As someone who aspires to write a memoir of his own one day, I found The Art of Memoir both engaging and encouraging. Writing a memoir requires more tAs someone who aspires to write a memoir of his own one day, I found The Art of Memoir both engaging and encouraging. Writing a memoir requires more than just journaling memories onto a page. The practice forces you to punch yourself in the gut multiple times as you uncover the ugliest and most personal truths about yourself. Mary Karr offers several sage pieces of advice on how to do just that, ranging from the importance of remaining truthful to the skill of always addressing your target audience. She uses a gamut of memoirs, including her own, to use as case studies for her arguments.
On a deeper level, I enjoyed Karr's emphasis on voice. Therapy and memoir-writing differ in that the latter pushes you to scrutinize yourself with unrelenting, often-painful precision, all so you can cultivate a style to call your own - the compassion can come later. Memoir may appear simple because it originates from the self. But the amount and intensity of self-exploration required to pen a solid memoir highlights the genre's complexity: you must search yourself, over and over again, for the truth. Then you must meld it into its most honest, readable form. One quote from Karr's book that captures this process:
"Carnality may determine whether a memoir's any good, but interiority - that kingdom the camera never captures - makes a book rereadable. By rereadable, translate: great. Your connection to most authors usually rests in how you identify with them. Mainly, the better memoirist organizes a life story around that aforementioned inner enemy - a psychic struggle against herself that works like a thread or plot engine."
Overall, a wonderful book I would recommend to anyone who likes reading memoirs or may want to write one of their own some day. Though some parts dragged a bit, Karr does an excellent job of dispensing advice while honoring her own unique voice....more
Death, madness, sex, and explosions - just a few of the apocalyptic treasures in Lucy Corin's One Hundred Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses. In this aDeath, madness, sex, and explosions - just a few of the apocalyptic treasures in Lucy Corin's One Hundred Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses. In this artfully-bound book she includes three short stories and 100 pieces in flash fiction form. Of the three longer pieces "Madmen" stood out the most. It explores a society in which when girls get their periods, they adopt an insane person to stay with them for the rest of their lives. This piece highlights Corin at her best, when she nails the authentic and vulnerable voice of an anxious thirteen-year-old, all while driving home an important and non-didactic message about mental health in contemporary times.
Her 100 vignettes also carry a a more sporadic strength. While some move into the realm of hyper-intellectualism or self-awareness-turned-dramatic, for the most part they offer a slew of thoughtful themes ranging from the psychological repercussions of imminent death to our intrinsic desire for sheer connection when times get rough. Even though Corin may lack consistency in the quality of her writing in this piece, she still offers much wit, in the form of sometimes shocking and revelatory near-death moments....more
I slept with this book after I read it. I kid you not: I held its bulking, hardcover bound 700 pages in my arms as I fell asleep amid a raging storm.I slept with this book after I read it. I kid you not: I held its bulking, hardcover bound 700 pages in my arms as I fell asleep amid a raging storm. I refused to let A Little Life leave me. Its brilliant writing, its broken characters, and its bleak, unforgiving story dug into my heart, into the very pores of my skin. As a twenty-year-old, I felt both so young and so old upon finishing this novel, as if its sheer humanity aged my soul while making me appreciate all the years I still have left.
A Little Life follows four friends after they graduate from a small, prestigious Massachusetts college: Willem, a kind and talented actor; JB, a sharp and sometimes-caustic artist, Malcolm, an aspiring architect at a well-known firm; and Jude, a mysterious and intelligent litigator. What looks like an average bildungsroman turns into an intense and tragic tale when we learn about enigmatic Jude's backstory. Abandoned at a monastery at birth, he endured a childhood of severe physical and emotional abuse, followed by several years of sexual abuse, forced prostitution, and psychological trauma. The book soon hones in on Jude's struggle to free himself from the demons of his past, the hyenas that howl and drown out the voices of his closest, most beloved friends.
This book is relentlessly sad and exquisitely written. Hanya Yanagihara spares us no mercy when revealing Jude's trauma. She details both his past abuse and his present self-harm with explicit specificity, her diction so precise and piercing it made me shake, and at times, sob. Yanagihara writes both Jude's suffering and his friendships with a keen eye. She captures the nuances of human emotion, physical space, and change over time with eloquence and heart. She writes about some of the most wretched, abominable acts of cruelty I have ever read without sentimentalizing any of the abuse or making any of the characters' feelings mawkish.
