Everything, Everything

Dear Jeannie,

HahahAHaha, so it’s been a good few months since I last posted and I am so sorry. Somehow College has gotten even more hectic this year. It’s now reading week (our study week before finals) and I guess in honor of that, instead of studying, I actually read a book! A rare occurrence this semester, indeed.

Nicola Yoon’s Everything, Everything is a book I desperately wanted to love, for reasons I’ll get into below—don’t get me wrong, I did mostly enjoy it—but it fell far short of my expectations. It’s one of those John Green books. You know the type (and if you guessed okay then it must be getting its own movie, you’d be absolutely correct and here’s the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=42KNwQ6u42U).

It’s got the protagonist, a teenage girl named Madeline, who has read more books than anyone and also loves haikus, and who is incurably ill with SCID (basically you don’t have a functioning immune system and any germ or bacterium can get you deathly sick). Which means she can’t leave her sterile house. And of course how can it truly be like The Fault in Our Stars if there’s no star-crossed lovers shtick? Indeed it can’t. Meet Olly, her new next door neighbor and a very hot boy, if you buy what Madeline is selling. And who thinks she and her freckles is the sh*t.

[gif from The Fault in Our Stars; which is basically the same thing as having a gif straight from this book right? :)))))))]

And guess what?

They see each other through her window and it’s basically insta-love. But anyway, they can’t do anything together besides email and “IM” (I love when older people try to get with the teen lingo), since Olly gets to live in the world, Outside, and Madeline can’t. Some unexpected plot twists occur (I spoiled the book for myself while reading goodreads reviews unfortunately) although Yoon does a passable job in dropping enough hints that the plot twist seemed less like a Deus Ex Machina case and more like a plot point that drives the book to a more interesting place.

One of the things about this book that I was very excited for was that Madeline’s mom is Asian and her dad was African American, so she’s a very rarely represented ethnicity in YA lit and indeed in all literature probably. Unfortunately!!! And I’m so mad about this, the movie made her mom African American instead. Her being of Asian-African-American mixed race was, I felt, integral to who that character was in the novel, and was belabored by Yoon as well. This travesty of film casting is just another example of Hollywood’s “allergy” to Asian actors/actresses and I’m fricking angry about it.

Sorry for that aside into my feelings about the movie industry. But URGH SOCIETY!

I did love how the novel incorporated illustrations and incorporated the emails and “IMs” (lol). These non-text additions really helped make the novel more interesting and whimsical. See two examples below (ignore the top and bottom black bars those are from my phone when I screenshotted these):

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Anyway, despite my sarcasm laden complaints, and general grouchiness with how Madeline (and clearly the English language public, since John Green is still out there writing) buys into that whole “love conquers all” farce (Like it’s all the same!! Isn’t it boring by now? Or maybe I’m just getting old…), I felt like this was a fun enough read.

3/5 Would not read again, but I’m left with a net positive impression of the novel so…

Wish me luck on finals!

Love,

Crystal

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. 😦
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

The Winner’s Curse

Dear Jeannie,

Okay so I’m going to cut you some slack since it’s midterm week for you but bruh, post already.

Now that the obligatory chiding is out of the way, instead of getting ahead on/doing problem sets and whatnot this week, I read a bunch of YA novels (the others of which I’ll be reviewing in the upcoming weeks). The one I finished most recently is The Winner’s Curse (which I will be abbreviating with TWC because I’m not about typing the same thing over and over) by Marie Rutkoski. (First of all, it’s still so strange that when I read YA now, all these characters are younger than me?? Like smol child, please stop doing these things before you get actual PTSD.)

TWC is mainly about star-crossed lover pair Kestrel and Arin, (Arin starts out as Kestrel’s slave before we find out they are on opposite sides of the political situation–Romeo and Juliet on steroids?). Kestrel, a Valorian, is part of the currently ruling faction, in fact her father is the general of Valoria’s military, while Arin hails from the conquered people, whose houses and land Valoria has seized.

