book review, fiction, young adult

Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

And being alone made me want to talk to someone my own age. Someone who understood that using the “f” word wasn’t a measure of my lack of imagination. Sometimes using that word just made me feel free.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Benjamin Alire Saenz

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AUTHOR: Benjamin Alire Saenz

GENRE: Young Adult Fiction

FORMAT: audiobook

RATING: 4/5 stars

BACKGROUND: Aristotle is a troubled, young teenager who desperately wants to have more communication and/or knowledge about his brother, as well as a more open relationship with his father. Dante is a shy, bright teenager who is extremely close with his own parents. Dante and Aristotle do not have much in common, but their friendship proves to be one for the ages. They come together to really understand many of the mysteries of transforming from a child into an adult, as well as the secrets of the universe.

THOUGHTS: Aristotle, or Ari, was a completely relatable character. I know the trope of the angsty teenage boy who is angry at the world is overdone, and personally, I got bored of it when I first ran across it in The Catcher in the Rye. However, I found a breath fresh of it in the character of Ari, who is not only deeply troubled by the lack of understanding from his parents, but also profoundly sad. He has the kind of sadness that is perfectly poetic, and perfectly understandable to those of us who have harbored it.

Dante is that wiry, smart-ass, bright kid that cares too much that makes you want to root for him from the very beginning. He is also unapologetically honest, which is not uncommon for teenage boys. He and Ari make for an unusual pair, but one that fits. Their chemistry throughout the book was unbelievable, both as friends and as what they end up in the end.

There is the beautiful element of Mexican culture intertwined throughout the book, and also relevant cultural issues that come up. This includes traditional Mexican views on homosexuality, crime, family, and masculinity. The idea of being a partial Mexican or half Mexican due to the possession of certain character traits does surface, and it makes for an important point about what culture should and should not have a lasting impact on.

I believe the prose was written completely beautifully, but a couple of plot points kept it from the full five-star rating for me. I found that the timing of the novel was not exactly to my liking; I felt that the end was very rushed. I also thought that it was strange that, for a coming-of-age story that beautifully depicts family relationships and friendly relationships, the main discovery that the protagonist makes about himself practically had to be force-fed to him by adult authorities. However, this was a small complaint on my part and was really a non-issue for the majority of the book.

Also, if you are into audiobooks, Lin Manuel-Miranda reads this particular audiobook, which is a joy because his voice is capable of so much. There are also two instances into the audiobook where you hear Lin express disinterest in Alexander Hamilton, which is just the most beautiful irony ever.

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book review, fiction, young adult

Review: Eleanor and Park

“You can be Han Solo,” he said, kissing her throat. “And I’ll be Boba Fett. I’ll cross the sky for you.”

Eleanor and Park, Rainbow Rowell

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GENRE: Young Adult

WHAT FORMAT: paperback

RATING: 5/5 stars

SUMMARY: Eleanor and Park are two high school strangers turned into almost, but not quite, star-crossed lovers. They meet because they don’t have anywhere else to sit on the bus, crammed with crappy, judgmental high school kids. They soon bond over comic books, good music, and odd fashion choices. However, other people always worm their way into the relationship and test it- this ranges from unwanted, abusive step-parents, loving parents, high school bullies, or personal insecurities. It all makes for a tragedy of two kids in love for the ages.

THOUGHTS: My friend quite seriously told me that if I didn’t like this book, then she would have to reconsider our friendship. This is her favorite book of all time, and after reading it, I can understand why. I sped through this book in a couple of hours, unable to put it down.

I have read Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell before, and to be honest, I did not love it. I was surprised by the tone that Rowell had in Eleanor and Park because it was completely different from Fangirl– in a good way, of course. I really enjoyed the contrasting voices of both Eleanor and Park. Beyond the stylistic elements of it, the dual narration also advanced the story quite well since neither Eleanor nor Park offer up intimate information easily.