Yanagihara offers us temporary respite from the pain within Jude's past by showing us the power of friendship. A Little Life's most affective moments come not from its graphic depictions of violence, but from its quiet, uplifting portrayals of compassion. While the many abusive men in Jude's earlier life show us the depth of human atrocity, Jude's tender, bittersweet relationships with Willem, Harold, Andy, and others offer to us mankind's capacity for kindness. All of these complex characters make mistakes, and through their imperfections shines their humanness.
Please keep in mind: A Little Life is ruthlessly depressing. In the end, Jude really receives no reprieve from his anguish. As someone who has suffered his own abuse - a version less intense than Jude's, yet still real - and as someone who reads a lot about abuse, I appreciated Yanagihara's dedication to showing the darker side of reality. Trauma is trauma is trauma. And while we can all fight for recovery, sometimes that absolvement may never come. Sometimes, we just have to act with whatever kindness we have left and hope that it brings even a moment of light into the dark.
Highly recommended to anyone who wants their heart both filled and destroyed. Set aside some quality time for A Little Life. It will consume you....more
Out of the almost 700 books I have rated and reviewed on Goodreads, Weightless emerges as the best book I have read about bullying. I loved t4.5 stars
Out of the almost 700 books I have rated and reviewed on Goodreads, Weightless emerges as the best book I have read about bullying. I loved the prose, hated the characters, and by the end of the story I started to question my own complicity in the cruelty I have witnessed within my own life. I may have finished high school two years ago, but this book brought that time of my life back like an unforgiving roundhouse kick to the heart.
Carolyn Lessing is the girl everyone wants to be. Born and raised in New Jersey, she looks gorgeous, earns stellar grades, excels at athletics, and acts genuinely nice to everyone. So, of course, the cliques of Adams High School swallow her up - until one by one, they spit her out. The torture starts when Carolyn befriends Shane, a senior football start, which upsets his on-again/off-again girlfriend, Brooke. Through spreading nasty rumors and scandalous videos online, Brooke and her cohort descend upon Carolyn and tear her apart. Within a year we see the devastating consequences of this horrid, unfortunate brawl.
The atmosphere of this conservative Alabama town felt way too real. Sarah Bannan's writing captures the nuances and the politics of a rural setting so well: how everyone knows each others' business, the way certain families get reputations that stick forever, and the lulling sense of quiet that so often leads to gossip and drama. Bannan's prose reminded me of what it feels like to drink bottled water as an environment-conscious person - the liquid words sustain you and give you life, even when you know the consumption will end in disaster.
The first person plural narration acts as the absolute highlight of Weightless. We see Carolyn's fall from grace all through the eyes of a nameless "We." This miscellaneous group of students watches as Carolyn gets teased, pushed, slandered, and hurt. They offer their judgments and opinions without taking any action at all. Bannan wields their point of view to draw us closer to the emotional slaughter taking place in Adams High School, all while imposing a cold anonymity and ubiquity that surrounds Carolyn's suffering. A quote I found unsettling and striking from early on in the story, about the narrator's thoughts in hindsight:
"There are things that only make sense now - things that are only clear once the story is finished, once the past is the past. If we had realized what was happening, we might have stood up, shouted or at least cleared our throats. But you have to understand how quickly things move, how blurry your vision is as a car passes you by, how fast a balloon can fly out of your hands and get caught somewhere you cannot reach or even see - we didn't know what we know now. We couldn't have. If we had, things could have been - would have been - different."
The first person plural narration suits this book so well because it reinforces the fact that we are all responsible for helping those around us and preventing situations like Carolyn's. I, Thomas, am responsible, and so are you, reader of this review. It is not enough to give ourselves pats on the back for not being a bully. Rather, I hope everyone who reads Weightless recognizes that none of us are, indeed, weightless, and that we each have the power to intervene when we notice something amiss. Bannan's use of the narrative "we" creates a wide view of Carolyn's despair and emphasizes just how many people could have done something at so many different times. Her classmates, her teachers, her mom, or even just random adults in town could have stood by her side. But no one took the time to even bother, and Bannan highlights just how awful that lack of caring really is. Another quote from later on in the book that broke my heart:
"We thought it would never feel better, that this would stay around our necks forever. We'd carry it with us to college, and to our first jobs, and into our marriages, and bestow it on our children and then our grandchildren. Not a gift, but a curse, or just a heavy stone that you picked up as a child and never took out of your pocket. Later, when things did start to feel more normal, the guilt would kick in: You did something horrible. And you are too horrible even to realize it."
