Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon

Release Date: September 1, 2015

This book is about 18-year-old Maddy who has lived her entire life (except for some brief time as a baby) inside because she is allergic to everything. She thinks she has come to peace with this until a boy moves next door and THINGS HAPPEN.This book was a such a pleasure to read and beautiful in so many ways. A run down of what I liked:

  • Madeline: I cared for Maddy almost instantly. She is so lovable. The best books are ones where you just really want to get to know the main character, aside from the plot. Nothing could have happened in this book and I still would have been happy to have gotten to know about Maddy. I empathized with the girl trying to figure out what she wanted from her life, who didn’t feel like she was missing out until she suddenly did.
  • The format: This book has illustrations (that Nicola Yoon’s husband drew! So cute!), online chats, and a few other deviations from standard text. It makes reading the book a lot of fun. The way this is all used is part of what helps Maddy have such depth.
  • The romance: The relationship between Maddy and Olly is truly sweet and I didn’t even roll my eyes once! Yoon stayed away from dangerous tropes. It’s so easy to root for them, to ache for them.
  • EMOTIONS: This book is going to make you FEEL. An emotional rollercoaster I was glad to experience.
  • Representation of Illness: I can’t go into too much detail without being spoilery, but this is a good book where the sick character isn’t a big Life Lesson for the healthy counterpart.

There is also a THING that happens that is a spoiler which some people were unhappy with. I think the unhappiness stemmed from expectations of what some people wanted the book to be vs. what it actually is. Guess you’ll have to read and see though!

If you couldn’t tell, I loved this book. It’s one I am going to make friends read so I can talk about it.

Share

Auggie & Me: Three Wonder Stories by R.J. Palacio

Release Date: August 18, 2015

For anyone unfamiliar with Wonder, it’s about a kid, August “Auggie” Pullman, with a severe facial abnormality. He starts at a new school and as kids can be cruel, he has to put up with bullying. I absolutely adored the book and believe it’s something everyone should read. Learning kindness is something humanity seems to struggle with. While “kids can be cruel” so can adults and children often learn the cruelness from the grown ups they observe. There are many books that attempt to tackle bullying and don’t get it right but Wonder got it absolutely right.

Auggie & Me is three novellas from the perspective of three other students we don’t hear a lot from in Wonder. For me Wonder was perfect as a standalone so I read these stories with the belief there didn’t really need to be anymore of Wonder. After reading the stories, I still feel the same way. However, that doesn’t mean I believe they shouldn’t have been written. They don’t add much to Auggie’s story, but there were other lessons additional perspectives provided.

The Julian Chapter focuses on the bully of Wonder and how he saw things. Humanizing the bully is often important for kids because they start to understand where someone’s meanness comes from. When I was in grade school, I remember meeting some of the bullies at school’s parents and starting to understand why they acted the way they did. Yet, I feel like an even more important life lesson for me was sometimes mean people are just mean and will continue to be mean. Julian eventually chooses to be nice and since the whole message of the Wonder world is to “choose kindness” I understand why it ended up that way. Julian’s story just didn’t feel like it worked to me. It seems more like a bully got rewarded in the end without doing much to redeem himself. Maybe I am just a grumpy, jaded adult who shouldn’t read books for middle school students. But I see too many Real Life bullies pat themselves on the back for the tiniest kindness.

Thankfully the first story doesn’t set the tone for the other two. The second book follows Auggie’s long time friend, Chris. This one worked better for me because Chris’s growth is more realistic. Chris isn’t a bully but like anyone, he has moments of not being the kindest. He’s not always the best friend to Auggie. He struggles with trying to be nice to another student in after school band while still impressing the older kids who play with them. While this story is short, he works through some of these minors flaws and is better by the end.

