The Orenda

I’m going back to my roots with this one.

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I come from a Native background and I am Canadian. I hate what my country has done to my ancestors (as any decent human being should), and The Orenda by Joseph Boyden angered me. It angered me because it was beautifully written, and it perfectly described the situation aboriginal people faced five hundred years ago when the British invaded. Because yes, they did invade. The Orenda is never preachy. It does not explicitly try to argue that life was better before the invasion, or that life became better after it; the novel simply describes the lives of the people who lived through this time, and it lays down their history as they lived it.

What I admire most is the writing style. The Orenda has 3 protagonists- Bird, Snow Falls, and Christopher Crow- and each protagonist speaks to the reader in first person. Their voices all blend together, but they are each utterly unique. When you begin the novel, there is no indication that one is reading from the point of view of a new character (such as naming the chapter the narrator’s name), yet it is clear from the start when the narrator shifts because each voice is completely different. I am very impressed with how the author is able to convey voice so seamlessly and evenly; I did not once find one story and one narrator more interesting than the others. Each character is strong, brave, beautiful, and an individual.

The Orenda may be a book of fiction, but it is based in fact. The life that Bird, the Crows, and Snow Falls lived are full of experiences that real people faced hundred of years ago. This is where the tragedy of the novel lies. It is easy to claim that the novel is fiction, and it is easy to brush it off as nothing more. But if one remembers that these plots where based on real lives, then one if filled with absolute heartbreak.

It didn’t have to be this way. But it was.

4 Orendas out of 5.

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Jellicoe Road

Sometimes the past should be left in the past; other times, the past is all we see.

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I read Jellicoe Road (also known as On the Jellicoe Road) by Melina Marchetta  when I was in high school. I loved it. I considered it one of my favourite novels. Fast forward 5 years and I couldn’t remember what the novel was about. So I reread it. And I kind of wish I hadn’t.

It’s not that Jellicoe Road is a bad book; it’s just that with age, comes different perspective. It’s not nearly as good as I remember, although I can see why I fell in love with it. The story is twisted and complicated in a way that makes it difficult to summarize. It’s about a group of kids at a boarding school who have “territory wars” with the Cadets and Townies. Except, it’s not really about that. It’s about a girl who was abandoned at the school. It’s about the past, and how it weaves into the next generation.

I think the plot of this novel is wonderful. It’s one of those books that throws you right into the story, refusing to explain itself. You, as the reader, have to piece together Taylor’s recent and distant past, just as she has to piece together the life of her mother. I absolutely love  that, and I love the very, very slow reveals because they never seem to drag on. I also love the boarding school and the territory wars; how fun would it be to live there? The story is sad, and touching, and interesting enough to hold attention. The reason I wish I hadn’t read this novel has nothing to do with its story, but rather with its characters.

The characterization. It’s… unsatisfying. I find the majority of the characters are one dimensional, or flat. Including, unfortunately, Taylor. She felt almost like a Mary Sue at times, and her broodiness, which makes her interesting, disappears throughout the novel. Taylor is boring. Taylor’s friends are boring. Griggs is BORING. Sorry, but I’m much more interested in the older characters, like Hannah, and Hannah’s story.

Not only are they boring, but they also don’t seem to develop. They’re not people; they’re words on a page, used to further the plot. And don’t get me started on Taylor’s romance. There was 0 chemistry and it just seemed like it was there to mirror the other story told in the novel. The romance felt random and forced, and not at all necessary. I was so confused when they kept talking about how much they like and care about each other because… did they even know each other? The character development and characterization is poorly done, which is extremely unfortunate and it deeply saddens me.  But it did answer my question as to why I couldn’t remember one of my favourite books from high school: flat characters don’t make for memorable stories.

Jellicoe Road is not a bad novel, and I did really enjoy it, both times that I read it. But if you’re looking for a novel with characters that feel like friends, I would pass this one over.

3 Prayer Trees out of 5.

I’ll Give You the Sun

This isn’t a review. It’s a love letter.

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Dear I’ll Give You the Sun,

I want to exclaim into the wind every possible cliche. My love for you is the universe, ever expanding with no definite boundaries or end. You did give me the sun: my chest filled with warmth as love grew into a lump in my throat, and then trickled down my face as tears. I cannot remember the last time I felt this way.

Your characters are beautifully flawed. Your structure is sound and, although frustrating at times, is worth it, as the threads of story lines ultimately tie together in a luscious red bow. Jude and Noah should be comically bizarre, but they never are. They seem so human, ever changing, and hiding their hurt behind caricatures they have drawn for themselves. They are so broken, but they never break. Their hope, their pain, their love. I felt it all. I am not a visual artist, but I understood the way Noah paints in his head, and I understood the way Jude transforms objects into sculptures. I have never done these things, but I do have my own quirks that keep me sane. I felt like I was Noah and Jude.

Oh, I’ll Give You the Sun! Your love stories are never tiring. They feel fresh and new, and they warm the heart of a girl who has never loved. They give me hope, they give me happiness. They are my own loves. My own heartbreaks.

Simply put, your story is mine.

I cannot review this novel because I am bias to the extreme. I love this book more than I could possibly ever express; I cannot even name the reasons why I love it. It just spoke to me, heart to heart, and made me long for the story to never end. I love I love I love I Love.

Thank you, I’ll Give You the Sun. You sing the same song as my heart.

Thank you for making me feel again. Thank you for making me believe. Thank you for giving me characters who are more like friends. Thank you for teaching me. Thank you for speaking to me.

Thank you.

 

Review: All My Puny Sorrows

I just finished the most beautiful novel.

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Simply put, All My Puny Sorrows is a novel about life. I know that’s extremely vague, but it’s the only term I can think of that properly sums up the main purpose of Toews’s story. The plot is simple: Elf wants to die and Yoli, her sister, wants her to live. But this is not a book about “saving” someone, and showing them how beautiful life can be. It’s a story of grieving life, and trying to understand what exactly went wrong.

Sometimes, questions have no answers. Sometimes, life doesn’t make sense.

The prose is simple, but there are certain sentences that are so beautifully poetic that I don’t know how a human mind could compose them. This is definitely a novel for those who read, as there is a plethora of references to authors and poets (some of which were obscure to me). The novel is also filled with tiny Canadian references, which is lovely, but you certainly don’t have to be Canadian to enjoy it. One of my favourite aspects of this novel is that the author chose to not use direct speech. This choice makes it seem as though we are reading Yoli’s diary, or as if she is orally recalling this story to us. It’s such a simple decision, but it adds so much intimacy and depth to the novel.

Furthermore, this novel is a story about memory. Yoli seems trapped in the past, while Elf is caught in the future. Yoli wants nothing more than to remember and reminisce, and is constantly asking Elf if she “remembers” stories from their youth. Right to the end, Yoli is explaining stories of her childhood to the reader. Elf, meanwhile, can think of nothing but the future, and the future consists of only one thing: death. Perhaps this is why there is no direct speech: Yoli, who wants to remember everything, cannot exactly remember what was said.

All My Puny Sorrows is a beautiful novel that deals with life, death, grief, and memory, but it is also a novel about love, and sisterhood, and friendship. Mostly, I find this is a novel about not understanding life or those we love most. But not understanding does not mean that we cannot feel, we cannot enjoy, we cannot hurt, and we cannot love.

Because ultimately, love is all there is.