I’ll Give You the Sun :: Jandy Nelson :: Book Review

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I’ll Give You the Sun :: Jandy Nelson

About the book:

Via Google Books: I’ll Give You the Sun, was published in 2014. It is a story of first love, family, loss, and betrayal told from different points in time, and in separate voices, by artists Jude and her twin brother Noah. Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. As a series of family tragedies and misunderstandings creates a rift between the two, only by coming back together can they fully understand their story and set the world right again, to remake it.

I’ll Give You the Sun won the prestigious Printz Award, a Stonewall Honor, Bank Street’s Josette Frank Award, and is listed on numerous best of the year lists, including the 2015 YALSA Top 10 Best Fiction for Young Adults, NPR, Time magazine, and Rainbow List Top 10.

As of April 2015, I’ll Give You the Sun is published in 25 countries, and is optioned by Warner Bros for a film to be written by Natalie Krinsky and produced by Denise Di Novi and Allison Greenspan.

About the author:

Jandy Nelson is an American author of young adult fiction. Prior to her career as an author, Nelson worked for 13 years as a literary agent. She holds a BA from Cornell University as well as MFAs in poetry and children’s writing from Brown University and Vermont College of Fine Arts. She currently lives in San Francisco, California.

My thoughts:

Every once in awhile I fall in love with a book in a long term, I want to marry you and have babies and grow old together kind of way. I know it early on usually, or at least have a strong inkling, and as I go further, if it is true book love, I fall harder and harder, and start to slow down, slower, slower, not wanting to say goodbye to the characters, nor the world they inhabit. “I’ll Give You the Sun” is a true book love story for me. This book is now in the top 5 of my all-time favorites, and I am confident it will stay there.

How do I describe it? To be honest, I sort of don’t want to describe it at all, because I came to it not knowing anything, and I think it made the falling for it all the better.

I will say that it is about love, about family, about getting lost and finding your way back, its about art and artists, its about insecurities and doubt, secrets, lies, its about forgiveness and hope, loss and ghosts and dreams and love and freedom and self, all told through these amazing, unforgettable characters, and with an exquisitely slight brush of magical realism thrown in.

I want to know these characters. I want to eat donuts with Oscar and Guillermo, collect moon rocks with Noah and Brian, discuss magic and art and love with Jude, meet the “where the hell is Ralph” bird, Prophet, and see what happens on “the ark”.

I listened to this as an audio book, which I also would recommend. Julie Whalen is a favorite audio book/voice talent, and she was, as always, fantastic narrating Jude’s portion of the book. Jesse Bernstein was also exceptional narrating Noah’s side of things.

This will be the next book that I give to everyone, like God Shaped Hole, and say please read this.

How to Kill a Rock Star :: A Book Review

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How to Kill a Rock Star :: Tiffanie DeBartolo
A Book Review

It sounds silly, I know. But for me, the power of music rests in its ability to reach inside and touch the places where the deepest cuts lie.
Like a benevolent god, a good song will never let you down.
And sometimes, when you’re trying to find your way, one of those gods actually shows up and gives you directions.”

Some books are like old friends that now live far away, too far to visit with often, yet they are still with you, still a part of your life. Sometimes you have to call those friends up and have a long, cathartic conversation. Sometimes, too, you have to pick up one of those kind of books and re-acquaint with an “old friend“. For me, I felt like it was time for to reunite with Eliza, Paul and Loring, so when I was recovering from surgery, a few months back, I picked up my copy of How to Kill a Rock Star for a re-read. I am a voracious reader, but this re-read took time to get through, partially because I have been extraordinarily busy these last few months, mostly, though, it was because I did not expect to be so emotionally overturned by the revisited read.

Tiffanie DeBartolo’s books are among my favorites of all-time. Her characters, both in this book, and in God-Shaped Hole, hit me in a so real and so relatable and as How to Kill a Rock Star‘s Paul would say, so “god-damned” relevant to my life. Tiffanie’s characters feel like friends and lovers from my own life, and some of them feel like me. Her books, they effect me like music does, and that is a huge thing for me to say. Admittedly, it is usually Trixie and Grace, from God-Shaped Hole, that shake me up so completely, so when this book started to turn me inside out, leaving me an emotional wreck at the end of each “act“, I was honestly unprepared.

Eliza is an orphan. Her parents died in a plane crash, leaving Eliza terrified of all things airplane, and deeper still, leaves her terribly afraid of losing love, and loved ones. Eliza loves music, and writes about what she loves. She especially loves the fictional Doug Blackman, who reminds me of a mix of an older Bono, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. Doug’s music saved Eliza’s life in that way that only music can. Music is Eliza’s lifeline.

