Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Final Ruling: 3/5 stars

The one word I would use to describe this book would be… “underwhelming”. The book had a wonderful premise and was written in a very very interesting way, but it had the potential to be so much more than what it actually turned out to be.

Okay, let me begin by saying that overall, I totally loved the whole ‘vintage vibe’ of the book. The diner and the cassette tapes and the Walkman and the old Mustang and the milkshakes were all totally to die for, they were super cute and quirky and added an enchanting feel to the whole story. It made the whole thing seem really ethereal and very very much a ‘token young adult novel’. But what can I say, I’m a sucker for these kinds of stories. The premise of ‘reasons why’ after a girl kills herself is very very intriguing and allows the reader to step into Hannah’s mind, to truly begin to understand the impact we have on other people’s lives, and the unforeseen repercussions of what we believe to be harmless actions. Hannah’s struggle, and her reasons, were very beautifully conveyed, with light humor and an overall sense of non-reality, making the discussions within the tapes (which held the heaviest kind of reality) emerge in stark contrast to the method of communication. It makes you wonder, who else is thinking these same things? Have I unknowingly impacted somebody’s life in a negative way? What were the consequences of my past actions? Is someone close to me actually going through something unthinkable? Am I missing the signs? And the most haunting question of all: Could I have saved them? If I had looked closer, would I have been able to prevent this tragedy from occurring? Now, these really really hit close to home for me, because I have had multiple friends attempt suicide, with only one being successful, making Thirteen Reasons Why resonate all the more with me.

Okay, now onto the icky part: why I just could not bring myself to give this book more than 3 stars. Drum roll please…… it was the main character, Clay. When Clay first got the tapes and found out what they were about, I was very curious, wanting to know the secrets of his soul, what he did to affect this girl so very deeply. Instead, he was the one thing on the tapes that was not negative, a totally pure ray of sunshine who has done nothing wrong. His angelic soul was a major put-off for me, and quite frankly, a main character who is so clean cut and moral is agonizingly boring. Seriously, reading about Clay and his reactions in between Hannah’s tapes was downright painful, some of them I even skipped over, because they really weren’t necessary; all they did was familiarize me with a character that I really did not want to know more about. Now had he been on those tapes for a reason other than being kind and pure, I would have been intrigued, I would have gobbled up the descriptions of him and begged for more. But alas, that was not the case. Instead, Clay was a 2-dimensional character not interesting or complicated enough for me to make a connection with. I really wish that it were different, words cannot express just how much I wanted to love this book. I just couldn’t.

I would recommend this book to younger folks (or the young-minded) who seek to open their eyes to the world around them, and truly understand how their actions impact the lives of others.

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My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

Final Ruling: 5/5 stars

Okay, let me preface this with the fact that I don’t usually read books like this. Like at all. But somehow, I found myself devouring this book with ardor. Okay, so I know that there are a lot of mixed feelings out there about this book and its ending, but I am so passionate in my love for this story, that I cannot possibly think of this work negatively. The moral grey area, the impossible questions, the vivid characters, and the intense plot lines all come together to form a supernova of a story that I seriously could not put down.

Let’s start with the moral grey areas that make up the whole premise of the book: a catch-22 in which saving one sister kills the other. It is an impossible choice that the Fitzgerald parents have to make when their daughter Anna confronts them with a lawsuit stating that she absolutely refuses to be torn apart to save her sister anymore, which is what she literally was born to do. This, of course, brings up a plethora of moral issues, the most evident to me being, is the idea of a “spare parts baby” okay? Is designing a child to tear apart in order to save another really something that we can condone? How far is too far when it comes to saving a child? If the circumstances are severe enough, is euthanasia a viable option? All of these qualms and more are brought up within the pages of My Sister’s Keeper. Picoult beautifully sets the scene: a family of 5, struggling through the fact that one of their children has an extremely aggressive form of leukemia. Against this background, she gives the reader all of the facts, and allows them to draw their own conclusions about the issue. The points of view are evenly distributed through the cast of characters, and the author shows no obvious preference for anybody, effectively allowing the reader to take whatever side they choose and follow their views on the issue all the way to the end of the story. It is truly a rare piece of literature that does not show clear bias and allows the reader to draw their own conclusions. Now, this blog is not in any way, a soap-box, so my personal feelings on the issue don’t really matter here; what matters is the fact that Picoult steps aside and allows the reader to make their own informed decision, which is truly an amazing thing. Kudos to Miss Jodi for putting something like this out into the world, teaching people not only about the illness that Kate is suffering from, but also about the legal process when it comes to situations like this, and the emotional truth of all the people involved, not just the “main character”.

