I KNOW THIS MUCH IS TRUE: a book review

Some books have many different names. This is one of them.

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I Know This Much Is True is the perfect name for Wally Lamb’s novel. It’s true that Dominick, our protagonist, doesn’t seem to know much, even about his own life. He doesn’t understand why his twin is mentally ill and he isn’t. He doesn’t know who his father is. He doesn’t get so much about the world he lives in, and what he writes in these pages is all he knows for sure.

Yet, I Know This Much Is True could go by many different names.

It could easily become “Fathers and Sons,” one of the major themes in this work. What is a father, and how does a father’s life influence his offspring? Dominick has difficulty coming to terms with what “fatherhood” means to him, and indeed, considers himself fatherless because he never knew who his father was. Questions of fatherhood haunt the text.

It could also be called “Mirror Image” because that’s what Dominick and Thomas are. As twins, they share a life, yet live lives that are so different from each other. The idea of singularity, and two becoming one is also a theme that runs abundant in the text. As well, the twins are said to be mirror images to their grandfather, a man they never met. Thus, questions of identity and self, and how two things alike can be so different yet the same, are crucial to the story.

Or maybe “Generational” due to the importance of family. Above all else, this is a family epic. Although it does not span generations, it’s about the Birdsey family, and how history repeats itself, and how your past can shape everything about you.

To put it short, the novel follows Dominick who is struggling to put the pieces of his life together while everything falls apart. I went into the book knowing nothing, and maybe it’s best you do the same, because describing what happens is only going to bore you. It doesn’t sound like anything special, but it is. It’s a story of a man, being his brother’s keeper. It’s a story of a man, trying to find his father. It’s a story of a man, falling apart so he can put himself back together.

It’s a story about life, plain and simple as that.

But it’s astoundingly beautiful.

I tore through pages, reading them as fast as my eyes allowed, yet I read very few a day because I had to rest, had to let the story sit with me, so I could contemplate its meanings. It’s a sad story, without a doubt, but I think there’s a glimmer of hope in it too.

It will hurt, but it will be worth reading. Trust me.

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ALL THE CROOKED SAINTS: A Book Review

Most people won’t like this book. Luckily, I am not most people.
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Do you love magic in the every day? Do you love lush prose that you could fall into? Do love books where you can’t explain them to anyone else because “nothing happens” even if so much does? Do you love character pieces that bring life into the words on a page? Do you love omnipresent narration that makes it seem like the story is being told to you by your grandmother who knows all? Do you love the bizarre and the magical and the strangely beautiful? If so, then you are also not most people.

The thing about Maggie Stiefvater is that she gets better and better with each book she writes. All the Crooked Saints is not a perfect novel, nor does it pretend to be. Like the title suggests, it’s skewed: from the characters to the writing to the story itself, you can’t help but feel that there is something unbalanced, something not being said that needs to be. And that’s okay. It is this imperfect, this “well that doesn’t make any sense” that makes the book so charming.

Don’t read this book if you are looking for answers, because you won’t find anything. Read this book if you are searching for something you can’t articulate, something that exists in that place beyond your dreams.

I love this book. I love it with every inch of me. I can’t wait to reread and reread and reread, and discover that darkness inside me that I’m not sure if I want to name. If anything, All the Crooked Saints teaches you that that brokenness inside of you can define you, but it doesn’t have to. But beyond that, it teaches you that you don’t have to deal with it alone.

 5 owls out of 5.

A Little Light

It’s not hard to see that I haven’t been reviewing books as frequently. I have no need for excuses; the truth is the easiest way to explain. And the truth is this: the internet has been a dark, dark place and being on it for too long sets my brain aflame.

We live in dark times. One simply has to turn on the news to see the darkness that feasts upon the world. What people tend to forget is that the world has always been dark: there have always been wars, and discrimination, and fear, and the few controlling the plenty. Indeed, we exist in the safest point in history. But if there has always been dark, then the opposite is true too: there is always, always light.

I find my light in books. Some days, the darkness overwhelms and I have to read a lighthearted young adult romance, or a children’s lit adventure. Sometimes, I crave escape, and the world of fantasy calls me. In these books, I find a form of reassurance: while reading of a world so different from my own, I come to understand my life. Sometimes, I read the bleakest stories I can find, the ones with no happy ending that leave your pages crinkled from free-falling tears. In these books, my heart hurts, then it is reborn. I can heal with these characters and let out all the sadness that rests in my soul.

