18473997Title: Dept. of Speculation
Author: Jenny Offill
Pages: 180
Year: 2014
Publisher: Vintage (Penguin)
Time taken to read: 3 days
Rating: 4/5

Goodreads synopsis: Dept. of Speculation is a portrait of a marriage. It is also a beguiling rumination on the mysteries of intimacy, trust, faith, knowledge, and the condition of universal shipwreck that unites us all. Jenny Offill’s heroine, referred to in these pages as simply “the wife,” once exchanged love letters with her husband postmarked Dept. of Speculation, their code name for all the uncertainty that inheres in life and in the strangely fluid confines of a long relationship. As they confront an array of common catastrophes—a colicky baby, a faltering marriage, stalled ambitions—the wife analyzes her predicament, invoking everything from Keats and Kafka to the thought experiments of the Stoics to the lessons of doomed Russian cosmonauts. She muses on the consuming, capacious experience of maternal love, and the near total destruction of the self that ensues from it as she confronts the friction between domestic life and the seductions and demands of art.

I borrowed this book from my office–yes, I have an office now! Well, I am rather sort of a guest in an office. I have been an intern at Union Literary in Soho for two weeks now, and it is amazing (despite the fact that it pays $0.00 an hour). I love 1. not having to talk to anyone pretty much all day (customer service is exhausting) and 2. when I do talk to someone, we’re hashing out ideas about a manuscript and trying to figure out what to do with it, so it’s like my reviews here, except it actually matters. And even though I’ve only been there two weeks, my opinion is valued, and that feels indescribable. And it’s really cool that this book, which is such a big hit, came from my office.

When I read the back cover, I honestly thought it wasn’t going to be that interesting. It’s a husband and wife and their baby and their marriage is falling apart, blah blah. Why should I care? What about this story is different? Truthfully, nothing. It’s the words. This is no typical narrative. One Goodreads reviewer described it as a “mosaic,” which I think is the perfect word for it. The poetic style is really cool to me because while I like the concept of poetry, I just don’t really get it most of the time, and I like the rules of the English language, which poetry often discards. So this was like poetry with proper grammar and syntax, which I love. The hard part was that there were parts of the story that I didn’t understand because it was so poetic. (That’s also what I don’t like about most poetry: just say the thing you mean! It doesn’t have to be so cryptic!) Especially with the ending, I just didn’t understand what was happening and why, what the conclusion was supposed to be, and what was supposed to be implied for their future.

But overall, I enjoyed reading it, and there were so many great lines that I wanted to write down. I only ended up writing down one: “But now it seems possible that the truth about getting older is that there are fewer and fewer things to make fun of until finally there is nothing you are sure you will never be” (114). Isn’t that just so real? I also loved when she talked about the “Little Theater of Hurt Feelings,” and I thought that might have even been a better title for the book. My favorite part, though, was when she started describing a scene of her life as though one of her students had written it as fiction and she was critiquing it. That was really something special. I suggest you give this one a go!

5107Title: The Catcher in the Rye
Author: J. D. Salinger
Pages: 277
Year: 1951
Publisher: Back Bay Books (Little, Brown; Hachette)
Time taken to read: 3 days
Rating: 3/5

Goodreads synopsis: Since his debut in 1951 as The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield has been synonymous with “cynical adolescent.” Holden narrates the story of a couple of days in his sixteen-year-old life, just after he’s been expelled from prep school, in a slang that sounds edgy even today and keeps this novel on banned book lists. […] His constant wry observations about what he encounters, from teachers to phonies (the two of course are not mutually exclusive) capture the essence of the eternal teenage experience of alienation.

Yes, I have an English degree, and I only just read this book for the first time. People were always baffled when I told them I hadn’t read this one, but now I have, so I guess I’m a normal person now. What pushed me to read it was my interview with Writers House. The director of the program told me it’s his favorite book, and I ended up being selected as an “alternate,” but that’s a different story. I wish I had read it in high school, because I would love to know how my teenage self would have responded to it. Unfortunately, all I can discuss is now.