Okay, enough about that, let’s get down to the most controversial element of the piece: that plot twist. If you don’t want spoilers, please please please skip the following paragraph (typed in italics), I don’t want to ruin anybody’s reading experience (I know I would hate to have it ruined).

Okay, time to get down to it! that plot twist was completely unexpected, shocking, and (I’m not afraid to say) made me cry, like the ugly bawling kind of crying. The way that it was introduced was such an epic slap in the face, I couldn’t breathe after I read it. Seriously, my mom was sitting next to me and I made this like choked squeak noise and she totally freaked out, thinking something had happened to me. And my goodness did it ever. It was a total shock. Now that I look back on it, the entire novel kind of set the scene for the ending. Brian, Anna and Kate’s father, was the one to find them. He is a firefighter, and throughout the book, he is called in via radio to tend to big car crashes, so when he is called away from the hospital for yet another MVC, it seems completely normal. Up until the time he crawls into the car to save those involved in the crash, he doesn’t even know it is his daughter Anna, riding in the passenger seat with her lawyer, who has fallen victim to the whims of the universe. After that, he falls apart, seriously falls apart, as does Campbell, the lawyer, who by some miracle survived the crash while Anna did not. It was heartbreaking to read, absolutely and completely heartbreaking. So, with Anna’s brain death following the crash, she does end up surrendering her kidney, which she fought so hard to keep from her sister (hence the lawyer and separate living and everything). Anyways, the kidney does end up saving Kate’s life, and she goes on to live that life very happily. From the very beginning, I knew that one of the sisters would die, I just expected it to be Kate. So when Anna was the one to die, it totally blindsided me. Now, some people call the author’s decision to kill Anna and give Kate the kidney anyways, regardless of the fact that Anna did win the case, a cop-out. But, in fact, it is the opposite. It allows the reader, whatever side they decided to be on, draw the same conclusion, as well as begin to embrace the concept of inevitability and fate. Perhaps Anna was meant to be nothing more than a spare parts child, perhaps she was meant to give her kidney so that Kate could live, perhaps when it looked like she would not give said kidney, the universe interfered. 

I would recommend this book to anybody with an open heart and mind, anybody not afraid of seeing an issue from both sides and drawing their own conclusions without the guidance of the author.

 

The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

Final Ruling: 3/5 stars

Can I just say… wow. This book left me pretty speechless, as does anything I read containing such sensitive and heartbreaking material. It did break my heart to give this book less than five stars…but alas, I cannot compromise my integrity. Picoult’s writing is so gorgeous, and most of the book is absolutely phenomenal, but it is the first 25% of the book is very slow-moving, very “meh”. And here’s why:

Okay, so let’s get the not-so-amazing stuff out of the way. Quite honestly, I think that this book could have done without that first 25%. I get that Picoult needed a reason for Minka to tell her story, but the way she did it felt kind of like a cop-out, not to mention rushed and pretty glossed over. Sage is a sweet reclusive darling, and she is given an injury purely to create unnecessary intrigue which this book could truly do without. It takes away from the main story and the main point that Picoult is trying to get across. And in the end, the explanation for that injury and Sage’s reclusive nature was very very rushed, and felt more like an afterthought, one that took away from the actual story. In addition, the romance in the book is also what took away from the wonderful core of the novel. It was very unnecessary, very distracting, and very rushed through. It seemed to only stroke Sage’s ego and give her something to gossip  with Mary about. Not to mention the entire idea of the “Jesus loaf” taking center stage, when it just took away (yet again), from the heart-wrenching tale of a Holocaust survivor and the people surrounding her.