Rowell’s romantic timing was also superb and perfect. This can be such a fickle thing but the way in which Eleanor and Park come together feels so natural, and there is not one part of their relationship that feels forced. Rowell captures exactly what it is like to be young and in love- it’s awkward, it’s dampened by a lack of communication, it’s passionate, and it’s like nothing else you’ll experience in the rest of your life.

The relationships that Eleanor and Park have with their families are so important as well- the slightly dysfunctional family that only seems perfect on the outside is there, and the absolutely messed-up family that is barely holding together. I love the focus on family because it takes up so much of a young adult’s life and has the power to determine what happens in a young adult’s relationships. It reminded me of just how little control teenagers can have over their own lives, and how frustrating it can be.

Honestly, the only thing that I found fault with in this book is Park’s name. It felt too stereotypical for a Korean American character, maybe bordering on ignorant.

Other than that, this book is everything- it’s cute, it’s angsty, it’s emotional, and it will most likely (definitely) wreck you at the end. It’s really the closest thing we’ll get to the twenty-first version of Romeo and Juliet, in that you know what will happen with these two intense, perfect lovers but it will take you by surprise anyway. So what are you waiting for? Go read this book!!

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book review, memoirs/biographies, nonfiction

Review: The Year of Magical Thinking

Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant.

The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion

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Click on the image above to purchase the book on Amazon.

I picked this book up at a book sale not knowing much about it other than knowing it was one of the books on Rory Gilmore’s Reading Challenge list, but I was pleasantly surprised.

AUTHOR: Joan Didion

GENRE: nonfiction, memoir

WHERE DID I GET THIS BOOK: at a book sale

RATING: 5/5 stars

BACKGROUND: Joan Didion is a writer, and so was her husband, John. Her memoir A Year of Magical Thinking takes us through the year immediately following the passing of her husband, John. There are many personal reflections on the significance of her grief, memories described that detail moments the writer lived through with her family and her husband, and there are even clinical and scientific considerations of what grief is or what it does to the human psyche.

THOUGHTS: I believe that anyone who has had to go through the painful experience of losing someone that is close to them can understand and take something away from this memoir. Since I personally had a bad experience with trying to understand my grief, I found this book to be intriguing, educating, but ultimately I found that I could relate to what Didion’s descriptions of her grief portrayed.

Didion’s writing is clear, succinct, and engaging. I flew through this book in the span of less than a day; it is easy to read, and it gripped me in every page. Didion has all the tricks and marks of an experienced writer, but it also felt like she did not hold much back in this memoir. I could not think of much criticism to lend this book, so I gave it the 5/5 stars that it deserves.

For those of us who would rather read a book that is more lighthearted or would like to stray from the emotionally heavy -this book may not be for you. Of course, reading about darker matters in fiction books is significantly different than reading about the same subjects in a nonfiction book. The stakes are real, and the descriptions that Didion offers in this book are quite hard to forget, or at least they are for me.

However, if you have had a personal struggle with grief- with dealing with it, with defining it, with reigning it in and letting it breathe, then I would highly recommend this book to you. Didion is almost everyman in this book, besides her glamorous lifestyle as a successful and career writer, but I almost assure you that you have something to gain from the details of her pain and the journey she went through. Additionally, she did all of the research on grief, so you don’t have to. The humanity of this memoir is probably its best quality, however- everyone, no matter their life experiences, can take solace from this book about how those who remain living, even when their loved ones pass, can engage in magical thinking until they are ready to return to a world that is not dominated and defined by loss.

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memoirs/biographies, nonfiction, Uncategorized

Review: Between the World and Me

I would not have you descend into your own dream. I would have you be a conscious citizen of this terrible and beautiful world.

Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates

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Click on the image above to purchase on Amazon.

I was given this book by my University last year; it was assigned to all First Years as a “Common Book”, or a book that would help us in culminating an accepting and diverse campus. And let me tell you- it’s one of the most valuable books I’ve been given. Valuable, I mean, in terms of the potential it has to enlighten readers.

