Have you ever read a book that made you howl in laughter? Have your eyes nearly popped wide open because of a clever plot twist? Have you ever decided...moreHave you ever read a book that made you howl in laughter? Have your eyes nearly popped wide open because of a clever plot twist? Have you ever decided to pause halfway through the chapters because you’re in denial that the book is nearing its end? Have you ever finished a story and immediately wished you could hug the fictional protagonist after the last page?
I say yes to all of the above, thanks to Willy Russell’s stunning first novel—The Wrong Boy—which is in every way, unforgettable. Written in the form of confessional letters and journal entries by 19-year old Raymond James Marks to his idol, Morrissey, this novel is in equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking; It’s sad, sweet, shocking and satisfying, which basically means it easily made its way to my lists of all-time favourite books ever and, well—straight inside my dorky reader-heart.
The Wrong Boy’s plot is engaging enough to keep a reader leafing like mad through its witty and dark dialogue: it is a comic, coming-of age odyssey of a misunderstood teenage intellectual and die-hard Smiths fan, his painfully erratic past and his troublesome present state. Raymond, the book’s hero, chronicles his alternating (and almost never-ending) dilemmas with lots of heart and humour, evident in his laugh-out-loud narrative both in prose and poetry.
Like an intelligent teenage sitcom gone haywire, the book is filled with crazy turn of events which unsurprisingly heaved greater havoc in Raymond’s life. We get unusual ones, like the Transvestite Nativity Play Scandal in his early school years, to his accidental discovery of the flytrapping craze and his eventual expulsion. But we also get dark, disturbing themes like his having linked with the rape of a neighbourhood girl, his parent’s weird love affairs, and his admission to a mental facility. And he oh-so-beautifully captured each of these life-altering changes with such profound reflections and child-like honesty that you can’t help but love him so. The book is a screaming testament that a painful childhood is indeed the best preparation in the making of a wonderful writer.
Aside from the extraordinary detail given in Raymond’s persona, the other characters also shined with their individual oddities. From his always-anxious mother Shelagh, his cool grandmother aptly named Winnie, his best friends Twinky and Norman, and well, the Girl with the Chestnut Eyes. Raymond never met Morrissey but he was omnipresent in all of his stories that it’s impossible not to mention him. There’s a sad bit towards the end that just wrenched my heart open, I felt so strongly the need to quote it:
“Morrissey, I’m all right on my own. I don’t even mind being on my own. But I never wanted to be on my own. That was just how it turned out. And I tried to make the best out of it. You helped me with that, Morrissey. You made it seem all right, feeling lonely. And it was, in a way, it was all right being lonely and misunderstood, because I had my love of you and everything that went with that, all the records and posters and videos and all the mementoes and memorabilia. I had all of that.
But sometimes I find myself thinking about the future, Morrissey. And that’s when I’d get frightened. Because it’s all right being a bit lonely when you’re only nineteen and you can wear all that loneliness like it’s cool and defiant and a bit mysterious; like it’s something you’ve chosen. But when you’re not nineteen anymore, Morrissey, when you’ve ended up older and you’re still sitting there in your room, on your own, with a brilliant collection of Smiths and Morrissey memorabilia, what then? I’ve seen them, Morrissey, when I’ve been at conventions and all the fans have been gathered to wallow in all the wonderfulness of you and the Smiths, I’ve seen them, the older fans, the ones who were probably fans right back at the beginning…..
And do you know what occurred to me, Morrissey? What occurred to me is that you must despise them—fans like that. Fans so devoted that they became trapped inside their devotion, imprisoned by their idolatry; those who clung onto worship because they were afraid to let go; in case they discovered that outside of you, Morrissey, and beyond the bedrooms of their own minds, they didn’t exist. Which is why they are still there, at all the concerts and conventions, with all the right books and rare records and attitudes, all the right facts, dates and figures, discographies, bios and trivia and Morrissey-lore.; those who adore you for just a little too long, Morrissey; those whose love is so needy that it blinds them to that look in your eyes, Morrissey; that look of pained contempt.
And that’s why you have to understand, Morrissey, that I’ve not done all this just for myself; I’m doing it for you as well, Morrissey. Because I promised that I would never ever do that to you; never grow into the sort of fan whom you would have to despise. So it’s for both of us, Morrissey, me and you.”
Imagine all this goodness in every page, and it’s likely you can perceive a better picture of how precious this book is for me. The Wrong Boy is unflinchingly one of the most moving novels you will ever read, and this is all due to Willy Russell’s genius, a writer I now look up to with such great respect and gratitude.
