What the heck did I just read? As I write this review I still do not know how to answer that question. The plot of The Book of Strange New Things centWhat the heck did I just read? As I write this review I still do not know how to answer that question. The plot of The Book of Strange New Things centers on Peter Leigh, a man of faith who embarks on a mission to evangelize a group of aliens he calls the Oasans. Meanwhile, his wife on earth, Beatrice, suffers as their home planet collapses due to natural disasters. Peter drifts farther away from Bea the closer he gets to the Oasans. He soon must decide who or what matters most to him: his wife or his mission.
The lack of conflict throughout this novel acts as its first and foremost weakness. For the first 60% of the book, Peter travels to space, meets his fellow adventurers, thinks about religion, and embraces an amiable group of aliens. Michael Faber institutes no impetus for further reading, unless someone by chance enjoys Peter's lukewarm introspection and too-tame journey. Even at the 60% mark the clash between Peter and Bea about their relationship feels forced, in that the epistolary format of Bea's communication detracts from the immediacy of her situation. I struggle to write about what else happens in The Book of Strange New Things, because even though the plot does develop and novel events do occur, every detail felt so non-urgent and inessential that I ended up finishing the book just for the sake of finishing it.
The lack of character development also weakened this book's appeal. Peter tells us that he has a difficult life before he discovered faith and that Bea grew up in an abusive household. However, none of this past struggle contributes to these characters' developmental arcs throughout the story and they thus read as rather simple folk. The static nature of the Oasans also felt like a missed opportunity. Faber does not at all give depth to the science-fiction facets of this story, nor does he make anything about the Oasans remarkable other than their ugly appearances. The dearth of interesting events and intriguing characters contributes to my overall lack of connection with this story and any of its inherent meaning.
The Goodreads blurb for this book states that Peter and Bea's struggle "lay bare a profound meditation on faith, love tested beyond endurance, and our responsibility to those closest to us." I would argue that while Michael Faber includes all of these topics in his story, the book's glaring flaws obscure any "profound meditation." The only aspect of the book I found compelling centered on Peter's use of religion as a coping mechanism ad the way he deludes himself and loses his grasp of humankind because of the Oasans. Perhaps I just missed the point of the book because of its suffocating focus on religion that still did not provide any thought-provoking questions or insights. I would only recommend this book to those who feel extremely, intensely drawn in by its synopsis....more
"Sure, some news is bigger news than other news. War is bigger news than a girl having mixed feelings about the way some guy fucked her and didn't cal"Sure, some news is bigger news than other news. War is bigger news than a girl having mixed feelings about the way some guy fucked her and didn't call. But I don't believe in a finite economy of empathy; I happen to think that paying attention yields as much as it taxes. You learn to start seeing."
I did not love every essay in this collection, but the ones I did love, I would give six, seven, or ten stars. I came in as a skeptic: how could this one person, Leslie Jamison, capture the essence of empathy? How could she manage to write about such a mysterious, powerful, and often misconstrued emotion, even with her Harvard degree and her MFA from Iowa? As an aspiring psychologist who values empathy more than anything else, I wanted so much from The Empathy Exams, so much that I curbed my expectations even before starting the book. But I ended the book with only good news: that Jamison delivers, and she does it well.
"Empathy isn't just something that happens to us - a meteor shower of synapses firing across the brain - it's also a choice we make: to pay attention, to extend ourselves. It's made of exertion, that dowdier cousin of impulse. Sometimes we care for another because we know we should, or because it's asked for, but this doesn't make our caring hollow. This confession of effort chafes against the notion that empathy should always rise unbidden, that genuine means the same thing as unwilled, that intentionality is the enemy of love. But I believe in intention and I believe in work. I believe in waking up in the middle of the night and packing our bags and leaving our worst selves for our better ones."