The final story is about Charlotte and the story I enjoyed the most. Probably because it has a female protagonist and brought me back to the grade school drama I remember. It also does a good job at exploring different kinds of friendships in a short amount of time. And when it comes to humanizing the mean kids, this story is much more successful. Charlotte’s story takes the drama of lunch tables and cliques and who is friends with whom, and sheds lights on these dynamics in a more subtle way. She learns which friends are true friends, which friendships to let go of, and which friendships don’t have to be close friendships. Throughout your life you’re always learning who is worth the effort and I liked a story about that that wasn’t overly dramatic. No one is cruel in this which offered something different than the bullying that happened in Wonder.

I think these stories worked better as something separate from Wonder. Although Auggie is mentioned, he barely plays a role and the stories ultimately feel disconnected from the original novel. They didn’t add to the Wonder story but Chris’s and Charlotte’s at least worked as something on their own. Julian’s was the most caught up in the original story which is ultimately why it didn’t work for me.

This isn’t a must read like Wonder. You won’t particularly be missing out if you skip it. But if you liked Wonder and need some quick reads, I think the second two stories are worth it.

Share

Recent Reads

image

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

This is simply required reading. Coates’s latest, about growing up black in America, is written as a letter to his son. His writing, as always, is completely absorbing and powerful. There are enough articles floating around the internet about why you should read this. (And some terrible articles from raging racists, of course, and their existence alone is a reason you should read the book.) No matter who you are, read this book. And then have your family and friends read this book.

In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume
I had hoped to love this book and alas, did not. It’s well done and captures the lives and trauma of a town plagued by tragedy after tragedy. There was plenty I did enjoy about it. However, I didn’t really connect with any of the characters. I also think 1950s suburban America is just not my cup of tea.

Paper Towns by John Green
This was a re-read for me before I saw the movie. I first read it right after it came out when I was 18. I think the story overall was more interesting at 18, but the message is something that impacted me then and stayed with me. “What a treacherous thing to believe that a person is more than a person” was stuck in the back of mind and served as a reminder throughout college and into adulthood. Seven years later and this book still got to me.

Alias by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos
I’ve been making an effort to read more comics and graphic novels. I graduated university with a degree in graphic design and clearly I love words so the combination of graphics and writing is something I do appreciate. Yet somehow they can be harder for me to get into. Probably just takes time to really enjoy. Anyway, in anticipation of Netflix’s A.K.A. Jessica Jones I decided to to pick up the original comics. I liked this second volume better than the first. And I love Jessica Jones as an ex-superhero character. I’m not sure the male writers of this completely did her justice but still found myself into the story. Hoping the Netflix series is even better.

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera
If you would like something gritty and heart-wrenching, well here you go. This book is worth the hype I saw all over my Twitter feed. The book follows Aaron Soto after his father’s suicide while he tries to come to grips with both what his father has done and thoughts about his own sexuality. Then there’s the Leteo Institute which has a memory-alteration procedure which looms over the whole story. The cast of characters in this is fantastic and it somehow covers so many different topics in little ways.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
I put this off for too long. Because it’s the 21st century, I’ve followed Roxane Gay on Twitter for a while and she’s pretty kickass. This collection of essays is also pretty wonderful. The book isn’t strictly about Feminism. It’s more about Gay and her experiences as well as pop culture. While some of the pop culture references were lost on me, I still liked these essays. Gay has important things to say whether or not they are “new” things (as some reviewers find this not revolutionary enough). You have to repeat some things before people get them. When it comes down to it, I just like Roxane Gay. She is personable and funny and can also talk about big topics in way that is easily understood.  With any collection of essays, I enjoyed some essays more than others. But overall felt they were well-written and worth the read.

Share

Zeroboxer by Fonda Lee

I read this earlier this year and have been wanting to talk about it and it’s TIME. I’m into sports, but not so into boxing. However, if zero gravity boxing existed that might change things for me. How the book describes the sport is completely amazing. I became more engrossed in these fictional matches than I have been in many real life sporting events.