Honestly, I feel stuttering just like Raymond, because there are simply no words enough to articulate how much of an experience reading this book have been for me—I love, love, love the Wrong Boy for all the right reasons! ♥(less)
I’m very iffy about Romances and I swear it has nothing to do with my apparent lack of experience in the love department. Sure, I sit down for the occ...moreI’m very iffy about Romances and I swear it has nothing to do with my apparent lack of experience in the love department. Sure, I sit down for the occasional chick-lit from time to time, but I usually avoid hardcore love stories because most of the time they end up pretty much generic; it’s either too draggy and full of fluff that I get bored waiting for my tears to come out or it’s too plain melodramatic that I get bored to tears. I blame it on my having read Nicholas Sparks at age 9.
I am therefore wonderfully caught off-guard by Christopher Castellani’s A Kiss from Maddalena, because it shattered all my juvenile traumas about romances. For once, no one’s dying from cancer, suffering from alzheimers, divorcing or killing each other, finding their lost parents, or are secretly vampires. It’s ironic because the plot and backdrop of the novel is in fact on a grander scale and yet the intimacy and the genuineness of the characters’ lives still resonate from cover to cover. We get a vivid first-hand account of the second world war and its aftermath in Italy—we don’t just meet a pair of lovers or a family; we meet an entire town and the many ties and traditions that binds them together. Most importantly, the book is still very much anchored around the bittersweet affair between Vito and Maddalena—probably the most passionate and saddest tale I’ve read for this year.
I’m not even embarrassed to admit that I still repeatedly read the last paragraphs like these are from a page torn off a haunted love letter my soul has been wanting to write for so long. This book gives heartache a voice. Thank you Mr. Castellani, my faith in Romances has been completely restored.
The prologue is catchy ad intriguing—essentially what all books should be right off the bat. We start right away with the book’s turning point, and the author did such a fantastic job with keeping things hanging and then letting the chapters unfold naturally in a way that will still make you wonder how, when, where, who, why and what the hell happened. The first chapters were low-key but nonetheless brilliant; Castellani’s writing is so rich and precise, minus all the fluff. See, I’ve got issues with atmospheric descriptions in novels and I’m usually impatient with introductions, but this book opened in a very fluid way that transported me when and where it happened. It’s magical and I can’t help but wish I could write like this:
In the far corner of West Olive, the trees stood so close together that the leaves made a second sky. Girls sat in circles under it and complained about their mothers. They gossiped about whoever showed up late or left early. When the army trucks swallowed up their brothers and boyfriends and young fathers, they came here to forget or cry or admit I’m glad he’s gone. After they turned twenty, they found somewhere else to talk—they got married or they leaned against the front walls of stores and acted smart—but until then, the olive grove was the center of their world.
But of course, my favorite thing about it is still the budding affection between the passionate Vito Leone and the beautiful Maddalena Piccinelli. There’s this lovely scene at the early part of the book where they’re still on the process of getting to know each other amidst their friendship with peers. It was a time of innocence, and of the carefree days of being young. In many ways, this scene felt foreboding and in turns, poignant and piercing.
“You won’t grow up,” Madallena said, her lips pursed. This was her vision of his life. “The years will pass and the war will end,” she said, “but you will not get old…I see you running through a green field. I see you laughing, chasing a dog, everyone around you with white beards and crooked legs, with canes! But you are still young, still as much as a boy as today, forever. That is what I see for you; it is here in front of my face.” “What does it mean?” asked Fiorella. She looked over at Vito curiously, as if she’d just seen him for the very first time. “How do I know?” said Maddalena. “But I can tell you, it seems like a beautiful feature to me.”
It’s crazy how this book can make you symphatize with all the characters from one page to another. In this particular moment for instance, I can deeply identify with Maddalena’s inner thoughts before they were separated because of the bombings:
This was falling in love, she told herself. She was making it happen. You saw something about to be taken away from you, and in that moment you saw how much it was worth. She’d sneaked out of her house in the middle of the night, broken the law and betrayed her parents to come here, and that had to mean something. God had to recognize it and remember.
And then ultimately, my heart breaks for Vito, so dedicated and loyal and loving. Here’s a boy of eighteen, caught in the crossfires of war, adolescence and the travails of young love.
“Maybe I do want to scare you a little,” he said. He faced the road again, his back to her. “If I scare you, maybe you’ll think of my life sometimes, for just a little while, when you’re safe on your zia’s farm. Maybe you’ll think of my Mother’s legs that don’t work, that won’t let us leave here. Of her sleeping twenty hours a day and not recognizing me when she wakes up. I want you to think of me, Maddalena, with you not here anymore.”
Now that’s a good romance novel: Gripping and lingering, by all accounts, memorable—I read, I wept, I loved.(less)
An all girls’ school. A Latin Class. A troubled magistra with a shady alumna past. Students writing Latin phrases on their arms and razor-slicing thei...moreAn all girls’ school. A Latin Class. A troubled magistra with a shady alumna past. Students writing Latin phrases on their arms and razor-slicing their wrists open. Stolen Diaries. Secret Pregnancies. Taboo Love. Suicide on ice, water and dorm rooms. Academic Pressures. Friendships gone wrong. Ghost lakes and tragic folklore. History Repeating itself.
