Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl: A Review (of sorts)

I recently reread Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl in preparation of my trip to Amsterdam, where I knew I would be visiting the Anne Frank House (the secret annex).  I had read it the first time in 8th grade, so I had only a vague recollection of the contents of her diary.  Rereading it as an adult was enlightening (and timely, given some current events) since I had some experience and knowledge that made her ideas, trials, tribulations, opinions, and joys more relevant to me now than when I was 13 years old.

I’m fairly certain that most–if not all–of you have read at least sections of Anne’s diary either on your own or in school, so I will spare you the details.  However, if you have never read it or if it’s been more than 10 years since you’ve read, I strongly urge you to lend your eyes and ears (and heart) to Anne as she painstakingly details her experiences in hiding from the Nazis during WWII (Anne’s diary begins in June 1942 and goes until August 1944.  The family went into hiding July 6, 1942: today marks 76 years!).

A short list of what I loved about Anne while rereading her diary:

  1. Her sense of humor
  2. Her candor
  3. Her honesty
  4. Her introspection
  5. Her quest for self-discovery
  6. Her unquenchable thirst for knowledge and self-improvement
  7. Her self-confidence, even as it gives way to doubt later on
  8. Her self-awareness
  9. Her resolve under the most distressing circumstances
  10. Her determination and will to survive
  11. Her deliberate attempts at teenage experiences (i.e. romance!) in the most unlikely place under the most distressing circumstances

A short list of what I learned about the dangers of history repeating itself while rereading her diary:

  1. Still today, national security takes precedence over humanitarian concerns. (See today’s news about the Franks’ thwarted attempt to come to America in 1941.)
  2. Fewer and fewer people are aware of the Holocaust.  See also: An astonishing 2/3 of millennials do not know what Auschwitz is.
  3. A Holocaust denier and anti-Semitic Republican from California won in the primaries and is now on the general-election ticket. (what?!)
  4. An Iowan congressman is retweeting Neo-Nazis/Nazi sympathizers.  Re: anti-immigration. (Note: there are two different tweets linked here.)
  5. While what’s currently going on at our borders is most definitely NOT the Holocaust, family separation was one of the worst aspects of the Holocaust according to survivors (if you can even imagine!!!!), and we ALL should take notice and stop this horrible, senseless action.

I encourage whoever you are to read the news articles above for yourself and really reflect upon what’s going on in our world right now.  We have some pretty scary people in office–not just in the U.S. but in other parts of the world–and history could very well repeat itself if we don’t take careful and deliberate action that it doesn’t.  Annnnd I’ll leave it at that.

Back to Amsterdam.

I was not allowed to take pictures during my tour of the secret annex, but I was content to take pictures only on the outside of the annex (See pics below as well as this video.).  The space inside demands all of your attention.  As you walk through the rooms all 8 refugees inhabited, it’s nice not to have your attention divided, not to see the room you’re actually standing in on a tiny phone screen so that you can look quickly back at pictures later.  No.  The space demands all of your attention, and it deserves it.  I think having Anne’s voice so fresh in my head and on my heart made my visit much more meaningful.  I felt her presence there.  I felt each of the eight people’s presence there.  And I wondered how so many inhabitants could occupy such a small space for so long without going outside, without feeling the breeze on their skin, without walking around while swinging their arms–all the while fearing for not only their own lives but also for the lives of those helping them.  Anne always puts her frustrations in perspective when she makes sure to point out how good they actually had it; otherwise, they would have been in a concentration camp–or worse, dead.

Of course, we all know what happened to them in the end.  And what a sad thing to have happened.  It shouldn’t have happened.  It could have been avoided.  If only.  If only.  If only…

I’m sure Anne never lost hope of survival, and thankfully, her father Otto did survive and gifted the world with Anne so that we all could know her and learn from her so that we forbid those horrors happening again.

