Green – Review

“It seemed like the smoke of those riots spread all across the continent, all the way to Boston.”

Green is a unique coming of age story, told from 12 year old David Greenfield, growing up in Boston in the early 90’s. The year Green focuses on for the entirety of the novel, is the year 92-93. We start when Dave is entering 6th grade, and the novel ends right before his 7th grade year begins.

The year is significant, because this school year is a milestone year for Dave. He has the only chance to take an entrance exam to get into Latin, a school that grooms students for college. The school is also notoriously a feeder school for Harvard. And Dave feels that Harvard is the answer to all of his problems. Or at least out of the ghetto he believes he and his family lives in.

Even more significantly, Dave feels very self-conscious attending King Middle School. He is one of a very small population of white kids, and he feels after the riots and Rodney King trial, that suddenly, his being white is more noticeable to his peers than before.

His first few weeks of school are exactly as he expects: being ignored, or hassled, feeling left out and left behind. His parents won’t buy him new shoes or stylish clothes. Even his quasi best friend ditches him for cooler friends. But life begins to look up when Marlon Wellings sticks up for him to a bully and their friendship begins to grow.

“It’s starting to hit me: Mar isn’t just my best friend, he’s my first. Up until now I had no idea just how lonely I’d been.”

I am on the fence with this book, and my review may contain some mild spoilers, though I will try and avoid them as much as possible.

This novel is based on the author’s own childhood and experiences. And, in that sense, I can’t argue. I can say, however, that I didn’t really connect with Dave and the style that it’s written is very distracting. Mostly, I’m referring to the language. So. Much. Slang.

Here’s the thing with slang. I get that kids use slang words. It’s that this is a book written from Dave’s perspective, solely in the first person. And I just don’t buy that a kid would talk this much slang, all the time, as the voice in his head. It didn’t feel natural or real to me. I’ve never met anyone who talks like this kid. Maybe they exist, maybe this really is how a kid would hear himself speak. I don’t know. But for me, it didn’t feel real.

It’s hard to say if the author chose to write that way to highlight the way Dave felt out of place and was trying so hard to fit in. Because the kid does try to fit in. He is ashamed of his own personality, or so it seems, and only wants to fit in with the cool kids. So perhaps the slang is simply really driving home how hard he tries and how awkward he really is. It certainly felt awkward reading, so I can see that angle.

I also have an issue with how his brother Benno is handled. We know that Benno has chosen not to speak for over a year. That he had an accident, where he cut himself, and since then has been under therapeutic care and attends a special school. Dave often resents the treatment Benno gets. One example is how Benno gets tater tots with meals, while Dave is forced to eat homegrown vegetables and rarely gets processed food. Benno often gets to stay home from school and has little rules dictating his behavior at home.

I find it odd that parents who are so invested in one child, would be so oblivious to the anxiety of their other child. I suppose it happens, parents often can make a healthy child feel overlooked in the face of a sick one, but they rarely even try to explain what’s going on with Benno when Dave tries to talk to them about his own struggles. Even worse, we never even get to understand or learn why or what Benno is going through.

But what really bothers me about the book the most, is that Dave doesn’t seem to learn any lessons at all. He complains, often and loudly, about no one having his back. Yet, he repeatedly lets his friends get beat up and picked on. Even when Mar spells this out to him, he can’t muster the courage to even speak up, let alone jump in to help. He acknowledges his fear, but never seems to comprehend that no one will defend him unless he starts defending either himself or others.

Dave is obviously a kid so desperate for attention and approval, that he is willing to sacrifice his friends feelings and needs if someone ‘better’ is around and offering either of those things. And he doesn’t seem to understand why his relationship with Mar changes after betrayal after betrayal occurs. He is oblivious. Which I would expect of a kid, but Mar is patient and explains his reactions multiple times. Dave just doesn’t want to settle for anything he perceives as less. Unfortunately, Mar falls into that less category too frequently to maintain a semblance of a friendship. And while Mar seems to realize this, Dave never sees his role in the distance.