AUTHOR: Ta-Nehisi Coates

GENRE: Non-fiction

WHERE DID I GET THIS BOOK: my university gifted it to me

RATING: 5/5 stars

BACKGROUND: Ta-Nehesi Coates writes this book in the format of a letter to his young son, and with it comes advice for how to navigate through the modern American society as a black man. Coates touches on his own experiences, and those of his friends, to piece a picture of what the black experience in America was, and what it might be in the future. Coates employs self-introspection, evidence from the world around him, and past and contemporary events in order to define what really stands between the world and himself, in the hopes that his son will be able to understand where he is coming from and understand what his father is pushing him to do in order to protect himself in a society that values black bodies less than most other bodies.

THOUGHTS: There is not a whole lot of criticism aimed at this book, but I remember discussing it with a friend whose political views differ from my own. I remember that he told me that he didn’t agree with what the book was saying, and that it was written from a skewed perspective (I’m paraphrasing). However, I do not know if this is a valid criticism of the book because a) my friend is not a black American, so why did he think that his view of how African-Americans experience the world is more valuable than that of an African American’s and b) even if you disagree with the conclusions that Coates come to, it doesn’t mean you can invalidate his feelings and his experiences because they are uniquely his own.

With that out of the way, I thoroughly enjoyed this read because I realized that this is the closest that I will ever get to understanding what it is like to grow up as a black person in America, and that is a valuable thing to obtain. I am not an African American, but I am still a racial minority in this country that is definitely more socially privileged than African Americans are. Reading through Coates’ experiences, takes on the world, and advice to his son, I encountered, figuratively, many aspects of racial discrimination that I had not previously been exposed to in my personal experiences. I learned, not only the why and how things were, but more importantly, I could see how Coates’ experiences tied into his conclusions and his worldview. Although it is different than my own, I was grateful for further understanding why someone with remarkably different experiences than me would view American society in such a way as Coates does.

There are also aspects of this book that are universal, or at least more identifiable- the worry a father has for his son, the despair of a person who watched his friends suffer invisible tragedies, and the struggle of a community who has every odd against them. There is also the celebration of the value that community can bring, and the liberty that one or two books can provide. There is the questioning of the world around one’s person- and more importantly, the question Why? is echoed over and over.

Most of all, I appreciate the book’s acknowledgement of reality and it’s realistic approach to the subject- yes, there is hope, but more importantly, there is skepticism. After all, the history between American society and African Americans is brutal and horrific, and there is nothing that indicates that the future of their relationship will be drastically better. But it is not overly pessimistic either; Coates has not given up hope for his son, for the future of his race and his people. And that, to me, is the most important part of this book- acknowledging the mountain that lies ahead of you, and attempting to climb it anyways, driven by the slight hope that this time, you might make it to the top, because it will be worth it when you do reach it.

Even if this book does not sound like your cup of tea, I’d recommend it to you. I promise you will gain something valuable from it, even if it is only the perspective of someone that differs from you.

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book review, reading recommendations, short story sunday

Short Story Sunday: Killings


For those of you who find it hard to set time aside to read, but still love the pull of a good novel, I introduce to you Short Story Sundays! Basically, I will review a short story or even an essay that I loved each Sunday (most of them will be recommendations) instead of a full length novel or play that you can easily pick up, read, and digest in the span of an hour.

This week’s short story is Killings by Andre Dubus, and it is from a genre I rarely read and probably rarely will talk about, and that’s thriller. If you enjoy this work, I would recommend that you read other works by Dubus who is simply put, a genius.

SUMMARY: Matt Fowler is a husband and father who is grieving the loss of his son. His son, Frank, was murdered by Richard, who was the ex-husband of the girl that Frank was involved with. Matt cannot stand to see that Richard is out and about in town while his wife and he are in tremendous pain. And so, Matt sets out on a mission and enlists a buddy of his to seek revenge on Richard. I won’t say what it is Matt does, but the title probably gives you a good enough idea of what happens.