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Call Me By Your Name: A Review (of sorts)

I just finished Andre Aciman’s Call Me By Your Name for the second time.  I read it and 4 days later turned right around and read it a second time.  At best, only a handful of books have been worthy of a reread in my entire life.  Never have I ever reread a book right after I had finished it the first time.  CMBYN is just that good.IMG_1183

This year, my reading goal has been to read books by or predominately about women and books that are about people or cultures that are not much like me at all.  I have enjoyed several books about refugees, people of various races and cultures, and books about and by people in the LGBT community.  Even though I am choosing books to #readforempathy, I find that these are stories in which I can relate by my own experiences no matter what the content or who’s the author.  I love that so much.  That’s why we read, isn’t it: to connect to others?  To know we have shared experiences, even by others who appear to be on some level different from us?

Some minor spoilers ahead.

On the surface, CMBYN is about a romance between two men in Italy in the 1980’s.  Elio’s family hosts someone to live at their villa while finishing his/her manuscript. They do this every summer.  This particular summer it’s Oliver, a professor at Columbia back in the States.  Oliver exudes confidence and gains the attention of Elio immediately.  Oliver is 24; Elio is 17.  I know what you’re going to say.  I said it, too.  But hang with me for a second.

It’s difficult to say succinctly what I loved most about this novel–what I connected to the most–but here goes.

  • Elio’s first-person narration: The entire book is pretty much Elio’s inner most thoughts; very little dialogue is present.  He is precocious, intellectual, smart, self aware, and–among many other things–super awkward and conflicted.  He spends more than half the novel being in a state of turmoil that he could easily remedy if he could conjure just a little courage to let Oliver know where he stands.  Walking though the struggle with him, a reader with any past experience with love, desire, obsession, infatuation, or passion can completely relate.  Admiring someone from afar is absolute torture, and Elio’s longing is so full of truth because he just doesn’t know what to do with it.  Who can’t relate to that?  Thus, Elio behaves in some pretty shocking ways to satisfy his desire to be close to Oliver.  More on that later.
  • The coming of age story:  Elio is completely enamored by Oliver, yet he does things that show his fickleness and immaturity.  For example, he fantasizes about Oliver all day and night, yet after he has spent time with his semi-girlfriend, Marzia, he doesn’t know if he really wants to be with Oliver after all.  But that’s how it can be sometimes, right?  One’s emotions change, depending on the circumstances.  Elio has just enjoyed his time with Marzia, so he doesn’t need Oliver…until that feeling wears off and he wants him again.
  • The symbolism: There are so many layers to this story, and the way Aciman unfolds it is gorgeous.  The title of the novel–without giving too much away–comes straight from Elio and Oliver’s deep connection to one another.  Eventually their feelings are laid out in the open, and they are so much in sync that they can almost communicate with one another by saying nothing at all.  They connect, not only on a physical level but also on a mental, philosophical, and emotional level.  “Call me by your name, and I’ll call you by mine.”  Elio and Oliver are one and the same.  Additionally, their names are tightly connected.  You can’t spell Oliver without Elio.  But the reader must remember that we are only seeing Oliver from Elio’s perspective; therefore, he’s almost an enigma, and Elio isn’t reliable because he acts upon impulses based on experiences and interactions that he may misinterpret.  Even the move tie-in cover edition depicts this perfectly.  Because the reader sees Oliver only through Elio’s eyes, Oliver is obstructed from view.
  • The writing:  It’s not just Aciman’s story but the way he tells it that is so incredibly beautiful.   I found myself reading a passage and then rereading it several times because his use of language is so gorgeous.  I enjoyed the passages where Elio played out these hypothetical conversations or encounters with Oliver the most.  His stream of consciousness is on point.  Aciman manages to say what I could never find the words to say.  If only Aciman could write my own thoughts for the rest of my life.  He is able to verbalize everything I want to say.  The man speaks truth–because this isn’t an LGBT story: it’s anyone’s love story.
  • IMG_6330The reaction this story gave me.  As previously mentioned, there are some pretty shocking parts in this book.  The characters do some pretty bizarre things that I just wasn’t prepared for.  As I said, I’ll try not to spoil anything, but, as evidenced by this selfie I sent to my book twin who had already read the book, I was super not ready for some of it (yet I was completely there for it).  When I did my second read through, I really enjoyed the meaning behind some of these strange and weird parts, and I even understood them more once the shock had worn off from the first time.  In many ways, those parts held their own beauty.