I think I really liked the stream of consciousness style, and I liked that there wasn’t much of a plot. There was a problem, and there was a character solving the problem, but it wasn’t a plot in the usual sense. I say I think I liked it because I’m not totally sure, but the more I think about it, the more I feel sure that I liked it. I know that a lot of people think Holden is a whiny emo bitch, and I see that. Whenever he complained about people who like movies, I wanted to smack him. But the reason I can’t say I like this book overall is his attitude towards women and girls. I do not care what time period this was written in, let me make that clear. I do not care. I don’t care if it’s the year 2000 B.C., you cannot talk about girls the way Holden does. He constantly talks about how “most girls” are stupid and “phony” (as apparently everyone is in Holden’s world) and blah blah, and I won’t have it.  And he even starts talking about how whenever he tries to have sex with girls, they want him to stop, and he does, but he talks about how he shouldn’t stop, and he wishes he wouldn’t, but he does anyway. He really makes it out to be a negative thing that he isn’t constantly sexually assaulting girls, and it’s horrific. Sure, it’s good that he’s not doing it, but everything about his mindset is wrong.

Another thing that’s rather infuriating is something I’ve found in some reviews on Goodreads. By the second half of the book, I had picked up on the fact that Holden clearly suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder. I’ve talked about this illness a lot because I was given my diagnosis this March, although I’ve known I have it since I was eighteen. I’m not the only one who’s figured this out. It’s clear in the way that he professes his love for Sally and a paragraph later he hates her, and he does this with multiple characters. (It’s called “splitting”.) It’s clear in his impulsive behavior, like when he suddenly decides to leave Pencey, and later on when he suddenly decides to hitchhike out west and then suddenly decides to not do that, and he’s constantly having suicidal thoughts. A little thing I picked up on too is when he hangs out with this guy who he mentions says the word “certainly” a lot, and after that, Holden uses that word with increasing frequency. Because of a Borderline’s unstable sense of self, they tend to mirror the people that they’ve most recently spent time with. What infuriated me in the reviews is that people are swearing up and down that he can’t have BPD because he loves his sister, and Borderlines have no empathy. Excuse me?? Let me introduce you to someone. This is my baby sister:

Her name is Jane, and she’s turning eight years old next week. She is technically my half-sister, but she is basically my own child, and she has been the light of my life since the day she was born when I was fourteen. I do not know what kind of life I would be living if I didn’t have her. I don’t know if I would be living at all. Everything I do, I do for her, and it will always be that way. So I don’t want to hear for one second that Borderlines can’t love or can’t feel empathy. The whole thing about being a Borderline is that you feel EVERYTHING and you feel it hard, and while that can be mostly sadness and anger and guilt and fear, it is also love and happiness. I get to love Jane as fiercely as I do because I am a Borderline. I just really hate people who act like they know everything about mental illnesses when they actually know nothing.

Back to the actual book: I think I would be giving this a much higher rating if the whole girls/sex thing hadn’t really ruined it for me. You couldn’t have just cut that one paragraph, Salinger? Disappointing. But like I said, I liked the style, and I’m glad that I read it so at least now I can say that I have. Happy reading, friends! (Also, guess who liked my last review? Hint: it’s the author of the book!)

28374007Title: Three Dark Crowns
Author: Kendare Blake
Pages: 398
Year: 2016
Publisher: HarperTeen
Time taken to read: 9 days
Rating: 5/5

Goodreads synopsis: In every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born—three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions. But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins. The last queen standing gets the crown. 

I read an excerpt from this in Buzz Books 2016 YA fall/winter edition, and it was one of the best excerpts in the book. I was very excited when this came out last month, but I started reading some reviews on Goodreads and a lot of them were pretty negative. I typically don’t read reviews until I read the book, but I was so hyped about it while I was waiting for it to arrive at my library that I couldn’t help myself. Anyway, in my opinion, those people were all wrong, and this is a great book. I will say that when I read the excerpt, I thought it was going to be full of really stupid names like “Pietyr” which is obviously just Peter, but that ended up being the only really stupid one. The name Arsinoe is obviously weird, but I kind of like it. I was also really irritated by the fact that the first chapter spends a lot of time talking about how skinny and sickly Katharine is, and her caretakers obviously don’t like how she looks, but I think that fantasy novels especially do this thing a lot where they describe the bones jutting out and hollow cheeks and things like that, and they try to put it in a negative light, but then they talk about how she’s so hauntingly beautiful and blah blah, and it just creates an environment where eating disorder thoughts can easily grow.

