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Wow. I just finished If I Stay by Gayle Forman, and it's safe to say I've never read anything like it before. I was so captivated by this novel and it's concept that it was hard to put down. It's about a 17-year-old gir, Mia, who, at the beginning of the book, has a great life. She has a loving family, loyal best friend, the popular rocker boyfriend who's totally devoted to her. Oh, and she's an amazing cellist. Like, going to Juilliard amazing. Until, on an impromptu drive, her family's car is hit by a truck and Mia finds herself in the hospital fighting for her life. The majority of the novel is spent with Mia in spirit form watching as family, friends, and her boyfriend Adam fight for her to stay in the world of the living. While in the hospital, Mia realizes that it is her decision alone if she will stay.
A couple of quotes really stuck out to me in this book. The first occurs on pg. 108 when Mia describes how her best friend Kim saved her from quitting the cello. "I was overwhelmed with gratitude to be friends with someone who often seemed to understand me better than I understood myself." I like this quote because we all want that one friend, and if we have that one friend, we hold on to them with an iron grip. Some of us get lucky and meet that friend in kindergarten, and others, like Mia, don't meet that friend until they are older. No matter when you meet that friend, you somehow just know that friend is "the one." And let's be honest, friends are just about the biggest part of school. If you have a friend who has your back, you can get through anything. I mean ANYTHING. That's what makes a best friend so special. Kim does not disappoint in the best friend arena. While Mia is in the hospital, Kim does all that she can to make sure Mia gets through this "anything."
I think one reason I like this book is because it doesn't sugar coat the realities of life. It's very honest about the fact that sometimes life is a picnic...and sometimes it's not. Mia is a high school senior and her boyfriend Adam is in college. They've naturally started to go in different directions but neither wants to admit it. Mia says, "My stomach lurched, an appetizer before the full portion of heartache I had a feeling was going to be served at some point soon," (171). We've all been there, dealing with a struggle of some sort. Maybe it's a boyfriend who's going in a different direction, a friend who betrays us, or something else entirely. But we've all felt that stomach lurch. Having lived through my fair share of stomach lurches, (and realizing I've surely got more to come), it also struck me how, in the moment, sometimes the struggle seems like it's the only thing going on in the world. But, after we push through it, we look back on it and realize it wasn't so bad. Maybe it was even good we went through it because it made us stronger. It's helped us to grow in some way. So I guess I appreciate the book's admittance of reality. Sometimes we want to read to escape life's realities, and sometimes we need a dose of reality itself. This book definitely gives us that.
I just finished reading Monster, by Walter Dean Myers, at the recommendation of a peer, and I'm glad it was recommended to me. Monster is about a 16-year-old African American boy, Steve Harmon, who is on trial for a robbery gone wrong at a convenience store in his neighborhood. Steve lives in a rough neighborhood in New York, and because of his tangental association with the people in his neighborhood who were seen committing the crime, he is accused as well. The book starts at Steve's trial and follows the proceedings all the way through to a verdict. I won't spoil the ending for you, but I will say that I was on the edge of my seat reading it.
Even though the book was written in 1999, it could have easily been set in 2016. The book touches on themes of racial profiling and portrays an institutionally biased criminal justice system. As I was reading the narrative bits of the book, and listening to Steve's internal debate on whether or not he is a monster because society has deemed him so, I couldn't help but to connect it with what we've been seeing on the news lately. As the book goes on, we come to see that there is no real evidence against Steve, except that he lives in a bad neighborhood and knows some of the people who live there and who have done bad things. Therefore he is presumed guilty by association.
So if I haven't got you hooked by the plot, I'll tell you the structure of this book is really cool. It's considered multi-genre because it jumps around between Steve's diary, photo's, and a screenplay that Steve is writing of the whole thing. We find out midway through the novel that Steve is quite a talented film maker, and as a result, he decides to tell the whole story of his trial as if it is a movie. The book uses different fonts for each genre the reader sees, which adds a cool visual element as well. Another cool effect of this multi-genre approach, is that we get to see the story from a first person POV (Steve's via his diary) and a third person objective POV (via the screenplay). This contrasting POV gives the story yet another layer of interest as the reader waits to see how Steve will react to each courtroom scene.
One more bonus, it's a quick read. At just 281 pages and with large font on many of the pages, it's a good one to grab if you don't have a lot of time on your hands. However, that does not make the book any less thought-provoking. In a very short amount of space, Walter Dean Myers has provided his readers with a story that addresses real, deep issues. It's a book that will certainly leave an impact.