Eliza meets Doug in a hotel lobby and falls apart in a way that connects with Doug, who allows her to interview him, something he is not too keen on doing at this juncture of his career.

Paul is a musician the likes of Jeff Buckley, Elliott Smith, Kurt Cobain, Jimmy Gnecco and Joseph Arthur. He is not famous like those comparisons though, not yet, at least. He lives in a tiny apartment in a not-so-great area in New York City. Paul works at the Gap, keeps an audio diary, writes music that is magical and emotional and real and raw, but as of yet, mostly unheard. Paul is in a band with Eliza’s brother Michael, who suggests that Eliza take the empty room in Paul’s tiny apartment to help with the rent.

Eliza and Paul are soul mates in the least cheesiest and contrived way possible. Their DNA’s match up, so to speak, and it is an almost magical thing to watch unfold what happens between these two people. Music is at the core of their relationship, but it is more than that, deeper than that. That said, they are both flawed people who make some atrocious decisions which were hard for me to work my way through (Eliza especially).

There is Loring, too. Doug’s son who is also a musician who seems terribly underrated as an artist, but who is financial and “career” successful. Loring did not make much of an impact the first time I “met” him when I first read the book, but this time his character made a huge impression on me. I felt my heart breaking more and more for Loring, seeing things in him that I have missed in people who have been in my life.

Without spoiling a single thing, I will say that this story, this time around, had me shattered at times, but I am glad for it. I needed the soul kick and the emotional upside down roller coaster moment, and I needed to open my eyes to things about myself in a way that this book helped facilitate. I needed to see the Eliza in me, and face some pretty significant things that I have been avoiding for far too long.

That said, this book is not heavy-handed or horrifically tragic, I promise. It is music-filled, and real people filled, and has pages of wit, wonder and honesty that will have you wanting to keep the book around for future re-reads, as well. It is full of writings that you will want to highlight and quote, too. Eliza, Paul and Loring are the kinds of characters that stick around, and you will be glad you took the time to meet them.

Tiffanie continues to be one of my all-time favorite authors and I have to thank her for the gift of this story. My only wish is that she would write another book, maybe even with these characters, including Trixie, from God-Shaped Hole, who makes a blink and you might miss her appearance in How to Kill a Rock Star.

There are things we never tell anyone. We want to but we can’t. So we write them down. Or we paint them. Or we sing about them. It’s our only option. To remember. To attempt to discover the truth. Sometimes we do it to stay alive. These things, they live inside of us. They are the secrets we stash in our pockets and the weapons we carry like guns across our backs. And in the end we have to decide for ourselves when these things are worth fighting for, and when it’s time to throw in the towel. Sometimes a person has to die in order to live. Deep down, I know you know this. You just can’t seem to do anything about it. I guess it’s a sad fact of life that some of us move on and some of us inevitably stay behind. Only in this case I’m not sure which one of us is doing which. You were right about one thing though. It’s not fate. It’s a choice. And who knows, maybe we’ll meet again someday, somewhere up above all the noise. Until then, when you think of me, try and remember the good stuff. Try and remember the love.”

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The Beginning of Everything :: An Audio Book Review

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The Beginning of Everything :: Robyn Schneider
An Audio Book Review
Listen to an excerpt here

Sometimes I think that everyone has a tragedy waiting for them, that the people buying milk in their pajamas or picking their noses at stoplights could be only moments away from disaster. That everyone’s life, no matter how unremarkable, has a moment when it will become extraordinary-a single encounter after which everything that really matters will happen..”

Ezra believes that within everyone’s life a tragedy lies waiting, and that only after said tragedy occurs does one’s life truly begin. Or, maybe, that is just how he wants to see the world since tragedy has befallen the once “golden boy” of Eastwood high school, a fictional school in a fictional Orange County town that seems very much like the Irvine I grew up close by to. Ezra’s tragedy changes his life drastically, and it is now up to him to decide how it changes him within that life.

This is more than the typical coming-of-age story, and it is more than the young adult label may suggest, this is a book about living at any age, about loss and love, and about figuring out who you are deep down inside, and not just who you are to the world around you. It will most likely be categorized on the “if you like John Green” shelf, which is not a wrong summation, but I think it is unique in its voice, style and character, as well.