“His head is tilted to the universe, but he looks more lonely than awed. Everyone else is smiling and pointing, and he’s just standing there, squinting, biting his upper lip.”

A good come of age novel should have an “aha” moment. A moment where the main characters realizes where he went wrong and attempts to fix it. Dave sort of has this moment at the end, a moment where he confronts his old best friend and tries to talk to Mar one last time. But it felt like very little, and far too late. And even then, I never got the sense that Dave really understood why Mar distanced himself from Dave.

This book is supposed to be about class and privilege. And while it’s clear to the reader that Dave is sort of spoiled and immature and very privileged, Dave himself never really seems to have his “aha” moment. He realizes he has made wrong choices in regards to his friendship with Mar, but it’s completely unclear by the end of the book whether he really understands how much easier his life is simply because of the color of his skin.

He feels a lot of resentment towards the other kids in his neighborhood because of the color of his skin, but he never seems to piece together that this resentment is because of his privilege not him. Maybe that realization is difficult for a sixth grader to comprehend, but since so much of this novel hinges on that dynamic, it’s hard to sympathize with a kid who feels picked on, and can identify racist behavior without understanding at least on some level that he lives a far different life than his peers. Especially when he visually sees the drastic differences in their living conditions and lives.

I’ve read books that I’ve enjoyed without liking the main character. But, this is a tough one, because he is the story. And I just didn’t like him. Maybe I was meant to sympathize with him feeling ostracized and confused about who he is. But he just didn’t come across as likable. He needed more redeeming moments and to become aware of his privilege far earlier in the novel.

Thank you to the First To Read program for sending an early copy to read and review.

 

 

 

I Like You Like This – Review I also

“Hannah always tried her best to hold it together. Tears only made it worse. Eventually she’d gotten used to the tormenting and pretended to be in on the joke.”

Hannah Zandana lives a bleak life. She faces unrelenting bullying at home and at school, and only wants to find a place where she belongs. This desire to fit in has her come up with a plan to buy drugs in order to impress the popular girls at her school. The only positive thing that comes out of this bad plan is gaining the attention of the drug dealer, Deacon.

There may be some minor spoilers in my review, for those who have not read yet. There are also several trigger warnings including drug abuse, verbal abuse, and bullying.

I wanted to like this book. I did. A book with dark themes relevant to teenagers is a book we actually need more of. Unfortunately, this book missed the mark for me.

To start with, the abuse from her parents was odd. They are verbally abusive; perhaps more, but that was really unclear. There is only one drug induced scene, where physical, maybe even sexual violence, is introduced. It was presented to feel like a repressed memory, but it was never brought up or explored again, so I’m not really sure.

They constantly belittle Hannah, berate her, ignore her and are generally extremely vicious towards her. Even though we get an attempt at an explanation of their behavior towards her, it felt very shallow and unrealistic. The level of abuse in relation to the feeble explantation was simply lacking.

“Hannah was a human pincushion for her parents’ criticism, and there was always ample room for just one more jab.”

As far as her attempts to impress the popular girls at school, choosing to buy drugs for a party seems like an odd choice. It’s never really explored that these popular girls would even be in the drug scene, just that everyone knew where to get ‘the good stuff’. The entire initial deal is awkward and weird, and the ensuing relationship between Hannah and Deacon continues down that path.

The characters and plot felt more like an array of scenes rather than a cohesive plot. Hannah is unsure of herself, has no self-confidence or self-esteem but she somehow manages to threaten and fight off the bullies of her school with no problems when it suits her. Other times she’s a quivering mess that can’t stand up for herself. That didn’t feel real to me.

It was set in 1984, which is very specific and I was hoping it was for a specific reason. The only reason I could gather was to introduce how crack changed drug addiction in some areas, but that was such a brief mention, I may be grasping at straws for that connection. Product specific nods, or other pop culture references were added in, but for the most part they were clunky and unnecessary.

I also really didn’t like Deacon. He’s supposed to be rich and charming, but damaged. A very cliche ‘more than just a bad boy’ character. He never really showed the kinder side underneath, and after one near rape scene, I was pretty done with his misunderstood excuses.