REVIEW: Okay so even though the title is pretty explicit, I was still taken aback by the events of the story, especially those at the end. Why? Because Dubus does an excellent job of humanizing Matt, of making the reader feel for his grief, his anger, and his overall sense of dissatisfaction. Dubus makes one fall in love with Matt’s backstory, and even can provoke some readers to feel that Matt was justified in his actions. And that is the mastery of fiction writing at its best: when readers find themselves sympathizing with those who commit heinous acts and are horrified when they realize what a strange place that is to be in too late. So even though the events of the story seem almost inevitable, it comes as a surprise just because Matt is so much like you or me.

RATING: 5/5 stars; if you are a fan of thrillers, I would especially recommend this to you.

 

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book review, fiction

Review: So Long, See You Tomorrow

I had inadvertently walked through a door that I shouldn’t have gone through and couldn’t get back to the place I hadn’t meant to leave.

So Long, See You Tomorrow, William Maxwell

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Click on the image above to purchase on Amazon.

AUTHOR: William Maxwell

GENRE: Fiction

WHERE DID I GET THIS BOOK: Amazon

RATING: 4.5/5 stars

SUMMARY: A middle-aged narrator looks back on the events surrounding the murder that had affected his best friend, Cletus, when both of them were adolescents. The narrator was not personally affected by the murder, but keeps returning to it in his memory, unable to let it go. He reconstructs the persons involved in the crime, and the part they might have played in leading up to the murder. As he digs back into the past and how it upset his friend, Cletus, he finds bits and pieces of his own past that also beg for closure, at last.

THOUGHTS: I really enjoyed Maxwell’s writing in this book. It had dreamy qualities to it, ones that appropriately fitted the farmtown he was describing and that enhanced the fact that this story was told throughout memories. I also like Maxwell’s choice of a narrator- by choosing someone who was not involved in the murder, there is no bias in the narrator’s retelling of the events.

The subject of loss, and coming to terms with loss, is heavily explored in this book. The figurative language used to demonstrate the narrator’s struggle with his own losses, as well as how lost he is in the present, is done so masterfully and in a unique style that I have not encountered before.

The multiple narrators, or at least, the multiple personas that the narrator takes on when trying to explain the events, gives the story multiple points of views; and this choice is appropriate, so that characters are neither villified nor idealized, but rather, as human as they possibly can be.

In a way, the way that this book approaches memories was reminiscent of The Glass MenagerieThe fact that memories and fiction go so well together, and the fact that the relationship between the two is so tangible and yet unreachable, since memories are only configurations of our imaginations, the things that only we think happened, makes for an interesting subject to read about. I also like how the subject of maturity and maturation is not necessarily linked to a certain age- the narrator is in his fifties (don’t quote me on that) but he is still learning a lot from reflecting on his youth and examining emotions that he has repressed for too long and has never really learned to leave behind in the past.

The plot is engaging, even though there is no suspense or mystery to the crime. There isn’t supposed to be, and if it were, it would take away from the actual story. I read this novel in the span of a couple of hours, and if you are looking for a quick, thought-provoking, and enjoyable read, then I would definitely recommend this book to you.

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challenges, reading goals

Our Shared Shelf


Did you guys know that THE Emma Watson has a book club? AND it’s all about reading books about feminism?

I’m technically part of the book group on Goodreads but I have a confession…I haven’t been keeping up with the book of the month that they have been reading. Actually, I’ve barely read any of the books that they’ve read. But for the sake of expanding the genres that I read and the subjects I read about…I am going to start a masterlist and keep track of my progress on it. They’re only about 15ish books in…so it shouldn’t be too hard to catch up!

striked out titles means I’ve read them; I’ll link reviews if I have reviewed them on this blog.

I got their read list here.

  1. The Handmaid’s Tale
  2. Women who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories about the Wild Women Archetype
  3. The Vagina Monologues
  4. Mom & Me & Mom
  5. Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide
  6. Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl
  7. The Complete Persepolis
  8. The Agronauts
  9. All About Love: New Visions
  10. The Color Purple
  11. My Life on the Road
  12. The Beauty Myth
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