Aside from the awesomeness of futuristic sport, this book has a lot going for it. Here’s what I liked:

  • World Building: Lee does a fantastically well at building a complex world without over-explaining or making it confusing. I am not exactly well-read when it comes to Sci-Fi, but the world she creates is different than a lot of what I have read. I think the uniqueness of zero gravity boxing helps. There have been comparisons to Ender’s Game (which I love), but while there are some similarities I don’t find them truly comparable. Completely different tone, different message, and so on.
  • The Action: There is a lot of detailed action in this and it’s amazing. Sometimes I get bored with play-by-play fight scenes, but Lee makes them so tense and engrossing. God, do I wish this sport was real so I could watch it.
  • Characters: The story centers around zeroboxer Carr and his rise to fame. The book made me root for Carr, but not always entirely love him which is what I want from my MCs. I am drawn to characters who aren’t entirely lovable. Carr is adored by his fans and the general public, but not always lovable for his reader and it makes the story much more interesting.
  • The Sports World: What I liked most about this book is its subtle satire about the sports world and advertising. Carr is assigned a brandhelm (basically a publicist) Risha (who is beautiful and… you can see where this is going…). Carr is seen as marketable and gets a bunch of sponsorships. As someone who worked only briefly in sports, but got to see a glimpse of how this all works, I loved how Lee handled this. Branding – whether it’s a company or a person, in sports or elsewhere – is obviously a Big Deal in corporate America. So how Carr is treated is relevant. When I recently read about how Serena Williams doesn’t get as much sponsorship money as some of her counterparts, I instantly thought of this book. People become brands and it’s strange how that works in our world.
  • The Messages: Besides the publicity commentary, there are a few other things happening in this book that I won’t talk about to avoid spoiling anything. However, what’s nice about this book is the story isn’t over-burdened by these many ideas. The plot is first and foremost about Carr and his conflicts. The questions are there and they don’t necessarily have answers. The book delivers the action-packed fun but also gives you a few things to chew on if you wish.

I think the one negative of Zeroboxer for me is the characters didn’t feel fully developed. Carr of course comes far by the end, but I wanted more in the beginning with him and Risha and a few other characters. The character relationships didn’t feel as strong as they could have been.

If you enjoy Sci-Fi and/or sports you should definitely read this book. Even if you don’t enjoy some of its commentary, it’s still so much fun. And if you don’t like Sci-Fi or sports, this might temporarily win you over.

Share

Now Listening

I, of course, started this blog and then got busy. I have so many books to talk about, but, for now, here are some new albums I’ve been listening to:

Blood – Lianne La Havas
While her first album was amazing, I’m even more in love with this new one. She’s unfortunately playing Philly when the Pope is here and I’m staying far away from the city that weekend. Hoping she comes back at a better time. Until then, I will listen to her beautiful voice on repeat. (Spotify)

Psychic Reader – Bad Bad Hats
My first exposure to Bad Bad Hats was their music video for It Hurts. I instantly loved them. But they only had an EP out at the time. Psychic Reader is their debut and a great debut at that. (Spotify)

Communion – Years & Years
The lead singer of Y&Y, Olly Alexander, is an actor who had been in a few things I liked. Years & Years then formed and I was really into the songs that started trickling out. The full length got pushed back a few times, but it’s finally here and as dancey and fun as expected. (Spotify)

How Does It Feel – MS MR
I’m not in love with this new album and think I prefer their first, however it still has a lot of catchy songs. The duo is super adorable though and they’re always SO EXCITED when they perform live. (Spotify)

The Way Back Up – Prides
This isn’t out in the US yet, but as per usual I am impatient and can’t wait. (I buy things when they’re finally released here.) Prides is comprised of members that have been in other Scottish bands I like. While my heart will still always belong to (punk) rock, I’m finding more and more electronic bands I enjoy. This is another solid album.

A Dream Outside – Gengahr
This one came out in June and I am just late.  A bunch of British bands/music fans tweeted about how great they are and now I have to agree. (Spotify)

In addition to new albums I’ve been listening to Hop Along and George Ezra a lot lately. I saw both live about a week ago which reinvigorated my love.

I also periodically add artists on SoundCloud who don’t have a lot of music out yet. A few I recently added:

Spotify playlist of these recommendations.

Share