My initial love for this book came to me because of location. The setting, though fictionally named, is the area of Southern California that I came of age in. I know this place, and the inhabitants that live and grow there. I know the streets and the landmarks, the sound of the Disneyland fireworks, the fear of coyotes and the wealth backed right up to the migrant worker groves. I also know the pressure of the schools and students who live there, and the perceptions that so many try to live up to, or at least survive within.

This book reads immediate, as if it was written yesterday, with nods to songs and bands, fads and technology. There are silent flash mobs, Doctor Who references, pep rallys to Vampire Weekend and make-out sessions to Bon Iver songs. And, there are philosophy and literary references that delight the book geek in me. The book overflows in pop culture in just the way that I adore.

The characters are the kind that creep in and stick to my heart, especially Ezra and Toby. I loved their friendship, the complexities and ebb and flow that often happens to friends who meet in childhood and drift during adolescence. Theirs was my favorite relationship, and I was glad to see it transcend throughout the span of the story. I was also partial to Ezra and his dog, Cooper, very much a “boy and his dog” emotional tug that had me literally in tears at a certain point. I also loved that Ezra and Cooper had a Nick and Jay Gatsby relationship (loved The Great Gatsby references).

Cassidy, the girl who comes into Ezra’s life at the post-tragedy turning point was a tough one for me. I wanted to like her, I wanted her to come around in the end and be something more for herself, and for Ezra, but she never did. There were shades of the “manic pixie girl” to her (I vehemently hate that term though), and at times she struck me as a teenage version of Clementine (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), except not as likable, to me. Though, I will say that the wanting to like her and not ever getting there was unique, and in some ways I welcomed it. She was part of Ezra’s journey, and not every part of our epic life journeys include people who stick and stay forever.

My two complaints are that I wish the author had stuck to the initial title of the book, Severed Heads, Broken Hearts, which I think fit so much more and has a more unique punch to it. Also, the narrator, Dan John Miller, while fabulous as Ezra, was terrible when doing the girl’s voices. It came across as a bad parody of a 1980’s Valley Girl and was often times distracting to the female dialogue.

Beyond these minor complaints, I loved the book, the characters, the references, the setting, and the relationships. Ezra and Toby are now part of my list of favorite fictional characters, and Cooper, on a new list of favorite fictional dogs.

Oscar Wilde once said that to live is the rarest thing in the world, because most people just exist, and that’s all. I don’t know if he’s right, but I do know that I spend a long time existing, and now, I intend to live.”

Middlesex :: An Audio Book Review

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Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
An Audio Book Review
Listen to an Excerpt here

Emotions, in my experience, aren’t covered by single words. I don’t believe in “sadness,” “joy,” or “regret.” Maybe the best proof that the language is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling. I’d like to have at my disposal complicated hybrid emotions, Germanic train-car constructions like, say, “the happiness that attends disaster.” Or: “the disappointment of sleeping with one’s fantasy.” I’d like to show how “intimations of mortality brought on by aging family members” connects with “the hatred of mirrors that begins in middle age.” I’d like to have a word for “the sadness inspired by failing restaurants” as well as for “the excitement of getting a room with a minibar.” I’ve never had the right words to describe my life, and now that I’ve entered my story, I need them more than ever. ”

Nature versus nurture, questions of gender, and the ideal of “normal” has always been an interest of mine, one that has grown as I have grown, life changes and occurrence ever adding to my questioning whether “normal” even exists, what makes us unique, and what influences the person we become. Gender has always been an interest, the power and the influence, the detriment, the ideologies and expectations. Beyond that, though, the myth of “normal” and the idea that we are trapped by genetics is something that I have bucked against, for myself, and for my children, especially my son who exists on the autism/aspergers spectrum and who is constantly judged by an invisible spectrum of normal that we have to constantly choose to fight against, or live within.

I was beginning to understand something about normality. Normality wasn’t normal. It couldn’t be. If normality were normal, everybody could leave it alone. They could sit back and let normality manifest itself. But people-and especially doctors- had doubts about normality. They weren’t sure normality was up the job. And so they felt inclined to give it a boost.”

Callie/Cal Stephanides is our brilliant host and narrator, who leads the reader through an epic journey of love, loss, change, circumstance, choice, fate and gender. Born with a mutation of the fifth chromosome which makes her appear at a birth to be a girl, although she is, in fact, biologically and hormonally a boy, Callie/Cal shares her experiences from the perspective of 41 years of living through what fate and free will have brought. We meet a cast of characters that span generations of love, loss and life told with such compassion, wit and vulnerability that very quickly I found myself attached to the Stepanides family. I looked forward to each subsequent chapter in their lives, dreading the time that I knew would eventually come when the book would be over, knowing full well that this family would carry on living within me for a long time after.

