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:

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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

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

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.

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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 :/

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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

Monster Culture: Seven Theses

Dear Jeannie,

Yeahhhh, school is crazyyy. I just went to this talk today and basically Time Management. The dude kept track of every single hour of his day and apparently it really helped! He dedicated an hour a day to programming side projects, which he said hands-down was the best decision he ever made. Maybe try that kind of time bookkeeping?

I didn’t finish the book I planned on reviewing so I’m just going to do a similar thing with the articles, except this one is a critical theory essay regarding monster culture. It’s an incredible read, very interesting, and as Trump would say, “I’m a big fan.” The essay by Jeffrey Cohen, called “Monster Culture: Seven Theses”, discusses why we, as a society, are so obsessed with monsters (Frankenstein, Dracula, Godzilla etc. etc.) and how often monsters can represent social margins and boundaries crossed. They can be effigies of everything we hate and also be the symbol of things we secretly want. One section is even called “Fear of the Monster is Really a Kind of Desire.”

Anyway, read it because it’ll definitely add a level to your writing on texts involving monsters in class (pshaw, you say, how many monster texts could there be? To which I’d respond, everything is a monster text). Let me tell you, my term paper for AP Literature after reading this essay was a big hit.

I actually found a link to the whole essay online, which, thanks internet! But also, please don’t arrest me:

http://www.englishwithtuttle.com/uploads/3/0/2/6/30266519/cohen_monster_culture__seven_theses__3-20.pdf

So anyway, read it and let me know what you think!

Love,

Crystal