Now onto more positive things. Aside from Sage and her story, which I explained in the previous paragraph, the story was breathtakingly beautiful. It brought me close to tears. Minka’s story was beautiful at times, was hopeful at times, was agonizing at times, and, like the life they lived, was truly grotesque. That which she endured in that horrific place is truly too heartbreaking for words. But, in the face of all of that misery, there was Minka and her stories. She told them at night to the other girls in her compound when they were sad or in pain, as an escape from the awful world they lived in. Her allegorical story was beautiful and well written, and earned her the title of “The Storyteller”. It continued on as she was forced from Germany into the ghetto, from the ghetto to the concentration camp, from working as a manual laborer to working as a secretary because of her education, from someone to be kicked around to somebody to be admired for her strength, her perseverance, her stories. In fact, it was her stories that saved her from being killed. One of the guards in the camp, one who did not agree with his fellow Nazis, one whose name was Franz, whisked her away from the depths of the miserable camp and gave her a job as his secretary and saved her life countless times. It was actually sweet how much he cared about her.

Okay, apart from the riveting plot, there was the moral issues raised, serious questions that really made you think. Like what. For instance, the most pressing moral questions were raised by the character of Franz, the scholarly German who wanted to be anything but a Nazi. He took Minska, saved her life, and gave her purpose; but did those good acts really cancel out everything he was forced to do in the name of the Third Reich? Did his unwillingness to comply and quiet rebellion really redeem him? Or did the sins of his brothers seep into his being simply because he joined the movement in self-preservation?

It was heartbreaking to read about Minka in Auschwitz, but it was truly sickening to hear about the man Sage’s supposed friend Josef claimed to be, which was Franz’s cruel and sadistic brother Reiner. However, by the end of the book, it is told in a tear-jerking reveal, that he is sweet and caring Franz, come to pay for the sins of his entire party by requesting that Sage help him die. In his plea, Sage and the reader are forced to contemplate the nature of forgiveness, something that I have realized is not as simple and clean-cut as I had come into this book thinking it was.

I would recommend this book to anybody with a soft spot for historical fiction, the strong ties of friendship, and evocative images that make you question the very foundation of your moral code. However, I would not recommend this to anybody easily distracted or frustrated by pointless and shallow plot lines, which this book seems to have in excess.

Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas

Final Ruling: 5/5 stars

There are seriously not enough words to describe just how much I adore this author. Her books are seriously my lifeblood. Okay, so for this book in particular really hit home for me, and her depiction of so many things went straight to my heart, earning this book a place of honor in my heart, right alongside her other books. So let’s get real here, because I’m not one to just hand out five star ratings all willy-nilly. Let’s get down to it, there are so many reasons for my adoration of this book.

The most important thing about this book, in my opinion, are the characters. Oh my sweet goodness the characters. Now, for me, the characters are the most important part of any book, the souls that are written into them make or break the story for me, no question. So let’s begin (I’ll go along with the points of view from which this tale is told).

First of all, of course, there is our beloved Celaena Sardothien or, as we come to know her in this book, Aelin Ashryver Galathynius. During the course of this story in particular, we get a glimpse into her soul which, in the words of one of my favorite guilty pleasure TV shows, is quite dark and twisty. Heir of Fire contains what is quite possibly the best representation of a character with depression that I have ever read (well, other than in Sarah’s other phenomenal series, which is not the point). Throughout the text, Aelin frequently references her feelings of drowning, of numbness, of unadulterated agony, that comes along with depression. It warmed my heart to see this representation, and not only did she represent the dark depths of the worst times, but she also showed Aelin fighting tooth and nail against it, and winning. She rose from the depths of depression back into the light. But the most important thing about this representation is that she shows that depression is an illness, a terminal one, and though it may get better, it never goes away. Aelin will have to live with her depression forever, and Sarah J Maas shows that that is okay, that that is what happens. And that is so unbelievably important. Aelin is, without a doubt, a personal light of mine, someone that I admire for her fight against the darkness, and one that I look to to remind myself that even the worst darkness can be overcome.