This is one of my first experiences with a multi-generational spanning novel and I have to say it was a fantastic journey. I found myself so deeply engrossed with the first story, the tale of Desdemona and Lefty, their unorthodox relationship and on-ship “courtship” and marriage, the tragic fires of Smyrna, and their relocation to Prohibition-era Detroit. I loved these characters so much, and had equal parts frustration and compassion for both Desdemona and Lefty, that I was unsure how I would feel when the story shifted focus to their son Milton, his wife Tessie, and their children. They were so well-written and vivid and wonderful that I fell for them just as much, in some ways even more so.

It was Callie/Cal, though, that had my heart, from the very first line, to the very last. The struggles, the triumphs, the acts of defiance, of passion, of desperation and of survival was life affirming, and inspiring. What I found most amazing about the story of Callie/Cal was how the struggles were so relatable, so universal, and collectively human. The story, for me, transcended a struggle with gender identity, and became about human identity, and had me remembering my own search of self in my adolescence, my young adulthood, and even now, in my forties. The need to connect, the sometimes confusion of attraction and intimacy, and the struggle to be an authentic “you” is not something specific, nor unique, to either gender, but to all of us.

Biology gives you a brain. Life turns it into a mind.”

From an Audio Book perspective, this book was exceptional. Kristoffer Tabori was by far one of my top favorite audio book narrators/voice actors I have ever experienced. He was the characters, each and every one of them. Not once – at all – was there a disconnect, or a feeling of “oh he is just doing a voice” – no, he was all of them, and his unique voice by character aged uniquely with each, as well. The use of music that was interspersed throughout the novel was effective and evocative. The music helped to shift the story, the time, the location, and the mood of it all, a nice touch, one I had not experienced before this book.

I have not stopped thinking about this book since I finished it about a week past. The characters, the story, and the feelings it surfaced in me, are buzzing and burning in me still. A sure sign of a fantastic read, isn’t it? The kind you never really want to say goodbye to, the kind you never truly want to end.

But in the end it wasn’t up to me. The bigs things never are. Birth, I mean, and death. And love. And what love bequeaths to us before we’re born.”

Begin the Beguine :: Cole Porter & Ella Fitzgerald

In the Pleasure Groove – Love, Death and Duran Duran :: An Audio Book Review

In the Pleasure Groove by John Taylor

In the Pleasure Groove – Love, Death and Duran Duran (2012) by Nigel John Taylor (written with Tom Sykes)
An Audio Book Review
Listen to an excerpt here

This was a fantastic moment for hair color, as the Crazy Color and Manic Panic hair-dye brands had been launched the previous year and had definitely helped us define our look. Simon was no longer a blond, he was now a brunette, which gave an opening for Nick to go all the way blond. Andy trail blazed the black-and-blond two-tone skunk look that Kajagoogoo’s Limahl would popularize, and Roger was adding blue to his black. I set up camp in the Bordeaux/Burgundy corner. I’ve always felt the best haircuts come courtesy of a devoted girlfriend, and Andy would marry Tracey eventually.”

Most people who know me, and nearly everyone who has been in my life since I was an adolescent, knows of my love for Duran Duran. They were not just my teenage dream, first fandom, crush-worthy fascination, their music helped shape my own art, their musical influences helped to widen my own music taste and collection, and in many ways they helped save a shy and lonely girl’s life who was struggling with making sense of her sexuality and sense of self as she tried to survive an abusive upbringing. They were my constant and my aspirations, and in many ways, my hope. And, well, yes, they were hot as hell, but they were also damn good musicians, songwriters, artists and poets.

Since hearing about this book being published I have been curious to read it. I will admit that John was never my favorite (I was a Nick girl) and the two times I actually met him he had not left a positive impression on me. I also was quite certain that all my years of being a fan had left me with all the knowledge and history of the band, and I did wonder what more was left to learn. I still was interested though, and I am glad I persisted and got my hands (and ears) on the audio version – the book not only reawakened my love for the band, but made me realize how very little I actually did know about their history, and also, that my opinions about John Taylor, and what I had perceived about him, were premature and, in many ways, incorrect.

Three things stood out the most to me as I made my through the autobiography. The first thing is that the music that inspired Duran Duran throughout their career makes up many of my favorite singers, bands and sounds, and that when I listen, truly listen, I can hear where one lead to another, from one song to the the one inspired, and how that sound evolved.

