A Thousand Splendid Suns

Dear Crystal,

First of all THANKS FOR NOT RESPONDING IT’S BEEN FOREVER. Firstly, I’m soo sorry for being MIA for so long. School is hard. Mostly bio is hard. ūüė¶
This week I read¬†A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. I’m going to try to make this week’s review short and sweet and mostly spoiler-free, but we’ll see how far I get with that LOL. The novel is an engaging and beautiful story about two Afghan women in different generations who struggle to find feminism, happiness, and love in the political turmoil from the 1970’s to the early 2000’s. The women, Laila and Mariam, face shocking horrors and hardships and spend their lives looking for a way to escape the oppression. Hosseini’s story is also very enlightening and educational regarding Afghanistan’s troubles during that time. Just an all-around great book.

Often times I’ll get bored by the plot of books like this. Not ONCE did I want to put the book down. A Thousand Splendid Suns is the perfect pace for someone who enjoys a surprising and fresh plot as well as phenomenal writing.¬†I love love love this book (I mean, let’s be real here–¬†any book that can make you sob nonstop for an hour is a good book). I finished the book ten minutes before I had to go to a class so I showed up looking something like this:

 crying cry feels hurt feelings GIF

Anyway,¬†A Thousand Splendid Suns¬†is a touching and devastating novel. It’s like Hosseini sat down intending¬†to create step-by-step the saddest story for¬†the main characters. I will grant it a 9.5 out of 10 because no one is perfect, and there’s always room for improvement. I look forward to reading¬†The Kite Runner¬†soon, a very very very popular book also written by Khaled Hosseini. I can’t wait!!

Love,

Jeannie

A Glass Castle

Hi Crystal,

OKAY I’M BACK!! I’M SO SORRY! I had midterms and then a bunch of other competitions and whatnot. UGH BUT I’M HERE. You can stop writing book review to yourself. :))
Over the holidays (I know, it was a while ago) I read¬†The Glass Castle, a memoir by Jeannette Walls. It had me SHOOK (and not in all the good ways). She writes about her upbringing by two unfit parents.¬†It’s a very depressing read, but it makes you reevaluate your life and count your blessings. HOWEVER, brace yourself; this is probably going to be a pretty harsh review.

THIS IS A MINI-RANT SO I’M LETTING Y’ALL KNOW BEFOREHAND¬†IF YOU GET TRIGGERED EASILY:

This book made me angry and annoyed for pretty much the entire duration. Basically her mother really doesn’t want to have children but ends up having FOUR and the actual WORST mother ever. She’s self-centered and just doesn’t care about them or make an effort to do anything to help her children. The father tried at least. Although he was a drunk. So that kinda sucked. ¬†In some chapters I’m like, how have they not been arrested yet for this??

At the same time: the story kind of came off as like a self-pat on the back from¬†Walls. She spends the first 80% of the book just stating strangely specific details from her rough childhood and just having a pity party. The last 20% is the not-so-humble brag part: I got into an Ivy-League college, I’m a successful newspaper writer, I have a rich boyfriend, yada, yada, yada. OKAY JEANNETTE GOOD FOR YOU.

I know, I know, most people think, “I was never in that situation,” “I wouldn’t know,” “it’s a beautiful story,” whatever. The book just doesn’t feel genuine. I want to feel happy and proud for Walls, but the way she wrote it just doesn’t let me.

The writing itself isn’t the best, but the story is decent¬†enough for it to barely pass by without a really good¬†writer behind it. I just think there would be a lot more¬†potential. I honestly don’t get why people are so into it. It’s an iffy 5/10‚ÄĒI guess I would recommend if you’re looking to be sad/mad/mostly irritated for a few hours.

From,

Jeannie

Night

Dear Crystal,

Sorry for the late post. I had been in the middle of a paper for Global History, and I didn’t think people wanted to read a review on books about Confucius’ life and teachings. But I’m here now, and that’s all that matters! I recently read¬†Night¬†by Elie Wiesel. Many of my favorite books are realistic fiction about WWII, like¬†The Book Thief, ¬†All the Light We Cannot See, Sarah’s Key, and etc., however,¬†Night¬†is a work of non-fiction that struck me just like these other books written by renowned writers.