“She searched his face. His constrained grin didn’t match his words or the shot of sadness in his eyes.”

There are some problems with the romance portion of the book. Hannah doesn’t necessarily find herself other own, but rather changes her identity as a result of her relationship. The fact that the relationship is unhealthy, and at times, even toxic doesn’t send the message I would want in a YA book. I always struggle with books where the theme is we need someone else to become whole. Love is important, but it isn’t the key ingredient in self-worth or the journey to finding out who we are.

This book felt like a really good draft, and I felt like it had a lot of potential. There are some very serious topics introduced, but the opportunity to explore them is largely untapped. While bullying, abuse and drug use are all brought up, the majority of the story focuses on the weird romance between Hannah and Deacon instead. The deeper examination is lacking and it leaves the book feeling superficial rather than hard hitting.

As I said, I think that YA books that tackle the issues presented in this book are really important. They can help kids going through similar struggles and traumas feel understood, seen and maybe even help them work through them. But when these issues aren’t explored as fully as they should be, it can do more of a disservice to those teens who need it most.

Thank you BookSparks and She Writes Press for sending me a copy to read and review.

Turtles All The Way Down – Review

“The thing about a spiral is, if you follow it inward, it never actually ends. It just keeps tightening, infinitely.”

There are about a million different thoughts rushing through my brain about this book, but there’s really only one that’s important. If you’ve ever known someone to struggle with mental illness, this book helps open a window into understanding. And if you’ve ever struggled yourself, read this to know that you are not alone.

Aza has OCD. She can’t help but think of the billions upon billions of bacteria that reside in her body and how any one of them can hijack the system, completely taking over and possibly ending in her death. One thought can lead to another, and before she can stop, she’s being pulled into a thought spiral, which she calls invasives.

“It’s just an invasive. Everyone has them. But you can’t shut yours up. Since you’ve had a reasonable amount of cognitive behavioral therapy, you tell yourself, I am not my thoughts, even though deep down you’re not sure exactly what that makes you.”

When we first meet Aza, we meet her best friend Daisy along with all of their lunch table friends along with her disorder, all at the same time. It’s an amazing introduction. We are seamlessly submersed into the world of Aza and her friends. We also learn that there’s a billionaire fugitive on the loose with a sizable reward for information leading to his capture. Which would be simple lunchroom gossip, except, as Daisy is insistent to point out, Aza once knew his son.

This novel is a stunning coming of age, both vivid and breathtaking. But what sets it apart isn’t the raw honesty regarding living with mental illness. It’s that Green explores issues of substance, that anyone of any age can relate to in some fashion. This novel is wonderfully complex. It isn’t only when we are teenagers that we question the nature of our existence, or the meaning of love in all it’s beauty and consequence. But there is a certain poignancy in framing these questions not just in an adolescent perspective, but also in the specific view of mental illness.

“But I also had a life, a normal-ish life, which continued. For hours or days, the thoughts would leave me be, and I could remember something my mom told me once: Your now is not your forever.”

I don’t have OCD. But, I do have my own struggles, and everything Aza thinks and goes through is so relatable. The parts that aren’t relatable, are presented in such a raw way that they are easily understandable. I don’t know if others with anxiety or depression have them, but I really relate to thought spirals, things that invade my mind and paralyze me for moments, hours or even days at a time. They aren’t about bacteria or germs, but they are there nonetheless. It’s hard to explain them sometimes, and Green brings them to life, in all of their weird intensity.

More than that, Green is unflinching in his portrayal of the guilt, the loneliness, the fear and the uncertainty, and all the complex emotions that go along with mental illness.

“I know you’re not trying to make me feel pressure, but it feels like I’m hurting you, like I’m committing assault or something, and it makes me feel ten thousand times worse. I’m doing my best, but I can’t stay sane for you, okay?”

This is something that I rarely come across in books about mental illness. The way you feel like you have to be okay, even when you’re not, because people around you are worried about you. The pressure to make everything seem fine. It isn’t that they’re asking you to lie, necessarily, but the worry and the fear are palpable to you. It’s hard to explain why you can’t just be better. Why you can’t just be normal. So sometimes it becomes easier to just try and cover it all up. They don’t mean to add pressure, and you feel terrible for even suggesting that they’re making it worse. But they do, and sometimes they are.