Final summation: I am just going to go ahead and say it: this sits on very top of my favorite list.  I connected to these two characters more than I ever thought I would, and I understood things about love and longing and obsession and desire that I hadn’t thought about in a long time.  I laughed, I cried, I hurt, and I felt joy.  In fact, right now, I’m feeling pretty melancholic and wistful and am missing these two characters, just as they might miss one another.  What more could a reader ask for?

P.S. I also saw the movie after I finished the book the first time.  I really couldn’t handle Timothee Chalamet’s performance because I found him to be super cringy; HOWEVER, upon my second read, I. Get. It.  Elio is so awkward!  Dude should have won that freaking Oscar.  If you see the movie, do not turn it off when the credits start rolling.  Watch ’til the very end.  I’m curious as to what people think about that last 5 seconds before the screen goes black.  Why did he do that?  What does it mean for the audience?

UPDATE (April 2018): I also listened to the audio book (for my 3rd reading), read by Armie Hammer.  That was sort of strange since he plays Oliver in the movie, yet he read for Elio’s narration in the audiobook.  Strange to say the least, but his voice is like butter, so it worked in a weird way.  And now, I sit with the worst book hangover I’ve ever had. 😦

I’ll leave you with this.  Go read the book to find out why.  😉 😉

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Little Fires Everywhere: A Review (of sorts)

It has been a while since I connected so deeply to a book.

34273236A novel with strong female characters, Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere has something to say for most American women, especially American women who were teenagers in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, teenage girls who ultimately become mothers and continue the generational spiral as it loops throughout time.

For me, I was magnetized to every character, and if you have read any of my book reviews, you’d know, dear reader, how much I love a character-driven novel.  LFE did not disappoint in the characterization department.  I wish I had read this for book club, for I am dying to talk about this one with other people.  I have many questions that I’d love to mull over with someone, but since I don’t have anyone, I’ll pose them here below.

When I read about Mia, the enigmatic, vagabond mother, I pictured her as me: first, as a child misunderstood; then, as a teen figuring it out, introverted, shy, passionate; last, as a mother devoted to her child.  But she is much more than that.  She has history, secrets; she has loved and lost and depended on no one but herself.  Mia’s arc delicately progresses yet the effect she has on others is extraordinary.  She is the kindling that starts those little fires everywhere.  But is she to blame for all the chaos?

When I read about Pearl, the teenage girl yearning for acceptance and connection, I pictured her as me.  I remembered the improvised living spaces of my highly mobile childhood, each city a new start, yet never quite able to begin before we left again.  Relationships were reserved for family only, only because we were never any place long enough to make connections any deeper than acquaintance-status.  Pearl wasn’t the most likable character, yet she was the one I see as most like me.  She showed me some things about myself that I need to inspect further.

When I read about Mrs. Richardson, the idyllic, superficial, suburban mother, I pictured her as me.  She’s a woman who wants the best for her family, who strives to hold her family together, if for nothing but the illusion.  Lost in the quest for social status, she is completely out of touch with her children.  Additionally, she once had a fierce passion for activism that now lies mostly dormant.  What is life if not for passion and meaningful relationships?  Mrs. Richardson has completely missed the mark.

When I read about Mrs. McCollough, the hopeful adoptive parent of a Chinese baby, I pictured her as me.  Though I never suffered through the trials of a difficult conception, I know what it feels like to love a child so much and try to do right by them, yet the best intentions often end up lacking.  There’s always someone informing you on what to do and how to do it better than you currently are, and often times, that advice is under appreciated or defiantly rejected.  A question I as myself as I reflect about Mrs. McCollough’s story line is what makes someone a mother?  Is it biological?  Love?  Acceptance?  Inclusion?  Selflessness?

Of course, the novel isn’t just about American women, it features a host of other characters such as Chinese women, as well as Chinese and American men.  There is a thread of racism in this novel, if not intentional by the characters, perhaps a little unintentional.  Can one be unintentionally racist?  I wonder.  Maybe unintentional racism isn’t the same as delusion; maybe it’s simple ignorance.  Maybe it’s about not valuing a different culture yet not devaluing it either.  Does that even make sense?  Sigh.