That’s probably my biggest criticism of the book, though, and after that first chapter it’s definitely toned down, so it didn’t affect my rating. I guess the book started off a little slow, as many Goodreads reviewers said, but I think that’s only in comparison to the fact that the second half of the book had me reading like mad. I was absolutely desperate to get to the end, and then I was almost there and I remembered this book is just the first in a series, and now I almost wish I had just waited until they had all come out because I will absolutely die waiting for the next one! I also read a lot in the reviews about “the twist at the end,” so I will just mention that, because it got me super excited to get to it: it was amazing, and I never once suspected it. And now that I think about it, I’m like, wow, should that have been super obvious? But I didn’t see it coming at all, so good on Kendare Blake for that. I’m not really that big of a fantasy reader, so if you’re not either, I’d still definitely recommend this one. Even if you think it’s going slow in the beginning, keep going. This story is wild.

23492671Title: The Rosie Effect
Author: Graeme Simsion
Pages: 352
Year: 2015
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Time taken to read: 5 days
Rating: 5/5

Goodreads synopsisThe Wife Project is complete, and Don and Rosie are happily married and living in New York. But they’re about to face a new challenge. Rosie is pregnant. Don sets about learning the protocols of becoming a father, but his unusual research style gets him into trouble with the law. Fortunately his best friend Gene is on hand to offer advice: he’s left Claudia and moved in with Don and Rosie. As Don tries to schedule time for pregnancy research, getting Gene and Claudia back together, servicing the industrial refrigeration unit that occupies half his apartment, helping Dave the Baseball Fan save his business and staying on the right side of Lydia the social worker, he almost misses the biggest problem of all: he might lose Rosie when she needs him most.

I didn’t tear through this book quite as fast as I did its predecessor, The Rosie Project, but I still loved every second of it. I didn’t expect to love this quite one as much, but every main character and secondary character is so incredible, so alive, and once again I am really impressed with Simsion’s writing.I think this one started out a little slow compared to The Rosie Project, but once it picked up, it had me on the edge of my seat while laughing hysterically. Like I said in my last review, I have a bit of a bias because I sort of have my own Don Tillman, but I really believe that these books are amazing separate from my personal connection to them. My Don is actually reading The Rosie Project now, and he is loving it so far, which I honestly didn’t expect, because this is so not his style. However, he makes himself laugh all day long, so it stands to reason that Don would make him laugh too. Anyway, I was telling him how much I love being in the world of this book, and he pointed out that that makes no sense because The Rosie Effect takes place on Earth in the present time with no sci-fi or fantasy elements, so I already do live in that world. So I revised my statement: I love being in Don Tillman’s mind. He is so freaking genuine it melts my heart, and something about him feels comfortable and safe. I never ever EVER buy books, but I’ve been considering buying these because I feel certain I will read them again. This is really an emotional one for me–seriously, as I got to the last hundred pages, I was tearing up on the subway. I really cared about these characters, and they are making me look at my own life in a different light. Thank you, Mr. Simsion, from the bottom of my heart, for telling Don and Rosie’s story.

16181775Title: The Rosie Project
Author: Graeme Simsion
Pages: 295
Year: 2013
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Time taken to read: 24 hours
Rating: 5/5

Goodreads synopsis: Don Tillman, professor of genetics, has never been on a second date. He is a man who can count all his friends on the fingers of one hand, whose lifelong difficulty with social rituals has convinced him that he is simply not wired for romance. So when an acquaintance informs him that he would make a “wonderful” husband, his first reaction is shock. Yet he must concede to the statistical probability that there is someone for everyone, and he embarks upon The Wife Project. In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which he approaches all things, Don sets out to find the perfect partner. She will be punctual and logical—most definitely not a barmaid, a smoker, a drinker, or a late-arriver. Yet Rosie Jarman is all these things. She is also beguiling, fiery, intelligent—and on a quest of her own. She is looking for her biological father, a search that a certain DNA expert might be able to help her with. Don’s Wife Project takes a back burner to the Father Project and an unlikely relationship blooms, forcing the scientifically minded geneticist to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie—and the realization that love is not always what looks good on paper.

I don’t really know where to start with this one. The Rosie Project hit very close to home for me because I sort of have my own Don Tillman, though he doesn’t want me to reveal his identity on here because he’s very private. But my point in mentioning it is that my review and my rating are pretty biased because I already loved Don before I started reading, and I saw myself in Rosie too. So I read this book obsessively in just 24 hours, some of those hours being on the subway, which typically makes me nauseous, but I had no choice. I was addicted to this story.