Secondly, the work it takes to be clean and sober is staggering to me, and inspiring in itself. Listening to John, himself, recount his history with addiction, and the discipline and constant attention it takes to remain a non-active user, made me also realize that I should probably go back into therapy myself, not due to addiction, but due to so much of my life being so close to addiction. It is not just addicts that need the help recovering.

Lastly, I found myself with a new sense of appreciation for the band from a different point of view. I hear different things in the music now, hear each instrument stand out on its own, and I digest the lyrics with a new insight, too. I find myself listening as if it were the first time, and I am loving the experience of it.

I have not read many biographies, though this has me itching to find another good one to dive into. I enjoyed the personal look into a musician’s life, from childhood through adolescence and into the growing up in the midst of sudden fame. The stories of John’s parents were especially moving, and the last chapter about his father actually had me in tears.

It was a bonus that the Audio Book is voiced by John. It felt indulgent and at times alluring to listen to his voice telling his story. He possesses disarming blend of honest reflection, warmth, humility and self-­deprecating humor. Some of the honesty I am certain is part and parcel to the rehabilitated life, nonetheless it was refreshing, and very humanizing; at times it felt as if I was listening to recalled stories from some of my own friends.

Oh, there was a fourth thing I nearly forgot, I may have developed a bit of a teenage dream crush on the adult John Taylor (sorry, Nick, you were still my first). Hey, you are never too old for teenage dream crushes!

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Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham :: An Audio Book Review

Someday Someday Maybe by Lauren Graham

 

Someday, Someday, Maybe (2013) by Lauren Graham
An Audio Book Review
Listen to an excerpt here

You may be sensitive inside, but what I see on the outside is a soldier.”

Lauren Graham is on my list of favorite people, in the “people I don’t know” category, mainly due to the roles she has played, most notably as the character of Lorelei Gilmore (Gilmore Girls) and Sarah Braverman (Parenthood), but also for the “personality” I have garnered through interviews (not that I take to heart public facing personas, but still). When I heard she had written a book I was ecstatic, and anxious to read it. To say I had high expectations would be an understatement. I bought both the actual book, as well as the audio book, and started with the latter (voiced by Lauren Graham, herself).

Initially, in that first chapter or so, I was admittedly disappointed. I felt as if the character was written with too much internal dialogue (something I am guilty of myself, as a writer) and also felt that, at first, the character was contrived, and bordering on too many stereotypes. As the story unfolded, though, I changed my mind. Franny started to come into full focus, and become quite recognizable to me, which started to hit me as to why I may have been put off by Franny at the start. I was about Franny’s age in 1995, was a theater student in college, and was dealing with my own share of relationship and personal issues.

There are moments so cringe-worthy I felt myself physically reacting, moments again that were so relatable and refreshingly vulnerable that I felt like I really knew Franny, and understood so clearly what it felt like to be in those days, those struggles, and those ticking of time deadlines and dreams realities. Listening to Lauren read the book I will admit did often blur the lines between reader and character, and I know that I picture Lauren as Franny/Franny as Lauren in my head, but I never did take it as an auto-biography.

Franny sometimes reminded me of another 90’s character struggling to find her way, and live her dreams – Lelaina from Reality Bites. There were dynamics in the friendships and romantic relationships that were reminiscent of that film, and time period, as well.

My favorite moments are those with Franny and her roommates, Jane and Dan. Though the love triangle that emerges is predictable, in this story it worked and though I saw it coming a mile away, I truly enjoyed the unfolding of it all. I also immensely enjoyed the evolution of relationship between Franny and Penelope, and how the way Franny perceived Penelope evolved as Franny started to change, and see herself differently. The movie premiere the crux and climax of all of Franny’s relationships that was brought to light between a Franny and Penelope exchange, one of my favorite shared character moments.

I will say that many times during the story I found myself thinking this would be a better television show than book, not that I did not enjoy the story, but because there was something just screaming to be shown on a screen to me. Good thing, I suppose, as it will be a television series in the future, produced by Ellen DeGeneres, and teleplay penned by Lauren herself. I look forward to it, though I do have to wonder who they will cast as Franny (part of me will be wishing for it to be Lauren herself, though I know the age will never work).

Read the book first though, I implore you, especially if you lived through the 90’s, if you sometimes miss the days of no cell phones-pay phones-answering machines, and if you were ever a theater geek who also argued over the impact of the Phantom of the Opera’s chandelier versus the actors’ performances. In the end, I loved Franny, I cheered her on, and when the story just faded mid-conversation, I wanted more.