When I read about Bebe, the Chinese mother determined to regain custody of her child, I pictured her as me.  I empathized with her as she struggled to deal with the aftermath of her decision.  If I had to do something unimaginable in order to help my child, what lengths would I go to in order to right the circumstance at a later time?  Who gets to judge the “righting” of my “wrong”?

This novel journeys through uncomfortable topics with no real suggestion about how to feel about them.  It’s truly left up to the reader.  LFE’s characters are flawed yet redeemable, just like real life people are.  Most readers will connect with at least one of these strong characters, if not all of them, just as I did.  If you want a thought-provoking novel, pick this one up.

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I admit that the story seemed slow-going at first, but just as embers will lie smoldering for a long time, it only takes a tiny breeze to start the fire blazing.

This was my first book to complete in 2018, and what a strong one to have out the gate!  I’m excited to take you all on my reading journey throughout the year!

Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda: A Review (of sorts)

In an effort to widen my horizon in 2017, I tried making it a priority to read works mostly about topics of which I have little personal experience and/or written by authors of a different culture, race, or religion than I have.  Even with different backgrounds, I have found various commonalities and similar experiences that I had never considered before.  It was an eye opening experience, and though I’m still a few books shy of my reading goal for the year, I think it has served its purpose and will be one I continue into 2018.

Last night, I finished Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli.  I had recently read that it was being made into a movie, and I also knew that it won the Morris Award back in 2016 and was long-listed for the National Book Award in 2015.  Another appealing aspect of this book was that it occurred to me that I could recall reading only one other book narrated by a character in the LGBTQ community (Luna by Julie Ann Peters, a National Book Award finalist, 2004), so I grabbed the book from my local library and settled in.51uersxv5jl-_sx325_bo1204203200_

As far as the book itself, it was an enjoyable, fast read.  It centers around Simon, a high school junior in a small(ish) Georgia town, who hasn’t yet come out to his friends or family.  Meanwhile, he has an online relationship with another boy from his school, whose identity remains a mystery to Simon.  It’s not until Simon is found out by a fellow classmate, who blackmails him in order to get a date with the new girl in town, that Simon is forced to decide whether or not to come out on his own terms or to have himself (and maybe even his mysterious online boyfriend) outted by the blackmail jerk.

A couple of issues I had with the book are pretty basic:

  • Simon’s experience isn’t the norm.

I fear that those who are preparing to come out and read this book will get a false sense of confidence that their experience will be like Simon’s.  Let me be clear, Simon doesn’t come away unscathed, but as a person who has worked closely with teens over a pretty lengthy span of time, I can tell you just how vicious they can be, not to mention the stories of teens and young adults who come out and lose most of the people who had supported them their whole lives.  It’s an unpredictable, scary situation, which is why it’s such a brave act when one does choose to come out.

  • It’s wrapped up pretty nicely at the end, when we all know that’s not real life.

While there may be advantages to making everything tidy and nice at the end of a novel like this, this is one of my major complaints with any book that I read.  I get that the reader needs closure, but closure rarely equates to happy endings.  In real life, there are frayed ends left dangling and relationships that don’t heal, at least for awhile, and I think it’s okay for stories to leave some things undone, too.  Books can fall into many different categories, a couple of which are fluff fiction and stories with teeth and meaning.  This had the potential to be the latter, but sort of fell a bit short for me at the end.

In some respects, Albertalli’s book title is combatting against those two issues I had with the book.  Maybe she’s trying to show what could be/should be for teens when they come out.  And if that’s the case, then, well, mission accomplished, lady.  Kudos to you.

But I think the title of the book is more of her way at taking aim at inequality of the social and societal norms for the LGBTQ community.  At one point Simon says, “Why is straight the default?  Everyone should have to declare one way or another, and it shouldn’t be this big awkward thing whether you’re straight, gay, bi, or whatever.”  He later adds regarding race, “White shouldn’t be the default anymore than straight should be the default.  There shouldn’t even be a default.”  When there is a default, there is a scary under layer for All Other Things, and that’s precisely what we are seeing in today’s world.  I won’t get too political in this book review, but it’s easy to see.  All you have to do is turn on the news.