This isn’t a book where we get a superficial look at the relationships in Aza’s life either. The relationship with Daisy was one of the best, in my opinion. Being best friends with someone is an intimate relationship. In some ways, even more intimate than a romantic one. I adored Daisy. She’s fun, sassy, funny, loyal and driven. But she’s complicated and struggles to understand Aza. Even more important than understanding her, is simply loving her and accepting her.

“What I want to say to you, Holmesy, is that yes, you are exhausting, and yes, being your friend is work. But you are the most fascinating person I have ever known.”

This struggle felt so real, because living with mental illness is exhausting sometimes, and loving someone with mental illness can be just as exhausting. It doesn’t need to be excused or justified or apologized for. And the honesty it took to examine this aspect of their relationship is heartbreaking and amazing.

We fight with our moms, our friends, people we know, sometimes people we don’t. Yet, when people know you struggle with mental illness in any facet, this fight tends to be held back. Your actions are excused, or justified, or worse, relationships get distant and fragile. So when you find people that will confront you, and fight with you, and make you feel normal (even when it makes you feel awful) it can feel monumental. Green gets that, and captures it beautifully.

“You remember your first love because they show you, prove to you, that you can love and be loved, that nothing in this world is deserved except for love, that love is both how you become a person, and why.”

I still feel that there is so much more to say about this book, but honestly, I don’t think I can capture everything in one blog post. This book made me feel so many things. I laughed, and cried, and flagged quote after quote. It is beautiful and necessary and such an important contribution to the conversation about mental health.

It isn’t easy to admit to mental illness. It’s even harder to describe that struggle. To open yourself up exposes you to the world in an intimate vulnerability that is difficult no matter who you are. John Green opens a piece of himself up to us by writing this gorgeous book. Aza is fictional, yes, but the truths written within her character are very real. So to him, I say thank you. Thank you, for writing a book that made me feel seen. That made me feel understood. That just made me feel.

I highly, highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone!

 

The Heart’s Invisible Furies – Review

“Anything is possible,” I said. “But most things are unlikely.”

The Heart’s Invisible Furies is an epic, all-encompassing story spanning the life of Cyril Avery. Cyril is adopted, “not a real Avery”, as his adopted parent’s Charles and Maude often remind him, growing up in the 1950’s in Ireland. Even though his adoptive parent’s remind him, (quite frequently), of his adoptive status, Cyril doesn’t find himself neglected, or even uncared for. He is simply a participant in an odd family.

Cyril knows he is different. It isn’t just his relationship to his adoptive parents. He is quiet and shy and has a stutter. But nothing life shattering sets him apart. Until Charles ends up arrested and goes to trial for tax evasion. This normally wouldn’t have anything to do with Cyril, no more than natural consequences would provide. However, as fate would have it, this brings Julian Woodbead into Cyril’s life, which sparks his trajectory down a new, frightening path altogether.

“And a moment later I realized I didn’t feel shy around him at all. And that my stutter had gone.”

Even though the interaction between the two boys is brief, it is emblazoned into Cyril’s young mind. And while most boys begin to dream of girls, Cyril finds himself dreaming of Julian. Years later, when another twist of fate brings Julian to the same school, and Cyril’s new roommate, his love for his friend cements firmly and stubbornly into his soul; and launches a complicated, lifelong friendship.

“But for all that we had, for all the luxury to which we were accustomed, we were both denied love, and this deficiency would be scorched into our future lives like an ill-considered tattoo inscribed on the buttocks after a drunken night out, leading each of us inevitably toward isolation and disaster.”

Growing up during that time period as a gay man was difficult most places in the world. In Catholic, conservative Ireland, it is near impossible. We feel the fear as Cyril walks through parks and pubs, terrified of being beaten and subsequently arrested by the Garda for simply trying to find companionship. We feel the guilt and confusion of wanting to be “normal”. We feel the exhaustion of constantly living a double life and maintaining a constant lie.