Whew, now other than Aelin, my absolute favorite character in this entire series is Manon Blackbeak. She is my morally ambiguous queen and the absolute love of my life. Morally ambiguous characters are my absolute favorite and, in my opinion, there are not enough of them. Now, it’s true that Manon has done some horrific things, but she also does have a heart, and does care. For instance, sweet Abraxos is the love of her life and he is a big mighty wyvern who is supposed to strike fear in the hearts of the public that is absolutely obsessed with wildflowers. Like he sniffs them and rolls around in them and it is so precious. They are two peas in a pod, two morally ambiguous beings who care deeply for one another as well as those around them. That right there is exactly what I love about them, that their morals are not strictly black and white, that things are not strictly right or wrong, no matter what their superiors claim. I actually have come to admire her, or at least certain parts of her; for instance, she is so unapologetically herself, following her own moral compass, no matter the consequences. For this, she is exceptional, and for this, she rises to become my favorite character in the series; from her introduction in this book, she stole my heart and my mind, and somehow Maas managed to make this cold, stony, and morally ambiguous woman into somebody phenomenal.

Other than them, of course, there are other characters that deserve and honorable mention. Rowan, who knows exactly how to correctly pull Aelin out of her fog of depression (and helps her do so) because he went through it himself with the loss of his mate; Sorscha, who so lovingly looks after Dorian in the wake of his father’s ruthlessness, and pays the ultimate price for it; Chaol, who fights for Aelin even after he discovers who she is and what she has done; Aedion, who would do anything for his cousin, whose ties of family are stronger than anything in this world; Asterin, who lives with her entire body and soul, whose loyalty to Manon is  unmatched; and Dorian, who, in this book, becomes a king in his own right and suffers unimaginably for it.

Okay, enough about my character obsession. Another amazing aspect of this book is the plot, oh my sweet goodness, the plot. This book is filled with the stuff of nightmares, chasing the main characters all around; but it also shows these characters coming into their own, growing up, making their own decisions, becoming who they are supposed to be. Yes, some refer to this book as a ‘filler’ in the Throne of Glass series, but it is anything but; it is incredibly necessary. No, it does not have all of the action of the other books, but the character development is breathtaking, and the action it does have is intense and mess-with-your-heartbeat kind of good. The Valg are truly terrifying, and the princes that Aelin fights at the conclusion of the novel are pure nightmare, and I honestly was not sure who would prevail, I thought the darkness would swallow Aelin once and for all. Instead, she rallies, and finally accepts her role as the Queen of Terrasen, in a scene that seriously brought tears to my eyes.

I would recommend this book to anybody in desperate need of an epic fantasy to sweep them off their feet and take them to all new heights.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Final Ruling: 4.5/5 stars

My goodness gracious, I have been reading so many good books lately it’s been wonderful; adding to that ever-growing list is The Secret History. I don’t even know where to begin with this book, it seriously left me reeling (in the best of ways), I didn’t even know what to do with myself. It made me question all of my morals and begin to look at the people around me in a new and different light.

There was literally nothing about this book that did not take my breath away (well, except for that one thing, but I’ll address that later). Anyways, let’s get back to breathtaking (because frankly, breathtaking is more fun). First on my list of what I loved about this book was the characters. Oh my sweet goodness, the characters. They are diverse, interesting, complex, as well as totally, horribly, fantastically twisted. Call me twisted in turn, but morally ambiguous characters make my world go ’round. Seriously, all six of the main characters are seriously messed up, and Tartt allows us a glimpse into their minds and more importantly, their motivations. By the end of the book, Tartt crafts these characters so masterfully that I actually understood why they did the horrible things that they did. We are first introduced to Richard, who we later learn is actually a semi-decent human being, who just kind of got dragged into all of this murder business because of an affinity for speaking Greek. His morals are ridiculously twisted, and I am actually super grateful that we get to see this story through his eyes, I couldn’t imagine it would have been half as good had the story been told by anyone else. Okay, moving on from our phenomenal narrator, we learn about the quirky Greek professor, Julian. When I first read the introduction to Julian, I honestly thought that he would end up being the antagonist, as he is ridiculously charismatic and very particular about the students he chooses to teach. I was proved to be horribly horribly wrong, as he ends up being relatively innocent, all things considered, and is actually just a quirky, passionate guy. The actual antagonist does not reveal himself as such until much much later in the book, after multiple murders take place and his psyche spirals out of control, eventually ending in his suicide.Henry is the token dark and brooding “anti-hero”. At first, I thought he was actually really cool and smart and would develop like all of the other anti-heroes I am always reading about. However, the crimes and schemes he puts together take a monumental hit on his mind. Call me twisted (once again I guess), but his downward spiral is absolutely fascinating, and the fact that we get to witness his descent into madness is ridiculously amazing. This book is the first I have read that allows us to glimpse that descent firsthand, and to witness their direct repercussions, which was truly breathtaking. Of course, there are the other six characters to consider, whose twisted minds are just as interesting. Francis is  a sweet clingy cinnamon roll who is far too good for everything that has been happening (he is most definitely my favorite). Charles and Camilla, on the other hand, are not so sweet; they are beautiful and more twisted than any of the others in my opinion, seeing as they are siblings (twins no less), who sleep together, which is just totally cringe-worthy.