This book is an enjoyable read; it was fun to try to guess who Simon’s mysterious boyfriend is, and there are some great messages in the book.  Go on and get reading.

 

Turtles All the Way Down: A Review (of sorts)

John Green has rightfully and justly earned himself the respect and favor of readers and critics alike.  Since 2005 with his publication of his Printz-award-winning debut novel, Looking for Alaska, Green has cemented himself as, not only the voice of adolescents and young adults, but as the contemporary JD Salinger,  modernizing a genre of books that are more relative to the targeted audience than the standard stock.

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John Green from Time magazine

Another surprising aspect of Green’s craft is his appeal to an older generation.  Granted, I am in the education field and like to stay abreast with what is current and popular with teens, but I know a lot of other people who are familiar with and enjoy reading his books. Of course, he’s not appealing to all.  Some of my adult friends find his work exhausting and unrealistic.  Sure, there is some vocabulary in his dialogue that I don’t know if any 16-year-old I’ve ever taught knows the meaning of, but hey, if kids are reading it, they are exposing themselves to some good vocab, so…#winning.

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The book you should be reading right now

With that said, I just finished his latest novel (literally, like 15 minutes ago), Turtles All the Way Down, and I’m feeling very unsettled, which I suspect, is how Green wants the reader to feel.  Turtles deals with the mental illness of a teenage girl, Aza, who has OCD.   Green focuses more on the mental rather than the behavioral aspect of Aza’s illness.

It was very hard for me to read, I think, because at first I was still not truly understanding the severity of the illness.  Unlike, say, The Fault in Our Stars, where I felt such heartbreak and sadness for a week after finishing the book because cancer isn’t something you can control–it just happens–my reaction to TFiOS was typical and expected.  With, Turtles, I found myself saying things like, “Just stop it, Aza” “Don’t do that, Aza,” “WHY ISN’T SHE STOPPING HERSELF?” and “Oh my gosh, did she seriously just do that!?”

As if she could control it.

Here is something that I’ve reminded myself about while reading Turtles: mental illness is and is not like cancer.

Is like cancer:

  • It can worsen without treatment.
  • It is invasive.
  • It is debilitating.
  • The person living with it cannot control it.
  • There is treatment but no cure.
  • It affects the person with it and everyone close to that person.
  • It can be terminal.

Is not like cancer:

  • Oh, wait.  I got nothing.

It wasn’t until I recently dealt with a loved one going through major and serious depression that I started educating myself more about mental illness.  I may not have handled this personal issue well at first because mental illness is not understood and is stigmatized (unjustly), and those thoughts were still in the back of my mind.  Just be happy. Think happy thoughts.  Choose joy.  But my loved one could not just be happy and couldn’t find the joy to choose.

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Green’s inspiration for a visual representation of Aza’s “though spirals”

People living with mental illness (depression, OCD, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, etc.) need to be understood and shouldn’t feel that they are having to live through it alone.  There should be no blame involved.  As if the person with the mental illness wants to have these thoughts or behaviors.  As if a person with cancer wants to have the cancer.

We need to start trying to do a better job understanding mental illness.

I thank John Green for writing a book with a character that feels real and deserves our sympathy so that we can better understand these illnesses and start a positive conversation about them.

In a nutshell: if you’re somewhat empathetic, this is not an easy read, but it’s totally worthy of your uncomfort.  If you’re not empathetic, read it anyway, and try–just for a moment–to think what it’s like to be someone else.

History of Wolves: A Review (of sorts)

Fair warning: this will be full of spoilers because I can’t not talk about some things.  So, x out now if you don’t want the plot ruined.