No matter what you read, you will understand. There is something that comes out, illuminating the words on the page and igniting emotion in your heart. Search for books that make you feel. Search for books that make you believe. Search for books that speak to what you cannot say.

Find your light.

Find it, and never let it go.

THE REST OF US JUST LIVE HERE: A Book Review

If you’ve ever read a book and thought to yourself “I wonder what the characters watching this think is happening” then this is the book for you.

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Patrick Ness is becoming one of my favourite authors. In just over a month, I have read 3 of his novels, and he really does not disappoint. While The Rest of Us Just Live Here is definitely the weakest of his works that I’ve read, it’s not a particularly bad book. It just didn’t grab my heart and rip it to shreds.

The premise is incredibly intelligent. Stylistically, this book was outstanding. The book takes the concept of the “hero” plot, and reduces it to the sideline: the chapter titles tell you what’s happening in the hero plot, but the novel itself is about the lives of some kids while this hero plot is going on. While these special kids (called the “indie kids” in the novel) are out saving the world, the protagonist Mikey and his friends are just trying to make it to graduation. Mikey, living his so-called normal life, of course sees that this hero plot is going on, and even gets a bit swept up in it sometimes, but that plot isn’t his story. His story is about dealing with OCD, friendships, and what he feels is unrequited love while trying to understand (but not get involved in) whatever the hell is happening in his home town.

It’s really, really, really great.

I mean, Ness takes the peripheral characters in a normal novel, and he makes them the mains, examining their lives and their stories. I hope some other authors follow his lead, and we see more books like this, about people who exist on the sidelines, living full lives while right beside them, the world is about to fall apart (literally).

I love how chill Mike is, and I love how jealousy is his defining trait. I love that he’s unlikable in many ways, and extremely relatable in others. I like how the book thoroughly examines his OCD, and his family’s many, many problems. I like how he’s chill about sexuality, and how he’s self-centered and insecure, and I absolutely love Jared. It’s about the normal kids, the kids who could be special and talented, but really, truly just want to live normal lives, which I think is awesome.

But it didn’t capture my heart. While I liked it, I didn’t love it, and it is the format rather than story that is going to stay with me. A valiant effort, and a really good book, but it’s not beautiful. But maybe it doesn’t have to be.

3 chosen ones out of 5.

 

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE: Some Thoughts

Look. Pride and Prejudice is one of those books where if you haven’t read it, can you really call yourself a reader? The Austen fan club is enormous, and spans across centuries. What is it about Austen’s work that makes it so unforgettable? Many a romance has been based on Pride and Prejudice, which is essential hate sex in its most gentle form. Elizabeth, proud and strong and independent, hates Mr Darcy because he’s— quiet? Socially awkward? Rich? All of the above? And then somehow, Mr Darcy proves himself to be anything but the prejudices Elizabeth has placed upon him.

By “somehow” I mean 300 pages of frustration because COME ON, LIZ. Get it together.

I’m currently taking a class on Jane Austen and what I’ve learned in the first 3 weeks is that Austen’s literature is much darker and much more sexual than what appears to the eye. It’s no secret that Austen’s works are hard to get through: her style and narrative form (free indirect discourse in abundance!) make reading her novels tough. There is little action: the novels run on emotion and thought alone. The setting and plot feels so far away from us, but are they really? Clearly not, because these stories are being told and retold over and over again.

Pride and Prejudice is a great novel, but I want to discover is what makes it so great. What is it about this story that makes people want to tell and retell it over and over, in one thousand different forms, and in every fandom ever.

P & P is one of my favourite love stories, yet I still don’t understand it. Do we identify with Elizabeth, or Darcy, or both? Is Pride and Prejudice a universal truth, or is there something playing underneath the surface, something subconscious that draws us in?

Say what you want about Austen’s style, but I think it’s impossible to call her anything but genius.

PLACEBO JUNKIES: A Book Review

This book is…. interesting.

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So at my local library, they have a display near the front of the YA section with a bunch of random YA novels. This is where I found Placebo Junkies by JC Carleson. I had never heard of it before, but it sounded interesting. The summary includes a reference to Trainspotting and I am drawn to that movie, so I figured that this book would be right up my alley.

It was, uh, interesting.

The plot is definitely unique. I didn’t even know that people genuinely make careers out of being human “guinea pigs” (or do they? was that something made up for the purpose of plot? I will have to research this). It was strangely wonderful to read about the abuse these people put their bodies and minds through for nothing more than some quick money. I mean, sure, volunteering for an experiment or two sounds cool, but these people do dozens, some of them at the same time. It sounds extremely dangerous, but in that thrilling, badass way. The premise is definitely captivating.