If you would please excuse my long-winded love of the characters, I will move on to express my wholehearted love of the way it was written. I know, beyond a doubt, that this book and Tartt’s writing, will haunt me for some time. Donna Tartt’s writing is ridiculously beautiful (quite possibly some of the most beautiful writing I have ever read), and it is with that flowery lyricism that she outlines horrific happenings, downward spirals into madness, and a group of college students teetering on the edge of ‘right and wrong’. She also integrates an immense amount of what I see as the “Inception-factor”. She writes about a group of students studying the Greeks, their customs, their language, their literature, and most importantly, their tragedies. As they study these stories, the lives of the students unfurl to directly mirror the plot of a Greek tragedy, complete with multiple deaths, revelry, incest, hardship, and moral ambiguity. It is amazing how Tartt literally creates her own modern Greek tragedy, one whose characters are frighteningly relatable and whose landscape is far more realistic than anybody would like to admit.

I would recommend this to everybody of mature enough mind to handle such moral ambiguity (seriously, it gave me many an existential crisis). So, brace yourselves, because The Secret History is not something to be taken lightly.

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

Final Ruling: 5/5 stars

Oh my sweet goodness, talk about ****magical****. This story is the fairy tale to end all fairy tales. It is magical, self-aware, quirky, breathtakingly lovely, mysterious, and just all-around wonderful. Not only does it read like a traditional fairy tale, but it feels like magic, it feels like childhood, it feels like everything a fantasy story should be.

The story follows the unicorn, later dubbed Lady Amalthea, who is the last of her kind. She searches relentlessly for the resting place of the rest of the unicorns, along the way picking up a ragtag group of supporters, who later prove themselves actually integral to her quest. She braves cruel people, being captured and displayed, evil kings, fiery monsters, and a lonely prince with a heart of gold.

Beagle creates a poignant and stunning landscape that still manages to echo with the dark despair of the people under the rule of King Haggard. The unicorn provides a glittering ray of hope, managing to bring light to everyone she touches. Regardless of this, nearly everybody that encounters her attempts to take her for their own, thus depriving the rest of the world of her magic. Even the prince, albeit unwittingly, keeps her prisoner with his stereotypically ‘prince-ly’ acts of heroism; however, what makes him different is that he did not intend to detain her, but instead to make her fall in love with him. This fact opens the door to the idea that perhaps love is its own type of prison. By the end, the prince, now the only ruler of his kingdom, does attempt to detain Amalthea, whose time as a human made her seek the imprisonment that she tried so so so very hard to avoid. But, in the end, he allowed her to go free, albeit after a stern talking to from Molly and Schmendrick, and I can’t help but think of a line from one of my favorite poems: “nothing gold can stay”.

The Last Unicorn is a breathtaking story about the true nature of love, the importance of friendship, the true nature of greed, and the true nature of people in the face of something truly beautiful.

I would recommend this epic and timeless fairy tale to anybody, young or old, who wishes to once again look at the world around them with wide-eyed fascination.