This is more for me than it is for you.  I think this will end up being more of a self-reflection than a proper book review, so here’s your second chance to bail out. 😉

I can’t recall how I came upon History of Wolves.  I subscribe to EW strictly for their book recs, so I think it was in a recent issue that gave a one-sentence blurb about lots of books. Maybe it was because the cover was inviting in its simplicity, maybe it was that its title made me think of my obsession with Game of Thrones (#whereisghost).  Whatever it was, it was a meant to be.41bi2bhiygsl-_sx329_bo1204203200_

Linda, a 14-year-old Minnesotan, is deeply connected to nature.  Raised on a commune as an only child, Linda spent her childhood in the woods understanding how nature works and how it’s all interconnected, how the extremes of both hot, but especially cold, weather affects everything, how to survive.  As much as she is interested in her surroundings, she is obviously very lonely, though she doesn’t seem to notice.  She seems very confident in her independence, yet her lack of meaningful relationships with her peers and parents leaves her awkward and obvious, a target for others.

It’s not until she strikes up an uncomfortable relationship with a teacher that she finally shows her yearning for connection, however inappropriate.  When the teacher is later accused of having a relationship with another student and possessing child porn (Don’t worry, this concept isn’t discussed in detail.), Linda is left feeling confused and rejected.  One has to remember that she’s a teenager, and everything that is NOT about her IS about her.

In fact, that’s one thing that Fridlund does well: immersing the reader into the mind of a self-absorbed teenager so that no matter how many years has passed from adolescence to adulthood, the reader remembers immediately how it feels to see the world through ego-centric glasses.

This novel leaves me with 2 main take-aways:

  • (Remember, you were warned: major spoiler!) First, I had absolutely no idea what Christian Science was.  Maybe if I had, I would have been tipped off by the 2 sections of the book: Science and Health.  I don’t think Christian Science in the book is supposed to be a larger metaphor or a slam on any organized religion.  Rather, I think it speaks to the extremes people will go to in order to stick to their beliefs, even at the expense of common sense and ethical compassion.
  • Second, I made a bit of a discovery.  When I was reading about Linda’s quirky idiosyncrasies, I immediately thought of my best friend’s pre-teen daughter.  I almost sent her a text to tell her that she needed to read this book about this wise-beyond-her-years, woodsy girl.  But the more I read, the more I realized that Linda actually reminded me of myself as a teenager.  For a good portion of the novel, I sympathized with her on just about every level.  Like Linda, I grew up in poverty.  Like Linda, I did not know how to connect to others because I was alone so often.  Like Linda, I carelessly misplaced my trust in others, believed anything, and yearned for acceptance.  Linda isn’t always the most likable character, but she’s almost always a sympathizing character (although a little questionable during the last few pages of the novel).  I don’t think I would like me as a teenager, either, and that’s why characterization crowns Fridlund Queen.

I pride myself on figuring out plot before it happens, but it turns out I had nothing figured out at all.  When I did make a prediction (and I made several, mind you), I was pleasantly surprised not to have called it in the end.  This novel was not predictable, and perhaps that was due to my not knowing a whole lot about the book before I read it.

Fridlund’s style did take some getting used to.  At times, I loved it, and other times it bothered me.  For example, “He’s four, he’s got an owl puzzle to do, don’t talk to him” (1).  The structure of that sentences makes me pause and read it again, not because it’s particularly beautiful but because it doesn’t flow like I think the author intended.  Maybe it’s me.  It’s probably just me.  Other times, I read certain phrases and sentences over and over again because they were beautiful to me.  Take this one for imagery, for example, “The truth was, that old woodstove was narcotic and banal to me as a child, so I was drawn to it without seeing it, and hated it without wondering why.  The winter I was nine, I laid my cheek against it while I was reading Mush, a Manual on the floor.  The burn made a bubble of clear skin–a round half globe like the air bladder of a fish–under my left eye.  The bubble grew as the days passed, rose translucently from my face, obstructed my vision when I looked down” (158).  Just gorgeous.  Another stylistic choice is the use of flashbacks and flash forwards.  This novel is always jumping around, 1-5ish pages per time period, and it makes for a seemingly fast read.  Frindlund is masterful at tying all of the relationships together by piecing them together in the alternate time lines, and it’s a nice added layer of complexity to the novel.

When I began this blog, I really wanted to discuss the ending, but since this blog is mainly for me and my reflection, I’m going to pass on that.  The ending was…something…and it needed to be revisited a couple of times the next day to make sure the meaning was conveyed.  The ending didn’t sit well with many people on Goodreads, so those who suffer from What-Did-I-Miss? syndrome will be in good company.  Such a shame, too, that a book that was so constructed so well ended up having a leaky roof.  It’s the only reason I didn’t give the book a 5-star rating.