Looking For Alaska :: John Green :: Book Review

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Looking For Alaska :: John Green

How will we ever get out of this labyrinth is the over-arching question that becomes the through-line for the entire novel of John Green’s Looking For Alaska, a question that is originally posed by Alaska herself to her religions teacher, and to the world in general (borrowed from the supposed last words of Simon Bolivar). The question meanders through the plot of the novel, becoming a haunting question to those Alaska abruptly leaves behind; a question they are driven to answer as a means to recover the loss of Alaska, and to also be able to find some kind of peace within themselves. The question becomes a means to define hope, at least that is how I took it in, and as a way to elicit the kind of thinking and discussion, even if the discussion is within ourselves, on what gives us the hope to carry on.

What is it that we carry with us in order to persist out of the labyrinth of life?

In the end, I found myself mulling over the question, having my own internal dialogue, and at time diatribe, trying to suss out what exactly hope looks like to me. I almost felt consumed with the question for a few days after reading, and even though I have a bit of distance from the text now, I still find myself going back to that question, ever contemplating what my flashlight used to light my way out of the labyrinth is.

The fact that I find myself at this place, wondering and musing about this question, is a sure sign that this book moved me, and that I can truly say at this juncture that I loved the book. I note this especially because at the start of reading this novel, and admittedly for a good part of the first half of reading, I did not think I even liked the book at all.

I think this was partially because of how much I loved The Fault In Our Stars, the kind of love that had me telling everyone I knew about the book and had the book shooting to my top five list of all-time favorites. That is a hard act to follow, and I will readily admit that my expectations were beyond high for this book, high enough that there was quite a potential of falling from such heights, and ultimately be disappointed.

The other notable reason could  have been that I really did not like the character of Alaska, and although I did eventually realize her necessity in the story, and I did feel the weight of her pain in an empathetic sort of way, I still never did end up liking her.

I have had this issue in the past with certain characters, some that are significantly beloved in the literary community and which I just have never been able to wrap my heart around; Holden Caulfield, for example, though it seems mentioning that I do not like him (or any of Salinger’s characters/Glass Family) seems to threaten my position as book lover among  the many book lovers I know (and love).

So be it, the truth of it is that I still do not like Holden, and I still do not like Alaska, but maybe in this instance the reader does not need to like Alaska, but only understand that Pudge, The Colonel, Takumi and Lara not only like her, but love her. Thus, for me it is their stories that make up Looking for Alaska more than it is ever hers, and once I came to terms with that fact it allowed me to fall in love with the book.

There are similarities to be found between this book and Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel, The Virgin Suicides, especially in the way the story is unfolded, how our narrator is limited in his point of view between what is fact and what is fiction, and that we are left with the mystery of it all, just as they (Pudge, The Colonel, Takumi and Lara) will always be. The mystery of it, that blur between what is real and what is imagined, or assumed, is part of the magic of this story, though. We go through the search with them, we feel the emotional roller coaster that accompanies grief, and we experience along with them what it feels like to be left behind when someone may have taken their own life. As someone who lost someone to what is assumed to be suicide (the mystery persists) I know, first hand, what all that confusion and confliction feels like, and I think John Green captured it perfectly in this book.

As with The Fault In Our Stars, this is not a book about death and dying, although both do occur. Instead, this is a book about life, about hope, about persistence, about seeking truth and about surviving realizing when truth becomes fuzzy. It is a story about love and belief, about philosophy and religion, about life as an adolescent, about boarding school, about books and intelligence and conversation, and about friendship and love, the kind that sticks with us for our forevers.

For me, most of all, it was a story about hope, which is what I take with me from reading it. What is it that I carry with me in order to persist out of the labyrinth of life? Music and love, always music and love – they are my “hope“, and my arsenal to bring along as I explore my own “Great Perhaps”.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky :: Audio book review

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The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Audio book voiced by Noah Galvin

It was 2002 when I first read The Perks of Being a Wallflower. We were living in Michigan and I was pregnant with my younger daughter, and I remember that the weather seemed to be always too cold and my friends were all too far away. I felt lonely a lot of the time, and I spent a great deal of time writing, reading and watching movies. Funny thing is, I do not recall a single thing about the book, though I do have one vivid memory of a time I was reading it, but all the memory is of is holding the book, not what was going on inside of it.

After recently seeing the film (which I loved) I decided a re-read of the book was in order, but since I have quite a stack (both real and virtual) of books on my never-ending “to-read” list I decided to go the audio book route, especially since this would be a “re-read“. I do love the experience of audio books, especially during my often long commutes back-and-forth to work. There is something very indulgent and comforting about listening to audio books, reminiscent of being a child and being read to, something that I have lovely memories of from time spent at my Grandparents house when I was a young girl.