I saw a lot of reviewers on Goodreads saying that they are “no expert on Asperger’s” or even that they had never even met someone with what is now called Autism Spectrum Disorder, but they believe Don is “nothing like people with Asperger’s” and other obviously ridiculous statements. I guess I’m not technically an expert either, but after living with a person with ASD and spending every day for almost four years interacting with them, I think I maybe know what I’m talking about a little bit, and I have to say as far as my knowledge goes, Don was a great portrayal of the disorder. I read one review about how it was terrible that Don debates with himself whether or not he’s capable of love, because people with ASD have very deep feelings that they just can’t express. This is true, and the book showed that. Rosie wanted love to be expressed in a certain way, and Don just didn’t, and that made him doubt his ability to love until the two of them realized, as I have realized, that everyone shows love differently, and sometimes, when people are really different and their brains work in seemingly opposite ways, you have to train yourself to recognize that person’s way of expressing love. And doing that is really hard, but you do it when you have a connection with someone that defies all logic, like with Don and Rosie. I also think that this book brings up a really important topic even for those without ASD about how much you should change for a person. I think if the changes you’re making are clearly for the better, like how Don is trying to be a kinder person, not just for Rosie but for everyone in his life, then it’s okay. A lot of people on Goodreads also said that it was unrealistic that he changed so much, but I think they’re wrong too. In the time I’ve known my Don, he has become drastically nicer and more understanding and open. He’s still very much himself, but he’s softer, and his whole family has noticed the changes. And he works on himself for me, but also for his family and friends and coworkers, and it feels right to him.

My one criticism (spoiler alert) is that his proposal and her acceptance of it seemed a little odd. I wasn’t sure exactly how long they had known each other at that point, but I thought it would have been better if he proposed and Rosie was like, “Hey pal, love the enthusiasm, but let’s try dating normally first.” But they’re much older than me, so that might account for the rush. Either way, I’m giving this five stars and no one can stop me, and I’ve been recommending it to people at B&N all week. I convinced my Don to read this book, and I told him, “I know you’re going to hate this. Don would never read this book.” But he really understood that it’s important to me, and I’m excited to hear his opinions, which I will share with you all in my future review of the sequel, The Rosie Effect.

15937108Title: Counting by 7s
Author: Holly Goldberg Sloan
Pages: 380
Year: 2013
Publisher: Dial Books (Penguin)
Time taken to read: 6 days
Rating: 4/5

Goodreads synopsisWillow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius, obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents, but that hasn’t kept her from leading a quietly happy life… until now. Suddenly Willow’s world is tragically changed when her parents both die in a car crash, leaving her alone in a baffling world. The triumph of this book is that it is not a tragedy. This extraordinarily odd, but extraordinarily endearing, girl manages to push through her grief. Her journey to find a fascinatingly diverse and fully believable surrogate family is a joy and a revelation to read.

I really wanted to give this book five stars. Counting by 7s is so close to being perfect. Willow Chance is an amazing girl, and I wish I could adopt her myself. Mai and Quang-ha and Pattie are all amazing too, and together they make such a beautiful and diverse family. Despite my typical reservations on this topic, I loved the change in perspectives. You would think it would be so weird and complicated switching from first person present tense to third person past tense and back, but it worked so flawlessly. It was perfect for this book, though I probably wouldn’t encourage other writers to use it. It seems like the type of thing that can only work in very specific books. I am also impressed by all the research that must have gone into this Counting by 7s, from the Vietnamese language to types of plants.

A lot of reviewers on Goodreads feel like the ending wrapped itself up a little too neatly. I see their point, but I think a lot of these people are forgetting that they’re reading a book for children. Neat, happy endings are okay. I do agree with one thing, though (spoiler ahead): Pattie let her kids live in a garage when she had the money to buy a whole apartment building, and that doesn’t make sense. Well, I see how it could make sense. I can relate to living in conditions that I don’t need to live in in an attempt to save money so that I can live in much better conditions in the future, but I don’t understand why Pattie wouldn’t let her kids at least live somewhere normal, but she’ll buy the whole building for Willow, whom she’s known for a few months. A lot of people are saying, and it feels natural to do so, that she’s doing this for Willow when she won’t even do it for her actual kids, but as a future adoptive parent, I don’t like that language, because an adopted child is just as much that person’s child as their biological children. But I still think it doesn’t add up for her to do that upon the addition of Willow to her family and not before. I think it would have been just as easy and just as satisfying to have Pattie decide to move them all into an apartment, and the money could have come from the increase in customers at the nail salon due to Willow’s changes.