I will say that to its credit, TWC actually reads like a plausible historical fiction novel, if you know, you made Valoria (I hate these stupid made up fantasy names) France during Napoleon’s reign or Genghis Khan’s empire. And there was a surprisingly low level of emotional constipation from the leads once they figured out their own feelings (obviously pre-confession there were still tense moments). But for sure the highlight is Kestrel’s intelligence & deviousness. Unlike many YA novels where the heroine is “like super smart while still kicking sooo much a$$” Kestrel actually has a believable talent for strategizing and scheming. It almost reminds me a lil of good ol’ Artemis Fowl.

While not mind-blowingly awesome, it was a fun read. Would recommend.

Love,

Crystal

A Lesson Before Dying

Hi Crystal,

WOWOWOWOWOW this country is going crAZY right now. Election day was pretty rough ngl. Tbh it was an emotional roller-coaster for everyone, but I’m sure the panic will set in eventually.

when-you-plan-a-joke-in-your-head-but-then-it-sounds-stupid

On top of the fact that our nation is falling apart, I have a biology test tomorrow that I’m pretty worried about. Wish me luck!!

Recently, I have been reading and annotating A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines. It is about a young black man named Jefferson who is falsely accused of murder and sentenced to death in the south during the 1940’s. During his trial, he is called a “hog” by the white lawyers. Hearing this, his aunt, Miss Emma, tries to convince Grant, an African American teacher in their quarter, to go and “make Jefferson a man again.”

One major theme in the book is the idea of staying to fight your fight. Grant, one of the few educated black people in the town, goes off to college basically in search of a way to escape the prejudice in the Cajun community he’s from. However, he winds up back there as a teacher, a job which he clearly isn’t too happy about. He lives a pretty depressing life, caring very little about his job, as he feels it is unnecessary and all in vain because the kids still end up in jail (like Jefferson). He always talks about running away and becoming more in life but never actually leaves. Throughout the novel, he learns to become a man while helping Jefferson become a “man” as well. He learns that as a truly educated person, he has to stay and fight the fight because that’s the only way things will get better for the African American community.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been making comments on every other line of the text or because I have to write an 800 word essay every week, but I thought this book was very slow-paced. Basically 300 pages long and with a pretty uneventful plot, the story line is a little boring sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, however, the writing is very good. It seems like every line the author writes has a purpose and a symbol. Gaines is an obviously a talented writer, clearly displayed when he can make me so frustrated when I read certain scenes that I want to bang my head against a wall.

Imma be real for a hot sec– I straight up didn’t enjoy reading the book. Something about literally NONE of the characters being likable just didn’t rest well with me. Yeah, yeah, I know all of them are supposed to be bitter about racial inequality and feeling trapped, but the whole “negativity is EVERYWHERE” mindset is just a struggle to read about. Even the main character, Grant, is a straight up self centered a**hole and doesn’t care about anyone else. Yes, the book is about growing up and becoming a “man” but it seems like 99.9999% of it is essentially just him going like “ugh i h8 this place sm!!1! i wanna run away w my still-married gf!!1! but she doesn’t want 2 leave?? WTF vivian!?!”

I dig a really good historical fiction book– it’s one of my favorite genres ever, but I can see A Lesson Before Dying being a book I remember for being kinda a pain to read. 5/10.. (not my #1 choice for a book to read for pastime, but certainly a fine book for studies)

Love,

Jeannie

 

The House on Mango Street

Dear Crystal,

Over the last few weeks, I have been reading and analyzing Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street. I read it a while back but didn’t fully interpret the book’s deeper meanings. I’m not going to completely spoil the book in this review, (so my plot part only goes half way into the novel) but I want to show some parts of Esperanza I didn’t notice the first time.

The House on Mango Street, a novel written with a series of vignettesis narrated by a girl named Esperanza who is trying to find her identity. She lives in a home that she is ashamed off; it’s run down and cramped. She lives life with a pretty bleak outlook, if you ask me.

In English my name means hope. In Spanish it means too many letters. It mean s sadness, it means waiting. It is like the number nine. A muddy color. It is the Mexican records my father plays on Sunday mornings when he is shaving, songs like sobbing.

She goes on to say that she feels trapped, citing a story of her great-grandmother. It’s pretty powerful:

I would’ve liked to have known her, a wild horse of a woman… Until my great-grandfather threw a sack over her head and carried her off… She looked out the winder her whole life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow. I wonder if she made the best with what she got or she was sorry because she couldn’t be all the things she wanted to be. Esperanza. I have inherited her name, but I don’t want to inherit her place by the window.

