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.

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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.