Jamison delves into empathy across several unique situations: her time as a medical actor, when she got punched in the middle of Nicaragua, a sadistic trial known as the Barkley Marathon, the pain of womanhood as a whole. She analyzes these experiences with a powerful blend of fierce insight and vulnerability. Jamison approaches tough topics - Morgellons disease, imprisonment within the justice system - in a way that shows her intellect while honoring her humanity. The theme of empathy soaks into each of these short essays, the emotion sometimes small, sometimes large, but always there.
"Empathy isn't just remembering to say that must be really hard - it's figuring out how to bring difficulty into the light so it can be seen at all. Empathy isn't just listening, it's asking the questions whose answers need to be listened to. Empathy requires inquiry as much as imagination. Empathy requires knowing you know nothing."
Even though I did not agree with all of Jamison's ideas (in particular her essay "In Defense of Saccharine"), I clung to her every word, riveted by her logic and her ruthless self-examination. Her last essay about her grand unified theory of female pain blew me away, as it integrated feminism, history, empathy, literature, and so much more into a painful and poignant message of hope. And when she quoted Caroline Knapp, whose memoir about anorexia tops my favorite list, I knew Jamison had her bases covered.
I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to be a better human, to anyone who wants to read about a woman's attempt to be a better human. I will end this review with the closing lines of the collection, just because I hope the strength of Jamison's conclusion will motivate someone to read the book in its entirety.
"The wounded woman gets called a stereotype and sometimes she is. But sometimes she's just true. I think the possibility of fetishizing pain is no reason to stop representing it. Pain that gets performed is still pain. Pain turned trite is still pain. I think the charges of cliche and performance offer our closed hearts too many alibis, and I want our hearts to be open. I just wrote that. I want our hearts to be open. I mean it."...more
Anthony Doerr's writing made me fall in love with words again. By the middle of All the Light We Cannot See I thought of every chapter as a small giftAnthony Doerr's writing made me fall in love with words again. By the middle of All the Light We Cannot See I thought of every chapter as a small gift, a present consisting of tight and graceful prose. Doerr follows two main characters in this novel: Marie-Laure, a blind six-year-old whose father creates a model of their city for her, and Werner, an orphan boy whose technical talent earns him a spot in an elite, brutal military academy. Doerr follows the history of World War II but focuses on the lives of his characters, how their paths intersect, and the moments that change their journeys forever.
Gorgeous, magical writing. Doerr uses imagery and metaphor in ways that exceed expectation; he captures beauty and sensation with his words but never goes overboard. He develops Marie-Laure and Werner with his incisive choices in diction, and he portrays the former's resilience and the latter's curiosity in a way that made my heart clench. Doerr includes just the right amount of detail to give the side characters specific flavors as well, ranging from bird-obsessed Frederick to traumatized Uncle Etienne. This passage stood out to me, not because of its relevance to the plot, but because it showcases how Doerr pauses time to portray a single, powerful emotion:
"There is pride, too, though - pride that he has done it alone. That his daughter is so curious, so resilient. There is the humility of being a father to someone so powerful, as if he were only a narrow conduit for another, greater thing. That's how it feels right now, he thinks, kneeling beside her, rinsing her hair: as though his love for his daughter will outstrip the limits of his body. The walls could fall away, even the whole city, and the brightness of that feeling would not wane."
Overall, a splendid story, one I deem worthy of five stars despite some minor plot pacing issues. Doerr's ability to write about such an ugly event with elegance and emotion amazes me, and All the Light We Cannot See reminded me of The Book Thief in some parts, though the novels stand on their own. Recommended to fans of historical fiction and to those who appreciate remarkable writing....more
I wanted Cress to take me away, and it did, without a doubt. In this third installment of The Lunar Chronicles, Cinder continues her quest to dethroneI wanted Cress to take me away, and it did, without a doubt. In this third installment of The Lunar Chronicles, Cinder continues her quest to dethrone Queen Levana and claim her position as rightful heir of Luna. Captain Thorne, Scarlet, and Wolf accompany her, until a difficult brawl sends their team spiraling. While they struggle to recuperate, Cress, our new protagonist, cannot wait to break free from the satellite she has spent all her life in. With her computer skills and her fascination with Thorne, Cress makes an interesting addition to the team, as their remaining members band together to stop Levana's marriage to Kai and end her time as queen.