Winter by Marissa Meyer

Final Ruling: THERE ARE NOT ENOUGH STARS TO DESCRIBE MY LOVE FOR THIS BOOK

(5/5)

Winter is the most amazing book I have read this month, and the wonderful end to the best series I have read ever. Marissa Meyer is, without a doubt, one of the best (and most magical) authors of our time. Her books not only retell fairy tales in a new and imaginative way, but also shed light on a plethora of real world issues, as well as integrate countless minorities into her stories (something I totally totally appreciate). There are racial minorities as kickass heroines, accurate and respectful representation of mental illness, all different types of relationships, racial commentary, sexism commentary, and countless other threads weaved into a collection of stories which, on the surface, are simply fairy tales set far in the future. Cinderella is a cyborg, Belle is a take-no-prisoners ship captain, Rapunzel is a lovely genius, and finally, in Winter, we are introduced to a heartbreakingly lovely and mentally ill Snow White.

As someone who is struggling with mental illness herself, the representation of it and the attitude of other characters towards her. Winter has vivid and terrifying hallucinations and panic attacks; brave princess Winter has brought this upon herself, due to her flat out refusal to manipulate people with the mind-twisting abilities that all Lunars possess, which is quite possibly the most selfless thing that anybody in Meyer’s world could ever do (at least in my opinion).

Most people cringe in the face of mental illness, especially those with conditions as serious as Winter, and that right there is exactly what makes Winter’s relationship with her guard, Jacin, so phenomenal and unprecedented in anything I have ever read (which is saying something because seriously I read so much it should be considered a sickness). Their relationship is exactly how a relationship between a person of sound mind and a person with a mental illness: Jacin comes to her aid during episodes instead of leaving her to fend for herself, Winter feels safe with him, Jacin knows how to spot the signs of her attacks and knows how to help her all the way through them, Winter does not feel the need to hide those scary parts of her from him, and most important of all JACIN DOES NOT VIEW HER AS BROKEN! <– this right here is the most important thing in any relationship involving someone with a mental illness. Jacin accepts every single part of Winter, even the not-so-pretty parts, and his declaration that he does not view her as broken seriously brought me to tears. I have never never read a book about a mentally ill person that does not in some way involve fixing them or negating their illness. This is where Winter rises above and beyond all of the books of our time (at least above all of the books that I have read). Not only does Winter provide an accurate and positive representation of mental illness, but it achieves this in the young adult fiction genre, meaning that this message will go out to the younger generation of Americans. If I had had a book like this one while I was growing up, maybe I wouldn’t have felt so hopeless, alone, and irrelevant in my fight with mental illness. Words cannot accurately express the sheer depth of my gratitude to Marissa Meyer for providing a story that I have no doubt, will impact millions and millions of people and perhaps let everybody struggling with mental illness that they are not as alone as they think.

Ugh, I have so many feelings about this book, I can’t even handle it. ALSO, the mental illness representation does not stop with Winter’s hallucinations and panic attacks, Meyer also incorporates an accurate representation of PTSD in Scarlet. There are so many books in which the heroines go through horrible ordeals, but come out the other end with mere physical injuries. These authors gloss over the psychological effect of major trauma, thereby downplaying the experiences of people who actually know what it is like to live through such an ordeal, and who know that PTSD is absolutely not something to be glossed over. Meyer is the only author that I have read that does not gloss over those psychological effects, instead revealing the not-so-pretty side of it in Scarlet, and does not shy away from the long and arduous journey that is overcoming PTSD. My love and appreciation for the representation of that journey is immense, so much so that mere words and mere tears cannot express it.

THANK YOU MARISSA for giving me the representation I so desperately needed but didn’t even know to look for. She has most definitely ruined all other books for me, as their lack of representation is glaring in the face of Meyer’s masterpiece. Not only does that representation include the representation of mental illness, but she also incorporates amazingly diverse characters, providing a representation of strong people of color that I know for a fact they are always looking for.

Enough about the characters, the plot and also makes this story impossibly better. A book chock-full of daring adventure, tearful reunions, suspenseful undertakings, heartbreaking tragedies, epic romance, expertly integrated commentary, breathtaking magic, and in the end, the triumph of the righteous: in other words, everything you could ever want from a fantasy novel (or really, any book at all). In addition to such a wonderful plot, the absolutely breathtaking writing itself seems to transport you into a surprising yet familiar fairy tale world, one that I am sure everyone hated leaving just as much as I did.

I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone I come across, and especially anybody who needs to know as desperately as I do that they are not alone.