Relax, I’m not spoiling the entire book yet. If you’re a fan of mysteries with gothic touches, and thought the themes I just listed above sounded extremely catchy, I’m pretty sure you’ll find lots to love in Carol Goodman’s Lake of Dead Languages—an almost mythological-esque thriller exploring the edges of adolescent woes and high-school horrors, richly glazed with controversial socio-feministic truths. Just a caveat though: plot became sort of predictable half-way through. Or maybe it’s my inner crankypants again. Goodman makes up for it though by ironing the creases out of her narrative with wonderfully, tragically wounded heroines and yes, even villains, too. Like standing on a glass floor of ice, there’s plenty amount of chills, fragility, nostalgia and clarity in these pages that will oh-so-easily propel you deeper towards its secrets and mysteries.
This is Heart Lake School for Girls. Come Hither.
I’ve always been vocal about my love of layers. This novel has gazillions of it, and yes, most of it were effectively and intricately plotted within an interchanging series of present-day musings and flashbacks. The focal point is the story’s heroine and narrator, Jane Hudson, an alumna who returns to Heart Lake to teach Latin to a class of girls with whom she sees and identifies similarities to herself and her best friends during their time. It’s a mirror of events and identities, tugging at each other; Repetitions almost blending as one, as if staged by someone who premeditatedly wants to torture her. And the sameness of the tragedies evokes a certain paranoia on Jane—who knew all too well the patterns and the first-hand details of what happened in the past.
In it there’s a central, recurring concept of salvaging wrong decisions made and finding truth in all the deceit and confusion blurred frozen by time. I like how bits and pieces of Jane’ high school diary became a device in giving glimpses of their past, particularly on the tragedies whose only remaining witness alive was her. Dun Dun Dun Dun.
It’s a page-turner, but I thought some of the major revelations weren’t as shriek-worthy as I wanted it to be, having seen a twist a couple of pages before it gets affirmed. Okay, so maybe I’m just too engrossed wanting to find out who’s the culprit behind everything that I immediately guessed who it was, but still. I love layers, but I’m very particular about execution too. It’s a little pointless dragging a time-bomb longer than it’s supposed to be, just saying.
Nevertheless, this book has a lot of good points that shouldn’t be overlooked. In all fairness, the themes incorporated here were all relatively heavy for a coming-of-age story and I thought it honestly captured all the pain and tragedies of high-school’s darker side. I especially adore how everyone in the class gets their own Latin Name according to preferences to ditch their boring, generic names. And since it was a Latin Class, I was able to pick up a couple of Latin words and phrases, Cor Te Reducit being my favourite. It means: The heart leads you back.
And like Heart Lake itself, the story delves deeper and murkier as you read on. Heart: it gets to the core of what happened to Jane to make sense of what’s haunting her in the present. It’s somewhat became the conflict with which she will come to peace with her guilt-imbued self. And secondly, Lake: because as you swim further you say farewell to the shores of safety too, for you to put your own bravery to test towards profound depths your feet won’t touch.
All in all, the Lake of Dead Languages has been a beautiful albeit scary memoir; It’s piercing and pensive in ways that will ironically make you miss the one phase of your life you’re grateful you’re done with—High School.
This book will make you remember how it’s not always sunlit and cheery, but will also tell you, as if in whisper: The heart will always, lead you back.(less)
Disclaimer: this review is going to be embarrassing.
Oh book, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I madly adored Jennifer Donnelly’s ‘A Northern...moreDisclaimer: this review is going to be embarrassing.
Oh book, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I madly adored Jennifer Donnelly’s ‘A Northern Light’, that even weeks after having finished it, I still fondly remember how awesome, how beautiful this book was written and how lovestruck it made me as a reader. It tells the tale of sixteen-year old Mattie Gokey, in the year 1900s, which quite frankly overwhelmed me prior to reading it because I frequently struggle with historical-flavored fiction. And yet it got me head over heels on the first chapter alone, leaving me incoherent, wordless and asfdahgfoasfd.
How lovely, how real, how rich. Yes I know how fangirly that sounds, but still. To be completely honest, even my whole family was baffled. For the entire two and a half days that I’ve been reading it, I was bragging about how good the plot’s getting at every chance I get, despite their ‘I-don’t-even-give-a-damn’ glares. It’s actually hard to talk about the greatness of the book because I’m scared I won’t give it justice. So as you might have already noticed, I’m trying to give you a picture of me whilst reading it instead.
It’s the kind of fiction that blows your mind, gets under your skin and never leaves. It’s the first book that I have literally embraced, holding it close to my chest while I’m drowning in blankets and muttering “Book, I love you, I love you,” in the darkness of 2am. I'm not even kidding.
So okay, I still wanna try to talk about why I’ve gone crazy over this book so I came up with a list instead to further elaborate my reasons in the most organized way I could possibly do it.