I highly recommend this book.  As far as enjoyment of plot and characterization, this one is up there on my best-of-the-year list, no doubt.

P.S. This novel is on the Booker Prize long list.  I think, despite the ending, it’s deserving to be on the short list, which will be announced on Sept. 13.

The Reminders: A Review (of sorts)

I’m keeping this one simple and quick.

Like a lot of the books I read, I saw this one featured in Entertainment Weekly’s book section, which is (full disclosure) the only reason I subscribe to the mag.  I liked the premise of this book, and it had a whimsical cover–covers do matter, folks!–so I added it to my list at the library that very night.51xtfyjo3il-_sx326_bo1204203200_

Side Note: My library is boss, and they had the book to me within days of its release.

The book is comprised of alternating chapters between 10-year old Joan Lennon and 30-something(?) Gavin Winters.  Gavin, a TV actor, has just lost his partner Sydney and tries to forget everything about him because the memories of him hurt a little too much.  Gavin befriends Joan who has HSAM (Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory) and can tell him in vivid detail about all the times she spent with Sydney before his sudden death.  At first Gavin isn’t sure he wants to learn anything new of the man he is trying to forget, but the allure of learning something about the man he loves is too tempting to pass over.  The two share an interesting connection that involves The Beatles, leaving a legacy, the power of memory, and the sadness of forgetting.  Their relationship is genuine and sweet, and their bond is what kept me going back to the book.

I had fully intended to finish this one in a couple of days, but life kept happening, and I couldn’t sit down for long to read, so it went on vacation with me.  I love reading by the pool or on the beach, but I noticed that I was never anxious to get back to the story like I am with most books I love.  I’m going to chalk it up to not being in the right frame of mind because there is a lot going on right now that would take precedence over reading.  The book was good, a light and easy read.  I like the turn it took about 1/2 way in that added a deeper and more meaningful layer to the story.  Also, if you keep reading, there’s this epic walrus scene, and it’s pretty great.walrus-04

You can read more about HSAM here and here.

And then if you are intrigued, you can read more about the book here and hear an interview with author Val Emmich here.

Finally, if you want to see an amazing film about the power of memory, then here:

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You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me: A Review (of sorts)

Have you read this?

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If you have, how would you describe it?

Because I don’t have words.

After reading this beautifully poignant memoir about loss and grief, forgiveness and family, I feel that any praise that I could give Sherman Alexie’s work would be grossly inadequate.  Because it would be.

This 453 page memoir is Alexie’s response to losing his mother, a woman with whom he had a strained and complicated relationship for his entire life.  It’s just about the realest book I’ve ever read.

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It’s beautifully constructed: short vignettes and poems, joined by repetitious patterns of themes and stories that resemble the construction of a quilt, his late mother’s craft. At the bookends of the memoir are two longer pieces that hold the entire work together, just like the border of a quilt.  His memoir is made with love but is constructed with pain.  Very quiltesque.

I want to write about how much I relate to Alexie’s experiences about growing up poor and with abuse, having a defiant spirit, being disgusted with injustice, feeling unlovable and unloved, being bullied (as a child and as an adult), and self-coping by purposefully forgetting painful memories, but I don’t want this review to be about me.

But it is, isn’t it?  That’s why we read books, see movies, listen to music.  We enjoy the arts because we are constantly trying to connect to others so that we know we aren’t alone in our experiences, our pain, our triumphs.

Alexie’s way of facing grief and loss head-on is brave and raw and honest.  It’s courageous because his mother is complex: he doesn’t paint her as a great and loving mother, so he seems to be mourning the mother he wished he had as much as he is grieving the mother he lost.