The reader, Noah Galvin, played a great Charlie, and moved me to quite a gamut of emotions while he told the tale in the “Dear Friend” letter form. I actually feel as if, now that the book is over, that I will miss hearing Charlie talk to me about his life as I drive the Los Angeles freeways everyday. There was something so personal in the experience of hearing the character of Charlie that feels almost more intimate than if I had re-read the words on a page, almost as if Charlie became a friend, and confidante, and I both, to him.

Good books will do that, though, regardless of how you take them in. So many literary characters that I have met in my life as a reader have become so important and vital, and to “borrow” a Charlie-ism, infinite, that they do become almost as influential, and meaningful, as people one meets in a lifetime. I know that I carry a gaggle of characters around me from books, films, television series, and even songs that are part of my cabal of souls, they make-up pieces of who I am, and act as muse in my own writing and creating.

There is something so familiar to me in Charlie, at times painfully so, from the way he sees the world from a often silent distance, to the way he lets people do things to him (whether he wants them to, or not), to his emotional connections to music, and his intuitive nature towards people around him, to his past history with familial sexual abuse, and even his love of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Despite the familiarity, though, I learned things from Charlie about myself that I had neglected to ever see clearly, and at times I would pull the car over to the side of the road, near breathless, rewinding the book to replay certain words in order for them to sink in even deeper, and for me to gather clearly what they were saying to me. Sometimes it would take hours to shake Charlie from my skin when I would go off into my day, and I would find myself writing my own “Dear Friend” kind of writings that would become unsent letters to no one. There were moments when Charlie’s words broke me, and other times when I felt like they were helping to heal me.

I have to wonder if the time I read it before I was just not ready for the feelings the book would evoke. Perhaps I distanced myself so much from Charlie that first time around because he felt so close to who I have been in my life, turning myself numb to the words and shedding them near immediately. I do not know for sure, except that the way the book has made me feel now, and the way it has changed me, I just cannot imagine ever forgetting it. But, as with everything in life, we take things in the way we need to take them in, and we can only change when we are ready to.

I wish I could thank Charlie and Sam and Patrick, and I suppose Stephen Chbosky, too, and let them all know that I will carry those last words around for a long, long time and that reading them on the on certain early mornings with the sky grey and cloudy and the music turned up high, I do feel infinite.

So, if this does end up being my last letter, please believe that things are good with me, and even when they’re not, they will be soon enough.
And I will believe the same about you.
Love always, Charlie

Asleep :: The Smiths

Book Review :: The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

I have been struggling to write this review ever since I finished the book about a week ago. I find myself rehashing the story in my head, reminiscing over parts I loved, and most especially that first moment when I realized I was falling fast and hard in love with this book. I re-read favorite passages, some that I have now committed to memory. I search out playlists put together from other passionate readers, and I find myself sifting through my own music, piecing together my own musical accompanying soundtrack. I silently wish for others in my life to read the book so I can talk to someone, one-on-one, about it, commiserate on the highs and lows, and talk in depth about the falling in love of it and the heartbreak of it, as well. In all of this I find myself avoiding the actual writing of the review, even though I want to write it, I do. I want to write it so I might just encourage everyone to read it. I want to write it because I loved the book so very much, and I want to express that. But still I persist in stalling, I stop and start, I procrastinate.

I want to write it, but I end up not writing it.

I think this may be due to subconsciously fearing that once a review is written and posted it will be over. I will have to admit that I am through reading it and move on to another book. I will have to accept that these characters story has ended. Thing is, honestly, I am not ready to move on to new pages. I am not ready to get over Augustus Waters and Hazel Grace yet, not even a little, not at all.

Incidentally, if I was writing a review I would have to comment here on how my frustration and refusal to let go of this book, and the wish to continue these characters’ story is quite similar to how both Augustus and Hazel want to know the ending to their own beloved book, within the book, An Imperial Afflection and how their needing for more of said book they travel to another country to ask the author to tell them what happened next. How I so understand and find myself reading interviews with the author, John Green, hoping to catch glimpses of Hazel and Augustus in the author’s responses.

But, this is not a review of the book, no it is not.