Characters aren’t cardboard cut-outs. The vivid writing makes every character individually compelling, flawed, likeable, disgusting, scandalous, awesome, unforgettable. Mattie Gokey, the heroine, is plucky, brave, smart and sassy like most YA book teen stereotypes, but everything else about her screams ORIGINAL. Her obsession for words, writing, reading and books easily makes her a champion in my book, but what really made her special is the fact that despite her attachment and faith in literature, she keeps her head in touch with reality.
There’s a profoundly striking scene about the pains of childbirth and pregnancy where she actually dissed fiction writers for being glorified liars on the account of sugarcoating reality. It’s a tender moment for someone who loves fiction that much and you will mourn with her as the devastating realization sinks in.
“And I knew in my bones that Emily Dickinson wouldn't have written even one poem if she'd had two howling babies, a husband bent on jamming another one into her, a house to run, a garden to tend, three cows to milk, twenty chickens to feed, and four hired hands to cook for. I knew then why they didn't marry. Emily and Jane and Louisa. I knew and it scared me. I also knew what being lonely was and I didn't want to be lonely my whole life. I didn't want to give up on my words. I didn't want to choose one over the other. Mark Twain didn't have to. Charles Dickens didn't.”
Plot is alive. I don’t wanna go all technical about the pacing of the book or its tones and whatnots, but this I can say for sure: the plot is powerful. It moves rather fluidly in a well-crafted motion, while gracefully confronting themes like gender discrimination, societal prejudices, extreme poverty, land ownership, racism, murder, liberty liberties and educational reform. All of these seemingly hardcore concepts are woven in a manner so headstrong, unafraid and honest, without you suffering from a headache.
It’s brimming with insights, and it doesn’t only educate you with fun historical glimpses; it provokes you to think many what ifs and whys. I’m bananas about this kind of books that is not scared to challenge the reader because I feel intellectual, esteemed and trusted. Jennifer Donnelly clearly not only cares about her characters but she also holds high respect for her readers.
Kickass Wordplay. Probably one of the most surreal prose I’ve read in a long while. It’s unique, clever and effective in so many different ways that had me wondering how far and how long the author could keep on surprising and shocking the hell out of me. And let me tell you this: I was heartbroken when the book ended. The story is structured around dictionary definitions of words used as chapter names and literary devices, and man, you have no idea how jealous am I for not being the one who came up with that idea first. Then again, come to think of it, I’m jealous for not having written this book first! Literary envy be damned.
“Words fail me sometimes. I have read most every word in the Webster’s International Dictionary of the English Language, but I still have trouble making them come when I want them to. Right now I want a word that describes the feeling you get – a cold sick feeling deep down inside – when you know something is happening that will change you, and you don’t want it to, but you can’t stop it. And you know you will never be the same again.”
The lovestory actually works. Indeed, finding something out of the cliché is a thing worth celebrating. There are two love stories in these book, one from the past and one on the present. I love how these two angles reflect each other, almost intersecting at some point, like a crossroad the characters needed to pass to get through the climactic end. I like that the subject of love in this book is underplayed but still delightfully, quirkily executed. It’s a very realistic take on adolescent love and its complexities, and yes, I know how redundant I’m already sounding at this point. And can I just say that I’ve never had a crush on a literary character before but Mattie’s love interest, Royal Loomis, is quite a character I’ve never met before. So visibly flawed, but he makes thy heart tremble! I don’t even know that’s possible.
Alright, I’ll quit the gibberish now. Sorry for the wordbarf, but this is really that kind of book that you needed to read for yourself for you to understand its charm. But here’s everything in a nutshell: you will care about this book. And who knows, you might love it the same way I did, too.(less)
I think part of what makes me such a heavy reader is the fact that I love books like I love people. Because quite frankly, books are very much like pe...moreI think part of what makes me such a heavy reader is the fact that I love books like I love people. Because quite frankly, books are very much like people in so many ways. They speak of lives and hold secrets. They keep you company, they become a refuge. You can love or hate them. They can have odd first impressions and feelings that you could shake off a few days later or probably they could linger a little bit longer than you think they would, and if you’re lucky, sometimes they can also change your life.
And strangely enough, reading Alice Hoffman’s lovely novel Local Girls (1999), made me think that aside from a lifetime love affair, books could also offer friendship—tender, heartfelt, warm. It’s a quick, light read which is poetically narrated in vignettes of short stories by its central character, Gretel Samuelson, about the lives of women and others around her. If this book is a walking person, it’s definitely close to a picture of someone who could seamlessly be a candidate for being best-friend material, mostly because it explores the theme of friendship between women so magically beautiful. In Hoffman’s heroine’s very own words in the book: "It was the sort of beauty you feel so deeply it becomes contagious and somehow makes you feel beautiful too."