**SPOILERS AHEAD**

Night is written almost like a work of fiction; it has symbolism on every page. As the title suggests, the symbol of nighttime and darkness recurs.  It delves into the idea of horrifying and traumatic events such as the Holocaust forcing people to betray people that they love. We often times hear of heart-warming stories like a mother giving up her life to save her child, but the reality is that many people were turned into animals and dehumanized the Jews. It was each man to themselves in those concentration camps. The Nazis turned ordinary people into the barely living dead.

Nobody asked anyone for help. One died because one had to. No point in making trouble.

Wiesel displays the harsh reality of the emotional and physical torture people had to endure. People wished for death to save them. Sons were betraying fathers, letting them die and some hoping that it would to ease their burden. The strongest of the strong giving up at last. People being stripped of their faith. Here’s is one of the many passages that were extremely powerful:

[My father’s] last word had been my name. He called out to me and I had not answered. I did not weep, and it pained me that I could not weep. But I was out of tears. And deep inside me, if I could have searched the recesses of my feeble conscience, I might have found something like: Free at last!…

Wiesel had been loyal to the end; he lived with his father in mind until even he, who was one of the emotionally strongest, could not bear it anymore. The Holocaust and the Germans killed him inwardly.

Occasionally, we would pass through German towns. Usually, very early in the moring. German laborers were going to work. They would stop and look at us without surprise. One day when we had come to a stop, a worker took a piece of bread out of his bag and threw it into a wagon. There was a stampede. Dozens of starving men fought desperately over a few crumbs. The worker wached the spectabcle with great interest.

Wiesel spent his life trying to make people aware of the dangers of indifference. A famous quote of his is, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

I’m gonna be honest, this book had me sitting in my room on a Saturday night next to an empty tissue box bawling my eyes out. 100% recommend if you like crying.

But all jokes aside,¬†Night’s lessons for humanity¬†is more valuable than gold. It is truly eye opening and devastating. I hope history doesn’t repeat itself. I beg you to pick this classic up if you haven’t already- I guarantee that it is 1000x better than my very limited description.

Love,

Jeannie

The Stranger

To my darling sister, Crystal,

I am still stressed.

I hope you are having a decent week! I’m so sorry for the late post. Right now, I am sitting in a corner of the library surrounded by a mind-boggling amount of math and science homework and labs that are all due tomorrow. Wish me luck!

*MAJOR SPOILERS*

I recently read the book,¬†The Stranger¬†by Albert Camus. The story, originally written in French, follows a man named Meursault. The book opens with him finding out that his mother died. He then goes to her funeral and expresses little to no emotion. He has a girlfriend named Marie, who he doesn’t actually love, he just likes having sex with her. Already, I’m thinking, huh, this guy is a sociopath. BUT THEN HE GOES AND KILLS A MAN FOR NO REASON. Why?? Because it was “hot” outside and he wasn’t thinking straight. Meursault is arrested and goes to court. Even in court, he doesn’t regret anything. There, they condemn him to the guillotine, and the book ends with him accepting the idea of his execution.

Here’s a favorite meme of mine to describe my thoughts:

To be honest, when I finished the 100-something paged book, I was angry. I don’t know why, but I expected The Stranger¬†to be riveting, invigorating, and just a thrill in general to read. It was certainly not that. However, this novel is extremely deep on a philosophical standpoint. After some deep thought, I¬†think ¬†Meursault is the stranger after which the book is called. He feels little to no emotion about anything. Society doesn’t accept him as a functioning member of it because of his indifferent attitude about things “normal” people would usually react strongly to. Judged and misunderstood by different characters throughout the book, Mersault is perceived as a crazy freak. He is charged with murder with no mercy– he is headed straight to the guillotine¬†(no pun intended ;)). I honestly don’t know why he would be pardoned after what he’s done, but yet again, I am part of the “judgmental” society that rejects people like Meursault.

Overall, this book is too profound for me to appreciate it to its fullest extent. But, if you are really into analyzing deep philosophical ideas like those, try¬†The Stranger out. Otherwise, don’t step within a 5-foot radius of it.

Sincerely,

Jeannie

The Big Sleep

Hey Crystal,

I have so much homework and studying to do, on top of sports and other clubs starting this week. UGH. So sorry if this letter sucks :).

This week I read¬†The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. It is a short classic mystery novel that reminded of those old black and white crime movies from the 1930’s the entire time I was reading it. After I read it, I looked it up and turns out there is a movie for this book that was made in 1946! Jeannie knows it all..