This right here, written and posted, is not a review, not really, it is something else all-together. This is more of a plea to go read this book, and a hope that books like this will not only transcend the overwhelming hype of books such as the Twilight series and the Hunger Games series, but also make readers aware that not all YA offerings are about dystopian futures or vampires – not that there is anything wrong with either genre, but there is more to life than fangs and death games. I would also hope that it will be taken as just more proof of how wonderful the YA genre can be, and how you do not have to be a YA aged reader to enjoy a YA book. Fault in Our Stars is a book that I hope will reach beyond a genre label all-together, as to me it is a story meant for any age, timeless, and beautiful, with characters that need to be known.

Without spoiling any plot, or by chance scaring anyone off by the subject matter, I will tell you this is a story about living and dying, about humanity in all its beauty and all its flaws, it is about love and loss, and it is about hope – a word, and feeling, that seems so missing from this modern life we live in. It is not just a book about Cancer, I guarantee.

As much as this book is heartbreaking, and it is heartbreaking, it is also funny, intelligent, and heart-soaring, too. There are moments in these pages that are now tucked forever into the core of me, with quotes that will rattle about in my head and heart endlessly, occasionally coming out because they make so much sense to me that they are destined to become a permanent part of me.

The characters, oh my stars the characters, they are amazing. They are not perfect, there are moments when their actions and/or reactions will make you want to yell at them through the pages, but then again there are moments when you will want to know them always, cherishing their thoughts and dialogue and story. All the characters, no matter how small, are wonderful, even if, at times, unlikeable.

Hazel Grace is a wonderful protagonist, who you cannot help but cheer on and love. She is sarcastic in a way that is so familiar, especially being that sarcasm is like breathing amongst my circle of friends and immediate family. She is witty and too old for her years, jaded in some ways, hopeful in others, and quite lovely.

Her parents are significantly likeable, as are both Hazel and Augustus’ close friends Isaac and Kaitlyn, and Augustus’ parents even though we get to know them much less than Hazel’s. The author and his assistant help paint the magic and disappointment, both in equal shares , of Hazel and Augustus’ wish-filled trip to Amsterdam.

But my favorite character, by far, is Augustus Waters. In what may sound utterly juvenile and terribly “fan-girl” of me (so be it), I fell in love with Augustus Waters. It does happen, you know, falling in love with fictional characters, I did now, and have once before, when I fell in love with God-Shaped Hole’s Jacob Grace.

Fault of Our Stars is now right there next to God-Shaped Hole, holding hands and sharing space as my most favorite book, now books, ever. And just like its space partner, God-Shaped Hole, which I never got over completely, well, I am not over Fault of Our Stars yet either. There is an ache that has settled in me ever since I read the last lines, and in some ways it feels as if it will infinitely ache if I close it completely, so for now I am not done. Not yet. Not at all.

Some infinities are bigger than other infinities.”

Book Review :: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

 

Perception and assumption can be deeply empowering, our own personal checks and balances, that gut feeling that is ever spoken of. They can be our safeguards, our protections, and our intuition.  But sometimes, perception and assumption can be dead wrong. Gone Girl brings to the bookshelf a tale where both are fatally wrong, deliciously so, but still so very wrong.

This is a near impossible review to write because I adamantly do NOT want to spoil anything in this story. The slow reveal – though there is nothing really slow about this witty, fast paced, scathingly worded novel – is part of the journey and also what makes the multiple catastrophic plot twists and climaxes deliver such a punch. I honestly found myself screaming at the pages at times, and at other times, shaking my head vehemently, hardly believing what was happening in words right before my eyes.

This book is the stuff of mind fuckery. This book is the stuff of oh my stars that HAPPENED. This book is the stuff of nightmares and disbelief and of I cannot stop reading devotion. Part of me could not put it down, while the other part of me had to turn away sometimes, just to gather my bearings.

To be honest, I hated the ending. But, also, in all honesty, I do not know what other ending could have worked. That said, I loved the writing, I loved the he said/she said style, and I loved the way this book messed with me.  And the characters, oh my stars the characters, I am not sure I could say I liked them as much as enjoyed being toyed by them, and yes, it was hard not to be taken in and sometimes utterly impressed with their intelligence, wit, and persistence.

The characters, even the smaller ones, were so in color that I felt like I knew them, and could possibly give a detailed enough account of each to have a police sketch artist come up with an accurate rendering, though I am sure even the best criminal profiler – even the Criminal Minds team – would scratch their head at these people, most especially Amy, Nick and Desi.

It promises to be a long, hot end of summer and this is the page turning, emotionally manipulative book to pass the day away indoors. Also, if you do read it, drop me a note as I am dying to have someone to discuss it with that will not be spoiled by any of my potential plot reveals.