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):

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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

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—I guess I would recommend if you’re looking to be sad/mad/mostly irritated for a few hours.

From,

Jeannie

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

 

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

Waiting for Godot

Dear Jeannie,

Sorry to hear about the stress! …But also welcome to the rest of your life. A good way to manage your stress is to prioritize, prioritize, prioritize. Also don’t be afraid to let an activity go if it’s all really too much.

Back to the subject at hand, this week I read Samuel Beckett’s play, “Waiting for Godot.” The tagline reads “A tragicomedy in two acts” which I find a bit misleading. Though the “two acts” part is right on, if it’s comedic at all, it’s the kind of absurd comedy that isn’t actually funny. Tragic, I’ll agree with.

The premise is simple: two men are waiting for Godot. Like the two main characters, Vladimir and Estragon, the reader too spends the entire play waiting for something. Things happen of course (“things happen” is almost an axiomatic definition of existence) but *mild spoiler* not the thing the characters nor the reader waits for. Godot never materializes and the emotional payoff—some closure to the story—never materializes for the reader. In fact, what is said isn’t the important or interesting thing, it’s what isn’t said, what the shape of the silences create, the negative space, that gives this play depth and existential meaning. After all, the dialogue is often terse, confounding, trivial, fragmented, absurd:
[Exhibit A]

ESTRAGON: Then adieu.
POZZO: Adieu.
VLADIMIR: Adieu.
POZZO: Adieu.
Silence. No one moves.
VLADIMIR: Adieu.
POZZO: Adieu.
ESTRAGON: Adieu.
Silence.
POZZO: And thank you.
VLADIMIR: Thank you

[Exhibit B]

LUCKY: Given the existence as uttered forth in the public works of Puncher and Wattmann of a personal God quaquaquaqua with white beard quaquaquaqua outside time without extension who from the heights of divine apathia divine athambia divine aphasia loves us dearly…

From the incomprehensibility of large swathes of the dialogue, it’s clear to the reader that Beckett probably intended this work to have some allegorical meaning. Godot, must be in reality a symbol for something bigger.

ESTRAGON: (having tried in vain to work it out). I’m tired! (Pause.) Let’s go.
VLADIMIR: We can’t.
ESTRAGON: Why not?
VLADIMIR: 
We’re waiting for Godot.
ESTRAGON: Ah! (Pause. Despairing.) What’ll we do, what’ll we do!

The line “We’re waiting for Godot” is repeated six times, always in the context of why they cannot leave the side of the road. We don’t know why they’re waiting for Godot, just that they are. In fact, the only alternate solution to the waiting that’s proposed with any possibility is suicide by hanging. Their only problem? They don’t have a rope that’s long or strong enough.

I personally interpret the act of waiting for Godot as a symbol for life passing by (something reinforced by the fact that four out of the five characters in the play are aged). The two men are essentially physically tied to that one spot by the roadside, merely whiling away the time until either Godot arrives or night falls—whichever is first (and it’s always night).

Vladimir: …What are we doing here, that is the question. And we are blessed in this, that we happen to know the answer. Yes, in this immense confusion one thing alone is clear. We are waiting for Godot to come—…Or for night to fall. (Pause.) We have kept our appointment and that’s an end to that. We are not saints, but we have kept our appointment. How many people can boast as much?

Each day, their waiting is merely another go around in futile circularity, the only breakpoint of which is death.

Love,

Crystal