Ultimately, the book is about Gretel and Jill, two best friends who grew up living in houses that are basically next to each other. It’s this kind of nostalgic childhood that I rarely read in American Fiction, and this one’s the best of its kind. Also, I find it so playful of author Alice Hoffman to derive her protagonists names from two of fairy tales and nursery rhymes’ popular duos: Gretel (from Hansel and Gretel) and Jill (from Jack and Jill). Just an observation which tickled me pink. Anyway the story unfolds like this:
"Jill and I have known each other our whole lives. One house separates our houses but we act as if it doesn't exist. We met before we were born and we'll probably still know each other after we die. At least, that's the way we're planning it."
It’s so disarmingly sweet from the get-go that I didn’t have trouble loving the book even from just the first few pages alone. It’s filled with a simplicity so endearing, sprinkled with poetic goodness that makes each sentence so sublime and surreal. And when I say each sentence, I mean it. This reminds me a lot of Danzy Senna’s Caucasia, where I mentioned how much I want to underline the entire book because it’s beautiful from the first page down to the last. Local Girls is no different. Every line is so memorable and moving that I wanted to quote everything from hilarious paragraphs from their early teenage years about crushes and infatuation:
"Jill told me that when you're really in love, you know right away. I'm not exactly sure how this happens. Is it like a flash of lightning? Like an angel tapping you on the shoulder? Or is it similar to choosing a puppy? You think you're picking the cutest one, but really you wind up going home with the one who keeps insisting on climbing into your lap."
to shiver-inducing lines about the world and life in general:
“It was late but we could hear traffic on the Southern State Parkway, even though it was Christmas, and snowing so hard. You had to wonder who all these people in their cars were leaving behind and who they were driving toward, and if they knew that in the distance, the echo of their tires on the asphalt sounded like a river, and that to someone like me, it could seem like the miracle I’d been looking for.
Even her one-liners shines with a sadness:
"...he had a way of taking your hand which made it clear he'd have to be the one to let go."
Moreover, I liked the characters’ growth in the span of their individual stories. Admittedly, growth is the defining factor of Young Adults Literature which really captivates and endears me as a reader. There’s just something so heart-tugging at reading people turn over a new leaf or find a different reflection staring back at them from the mirror. I love how one day changes everything for eternity. I’m a sucker for that kind of stuff. Truth be told, Alice Hoffman is amazing at doing exactly just that.
Look how she presents Gretel’s cocoon so harmlessly sympathetic right at the very beginning:
"I could hardly get a boy to look at me. All right, they'd look, they'd even take me out, but no one asked for a second date. I was too nasty, a real wise guy, and all the boys could tell what my rotten disposition was. Deep down, I wanted a commitment with a capital C. To get anywhere with me, a boy would have to sign his undying loyalty with his own blood."
And then look at how Gretel beautifully grew into a butterfly just a few years later:
"In the darkest hour of winter, when the starlings had all flown away, Gretel Samuelson fell in love. It happened the way things are never supposed to happen in real life, like a sledgehammer, like a bolt from out of the blue. One minute she was a seventeen year-old senior in high school waiting for a Sicilian pizza to go; the next one she was someone whose whole world had exploded, leaving her adrift in the Milky Way, so far from earth she was walking on stars."
It’s the kind of book that tells you that you are understood, and it’s okay. Oh I loved it a lot, and I’d be re-reading and re-reading it over and over again in the future, I suppose. I know for a fact that Alice Hoffman’s books are widely loved and praised by many, and Local Girls is a great introduction to her work. I will definitely be in the hunt for the rest of her books, for sure. (less)
Short, Sexy and Suicidal--Like Peoples’ names, Book Titles matter a lot to me because they’re the easiest preludes in getting to know stories and how...moreShort, Sexy and Suicidal--Like Peoples’ names, Book Titles matter a lot to me because they’re the easiest preludes in getting to know stories and how potentially good or bad they are. Whenever I go paperback-hunting, I’m always on a furious lookout for intriguing, bizarre titles whereas I could easily dispose generic-sounding ones for latter consideration. (Read: I can be such a book-snob sometimes.)
Imagine then, how thrilled I was to find Kim Young Ha’s novel entitled ‘I have the right to destroy myself’, translated in English from its original Korean version first published in 1996. I was drawn to that strong, thesis-statement-sounding title not only because it’s in a lengthy declarative form, but also because there’s obviously something so cynical and defensive about it which, yes, prematurely betrayed a spoiler on the novel plot, but for the most part, intensified its come hither-aura already embodied by its sleek cover design. Warning though: Do not read this when you’re depressed, because…well, you might be toying with the idea that you really have the right to destroy yourself, which is a principle I don’t subscribe to, let alone endorse.
Taking place in Seoul, one of the most urban cities in the world, the book paints a frightening portrait of how death can be such an easy option for those living on the brink of apathy and loneliness. I know, such a massive theme for a sheer 119-pager.