Boyne writes so beautifully, it is easy to hear the Irish lilt in their dialogue and feel the depth of Cyril’s emotions. There is a sharp humor in these characters. With all their dysfunction, Charles and Maude are entertaining people who you have to laugh at since they seem to be incapable of seeing the ridiculousness of their ways. And Cyril himself is very funny without trying, or in some instances, even meaning to be.

This is a beast of a book, and yet I read it easily in a few days. This is a book where you fall completely in love with the characters, and get lost in the drama of their lives. Cyril, for all his flaws and mistakes, is very likable. He makes some very wrong choices, but it would be difficult to say anyone would make different ones given the same set of circumstances.

“We all fall in the shit many times during our lives. The trick is pulling ourselves out again.”

And while this is such a beautiful book, make no mistake, it will rip your heart out. Because you will feel the cruel underside of human nature deeply and profoundly in these pages. You will feel what it is to be hated simply for who you are. To be afraid for your life. To be on the receiving end of bigotry. It isn’t easy to bear. For all the warmth and humor and wit, there is an sharp wrenching pain as well.

Which is why these characters and this book will stay with you. It is reminiscent of life. Sometimes funny, sometimes warm, sometimes lonely, sometimes painful. And yet, overall, very full and rich and full of meaning.

Throughout Cyril’s life, we also get to witness monumental shifts in society. We see the impact of the IRA, the horrific terror of the early days of AIDS, the historic vote to grant marriage to all. We see how attitudes towards homosexuals varied from openly accepting in Amsterdam to barely veiled contempt in America.

But for each shift in time, each life lesson that Cyril experiences, for better or for worse, he grows as a person. He begins to learn to accept his mistakes and his failures. Learns to forgive, himself and those who have wronged him. He learns to accept himself. And it is in this acceptance that he finds not just peace, but acceptance in return.

“Maybe there were no villains in my mother’s story at all. Just men and women, trying to do their best by each other. And failing.”

Sometimes life doesn’t give us villains wrapped in a nice, black bow. Sometimes we are presented with good people who make terrible decisions in the name of the greater good. Sometimes we get people just trying to live the only way they know how.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies will remind you that life is sometimes hard. That we don’t always know what we’re doing. That we will make some great decisions and some terrible ones with inconsequential ones strung in between. We will have fond memories and regrets. But the most important thing is to live. To continue to move forward, and try every day to live better than the last.

There are some amazing life lessons wrapped in this plot. Lessons on forgiveness and acceptance, yes. But also lessons on how to let go of this illusion of control we imagine we have over our lives. Charles and Maude showcase the best examples of this. Julian shows us the lesson of friendship and love, while Alice allows us to see how to let go of hurt and forgive. And throughout it all, Mrs. Goggin let’s us see how to let go of regret. Cyril, of course, comes wrapped with all of these and more.

Easily one of the top five books I’ve read in 2017, I would recommend this book to anyone. Be ready to fall in love. To laugh. To cry. I wish I could do the eloquence of this book justice, but I don’t know that I can. All I can do is urge you to pick up this book. You won’t regret it.

Thank you Hogarth Books and Blogging for Books for sending me this book to read and review.

Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined – Review

“This whole trip could have been set up to prove it to me once and for all. Life isn’t fair, and anything is possible.”

Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined is a stunning book. It so fully captures the heartbreaking nature of living. The depth and warmth and aching beauty of this book will stay with me for a long, long time.

Ingrid grew up listening to her mother sing. They traveled throughout Europe and her mother always encouraged her to follow her dreams and believe in herself. Until that career came to an unexpected end, and they moved into a smaller, more normal life.

“We believed in hard work, but we also believed in magic.”

Somehow, years later, Ingrid finds herself thrown into a summertime wilderness survival trip, made in a strange negotiation with her mother in order to go to the school of her dreams. The magic her mother believed in, that she taught Ingrid to believe in, had disappeared. To have to prove her determination to follow her dreams, to her own mother, is unbelievable to Ingrid. She treks into the wilderness feeling alone but simmering with an anger that makes her more determined than ever.