Anyway, this novel is a thrill to read. The Big Sleep gives off a similar¬†vibe as¬†The Westing Game¬†by Ellen Raskin (It’s a children’s novel, but it’s actually fabulous!).

MILD SPOILERS!

The plot is pretty long for a short book, so I’ll try to keep it brief. Phillip Marlowe is a private detective hired by a dying general to investigate a blackmail attempt to his daughter. Marlowe digs into a case filled with murder and blackmail. The end is a total plot-twist– be excited!!

What did it matter where you lay once you were dead? In a dirty sump or in a marble tower on top of a high hill? You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that. Oil and water were the same as wind and air to you. You just slept the big sleep, not caring about the nastiness of how you died or where you fell.

Death is a recurring topic– over the course of¬†the book, five people were murdered. The detective reflects on his own life and how much he valued it before. The characters were different people: a chauffeur, a pornography distributor, an ex-bootlegger who married into a rich family, a dying oil tycoon, a detective. Treasure your life because you only have one, and everyone’s the same when they’re dead.

The OG Betty White put it best:

sdasda

Phew. That was a pretty intense topic..  Time to go do 4 hours worth of homework :(. Wish me luck or I might end up in a big sleep!

Love,

Jeannie

 

The Art of Racing in the Rain

Hi Crystal,

YOU ARE THE WORST.

I wonder how many of my post will start with those exact words. But did you really have to bring up both Coraline¬†and¬†No-Face in the first¬†post?? WHY YA GOTTA BE LIKE THAT? [For those of you who don’t know me,¬†Coraline¬†and¬†Spirited Away¬†were (and still are) the root of all my nightmares until about two years ago. Something about scary animated characters seem extremely disturbing to me, and frankly, even more so than the ones from “horror” shows like¬†American Horror Story and¬†the newly popular,¬†Stranger Things.] You suck. ūüė°

Anyhow, I¬†have been slacking in my summer reading these last few weeks, but because of the impending first day of school, I decided to finally get my crap together.¬†This summer, I was supposed to read The Art of Racing in the Rain¬†by Garth Stein. And to be totally honest, I probably wouldn’t have read this book if it weren’t mandatory. The book’s cover, blurb, and reviews suggest that it’s another boring animal book (I know, don’t judge a book by its cover, yadda yadda). I’m not really an animal person, so I tend to stay away from those types of books. Contrary to my initial speculations, I was pleasantly surprised by the depth of the narrator,¬†an elderly dog named Enzo.

**MAJOR SPOILERS BEGIN HERE– PROCEED WITH CAUTION**

Enzo and his owner, Denny, have a unique friendship. In a way, it is like a typical owner-pet relationship, where Denny does all the feeding, cleaning, walking, etc., but there is also a unusually close companion-like relationship between them because Enzo has an almost “human” brain. But due to his lack of ability to express himself, he is forced to just be a silent witness in Denny’s life. Kudos¬†to Stein for creating such a unique power dynamic between the dog and his master–it very interesting. That being said,¬†I have some issues with the plot.

While the novel is written in the perspective of a dog, the humans are the protagonists. Denny, a race car driver, faces many obstacles in his life (a little unrealistic, if you ask me). His wife dies, his daughter is then pried away from him by his in-laws, who then start a custody battle over her, he is accused of rape of a minor, and then becomes broke, and all within a span of a few years.

Here’s the thing–in the middle of this fiasco, he is miraculously offered his dream job from Ferrari to test cars on a track. They tell him that they will wait for him to sort out all of his problems, and then he and his daughter can promptly join the company in Italy. Suddenly, everything quickly falls into place magically; everything is resolved– he gets custody of his daughter, the rape case disappears, he takes the job, and you later find out that Denny became a famous racing champion.

Huh. I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but as far as I’m concerned, that doesn’t happen too often irl.

debbie downer

The Art of Racing in the Rain would definitely appeal to animal lovers–it’s heartfelt, it’s eye-opening, it’s just an emotional roller-coaster. But the ending was too idealistic, and in my opinion, took away from a perfectly fine novel.

HA I just gotta be a real book reviewer and rate it– 6.5/10.