It’s no secret: Korea has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. I really don’t get why first-world people can have such very low tolerance with life. Then again, I’m not on their shoes to judge. One of the enlightening insights I got from this book is that, a convenient, stable life doesn’t always translate to a happy, cheerful existence.
Written in the form of a pseudo-autobiographical confession, the story follows interweaving snapshots of five people and their lives, told and compiled by a nameless narrator—a man who earns a living by encouraging people to die; quite literally, he works by searching for potential clients who may want to avail of his service in aiding them to commit suicide. One of my first thoughts while reading: People pay for Suicidal Assistance??? The sad thing about it though, is there’s actually no vivid justification or reason as to how they take their own lives. They’re simply tired, empty and…bored.
It’s a morbidly, searing cycle which goes something like: Childhood woes-Pain-Art-Sex-Boredom-Suicide. I know it’s quite a shallow way to put it, but yeah, perhaps the author made their lives so intentionally trivial so we could see the bigger picture that loneliness can sometimes be larger than life.
One thing I really appreciated with the book is its usage of famous art paintings both as plot devices and metaphors. There were also bits and pieces about the lives of some artists and musicians, as well as a chapter on the narrator’s trip to Vienna and Art museums. I liked how graphic his analogies are and how it connected perfectly with his insights. Quoting one of the earlier parts of the book in which he describes the process in which he finds his clients:
"…they can’t fool me; I catch the glimmer of possibility in their empty words. I unearth clues from the types of music they prefer, the family histories they sometimes reveal, the books that hit a nerve, the artists they love. People unconsciously want to reveal their inner urges. They are waiting for someone like me."
The darkness of it has been so grotesque. But disagreeing with a book doesn’t mean I no longer enjoyed it. In fairness, it was so beautifully written, it’s somewhat painful. Young-Ha Kim has definitely mastered crime aesthetics and the elegance of death as his style and niche. Over-all, I have the right to destroy myself has been an exhilaratingly existential read. It moved me in ways that made me feel sorry for the characters. But above all, it paradoxically evoked a sense of gratefulness in me—I appreciated that I could still appreciate life and all the small things.
Because in as much as the book might have made a point when it declared we have the right to destroy ourselves, I’m standing up for what I believe in: that we also have a right to cherish ourselves, too.(less)
It’s two am and I just recently finished reading Adam Bagdasarian’s First French Kiss and other Traumas five min...moreDamn, this book rendered me awestruck.
It’s two am and I just recently finished reading Adam Bagdasarian’s First French Kiss and other Traumas five minutes ago and it’s so good that I’m right away compelled to write my thoughts of the aftermath; it’s been awhile since I’ve last come across a book I couldn’t put down—I’m so busy raising my dead social life from the grave that I could only squeeze in reading during my left over time. But oh, this book just stole my attention and resisted to be put off for later.
For a sheer 134-pager, it’s so concise and brief that it’s almost deceiving. Of course I had the gut feel that this is going to be a nice read when I decided to buy it, but it has been a pleasant surprise to know that I’m wrong; the book is not nice at all—it’s heartbreakingly brilliant. Otherwise, I won’t be stifling laughter while I’m so engrossed reading it in between bites at a crowded Burger King just a few hours ago, or getting all misty-eyed at the end of some chapters towards the end.
And okay, I saw it: there’s painfully too much of me that I could see in this book that I literally pause between pages to ask myself, “Am I reading a book or looking at a mirror?”
The first few chapters were okay, and then came the part where Will, the main character, shares his first ever depression in life—his five-year old self, pondering the melancholy of gumball machines.
“And if there wasn’t the gumball machine, what was there? Days, that’s what. Years and years of days. Days like balls of gum. Days of trees and sky and faces and food. The same trees, the same sky, the same faces, the same food. And the sameness enraged me because there was no escape from it, no alternative to it, nothing to do but sleep and submit.”
Holy crap, he is speaking my language of hate for monotony! At age five!
The book is a faux autobiography of the odd, melancholic childhood recollections of Will. There’s no theme whatsoever but it didn’t matter; I fell in love with Will’s character so head-on and easy. I adored his line of thoughts, his profound way of looking at things, with a frighteningly striking semblance to that of my own. He imagines fictional people and their fictional lives and have fictional conversations with them. He gives every trivial thing in the world a meaning like it’s his life mantra to make metaphors mandatory. Say for instance, here are his ramblings on the injustices of middle school popularity:
I gazed at Sean and the rest of the popular boys in bewildered admiration. It seemed like only yesterday that we had all played kickball, dodgeball, and basketball together; and then one morning I awoke to find that this happy democracy had devolved into a monarchy of kings and queens, dukes and duchesses, lords and ladies. It did not take a genius to know that, upon the continent of this playground, the two Allans and I were stable boys.
I had been resigned to my rank for many months, but now, looking at the two Allans (still arguing over the same three leaf clover), then at the popular boys, I suddenly knew that I could not stand another day at the bottom—I wanted to be part of the noise and the laughter; I wanted, I needed to be popular.