I just finished reading The Fault in Our Stars by John Green and all I can say is, grab a tissue. Actually, grab the whole box because you’re gonna need them. I don’t think you can get through that book without crying. And I’m not talking one graceful tear that gently slides down your cheek, I’m talking full on ugly cry. I must admit I’ve avoided reading this book for about four years now precisely because I knew it was going to be a tough read. I mean, kids with cancer is never a fun subject. You know someone is going to die and The Fault in Our Stars does deal with death. But really, the book is about life, and not letting something define you. But to be honest, I didn’t cry because of the dying. I expected death. I cried because the journey through life - what little there was - was so beautiful.
Ok so if you haven’t read it or seen the movie at this point you are wondering what the heck this book is about. So I’ll tell you but I won’t get into any spoilers. The book follows two teens, Hazel and Augustus, who meet in a Teen Cancer Support Group. As you would expect, they fall in love, but, being kids with cancer makes loving someone complicated. In addition to their falling in love, they also go on a quest to uncover the ending of their mutual favorite novel, An Imperial Affliction. A journey that teaches them both a few things they weren’t expecting.
Suffice to say, I loved this book. I loved this book so much that I finished this book in a day. I literally could not put it down. Despite the ugly cry tears that had me literally sobbing out loud, this book was absolutely amazing. What makes it so? I think it all boils down to Hazel. The story is narrated by her and, in my opinion, her character makes the book as great as it is. Yes, she’s living with cancer, but she approaches it all in such a logical and at times witty manner, that the reader is not made to pity her the entire time. In fact, despite her physical limitations, she is a very strong character, which I liked.
How does Green do this? Well for one, he has Hazel call out “cancer book tropes” while still incorporating the necessary “cancer book tropes” into his book. On page one, Hazel tells us that she’s going to support group because her mother thinks she is depressed. Hazel thinks, “Whenever you read a cancer booklet or website or whatever, they always list depression among the side effects of cancer. But, in fact, depression is not a side effect of cancer. Depression is a side effect of dying,” (3). In this way, Hazel acknowledges that she’s depressed, as are most cancer patients, but unlike most cancer patients, she’s thought about why she’s depressed and it’s not because she has cancer, it’s because she’s going to die. She continues to explain how cancer has impacted her life and what non-cancer patients think vs. the reality that cancer patients experience. So right from page one, I as a reader felt like this was a character who was going to be real with me about cancer. While she may be a bit depressed (“cancer trope”) she does not approach this depression in the way other characters living with cancer have. I found this to be really refreshing. It gave me some relief as a reader to know that this person wasn’t going to let cancer define her, but was going to think through her disease and come to a logical conclusion about how it affects her.
Another thing, Hazel is witty, and I find her quips to be hilarious. She doesn’t allow her condition to affect her personality. She is who she is and doesn’t apologize for it. This is why Augustus falls for her, and it’s why I love her too. For example, after she meets her idol, Peter Van Houten, only to find out that he’s a total loser, she tells him, “I think you’re a pathetic alcoholic who says fancy things to get attention like a really precocious eleven-year-old and I feel super bad for you” (pg. 276). Burn, Hazel, burn. She cuts right to the core of his inadequacies and doesn't apologize for it. In this way, Green creates a character that is so strong despite her physical weaknesses, and for this, we love her.
Yes, you may cry, but The Fault in Our Stars isn’t one to miss. There is so much about it that’s good, it’s hard to find much bad. Bottom line, read the book. You won’t regret it.
I just finished reading Girl at War by Sara Novic. Girl at War is a historical fiction novel about a young girl, Ana Juric, who is living through the Yugoslavian Civil War. When the war breaks out she is only ten years old and trying to understand what is going on around her. After the death of her parents, she escapes to America where she is forced to deal with her survivor's guilt. Only problem, most people in America have never even heard of the Yugoslavian Civil War, and no one understands what she's gone through. She decides that she must return to her home country of Croatia if she is ever to find peace.
While I enjoyed the storyline of Girl at War, the structure of the novel left me feeling overly confused, and the novel seemed to end without ever giving the reader a sense of closure. Perhaps that was the point, but I personally found it very disappointing. The novel alternates between 10-year-old Ana and 20-year-old Ana. It starts with young Ana at the start of the war, but once her parents are killed it quickly fast-forwards to Ana at 20 going to college in America without any explanation of how she got there. I think the intended purpose was to add drama to the story but it left me frustrated and needing answers. On the other hand, it kept me reading.
Once Ana decides to go back to Croatia, the story very suddenly jumps back to young Ana, and the reader finally learns how Ana ended up living in America. Then, almost without warning, the reader goes back to college Ana, who is traveling in search of her godparents. I won't spoil the ending but I will say it ends a bit abruptly and had me wondering: What was the point of all that?
Overall, I enjoyed reading the book but I wouldn't say it was the best book I've ever read. I did appreciate the suspense that was created with the movement between young Ana and adult Ana, and it is a compelling story. My only real complaint is the ending. If you like historical fiction, I think it's worth checking out. Maybe you'll feel differently. If you do, be sure to let me know in class!