It’s beautiful, and you should read it.  Everyone should read it.  Some topics and themes that stood out to me are as follows:

  • His mother’s lies
  • His struggles with religion
  • His tribe’s (and other Native American’s) injustices
  • His gentle feelings about his alcoholic and at times MIA father compared to his harsh feelings about his mother who “saved his life.”
  • This quote alone: “Listen.  If it’s fiction, then it better be true.”
  • The uncertainty of memories–false memories–how memories take shape and evolve over time
  • The importance of salmon
  • Politics of today and how it relates, not only to Natives, but to EVERYONE!
  • Racism, racism, and more racism
  • Government response to anything Indian (Let us not so quickly forget Dakota Access Pipeline and Standing Rock!)
  • Grief is as repetitious as it is heartbreaking.
  • Being bullied by the very people who are supposed to support you
  • What constitutes as an unreliable narrator?

Of course, when we lose someone close to us (or not as close as we would have liked) and we feel the effects of their loss, we start to contemplate the possible the impact we have on those around us.  I wish I had written this one myself because I feel it longing inside my bones:

70. “Ode in Reverse”

This poem is for everyone in my life–

My sons, friends, mother, siblings, and my wife.

It’s a cuff to the head–a self rebuff.  

Dear ones, I have not loved you well enough.

It took me longer than expected to finish this book because I had to stop and reflect or stop and cry, then put it down for a day or so before I could face it again.  It brought up a lot of memories for me, things that I had long (and probably purposefully) forgotten.  But I always came to pick it back up, and I’m so, so glad I did.

One of Us Is Lying: A Review (of sorts)

Imagine this:

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plus this:

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but subtract the carefree fun of this:

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and that’s what you get when you read this:

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Karen M. McManus’s One of Us Is Lying is classic whodunit with a modern twist.  It centers around 5 teenagers who are sent to detention, only to have one of them murdered while they are there.  Just like 1985’s The Breakfast Club, we have an eclectic group of students: the athlete, the brains, the criminal, the social outcast, and the beauty.  All are stereotypical on the surface, but each one becomes much more complex as the story unfolds.

Told via alternate perspectives from the 4 remaining suspects, the reader is propelled into their separate–and now intertwined–worlds where there is plenty of speculation on all accounts about who committed the crime.

Full disclosure: I did have it figured out from the beginning.  I didn’t want to call it, but I am the same person who leaned into my husband about 1/2 way through The Sixth Sense and told him that dude was dead.  He has never forgiven me.  What can I say: I see dead people.

My sleuthy Sherlockian skills aside, I thought that if I ended up being right about the killer, the story would end up feeling like it fell short.  But I was wrong about that.  McManus does a great job building doubt for several characters throughout the story, so I did start to question my theory a few times.

Overall, this is a fun read, and I recommend it.  Since I don’t read as much YA anymore, I enjoyed stepping back into it, if only for a little while.

Also, I think John Hughes would have been proud.  Here: enjoy this for a minute.

 

Do Not Become Alarmed: A Review (of sorts)

I haven’t posted in a while, but this read was too good not to give a quick shout out.  The premise of this fiction (Thank God it’s fiction!) is relatable to all parents who have taken their children on vacation and have feared the worst would happen: losing your child(ren) in an unfamiliar area.  Are they dead?  Alive?  Trafficked?  Held hostage?

The panic.  The stress.  The absolute loss of control.  It’s terrifying.33155774

Whether Nora and Liv’s fears were realized in the book, I’ll leave for you to discover.  It won’t take you long; though the book is 342 pages, the chapters are short and the story progresses with great speed and alternate points of view.

Even though it’s a quick read, this book has heft and depth.  There are a lot of complexities with the characters, both internal and external, and the reader really has an opportunity to feel as they do, and all of them are relatable, whether it’s Neomi, a South American 10 year old who is trying to make it across the US border to be with her illegal-immigrant parents in NY; Marcus, an 11-year old map enthusiast with autism; or 40-something Nora, a stay at home mom and wife of a successful actor.

The character development is what I enjoyed most.  One of the book’s accomplishments is to tell the story in such a way that the reader may not realize how complex the plot is until he steps back and evaluates how the characters are responding to what is happening to them.

I still have a lot I could write about from the books that I’ve loved most this year (Exit West by Hamid and Word by Word by Stamper have been among my faves.).  Maybe stay tuned for more on those and more.  I’ll get back to writing more now that summer has officially begun.