Being ten years old, I did not question this ambition; bit I did wonder how on earth I was going to realize it. Though I only stood twenty yards away from the heart of the kingdom, I felt a thousand miles removed from the rank and prestige of its citizens. How could I bridge such a gap, knowing I might be stared at, or laughed at or belittled to a speck so small that I could no longer be seen by the naked eye?
Sure, he’s far from perfect, if anything, he’s so flawed sometimes. He fidgets, he has a lot of fears and insecurities and all of these he perfectly hides under the façade of his bloated ego. And oh, he knows it well. He’s so self-centered that one of his first thoughts upon coming close to the possibility of a brain tumour, was that he couldn’t die yet because he is destined to revolutionize American Contemporary Fiction before he turns 20. He’s one big dreamer, alright. And so hilarious at so many levels. There were portions in the book that he is so boyishly heartless that I couldn’t stop muttering asshole under my breath, like for example, his thoughts right after breaking up with a girl named Linda from the sixth grade, who sincerely loved him a lot:
I would like to say that I ran after her but I didn’t. I would like to say that I held her in my arms and comforted her until she stopped crying, but I didn’t do that either. I would like to say that we parted that night with a warm and enduring understanding of each other, and that we remain good friends to this day, but we didn’t and we aren’t.
What I did do was watch her run into the house. Then I smiled. I smiled because I had stood my ground because I had had the strength and character to look a girl in the eye and break up with her. So proud was I of my achievement, so sure was I of my irresistible attraction to women that ten minutes later I went back to the party found Ellen Weitzman, and asked her to go steady.
Asshole. Asshole. Asshole. And yet, there were moments when I just wanted to nudge him, give him a giant hug and tell him everything’s going to be okay. And you know what hit home? The fact that his glorious façade crumbles so easily whenever he talks about family. Sure, at one point in his short-lived popularity, he became the heartthrob hotshot and all that. But at home, he’s basically his family’s baby who prays for his brother not to leave for college because he’ll miss climbing trees with him, and the same kid who just wanted to please his dad so bad, it hurts sometimes.
“You know,” his father said, sitting down on his brother’s bed, “sometimes when I get angry at you, I’m really angry about other things. Sometimes something will happen in town or at the office, and instead of yelling about that, I yell about the carrots or the plates or something else. You understand that, don’t you?”
“Yes,” he said, though he did not really understand anything except the feeling of his father’s presence and the tenderness of his voice. “And you know that I love you even when I yell at you?” “Yes.” “Good,” his father said, leaning close to him and kissing him on the cheek. “Now go to sleep.” “Good night, Pop,” he said, and his voice was small because his heart had swelled right up to his Adam’s apple. “Good night.” And the he was in the dark again, but not alone because his father had been there, would always be there.
And this juxtaposition ain’t the only thing that makes his character great; his flaws make him so real and so vulnerable, at least for us readers inside his head. He’s had epic moments of winning you can’t help but cheer and be proud of his little victories, no matter how shallow they are. And he’s also had unforgettable moments of defeat and loss which oddly evokes in you a sense of respect for him rather than pity.
“Pop’s dead,” she says, and a white flash goes off in your head, and then you are crying faster than you have ever cried or smiled or winked or laughed or blinked in your life. And all at once you see everything—you see what it all means. It only takes an instant, but it’s an eternal instant, an instant that would take years to write. And everything you feel is a forty-wave foot of water, and all at once you are in the wave, being tossed in the wave, and it’s frightening because it’s too strong. The wave can break you like a match stick, and there are waves after this wave, higher and stronger, to break you apart and banish you to a vast unknown. And it shuts off and you are alright again. As fast as it started, it stops. And your eyes are dry and you are smiling. You think everything is alright again.
And that, my friends, is the definition of a great fiction hero—I hated him, loved him, saw myself in him, desired to get to know him and wanted to be like him, too. I must say, I can’t ask for more. (less)
In the sweet introduction to Amy Benson’s “Sparkling-eyed Boy“, Editor Ted Conover playfully mused, ‘To the list of the three events that anthropologi...moreIn the sweet introduction to Amy Benson’s “Sparkling-eyed Boy“, Editor Ted Conover playfully mused, ‘To the list of the three events that anthropologist say characterize human life around the globe–birth marriage, and death–I wonder if it isn’t time to add a fourth: first love.” And already I am exclaiming at how brilliant that idea was. 179 pages later, I’m not just nodding my head in vigorous affirmation; I am clench-fisted crying yes, yes, all first loves deserve documentation as heartstoppingly beautiful and honest as this. The Sparkling-eyed Boy is a book which presents itself as a memoir of a love grown-up and it is, in every sense and in each sentence. The charming nuances of childhood crushes, the unforgettable tremors of longing, the gut-wrenching regrets and the maddening what-could-have-beens—it’s all here.