Overall, an immersive and uncomfortable read that exposes the cost of staying silent in the face of wrongdoing. Recommended to anyone interested in YA realistic fiction, high school drama and conflict, as well as to fans of Courtney Summers. I wish this book could be required reading for all ninth and tenth grade high school students. I feel that that would save us from a lot of trouble....more
I have written and rewritten this sentence five times. As an eating disorder survivor and as an aspiring psychologist, I should have all the words toI have written and rewritten this sentence five times. As an eating disorder survivor and as an aspiring psychologist, I should have all the words to talk about Paperweight, a novel about a seventeen-year-old girl living in an inpatient eating disorder facility. But even after six hours away from the story, I still find myself tearing up just thinking about it. Paperweight acts as a searing account of mental illness and the strength it takes to embark on recovery.
In twenty-seven days, Stevie will kill herself. She tells herself that because twenty-seven days will mark the anniversary of her brother's death, the death she caused with her own bare hands. At the moment Stevie finds herself stuck in an eating disorder treatment center near the desert of New Mexico. In order to make her ultimate plan of escape come true, she will do her best to ignore the food at mealtimes, the therapists that surround her, and the other sick, wilting girls. Stevie's determination to die drives her, and she fights for it to push her past the point of ever going back.
Paperweight grabbed me from page one. If you want a young-adult novel that tackles mental illness head-on, you have found it: from her own experiences, her research, and her career, Meg Haston describes the brutal reality of inpatient ED treatment with honesty and specificity. Every detail of this book and Stevie's development resounded within me. From the way she clutched her ribs on page eleven to the way she closed her eyes to escape her emotions on page two hundred and ten, every emotion and action Stevie felt or took came across as authentic.
Haston also delves into the complexity of eating disorders with aplomb. One important lesson to learn right now: eating disorders are about so much more than food. Haston reveals Stevie's saddening family history, her past toxic relationship, and the trauma she experienced to show the amalgamation of factors that comprise her disease. She highlights the harshness of eating disorders, spanning the way they distort reality, to how they create such devastating physical and mental harm, to the way they manifest as a way to control emotions that feel like explosions, like earthquakes. I find it silly that people would criticize Stevie's "unlikability" - fighting a mental illness is really freaking hard, not an easy walk in the park you can always do with a smile. And Stevie's voice is so, so real, imperfections and all.
My favorite part of Paperweight centers on its relationships, without a doubt. Stevie has a multifaceted family dynamic that influences a good amount of her mentality. She also forms a slow-burning, vulnerable, and wonderful friendship with Ashley, her roommate who she refused to acknowledge of at first. But more than that, I loved her therapeutic relationship with Anna with all of my heart. Haston describes their bond so well. She avoids trivializing or idolizing Anna's character; rather, she portrays her as a professional with emotions, someone trained to guide Stevie and walk alongside her on her path to recovery.
This novel slayed me in the best possible way. I cried all throughout the second half. Perhaps not everyone will enjoy this book; they may not connect all the way with Stevie, or they may find certain areas of her past too convenient. But Paperweight spoke to me in a way that very few books have. While I would hesitate to give it to someone will struggling with an eating disorder, I would 100% recommend it to anyone interested in contemporary young-adult novels, learning about and empathizing with those who face mental illness, and complex intrapersonal dynamics. Paperweight reminded me that recovery is a choice you make every single day, and that feeling life's weight means that you are, indeed, alive. For that message, I am thankful....more
A moving story centered on Joe O'Brien, a forty-four-year-old police officer living in a small Massachusetts town. A kind husband, proud father of fouA moving story centered on Joe O'Brien, a forty-four-year-old police officer living in a small Massachusetts town. A kind husband, proud father of four children, and respected member of his Charlestown community, he has it all until Huntington's Disease (HD) strikes. A neurodegenerative disease, HD sends Joe into spirals of disorganized thinking, jerky involuntary movements, and wild mood swings. The worst part: each of his kids has a 50% chance of inheriting the disease, and it still has no cure. Now, each of his children, as well as Rosie, his wife, must reconfigure their lives to accept Joe's diagnosis, and they begin to see how to thrive in the face of HD.