Marissa Meyer knows how to craft a compelling story. Cress combined so many of Cinder and Scarlet's strongest elements: tight plot structure, entertaining and riveting character interactions, and a building tension between Cinder and her allies against Queen Levana. Meyer balances several protagonists at once and maintains a fluid writing style that whisks you from event to event. All of the new developments in Cress entranced me, as Meyer adds layer after layer onto an already burgeoning world.
I also appreciated Cress and Thorne's relationship in Cress. While I felt that Scarlet and Wolf's relationship reeked of insta-love in Scarlet, Cress's fantasies of Thorne and their subsequent fallout proved more complex and honest than I expected. While it comes across as a little forced that every character has a love interest, Meyer moves the story well enough that the romance does not cause much trouble; it is, for the most part, enjoyable.
Overall, a solid addition to The Lunar Chronicles, and I would recommend it to fans of Meyer, even those who did not love Scarlet. While this series has some minor issues in regard to world-building and relationship depth, Meyer's overall ability to construct an absorbing story wins me over every time....more
With the recent attacks on Planned Parenthood and the misogynistic comments made by members of the GOP, I could not have read The Handmaid's Tale at aWith the recent attacks on Planned Parenthood and the misogynistic comments made by members of the GOP, I could not have read The Handmaid's Tale at a better time. This chilling story takes place in the Republic of Gilead, where women known as handmaids exist for the sole purpose of giving birth. Thy have no access to books or magazines, friends or companions, or any of their own belongings. If these women fail to fulfill their purpose or commit any crimes or infractions, the patriarchal powers that be can send them to the colonies, where they would clean up toxic waste or endure harsh labor until they die. Margaret Atwood's award-winning piece of speculative fiction draws its strength from its unfortunate and continued relevance to contemporary society. This totalitarian society feels brutal and believable, like it could happen any day.
Atwood writes the feminist themes in The Handmaid's Tale with an intelligent force and subtlety. She shows the deleterious effects of controlling women and their bodies, the role of unquestioned religion in suppressing women's autonomy, and the psychological consequences of pitting women against one another in a society dominated by men. While Atwood incorporates many stellar ideas in this book, I most loved her focus on the role of reading and writing in securing independence. Through Offred's struggle and her narrative introspection you can see just how much power language and storytelling grants people in positions of weakness.
I also appreciated the way Atwood shapes Offred's character. Instead of only writing Offred as a pawn in this great totalitarian society, Atwood supplies Offred with insight, will, and a traumatic past that makes you empathize with her. Offred's flashbacks to her previous life and the horrid losses she has faced reveals the ramifications of anti-feminism on real human beings, as opposed to abstract, far-reaching ideals.
Overall, one of my favorite classics to date and a book I would recommend to anyone interested in feminism, dystopias, or the intersections of politics and sexuality. I wish more schools used this book as a staple in their curricula....more
Warning: this review will contain an inappropriate quote. Because Adam has a lot of inappropriate things. Like recreational drug use and explicit sexuWarning: this review will contain an inappropriate quote. Because Adam has a lot of inappropriate things. Like recreational drug use and explicit sexual detail involving pornography. All within the first 20 pages. You have been cautioned.
Seventeen-year-old Adam Freedman has nothing to do over the summer. He decides to stay with his older sister Casey in her apartment in New York City, and right away he finds himself thrust into the lesbian subculture of 2006 - night clubs, trans people, and attractive women abound. Soon he meets Gillian, the redheaded girl of his dreams, and they fall in love - only after Adam pretends to be a trans guy. Adam would rather die than lose his new love interest, so he maintains the facade, but as his relationship with Gillian gets more and more intense, so does the deceit that drains him of his freedom.