I have never quite encountered a book as intense and intelligent such as this and that makes Amy Benson’s voice so special and set apart from an otherwise vague and faceless genre. It was exceptional as a memoir but it has also been many things to me from chapter to chapter. From a no-holds barred diary to a devoted ode, a fiery loveletter, a disquieting requiem, to a shameless journal of imagination and hesitation, a bible of sorts about the many dangers and delights of passion, a penultimate serenade to young love.
She writes: “Is this what I want from the sparkling-eyed boy, then? I want him to have triumphed where I failed. I want him to be an emblem of what won’t ever be possible: to be of the stars and not just a visitor to them. It was important, dangerous, fathomless, to stand over a crying teenage boy turning himself inside out on the sand. But I merely watched as if I were preserving the moment instead of living it. Time–the things we think it takes from us–allows us the dramas of our lives: Take a last look, take a last look. It’s going to be a long time. “
The book is labeled as a creative non-fiction work, and how can you not find that so intriguing? The fact that this author can love as beautifully as she writes still blow my mind. Throughout reading this book, I’ve been fighting the very strong urge to get online and google if the real identity of the sparkling-eyed boy has ever been disclosed, since his name was never mentioned even once. But you see, I learned that such passionate love can only be secret. I cannot imagine the tremendous feeling of being that sparkling-eyed boy, whoever he was, in case he’d ever get a hold of this book in his hands someday in his life. How glorious it must be to be the recipient of such a powerful loveletter.
I mean, seriously, how can your heart not break at this?
“I am afraid that people will see me as betraying my own kind: another story about a girl incomplete without a boy and his transformative love. But I hope that you understand: I don’t want your seed, your ring, your paycheck, your security. I don’t want to complain about work to you. I don’t want you to drive me when we go to the fish fry or throw your arm across my chest when you break for a deer. I don’t want you to surprise me with flowers or plan an anniversary cruise to Alaska. I don’t want to wake up next to you and tell you about that dream I had, ask you to scratch my back. I don’t want to become frustrated with your taste in music or grow my hair long because you’d like to hold it in your hands and lay one strand, two strands, three strands across the bridge of your nose at night. I don’t want ever to to have to imagine the end of your imagination, my imagination, or feel, like a switchblade through my brain, the hope that yours is not the last body I’d like to be under, over, under again. These things are fine in their own way—I mean that. But what I really want from you, and what you can expect from me, is to have my name scarred on your heart and yours on mine. So when we die, if they cut us open, they will know someone lived in us–me in you and you in me. Whatever that might mean.”
I love that she’s so vulnerable and so, so brave in getting all these emotions out in the open. And she does it so well, too. In many ways, she’s been successful in articulating that one unforgettable phase in our lives marking the threshold of innocence towards a world of hurt. She bids farewell to things so magnificently, that her secret desperation reaches out to me, yanks my heartstrings and whispers you’ve felt this pain too, didn’t you?
Here she writes about the embarrassing awkwardness of remembering the letters a younger version of herself has written for the sparkling-eyed boy in the past:
“But I don’t remember letters. Real words on pages, maybe dingy envelopes, misspelled words. The truth about the girl who wrote them, maybe about the boy who kept them. The part of me writing about the remnants of the sparkling-eyed boy and my own dumb, young self has been struck a walloping blow. No matter what, I think, we want a self that seems knowable at least to us, defensible. In moments like this, my self is a glass dropped I didn’t know I was carrying—startled and broken all at once; it is impossible to tell how the pieces should fit together or even if they were mine in the first place or just stray bits swept in. I viciously need to know what a younger me might have written to a younger him, and when and why. I want to start breathing again and demand that he place the letters in my palm; I want essentially, to say, Tell me about me, make me whole again. I need to know that the kind of truth memory offers turns us irreparable into liars and cheats and strangers to others or ourselves.”
This book, it is a clear and dauntless mirror.
It’s already been a year since I have read this memoir, and I knew upon finishing it that it is imperative to be given a review, a reaction. Its greatness demanded insights, and even resurrects the very memories from the pits of its readers’ hearts. It took a long time for me to come up with my own word to talk back to what this book has to say, and obviously, I am still fidgeting my way around my descriptions, because frankly, I concede that I will not do it justice. Yet, I could only be grateful again for such a reading experience. I am not sorry to be reminded of my own pain, if it’s done with so much grace and fearlessness. It is the kind of book that leaves you thinking, feeling, crying, cringing, falling deeper in love and growing, growing into a bigger, better, more beautiful person.
It is, from first page to last, about the sparkling-eyed boy, but I believe that ultimately, albeit in a very subtle way, this book is about each one of us who had a ‘sparkling-eyed boy’ once in our own lives, and the kids inside our adult shadows who never quite learn or maybe still refuses to forget and let go of the hand that first held us and made our hearts beat like never before in our lives.(less)