book review, historical fiction, reading recommendations

Review: All the Light We Cannot See

What do we call visible light? We call it color. But the electromagnetic spectrum runs to zero in one direction and infinity in the other, so really, children, mathematically, all of light is invisible.

All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr


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This book is probably the single thing that kept me from going insane during my second semester of my senior year of high school. Instead of procrastinating and refreshing my college application sites every three minutes, I was transported to the wonderful world of this novel instead.

AUTHOR: Anthony Doerr

GENRE: Historical Fiction

WHERE DID I GET THIS BOOK: I got this for my birthday

RATING: 5/5 stars

SUMMARY: Marie-Laure is a French, blind, adolescent girl whose father is employed by a museum. Her father is forced to flee with her and they go to live with her uncle, who is pretty much a recluse, in a French sea town. Her father is in possession of a jewel that has mythical powers and is said to be protective against physical dangers. The Germans are after this particular jewel and therefore, after Marie-Laure’s father. Werner is an bright adolescent in the German countryside with a knack for trigonometry and technology; he joins the Hitler Youth and eventually the Nazi Army as the expert in technology. These two live through the realities of World War 2, and eventually their two paths converge in a tragically beautiful way.

THOUGHTS: I honestly don’t have many criticisms of this novel, except I might argue the necessity of a few plot points? However, I absolutely loved the rest of this novel- the language, the style, the set up of the book, the motifs, the plot, etc. It was all very beautifully crafted and so unlike anything that I had read before, especially from the genre of historical fiction.

I must dedicate some time to praising Doerr’s unique and ethereal style of writing. Doerr beautifully marries vignettes and the novel form, and it is so unlike how I have seen these styles combined in other novels (like in The House on Mango Street). Also, the figurative language, especially the metaphors and the imagery, felt fresh and not at all cliched- they were refreshingly new and at the same time, felt familiar and made sense, as if they had been cliches.

Doerr is also one of those writers that can make you sympathize with a Nazi and only feel slightly guilty about it. There is such a beautiful humanity given to Werner, who became part of the German army because that was the only way he could pursue an education that he so desperately craved. It is such a twist to experience the events of World War 2 from the perspective of adolescents.

Marie, who is also an adolescent experiencing the horrors of war as formative events during her childhood, is also beautifully fleshed out and is such a sweet and sympathetic character. She has all the frustrations of a recently disabled young girl and all the imagination of a child, something that she does not lose as she loses her innocence.

The themes of technology in war (which is discussed in the form of radio), adolescence, morality, nature, health, power, and myth are mixed together so that it feels like a contemporary story, even though it takes place in the past. If you are a fan of historical fiction, as I am, as well as a fan of a bit of fantasy mixed with your history, this is the book for you!

book review, historical fiction, young adult

Review: Between Shades of Gray

Was it harder to die, or harder to be the one who survived?

Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys

AUTHOR: Ruta Sepetys

GENRE: Young Adult, Historical Fiction

RATING: 3/5 stars

SUMMARY: This book follows a Lithuanian family that was arrested by the Soviet Union for helping another family repatriate. Lina, her mother, and her brother are sent to a collective farm in Serbia while her father is sent to a prison. Lina is also a young, aspiring artist who can communicate with the outside world with her drawings of her everyday experiences. Lina must come together with the fellow Lithuanians that she has been herded into a cattle car with and learn what it means to give up her freedom in order to survive. If she or her family members were to instead defect from the group, it could be the difference between life or death at the hands of the NKVD officers.

THOUGHTS: I think I may have lost something from the experience of this book by choosing to read in via audiobook. It just did not seem as intriguing as I heard it would be.

First of all, I wasn’t too impressed with Sepetys’ writing. It seemed like she was writing just as your average YA author was, which wasn’t necessarily bad, but after all the hype I thought it would be something different and better. I enjoyed the strength of Lina’s voice as the protagonist, and I definitely think she is a young, female YA protagonist that other young females could look up to.

The events in this book were heartbreaking and cruel, but I felt more uncomfortable hearing about them than I did sad. I did not feel close enough to any of the characters to feel truly saddened for any of them; you know how your favorite characters feel like your best friends? These only felt like distant strangers to me. Even Lina, who is the narrator of this book, felt a little inaccessible to me. I felt sorry for her, but I didn’t experience her pain with her.

I did enjoy this book though- I thought it was interesting, especially since you never hear about Stalin’s victims that were sent abroad, which was one of the main motivations that the author had in writing this book. It kind of reminded me of The Book Thief- but instead of stealing books, this young girl in the middle of the events of World War 2 drew pictures in order to secretly communicate the horrors of her experience with the world, which is such an interesting premise.

I also admired the relationships between the characters, which seemed so genuine and kind. Of course, I would believe it harder to show common human decency in such an extreme situation as these characters found themselves in, but these tragedies actually brought out the best in Septys’ characters, which was hauntingly beautiful.

It was not a bad read, I just wish the hype didn’t set my expectations so high.

book review, historical fiction, reading recommendations, young adult

Review: The Book Thief

I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.

The Book Thief, Markus Zusak


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I don’t know what took me so long to pick up this book but I am so glad I did. 

AUTHOR: Markus Zusak

GENRE: Historical Fiction, Young Adult

WHERE DID I GET THIS BOOK/ WHAT FORMAT: local library / ebook

RATING: 5/5 stars

SUMMARY: The Book Thief tells the story of a German girl named Liesel who has just watched her brother die and has been given away to foster parents by her mother. She grows up in Nazi Germany, and her story is narrated by the personification of Death. Even though she initially struggles to adjust to life on Himmel Street, it is made slightly easier because she has befriended her neighbor Rudy and because her Papa is a man with a heart as deep as well and is skilled at playing a soothing accordion. One of the only ways that she and her friend Rudy can deal with the horrors of life in Nazi Germany is to steal; Liesel especially liked to steal books for her own consumption, since she was too poor to buy them for herself. The rest of the story describes how Liesel’s relationship with words evolves and warps because of the beautiful escape they can provide her and because of the horrors that Hitler’s words inflicted upon his people and upon those Liesel hold dearest to herself.

THOUGHTS: I absolutely adored this book, where to even begin? Zusak took a major risk by letting Death narrate this story, but it worked even better than letting Liesel narrate her own story. Death was able to capture the different and more encompassing perspective of the general events of World War 2, in a way that Liesel never would have been able to. Additionally, this gave the story a more mature perspective, and Liesel’s narration would have undoubtedly been more immature because she is only a young teenager. The way that Zusak outlined each part of his book, the way that he named his chapters, and the “notes” that Death left in the middle of blocks of text all added to the eccentricity and genius of the story.

This cast of characters is so lovable, and each of these Germans, even though they were part of the Nazi Party and were complicit in, if not directly responsible for, the pain that Germany inflicted during the Holocaust and the damage waged against the Allied forces. However, each character was humanized; there were so many beautiful paradoxes, such as the boy that was most sought out by Hitler Youth scouts was also the boy that risked his life to leave pieces of bread out for the Jews marching towards concentration camps.

I would have ugly-cried through many parts of this book if I had not been in public during those times. I was so in love with the world created here and the characters that populated it that I could barely stop reading. This book puts the best and the worst of humanity on display, but does so in a way that keeps you on your toes throughout the entire journey. In other words, I am saying that this book is a must read.