I adored Ingrid. Adored her! If I had known her as a teenager, we probably would have been friends. She is smart, and funny, and quirky. But she also has had an artist for a mother. An artist who wasn’t always as stable and reliant and motherly as she needed. As a result, she is a very adult teenager. But still a teenager. She swings between emotions whiplash quick at times. She feels the magic of first love and finding her passion, but also feels the fear children feel when parents behave in odd and unpredictable ways.

It’s hard sometimes to capture the tumultuous nature of adolescence. Or, at least to capture an aspect of it that can be relatable to a wide audience. Not everyone lived an unstable life growing up. Or had emotional issues. Or problems with the law. And often, we find main characters struggling through some sort of extreme in many YA novels.

And don’t get me wrong. Ingrid is struggling through some heavy issues. But the way Young-Ullman draws us into the story, through a series of journal letters, flashes to the past and narration of the current story, we get to know Ingrid before we understand what happened. I really liked that, because especially in a situation like a wilderness survival trip, that is how we get to know people. True, this is more intimate, but it is still a relationship that develops slowly. With each letter, with each flash to the past, you can’t help but feel for Ingrid. She may have grown up in a glamorous setting, in a privileged way, but that doesn’t mean it has been easy for her.

I haven’t specifically been through a trip like Ingrid’s. But I have been through plenty of therapy, group included, and these often included group interaction in activities like ropes courses and problem solving and other similar activities that Pat and Bonnie lead this group through. If the author hadn’t been through some sort of similar experience, I would be shocked because she absolutely nailed it. The frustration, and embarrassment, and fear, and even the close friendships that can develop.

These types of therapies are popular for a variety of reasons. And sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. I happen to agree with Ingrid in many of her assessments and reactions, but not everyone will. However, even if you don’t agree, or haven’t been through any similar activities, I think everyone will relate to Ingrid, on some level. The author did an excellent job of balancing this piece of the novel; however, and the result shows you the good and the bad.

I also loved how the author used Pat and Bonnie to demonstrate the fine line therapies like this can walk. They represent the different theories and approaches that these programs can take. I loved the other participants in these programs. They were all very vivd characters, full of refreshing depth. Writing a variety of at-risk youth in a way that makes them feel well-developed and real isn’t easy, and was done incredibly well. Honestly, everything was solid and realistic.

Everything Beautiful is such a beautiful book. We all struggle through heartbreak and grief in our lives. Sometimes we are young, sometimes we are old, and while each experience is unique to the circumstance, the raw power of those emotions are so similar in us all. We feel Ingrid’s pain, her anger, her stubbornness. We watch as the solitude of this experience forces her to face the things she doesn’t want to face.

Nature has always been a source of centering and a way to find yourself. Getting lost in the balance of nature forces us to face ourselves in the most raw way. I loved how this setting was used to peel away the layers of Ingrid and her own stubborn nature. Sometimes we need extreme measures to face extreme emotions, and this novel captured every detail of this extremeness perfectly.

“In your eyes you look better. Fast rivers and slow forests seem to agree with you.”

Ingrid isn’t cured, or fixed, or healed by the end. Nothing about this novel was cliche or predictable or boring. I felt the entire time that I was experiencing the life of a teenage girl, struggling through a difficult time, and finding some understanding but no real answers. Which I absolutely loved.

By the end, my heart ached for Ingrid. Not in a heartbreaking way, although there is heartbreak on many levels in this book. But heartbreaking in the way growing up always is. Our hearts break a million different tiny ways in our lives, and a handful of big ways. They break and they heal and we are stronger for it.

“Instead I stand under the giant sky counting stars, feeling scared and raw, but at the same time full, fierce, open.”

I highly, highly recommend this book. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I began, and flew through it. Ingrid found her way into my heart. Danielle Young-Ullman is an author I will definitely be reading more of!

Thank you to Xpresso Book Tours for sending me this book to read and review in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

How To Behave In a Crowd – Review

“I guess that’s what happens when you’re the only one to notice a thing: you feel responsible for it.”