Lisa Genova does a great job of humanizing those who have Huntington's Disease. I feel that the scientific community sometimes struggles with articulating its findings to the general public, even in regard to serious issues like neurodegenerative disorders. Genova shows us how a diagnosis of HD may affect people in their real lives, through their relationships with one another, their work, and more. Each member of the O'Brien family brought a different perspective and personality to the tale, which fleshed out the story and added even more elements to cling onto.
However, I wanted just a bit more emotional depth from the O'Brien family. While Joe and Katie's struggles moved me, I thought certain core conflicts and interactions could have used more substance, such as Joe's acceptance of his mother and Katie's reconciliation with Megan. While Genova did touch on these areas, maybe devoting more space to them as opposed to the strict symptoms of HD would have breathed even more life to the O'Brien family overall.
All in all, a solid novel I would recommend to fans of Lisa Genova's Still Alice or her other books, as well as to those who feel curious about neurodegenerative disorders. Through her writing, Genova accomplishes a great deed: raising public awareness and compassion toward illnesses often treated with stigma or confusion....more
In her self-published memoir What Doesn't Kill Us, Brandy Worrall details her battle with a rare form of breast cancer at the age of 31. She discussesIn her self-published memoir What Doesn't Kill Us, Brandy Worrall details her battle with a rare form of breast cancer at the age of 31. She discusses her struggle with the disease in relation to her American father's and Vietnamese mother's experience during the Vietnam War. Worrall weaves in themes of resilience, heartbreak, identity, and more to make this memoir even more memorable than one might expect.
Worrall's honesty made this book stand out. She curses, she complains, and she admits to buying bras to make herself feel better. Her prose delivers an authenticity sometimes absent in MFA-wielding authors, and she shares her struggle with cancer in a bold, vulnerable way. Worrall incorporates her old blog posts too, revealing how she has developed since her tragic diagnosis.
I would also recommend What Doesn't Kill Us to those interested in the politics of marriage and the nuances within Asian-American families. Worrall's deteriorating marriage with her ex-husband Charles, as well as her fights with her mother and father, take up just as much as space as her cancer does in her story, and all of those issues intertwine to make an effective and compelling memoir.
Overall, a great read for my Transnational Asian-American literature course. While I felt that the ending with Anton had an almost too idyllic, Cinderella-like vibe, I still enjoyed this unique story from a resilient and brave writer. ...more
I feel kind of awful reviewing A Court of Thorns and Roses for two reasons: 1) the wonderful bloggers at The Midnight Garden sent me an ARC several moI feel kind of awful reviewing A Court of Thorns and Roses for two reasons: 1) the wonderful bloggers at The Midnight Garden sent me an ARC several months before the book came out, and I waited to read it until now, despite the hoopla surrounding its release, and 2) I cannot think of a nice way to say this book bored the heck out of me. Yes, it may have killing, sex, and twisted faeries, but none of those things resonated with me or even really entertained me.
Perhaps my ennui surrounding Sarah Maas's story centers on Feyre, our protagonist. A Court of Thorns and Roses revolves around how Feyre slays a wolf in the woods, how she then sacrifices herself to save her family, and how she proceeds to fall in love and want to fight for Tamlin, her captor/romantic interest. All of these things sound exciting, but as I read the book I felt the narration dragging me from event to event instead of making me anticipate each twist, despite the high stakes involved. My main qualm centers on Feyre's character: while she has the mentality of a fierce, independent huntress, little stood out about her in terms of her actions or emotions, to the point where she resembled an odd mixture of Bella Swan and Katniss Everdeen. Also, Feyre's relationship with Tamlin made me cringe. Their insta-love overwhelmed me in a not-so-good-way, and even at the book's end I struggled to determine why they like each other so much, aside from nondescript kindness and attractive aesthetics.