With love,

Jeannie

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Dear Jeannie,

Well. It‚Äôs been over a year since I‚Äôve had to organize my thoughts on a book in a way¬†more coherently¬†than¬†a mosquito-like high pitched whining or a bland ‚Äúeh‚ÄĚ (I‚Äôm discounting school related writing because that‚Äôs its own behemoth). But I‚Äôm looking forward to using too many gifs and parentheticals to rant about literature again (and also to force you to communicate with me during the school year because YOU NEVER TEXT YOU NEVER CALL).

[While I‚Äôm talking about the past and all, I‚Äôm going to take this opportunity to bulldoze over the fourth wall and say, Reader, if a letter-writing, book-reviewing, gif-wielding Crystal sounds familiar, then welcome to the new and improved incarnation of (half of) letsplottwistagain.wordpress.com! Yes, I am back from the dead or Freshman year of college, whatever you want to call it, and I’m here to tell you that letsplottwistagain has been released into the wild. Maybe¬†in 2 million years it‚Äôll be sourced in some anthropologist‚Äôs thesis as another relic of this internet age. Also Ana is now busy doing life things, so.]

The book I’m reviewing today is written by Neil Gaiman, the mind behind Coraline, which in itself should tell you something.

Like¬†Coraline,¬†The Ocean at the End of the Lane, plays on fears that might be more often thought of as child fears. The protagonist for most of the novel is a boy of 7 years, who has to deal with supernatural monsters¬†and make sense of impossible things‚ÄĒand he does so, with remarkable dexterity‚ÄĒyet he’s still afraid of the dark. What Gaiman does really well is the mark of the true author, that is, he’s able to close the age gap by making the reader 7 years old again. No matter how long it’s been since the last time you were afraid of the dark, for the next almost 200 pages, you’re 10 years or 20 years or 50 years younger, back when the dark wasn’t just an absence of light but the presence of every menacing possibility.

*Mild spoilers ahead*

He evokes in the reader¬†that primordial helplessness of being a child¬†in an adult world and turns it into heart-pounding terror. What can¬†you do when your father¬†is being controlled by a supernatural being that can take on the ultimate form of power‚ÄĒthat of a really hot governess? The novel feels faintly like Cinderella. But instead of a evil stepmother, the villain is more like No Face from Spirited Away. She just wanted to make the people happy by giving them money. Is that so wrong? Like No Face, she’s a¬†possibly monstrous, powerful being who has a skewed¬†understanding of the way humans work. (Also it’s interesting to note that the “Be careful what you wish for” theme so prominent in Coraline features here as well. Surprise! The money doesn’t actually make anyone happier.)

“Something came to me, and pleaded for love and help. It told me how I could make all the things like it happy. That they are simple creatures, and all any of them want is money, just money, and nothing more. Little tokens-of-work. If it had asked, I would have given them wisdom, or peace, perfect peace‚Ķ”

And later:

“I ONLY GAVE THEM WHAT THEY NEEDED, she was saying, petulant and afraid. I MADE THEM HAPPY.

‘You made my daddy hurt me,’ I said‚Ķ

I NEVER MADE THEM DO ANYTHING”

The children vs. adults dynamic is drawn along the same lines as those in Spirited Away, wisdom vs. ignorance, adaptability vs. inflexibility etc. In this novel, the power of children is celebrated. Their ability to know hidden ways and to believe in things adults can no longer believe in is their strength, and allows them to triumph.

Gaiman has created another thematically rich and textually riveting masterpiece, as he does. If I had to unpack all of it (and I do want to) it would take me 200 of these posts, so I’ll leave with this one quote that speaks to the power of language. It’s reminiscent of the language-as-a-concept in the Bible, where speaking slides¬†directly into being. But even if we cannot speak this “language of shaping,” it’s enough to know that with our words we can create powerful things too. Stories like this one, that¬†can teach and elicit fear and joy and hope.

‚ÄúIn those dreams I spoke that language too, the first language, and I had dominion over the nature of all that was real. In my dream, it was the tongue of what is, and anything spoken in it becomes real, because nothing said in that language can be a lie. It is the most basic building brick of everything. In my dreams I have used that language to heal the sick and to fly…I would say, in that tongue, ‚ÄúBe whole,‚ÄĚ and they would become whole, not be broken people, not any longer, because I had spoken the language of shaping.”

Love,

Crystal