How To Behave In A Crowd follows a French family living in a small town in rural France. We get our introduction and view of the family from the youngest son, Isadore. Dory, or Izzy, as he would prefer to be called, feels separate from his family. The rest of his siblings have all skipped grades, shown to be prodigies in one way or another, sometimes multiple ways. Yet Dory is in the grade he belongs and has no idea what he wants to do or who he wants to be.

Rather than presenting a straight forward coming-of-age tale, the Mazal family is struck by a tragedy early in the book. This tragedy becomes the defining moment of the family, and so the book, in how each member moves forward with their grief.

Even though Dory isn’t a prodigy academically, he is prone to observing and understanding people better than the rest of his family. This sensitivity and ability to empathize, is his family’s best shot at healing from their grief.

“I knew my mother thought that of me. That I was kind, and good at reading people’s emotions. What I didn’t understand was why she thought it was a good thing.”

This book was presented as a dark comedy. While I did see the darker aspects of humor in the characters, the comedy of it didn’t quite work for me. I could see the quirks written into each character to make them seem eccentric, aloof, and in their own way, humorous, but it just didn’t work entirely for me.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed the book. But rather than finding the humor in the writing, it felt very tragic and sad. Dory was meant to be the one to bring the family together and help them heal, but I didn’t see that happen. In fact, in a rather abrupt ending, we are told about Dory’s role, rather than shown that role.

The fact that Dory feels unseen and out of place is made very clear. I realize that eccentric people can seem cold and unfeeling, when really they have much more depth. In fact, this depth is usually where the humor lies. I think for me; however, we are never really shown that depth from anyone but the mother. We are shown the struggles that Dory’s siblings go through, but how he helps them to resolve those struggles is a little less clear.

By the time I reached the end, and Dory gets hit with another severe emotional trauma, I was fairly fed up with the family. Instead of coming across as eccentric, quirky but well-meaning members, they all came across as self-absorbed and dysfunctional.

I imagine that being the youngest of six children would make any child feel somewhat invisible. I can also understand how living a normal life in a family of prodigies would really highlight that feeling. But the siblings all felt too absorbed in their own intellect to really try and connect with each other. I didn’t get the sense of a big family, full of unique personalities, challenging each other. Instead, the siblings were all involved in their own projects, their own lives, and had a difficult time connecting. One scene described all the siblings home, the visitor asking if Dory was by himself due to the quietness of the home. It gave the impression of a home that is sterile, cold, devoid of any warmth that a family should provide. Again, it felt more dysfunctional to me, rather than eccentric. Having the mother emphasize Dory’s kindness and empathy only drives home that the other siblings aren’t.

“Sometimes, I feel like I brought up a batch of little misanthropes,” she said. “You’re all so intolerant. You only look up from your books to criticize the rest of the world.”

The trauma Dory experiences, both instances of it, leave him with an anger that demands an outlet. I really would have enjoyed that anger land him in some sort of trouble that forces the family to rally around him. When you hear the book compared to The Royal Tennenbaums, you can easily picture this crisis. It would have provided the siblings and even the mother the chance to redeem their quirks, their selfishness, their lack of interaction. Instead, we are given half attempts from half of the family. His anger is somewhat released, left largely unaddressed and there isn’t a clear path forward when the novel closes.

Ambiguity in a character isn’t a problem for me. Life ends nightly on unknowns for all of us. In general, I love when a novel shows the openness and possibility at the end, and if fits the character. In this case, I had no sense of hope for Dory. There was no sense that the siblings would ever be involved in his life, or change their efforts in regards to him. the mother did seem to be more aware of his struggles and there was hope that she would perhaps change, but given how small her role in the family was in relation to Dory, I’m not sure that was as satisfying as it could have been.

In all, the book was melancholy and sad. I felt terrible for Dory throughout the entire book. This kid needed friends, family support and most of the time a really big hug. Perhaps that’s the American in me. Maybe it was a cultural translation that didn’t work for me. I’m not sure, but whatever the reason I just didn’t connect with this family.