Still, I give A Court of Thorns and Roses three stars because I saw glimpses of deeper character dynamics (like within Feyre's family) and because Maas's prose did shine in a few spots. While I do not think I will continue this series, I will soon read Throne of Glass, just because of its hype and because I have already bought a copy. Overall, I give this book a hesitant recommendation to those interested in faeries, as well as young-adult fantasy and romance....more
"Dead kids are put on pedestals, but mentally ill kids get hidden under the rug."
Thank you, Neal Shusterman, for portraying the pain, the horrors, and"Dead kids are put on pedestals, but mentally ill kids get hidden under the rug."
Thank you, Neal Shusterman, for portraying the pain, the horrors, and the light touches of hope that come with mental illness. I have read at least one book (looking at you, All the Bright Places) that glamorizes mental disorders, and as an aspiring psychologist, such inaccurate perceptions of these real diseases disturb me. Through Caden, Shusterman shows the delusions and doubts and episodes of emotional dysregulation that come with schizoaffective disorder, and he does so in a way that advances the plot while honoring the pain that pervades Caden's struggle.
Despite my enjoyment of the book, I do wonder how younger readers with less knowledge about mental illnesses will perceive Shusterman's dual narratives. He switches between Caden's deterioration as he enters a mental institute and Caden's hallucinations of serving as a crewmate on a ship with a terrifying captain. I often felt a disconnect from Caden when he experienced his hallucinatory episodes (which makes sense, because of just how powerful and real they feel to him), and I question how other readers will construe Shusterman's narrative structure in Challenger Deep. Either way, he never makes light of Caden's situation or makes the mistake of glorifying it, which already sets this book apart from others.
Overall, a gripping read and affecting novel about a boy torn between two realities. Recommended to those who enjoy contemporary YA, feel an interest about a book that centers on mental illness, and to fans of Shusterman's other works....more
Wish I could whisper "it's not you, it's me" to this book. Even though Sarah Kay has established quite the fan base on Goodreads and on the web, I jusWish I could whisper "it's not you, it's me" to this book. Even though Sarah Kay has established quite the fan base on Goodreads and on the web, I just could not connect with these poems on a deeper level - perhaps because poetry has never been my genre of choice. I appreciate that she writes about a variety of topics ranging from romance to family to personal insecurities. I like how not all of her pieces stem from anger, or lust, or anguish; the emotional variety of this collection strengthens it. The book also has a great, understated aesthetic to its cover and feel.
Perhaps Kay's pieces do not always translate well from spoken word to print. She performs with confidence and charisma, which adds that extra bit of voice I found lacking in No Matter the Wreckage. Still, I would recommend this set to fans of poetry, as well as to those searching for a fresh, new perspective. ...more
"Instead of shaming women for ending a pregnancy, we should acknowledge their realism and self-knowledge. We should accept that it's good for everyone"Instead of shaming women for ending a pregnancy, we should acknowledge their realism and self-knowledge. We should accept that it's good for everyone if women have only the children they want and can raise well. Society benefits when women can commit to education and work and dreams without having at the back of their mind a concern that maybe it's all provisional, because at any moment an accidental pregnancy could derail them for life. It's good for children to be wanted, and to come into this life when their parents are ready for them. It's good for people to be able to have sexual experiences and know that birth-control failure need not be the last word. It would not make us a better country if more girls and women were nudged and bullied and cajoled and humiliated and frightened into bearing children they are ill-equipped to raise, even if more men could somehow be lassoed into marrying or supporting them. It would simply mean more lost hope, more bad marriages and family misery, more poverty and struggle for women, their partners, and their kids. Don't we have way too much of that already?"
In her powerful book Pro, Katha Pollitt creates an airtight argument in favor of abortion and women's rights. She makes her audience clear from the beginning: the "muddled middle," those who approve of abortion in some circumstances but hesitate in others. She discusses the history of abortion, the repercussions of Roe v. Wade, abortion's connection to feminism, and myths that anti-choice individuals use to stigmatize abortion and women in general. Pollitt's thoughtfulness and willingness to delve into abortion opponents' mindsets make Pro an even more compelling read.
