clyde - I knew very little about their story, particularly Bonnie's. Through reading, and the authors afterword, it became clear that really, very little is known at all about Bonnie Parker. Through reading, I came to really respect and enjoy the way that the author, Jenni L Walsh, respected many of the known details, but also added a fictional spin creating relationships - and lots of intrigue.

Captivating main character, plausible development
The main character and narrator of "Becoming Bonnie" is Bonnie herself. I really enjoyed reading the voice that the author created for this character. Walsh's version of Bonnie was incredibly relateable and I really enjoyed reading from her perspective. I was surprised by how plausible Bonnie's changes became as the author crafted her transformation. When we meet Bonnie, she is a kind, wholesome high school student, engaged to her high school sweet heart, and struggling to help provide for her family. By the end of the book, Bonnie is dating Clyde Barrow, smuggling guns into prisons, and participating in many levels of criminal activity. I was captivated by Bonnie initially because of how strongly I related to her, and that feeling continued even after our world views changed significantly.

Bonnie + Blanche = 4ever
One of my favorite aspects of "Becoming Bonnie" is the gal pal relationship between Bonnie and her best friend, Blanche. At the beginning of the book, Blanche is the catalyst for much of Bonnie's shedding of her good girl persona. When Blanche begins working nights at a local speakeasy, Bonnie is initially skeptical and resistant. Eventually, Bonnie comes to appreciate the opportunity to support her family - as well as the opportunity to perform, a long time aspiration of hers. Bonnie and Blanche's interactions and banter were fun, and quick witted. I looked forward to seeing the duo together and I hope that Blanche plays a role in the sequel to "Becoming Bonnie".

What I Struggled With
I have lived in Texas for the last decade, but within about the first ten pages of beginning "Becoming Bonnie" I was a little frustrated with the constant Texas drawl depicted by the author. Thankfully, the further into the book I got, the less I noticed it - whether it was used less I'm not entirely sure. Other than that small issue, I really enjoyed reading this book and definitely recommend it!
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I don't know how I came across this title in the first place, but I'm so glad I did! The first thing that I noticed was the beautiful and shiny cover. The title was appealing too: Becoming Bonnie. I clicked on the link and found out the novel was about Bonnie, from Bonnie and Clyde. Late 20's, Dallas, Texas. Prohibition and depression. I quickly added it to the TBR. A couple of weeks later I saw the book on Netgalley and immediately requested it. It didn't have many reviews yet.

As soon as I started the book, I knew it would be a special one. And I know because I hated having to put it down! I was so deeply immersed in the story that I kept thinking about what would happen even when I was at work. And when I wasn't reading, I was looking for pictures of Bonnie and Clyde and reading the Wikipedia page. I had seen the movie but didn't remember much about it. Now I want to know everything there is to know about this woman.

I don't know exactly why I found this story so wonderful, but I guess it just clicked with me. I think Jenni L Walsh (who by the way seems lovely) is an amazing storyteller. You know when you're reading a book and absolutely everything makes sense? Sometimes I read novels that I  enjoy but I don't understand certain decisions and find myself wishing some things had been different. In Becoming Bonnie, everything happened just the way I hoped. Bonnie's coming of age, the events that unfolded, the relationship with her family, friends, and lovers. And the author managed to introduce every historical aspect in a smart and smooth way, so you understood why Bonnie chose to do what she did because of the context and what was going on around her. 

This is not a book full of twists of surprises, but the story of a very special girl who's trying to figure out her life. And despite knowing how it all would end, I still couldn't get enough of her story. Keep in mind that Clyde doesn't show up much at first, but I thought he was a great character (at least, for now).

I loved Bonnie. I love how she changed so much from the first page to the last, how she matured, how she became fearless. How she learned to say no, to stand up for herself and discover what she really wanted to do with her life. And I can't wait to follow her and Clyde's adventures in the sequel!
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Becoming Bonnie was not what I expected.  It started slow, and took most of the book to get to the actual Bonnie and Clyde duo uniting.  There are no bank robberies or crime sprees.  Rather, Jennifer Walsh has written a coming of age tale that turns her title character from an innocent, into a "sadder but wiser girl."  From there she finally unites the infamous couple, only to leave her reader wanting more.  These final chapters keep Becoming Bonnie from being a complete disappointment.  On another note, although being classified as historical fiction, this book felt more like YA.
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I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Ms. Walsh does a fantastic job of creating the Bonnie who might have been. It's sometimes so easy to judge criminals/outlaws without knowing the "why" of why they turned out as they did. I'd like to think that maybe people like Bonnie and Clyde don't set out to be robbers and killers. Ms. Walsh weaves a tale that shows how sometimes life can get in the way of the desire to be good and do good.
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This novel about Bonnie Parker, of the infamous Bonnie and Clyde, is so well written I didn't even notice at first that it's written in present tense, which I normally don't like.

The characterization was very well done too, with the best part being the evolution of Bonnie becoming the figure we picture her as (it's certainly an appropriately titled novel). Although this is a novel about how Bonnie met and fell in love with Clyde, I wouldn't call it a romance. It's more about a young woman finding herself in a chaotic world and learning what she really wants from it and from the people in her life. Blanche's character was compelling too and I almost wish for a sequel done in Blanche's voice. Knowing in real life, Blanche is the only survivor out of their group, her voice would make a good narrative for a sequel, but I don't know if the author has plans for a sequel at all.

Additionally, although Bonnie is a teenager throughout the book and there is nothing inappropriate in it for teens to read, I wouldn't call it a young adult novel (nor is it marketed as such, though I see some people on Goodreads have tagged it). Bonnie is very young, but she's very much living her life as an adult, and it deals with adult themes, so it doesn't have a young adult feel to it.

There are a few deviations from the factual timeline in the beginning but it does come together. At first, it seemed like Clyde was being introduced way too early, but then it became clear that he and Bonnie don't really formally meet until much later and so he was more of this shadowy, mysterious, background figure. It wound up working really well and made an excellent, believable story line. Keep in mind, this is not a tale of Bonnie and Clyde's life together, it's really about Bonnie's life before Clyde and everything that led them together. They don't really meet till near the end and the novel ends well before their crime spree. You might think that would make it boring, but it really doesn't. I read the entire second half of it in one day, I felt so compelled to finish it.

Advanced review copy from publisher via NetGalley. My opinions are my own.
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an excellent job of re-imagining a tale many of us think we know well - the love story of the infamous Bonnie & Clyde duo.
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Everyone's heard of Bonnie and Clyde, but how many of us know anything about them other than that they were notorious criminals? BECOMING BONNIE gives us a glimpse into the life of Bonnie Parker before she became one half of that infamous duo. Pulling both from historical research and her own imagination, author Jenni L. Walsh introduces us to Bonnelyn, a poor Texan teenager with big dreams, and takes us through her family struggles, her relationship troubles, and her introduction to the glitzy underworld of the 1920s. The story is fast-paced and engaging, and I loved Bonnelyn so much that I kept flipping pages, hoping desperately for a better fate than the one we know she ends up with.
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