Thank you to the Penguin Random House First to Read program and Crown Publishing for the early copy in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

Grace – Review

Some books you read in great gasping gulps. You devour them. Each word a gluttonous indulgence that you cannot get enough of. Other books demand patience. They require you to slow down. Rather than devouring the words, you sip them, you taste them. They force you to savor each letter. To let them seep into your bones while the sentences dance themselves into your subconscious.

Grace is such a book.

Paul Lynch writes prose reminiscent of poetry. You will feel the words sing to you, forming a beautiful melody that is hypnotic. “Each star blinking out of an illimitable dark and falling in silence for a blazing brief moment.” The book is filled with sentences and passages that take your breath away in the beauty of their composition.

Grace is about a young woman, living in Ireland during the Great Famine. For reasons she doesn’t quite understand, she is woken on night by her mother to have her hair shorn from her head. She finds herself cast out, being told only, “You are the strong one now.”

She doesn’t know what that means, or why she must leave. Only that she must. So she does.

Her younger brother Colly follows her, and together they find themselves thrust into an unwanted adventure in an Ireland that knows only hunger and desperation.

Grace must lose herself in order to become the boy she needs to be in order to survive. “It’s better to be a butterfly than a worm but what’s the difference really when you can’t be yourself.” Her journey towards self-discovery even more treacherous and dangerous because of the state of men around her.

Every step forward is faced with tragedy. Each piece of good fortune tainted with two more of bad. Grace is continually pummeled with the brunt force of life. She learns that the only thing worse than hunger, is the cold. “”Cold is the truest state of all things and heat is a temporary nature. The cold does not burn itself out in rush like fire but waits with unlimited patience.”

This story is a coming of age told in a harsh and unforgiving light. Some journeys to self discovery are  more painful than others, and for Grace, heartache and loss paint her journey.

Lynch doesn’t back away from what must have been a brutal time to live. Hunger can drive a man mad. It can take away one’s humanity. “Though you can learn to ignore hunger, not to give it a single thought, hunger is always thinking of you.”

Grace observes how doors remain closed, heads remain turned. It is better to not see someone struggle. It is better to keep what you have than risk being lost like the rest.

Empty houses and overcrowded graveyards become the landscape of her journey. Beggars and thieves her countrymen.

The beauty of the composition is even more heartbreaking in the tragedy of the story. These are beautiful words describing a horrific time. The harshness of what Lynch describes only soothed by the balm of the words used to describe it.

We can all sympathize with Grace. Finding who we are is never an easy journey. She is forced into the world unprepared and still finds the will to survive. Each sorrow tucked away into a corner of her mind, until she can face them.

There is interesting commentary sprinkled throughout the book on humanity. Should we stop and help our fellow man in hard times, or turn our backs? Or, do we hold onto what we have, waiting for our own opportunities and take what we can, when we can? Death and profit, progress and misfortune are intertwined in this book as in life. Time and again, history has presented us with the chance to show a new face. Time and again we fail.

This book is a saga into the human spirit. How much can a person endure before they are broken? How much can they face before they are beaten down into submission? Survival, we learn, isn’t solely about hunger, or cold, or satiating our basic bodily needs. Survival is about salvation, in whatever form we can find.

Grace finds herself surrounded by freedom, and with that freedom she learns the truth of the word. “Freedom is when you are free to disappear off the earth without anybody knowing.” To be free is to face nothing and fall into that oblivion. There is freedom in the falling. But there is also an empty loneliness. She is obligated to no one and yet craves nothing more than to belong. There is statement of the human condition in this paradox.

Lynch takes us on a journey of despair and redemption. We struggle. We mourn. We laugh and we cry. We lost our hope and find the beauty in life isn’t in the lack of conflict, but despite it. We must see the horror to understand the beauty. We find peace even in the hardest of times.

“This life is light.” In this, Lynch succinctly captures beauty in prose. This life is light, if only we know how to look.

Huge thank you to Little, Brown and Company for giving me the opportunity to read and review this book. It comes out July 11, 2017. Link to pre-order below:

Amazon Pre-Order