"Terminating a pregnancy is always a women's right and often a deeply moral decision. It is not evil, even a necessary evil. You might make a different decision from a particular woman who chooses not to continue a pregnancy, and you might think your decision is morally superior - but beside the fact that you don't actually know what you would do faced with those exact same circumstances, your judgment about a woman's decision is not relevant to the legal status of abortion as a whole, any more than someone giving a speech you would consider foolish reflects on the First Amendment, or someone voting for a corrupt candidate raises questions about suffrage. A right includes the freedom to use it in ways others find distressing or even wrong. Your judgment of that woman is not even an interesting fact about yourself. There are many things other people do that you think you would never do. That tells us you have a certain idea about yourself, that's all.
I wish I could quote almost every passage of this book. One of my main takeaways, out of many, centers on how the argument against abortion always comes back to the devaluing of women, no matter what. Pollitt includes a wealth of statistics, court decisions, and arguments that show how abortion opponents attempt to skirt around and debase women's rights. However, Pollitt highlights - as many feminist writers have done before her - that if we want women to achieve equality in our nation, we need to have abortion. We need to empower women of all races and socioeconomic backgrounds with access to solid sex and reproductive education, and we need to legalize abortion, without restrictions, without consequences, and without stigma. One last quote, just to emphasize how I cannot recommend this book enough:
"Pregnant women do such things, and much harder things, all the time. For example, they give birth, which is somewhere on the scale between painful and excruciating. Or they have a cesarean, as I did, which is a major surgery. None of this is without risk of death or damage or trauma, including psychological trauma. To force girls and women to undergo all this against their will is to annihilate their humanity. When they undertake it by choice, we should be grateful. That there is no way to equalize men's contribution to reproduction is all the more reason to honor women for volunteering to go through it on their behalf."...more
Pain. That word reverberated within me as I read All the Rage. Courtney Summers does a splendid job of delving straight into Romy's soul and3.5 stars
Pain. That word reverberated within me as I read All the Rage. Courtney Summers does a splendid job of delving straight into Romy's soul and unveiling all the brutal stuff within it: her wounds, her anger, and her despair. AS someone who has experienced trauma in his life, I appreciated Summers' portrayal of raw and unflinching pain.
No one really likes Romy Grey. After Kellan Turner, the sheriff's son, rapes her, everyone at school turns against her and casts her out. Romy finds solace working in a small diner outside of town, but when another girl goes missing at a well-known party, Romy must decide whether she wants to speak out and sacrifice a part of herself, in order to perhaps save somebody else.
Courtney Summers has such a visceral voice. One scene, in which Romy pushes another girl into a locker, made me gasp aloud; I felt Romy's adrenaline rush through me, just as I experienced her angst alongside her throughout the story. Summers portrays the inherent injustice that pervades rape culture: the atrocious blame brought onto survivors, the guilt and rage that floods one's senses, the feelings of despair.
While the writing possessed a piercing amount of emotion, the plot line felt a little too jagged and disconnected at times. A more thorough vision into Romy's world would have further fleshed out All the Rage. Details about Romy's underlying motivations, Kellan Turner's whereabouts, and Leon's personality would have expanded the scope of the story to give it more definition and meaning. All the Rage had a strong emotional center, but its edges felt a bit too blurred to achieve perfection.
Overall, a novel worth reading for those interested in realistic YA fiction or trauma, as well as Courtney Summers fans. Though not my favorite novel of hers, All the Rage packs her signature visceral punch, and it will send readers reeling. ...more
A wife returns home to her husband to find her lover's decomposing body on their bed. Runners in a special race must carry phallic statues or face punA wife returns home to her husband to find her lover's decomposing body on their bed. Runners in a special race must carry phallic statues or face punishment. A boy with a rare condition uses a girl with cancer to cure himself. A married wife and a married man have a lot of dirty, secret phone sex together, except not with their respective spouses.
Dark, gritty, and erotic, Quatro's collection I Want to Show You More will interest those who want to read about infidelity, religion, and running. Half of her stories, such as Georgia the Whole Time and Better to Lose an Eye, stick with realism and explore family tensions. The other half, ranging from Ladies and Gentlemen of the Pavement to Demolition, move more in the direction of magical realism.
While not my favorite collection of short stories, I feel glad that I can say I started my 2015 off with an ensemble that features people running around with genitalia, as well as a heartfelt and honest portrayal of grief. Quatro displays her versatility in I Want to Show You More, and I look forward to reading more of her writing....more