Adam delves into the queer community and touches on often overlooked topics, especially trans culture. As a gay guy I like to think that I know a decent amount about lgbtq rights, but Adam still taught me a thing or two. Most importantly, Ariel Schrag creates honest characters - lesbians, straight men, transgender folk - all with real faults and strengths, all with the real, human desire to be loved. Some of Schrag's scenes turned into educational lessons and lost their authenticity as a result, but those moments were minor blips in the grand scheme of the novel.
Adam grew on me as a narrator. His cynical and disenchanted view of the world captured me, and he progressed from a whiny, privileged brat to a sympathetic, likeable young man. At the beginning of the book he had no direction, but that changed the moment he met Gillian, and Schrag pulled off his development well. Here's one of Adam's many interesting thoughts that exemplify how Schrag uses Adam's narrative to reflect on subversive topics in the lgbtq community:
Adam had always wondered about the whole gay masturbation thing. If you have the body parts you're fantasizing about, couldn't you just touch your own and pretend they were someone else's? Like when he sat on his hand to make it numb before jerking off. being attracted to vaginas and having the option to touch one whenever you wanted. He felt wildly jealous. Something about it just much not work.
However, I had two major issues with this book. First, Schrag did not conclude Adam's "pretending to be a trans guy" story arc well. By the end of the book I almost forgave him because he gained empathy through his facade, but he still never faced the consequences of his transgression. (view spoiler)[The fact that Gillian just started to like bio guys and morph her sexuality toward Adam's true gender (hide spoiler)] felt too convenient. On a more minor note, I did not appreciate (view spoiler)[Gillian's reveal about depression. I felt like Schrag used it as a plot device - why is Gillian ignoring Adam? Did she figure out his secret? - instead of grasping its significance or mentioning it in a meaningful way (hide spoiler)].
Overall, a good book, and I would recommend it to those interested in the plot synopsis. Some will love it, some will hate it, and I can see the reasoning behind both ends.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
People often value confidence in potential partners. After reading The Girl with All the Gifts, I think that preference might ring true for b4.5 stars
People often value confidence in potential partners. After reading The Girl with All the Gifts, I think that preference might ring true for books as well. As I read M.R. Carey's novel, I kept admiring the backbone and certainty of his writing: even while crafting a character-driven dystopian/zombie/survivor thriller, his prose maintained an amazing, adrenaline-filled poise.
M.R. Carey's first novel revolves around Melanie, a young girl who goes to class every morning restrained in a wheelchair with a gun pointed to her head. She knows a few things: the room she sleeps in, the classroom, and the hallway that connects them; that the outside world is filled with flesh-eating Hungries; and that her favorite teacher in the whole wide world is Miss Justineau. Certain people aim to keep Melanie in the dark, and Melanie is fine with learning just what her teachers tell her. But when something forces Melanie outside of the world she's always known, she must adapt to an entirely different environment - both outside of herself and within it.
I can't say too much about this book without detracting from its novelty, but I will state that Carey combines several story elements with aplomb. Unlike other authors who use zombies, dystopian settings, or multiple perspectives as "fads," he explores every facet of his fictional world with skill and depth. The smoothness of Carey's writing exists because of all the thought and research put into the back story, and his inventiveness makes itself apparent to any reader after just a few chapters.
The characters in The Girl with All the Gifts shine the most, without a doubt. Melanie, Miss Justineau, Sergeant Parker, Private Gallagher, and Doctor Caldwell all come across as caricatures at first. But Carey gives each of them a unique, developing voice that extends throughout the book. In the hands of another author, having that many perspectives might have over-saturated the story, but Carey makes sure that each point-of-view adds to the plot while fleshing out each individual character. Most importantly, by the end of the book I was rolling around in a puddle of my feelings, which reveals just how much these characters affected me.
Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone searching for an enthralling, unique work of fiction that spans the dystopia/zombie/thriller/experimental/horror genres. It is a standout novel, in every sense of the word....more
What a twisted, tantalizing story. We Were Liars centers on Cadence Sinclair and her three best friends, Johnny, Mirren, and Gat. The foursom3.5 stars
What a twisted, tantalizing story. We Were Liars centers on Cadence Sinclair and her three best friends, Johnny, Mirren, and Gat. The foursome calls themselves the Liars, and every summer their families get together on Beechwood Island to luxuriate and have fun like a lot of privileged people do.
If you've heard any of the hype about We Were Liars, you know that its trump card comes in its surprise reveal. Although I will not spoil the book - besides confirming that there is quite a shock - I can testify to the strengths of the story overall. Cady was an interesting narrator to follow, especially as she became more aware of her privilege. The writing felt intense and alive, and although purple at times, it still carried the suspense as well as Cady's voice in a consistent and jagged way. Unlike other reviewers, I had no problem reading about "rich people problems" or "white girl problems." People possess problems of different magnitude, and in my opinion we should strive to understand where everyone comes from in order to create compassion and empathy. Otherwise, we'd only be reading books like Night by Elie Wiesel or A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, and more books than those two deal with the human experience in intriguing and complex ways.
I only wish Gat, Mirren, and Johnny received more development as the story went on. Cady always emphasized the importance of the Liars as a group, but their connection never came across 100% to me. Further characterizing the three other Liars would have made the ending even more affecting, and it would have given the novel a more thorough and focused feel, like a target missile instead of a misplaced time bomb.
I recommend We Were Liars to anyone even remotely interested in the synopsis, as well as those searching for a suspenseful, scandalous, and summery YA read. Not in love with the book, but I like it enough to believe that it deserves its praise....more
I remember being bullied a little over half a decade ago (wow, writing that makes me feel super old.) For me, the worst part about rumors centered onI remember being bullied a little over half a decade ago (wow, writing that makes me feel super old.) For me, the worst part about rumors centered on how you could do nothing about them: people could - and can still, I suppose - say all of these horrible things about you, and aside from communicating with them or others you literally had no way to defend yourself. The Truth About Alice tackles the brutality of high school drama and shows the multifaceted reasons why people spread rumors, bully one another, and act out in cruel ways overall.
Jennifer Mathieu sets up her book with this focal rumor of Healy High - Alice Franklin, also known as the school slut, slept with two guys at one party, and then she killed one of them by sexting him in the middle of his drive to the grocery store. Four narrators share most of the story: Elaine, a popular girl on the dance team, Kelsie, a transfer student with a difficult past, Josh, Brandon's best friend before he died and fellow football player, and Kurt, the intellect who lives next door to Brandon's family. As the story progresses we see how each of these characters affects the portrayal of Brandon's death and the downfall of Alice Franklin.
The Truth About Alice excels in its development of Alice Franklin's infamous reputation. Mathieu reveals the inherent flaws in each of her characters in a non-sententious way, and the novel as a whole pays homage to the damage we so often inflict upon one another when we ourselves are hurting. Mathieu creates a memorable plot that readers will remember with fewer pages than most YA books.
The characters and the ending of The Truth About Alice felt too simplistic for me though. While it appears that other reviewers have forgiven Mathieu for the cliches she uses, I saw several ways in which she could have developed these characters (e.g., expand on Kelsie's (view spoiler)[family situation after the abortion as well as her pressing desire to fit in (hide spoiler)], make Josh more than just his (view spoiler)[crush on Brandon, or at least expand upon those emotions (hide spoiler)], etc.) The resolution with Kurt also lessened the story's complexity; a more open-ended, unclear denouement may have increased the impact of the story. In particular I wish that Alice (view spoiler)[had not actually received her own narrative at the end (hide spoiler)] or that her true actions were a bit more ambiguous, which would have forced us to think on our own about these characters and their motives.
Still, a good read I do not regret spending time on. Would recommend to fans of YA realistic fiction, high school drama, and fans of Courtney Summers (though Mathieu's prose is less raw). Looking forward to this author's next work.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more