Esperanza hopes that her name and other things she was born with doesn’t affect her future. She even describes herself as a “red balloon tied to an anchor.” She feels trapped and that she is destined to live a miserable life because of her family situation–she has no friends, no money, no real happiness, that is, until she befriends two girls named Rachel and Lucy, with whom she starts to open up with.

Esperanza starts to discover who she is through several “coming of age” experiences. She has more responsibilities, which include getting a job, breaking news to her younger siblings, etc.. She has few pretty creepy things happen to her. Old men kiss her and she gets sexually assaulted :/

70e8d17b6203820df68a3880e0fe16f2

Esperanza learns what it means to develop an identity. It doesn’t come from your family’s past or your social class or your heritage. Esperanza was mistaken– you don’t have to reinvent yourself. Your identity is what YOU make of it. 🙂

That’s all for now,

Jeannie

Crooked Kingdom

Dear Jeannie,

I hope you have gotten your sheets together but if you haven’t know that it will get better. (Which sounds so cliche and trite and bleh but is true! There’s always an adjustment period when you go to a new school even if you’ve been there before.)

This week I read Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo, which is the second book in the “Six of Crows” duology. It would definitely make more sense to have reviewed Six of Crows first but like American politics, I too don’t believe in sense-making.

The series follows a gang of what seems to be late teenagers, in a fictional world where superpowered humans known as “grisha” exist. The gang is led by criminal mastermind Kaz Brekker (think of a much, much more violent and sociopathic Artemis Fowl), and his close cohorts, Inej who’s a spy/acrobat/Kaz’s love-interest (I say “love-interest” lightly because Kaz is so emotionally stunted), Jesper, who’s a young, sarcastic version of Deadshot, Wylan, a rich boy turned chemistry/demolitions genius, the grisha of the team, Nina, and Matthias (who is the muscle? Nina’s on again off again bf?). Essentially the two books can be boiled down to: they get into some bad situations and then have to scheme their way out. The series is almost gratuitously gritty. Every character’s backstory is steeped in trauma.  And most if not all seem to have symptoms of PTSD.

Some themes: drug addiction, life after prostitution, murder, corruption, very effed up parent child dynamics (a dad tries repeatedly to murder his kid), torture, abuse etc.

If the themes above sound like they could be a list of key words from another terrible Batman reboot, that’s because they probably could.

At this point, it’s hard to tell if Bardugo is aiming for shock value, or if she thinks the story couldn’t be told without every single bit of grit. I do have to say that while the issues are very much real issues irl, Bardugo’s world building is strong enough that the reader sees these problems as if through a thickly tinted lens. In a sense, she casts fantasy as a buffer for the reader’s trauma. Bardugo is also a rather talented writer, with a gift for character-craft and witty dialogue. Below I’ve included some quotes I found either characteristic of Bardugo’s style or just interesting tidbits in general.

“He’ll be charged with violating a contract and attempting to interfere with the market… There is no greater crime according to Kerch law. The sentences are the same as for murder. He could hang.”

And it’s not just real world trauma that she tries to recreate in her fantasy world, Bardugo also tries to recreate a lot of real world systems. She exposes capitalism by creating something that is so hyperbolic it’s like looking into a funhouse mirror and learning something new.

No mourners, no funerals. Another way of saying good luck. But it was something more. A dark wink to the fact that there would be no expensive burials for people like them, no marble markers to remember their names, no wreaths of myrtle and rose.

And:

Inej almost felt sorry for her. Dunyasha really believed she was the Lantsov heir, and maybe she was. But wasn’t that what every girl dreamed? That she’d wake and find herself a princess? Or blessed with magical powers and a grand destiny? Maybe there were people who lived those lives. Maybe this girl was one of them. But what about the rest of us? What about the nobodies and the nothings, the invisible girls? We learn to hold our heads as if we wear crowns. We learn to wring magic from the ordinary. That was how you survived when you weren’t chosen, when there was no royal blood in your veins. When the world owed you nothing, you demanded something of it anyway.

So anyway, as terrible as school is, at least your parent/half the city isn’t trying to kill you (an active problem for Kaz’s entire gang).

Love,

Crystal

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