But something about the characters feels… off. It’s almost like watching them through two layers of glass and it’s starting to fog up. For a first person narrative, I never once felt close to Audie. In fact, I never even liked her. I almost feel like I don’t even know her. Now, it’s possible that the plot explains the reasons behind this. These people are under a lot of drugs, and Audie’s childhood was certainly traumatic and scarring. Then, there’s the “plot twist” which would further explain this distance. But I don’t really think that’s an excuse. I read to connect, and I felt no connection to any of the characters. It was kind of a bummer.

Then there was the plot twist. I won’t spoil it, but let me just say that I did not see it coming at all. Maybe I just hadn’t picked up the clues because, frankly, the novel is kind of boring at times. I would zone out and my eyes would glaze over the words. Or maybe I did notice the clues, but I dismissed them because this world is so unfamiliar to me: anything I thought strange, I just brushed aside because I didn’t understand the culture of “professional guinea pigs.” Or maybe I didn’t see the twist coming because it was completely unnecessary. The twist makes sense, and it does add a nice what the fuck? moment, but the book already had me asking that question nearly every other chapter. The story was already interesting, and I feel like the novel would have felt a lot more satisfying without the turn of events. Sometimes, simplicity is best.

So the novel is interesting. It’s an interesting culture, and an interesting life, filled with unknowable characters. It’s certainly different from anything I’ve ever read. I know I keep dropping the word “interesting,” but that’s all I can think of to describe it.

Interesting is not synonymous with good.

2.5 pills out of 5.

Extraordinary Means: A Review

Sometimes, I really want to like books more than I do.

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Are you ever disappointed with a book not because it’s bad, per se, but because it’s not what you thought it was? That’s how I feel about Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider. One day, I decided to browse the internet, searching for novels about tuberculosis. I wanted a book about the struggle between life and death, about your own body betraying itself. I wanted a novel that questions life and love and the unfairness of dying young. I wanted a book that would touch my heart and make me question everything. Mostly, I wanted a book about the terrible disease known as TB. Extraordinary Means popped up so I thought I’d give it a try. What startled me was that upon reading it, I soon discovered that this novel does not take place in the early 20th century: it takes place in the present. I didn’t want this to turn me off, but I fear that it did.

You see, once, years ago, I read a book set in the 1960s or so about a girl with TB. This book has haunted me since, coming back to me in quick flashes every so often. I wanted Extraordinary Means to be like that. I wanted its theme and characters and plot to stick with me, in my mind and in my heart. Instead, I read a light novel, despite dealing with serious themes like death and morality, that I will probably forget about in a week.

I have a complicated relationship with the main characters, Lane and Sadie. Lane starts off as rather relatable: he is a straight A student who feels so much pressure to achieve and be the best that he forgets how to live. Sadie seems to be this cute yet badass chick– totally my kind of girl. While Sadie remains rather consistent, I ended up liking Lane less and less as the novel went on. By the final chapter, I was yelling profanities at him (out loud). What I didn’t get, no matter how much I tried, was their relationship. I don’t understand why they gravitated towards each other, other than the fact that Sadie is “different” and Lane is some beautiful boy Sadie remembers from long ago. I never saw the connection and sparks between them. Maybe that’s the point: maybe the novel is less about love and more about the human need to cling to life as they approach their death. Either way, I just didn’t get it.

While I appreciated the fact that the novel wasn’t a sob-fest like, say, The Fault In Our Stars (which I still love, so fight me), I was surprised by how not-sad it was. I didn’t cry or even feel sad during any part of it. In fact, I think the saddest I felt was when you get to see how segregated and feared these poor young people are. The plot in terms of who-is-going-to-die is fairly predictable, and I’m almost embarrassed to admit that towards the end, I just kept repeating “nuh uh, you’re gonna die.” Maybe I’m heartless, or maybe I just didn’t care.

The book isn’t all bad. Most of the supporting characters are very likable and interesting. The plot is predictable, yes, but it’s enjoyable. It’s a light ride, as I said before, but I’m sure it probably touches base with a lot of people and can evoke some deep emotions. Extraordinary Means has potential but in my eyes, it just didn’t quite reach what it wanted to achieve. If you’re looking for a lighter read about more than boy-meets-girl or for a YA romance with some deep themes about life and the fear of death, then this novel might be the right book for you.

I’m just sad it wasn’t the right book for me.

2 vodka-apple juice boxes out of 5.