That’s part of what brought my rating down–not so much what happened at the end but more the fact that a more believable but just as happy ending was so easy. But the other thing that brought my rating down was Dell Duke. A lot of this is my own bias: I don’t trust men with children. I realize that Dell doesn’t actually do any harm to Willow, but in my experience, men, especially men like Dell, are careless, and they can’t see past themselves and are therefore incapable of helping others. I realize how this statement could be interpreted as “unfair” because “not all men” blah blah blah, but I don’t really care. Dell made me very uncomfortable. He should not have had those children in his car, and he should not have taken them out to eat despite the fact that that’s what they wanted to do. He was beyond unprofessional and irresponsible as a guidance counsellor. I don’t care how much he was “redeemed” at the end. He creeped me out.

That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and I would recommend it to pretty much anyone. I think it would have been an inspirational read for me as a middle schooler, and I wish I could send it back in time to my twelve-year-old self. As for my twenty-two-year-old self, I interviewed for the coveted Writers House internship on Monday. I had to read a manuscript and provide a critique for them last week, and it turned out that they liked it! They told me they started with 1200 applicants and interviewed 40, and that this is why they do the writing assignment–lots of people had several great internships on their resume while all I have is retail at Barnes & Noble, but that doesn’t matter if they can’t do the work. That made me feel really good and really capable, even if I don’t end up getting it. I was just doing what I already do here, and what I love to do more than anything else! I love New York!

29236380Title: Girl in Pieces
Author: Kathleen Glasgow
Pages: 416
Year: 2016
Publisher: Delacorte (Random House)
Time taken to read: 5 days
Rating: 3/5

Goodreads synopsisCharlotte Davis is in pieces. At seventeen she’s already lost more than most people lose in a lifetime. But she’s learned how to forget. The broken glass washes away the sorrow until there is nothing but calm. You don’t have to think about your father and the river. Your best friend, who is gone forever. Or your mother, who has nothing left to give you. Every new scar hardens Charlie’s heart just a little more, yet it still hurts so much. It hurts enough to not care anymore, which is sometimes what has to happen before you can find your way back from the edge. A deeply moving portrait of a teenage girl on the verge of losing herself and the journey she must take to survive in her own skin, Kathleen Glasgow’s debut is heartbreakingly real and unflinchingly honest. It’s a story you won’t be able to look away from.

I read an excerpt from this in the Buzz Books 2016 YA fall/winter edition, and I was really excited for it to come out. The majority of the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, but I’m not sure I agree with them. For the most part, I enjoyed reading this, but I was really frustrated with Charlie. It was painful for me to watch her make poor decisions over and over. I felt bad for her, but that was really all I could feel because there was so much going on. I think it’s amazing that writers are tackling difficult issues like self-harm and abuse, but I also think the messages that these books need to send are far more effective if a writer tackles on issue at a time. I was so overwhelmed by all the crap in Charlie’s life that it didn’t leave me much space to really think about the issues at hand. None of the events or the issues really mean anything to me, and it’s hard to connect with Charlie. I thought Riley was a terrible person but a pretty good character. I really enjoyed hating him, and I was thrilled every time he f***ed up even worse, because then I could hate him more. His sister Julie is the best person in this book and she honestly deserves an award.

A lot of people on Goodreads are comparing this to Girl, Interrupted, which didn’t even occur to me until I read some reviews because this is fiction and Susanna Kaysen’s book is not. And then I realized, the portion of this book that takes place in a psych ward is exactly like Girl, Interrupted. Like, Blue is Lisa, and Louisa is Daisy. That bothers me a bit because it feels like Glasgow kind of stole not only from Kaysen’s book but from her life. Truthfully, the scenes in the hospital were my favorite, and I wish the book would have stayed there longer, but maybe with some more original characters. Unlike a lot of reviewers, I did enjoy the writing style. I particularly liked the tiny recurring chapters where it was just a paragraph of Charlie’s thoughts with a lot of words in italics. That makes no sense unless you’ve read the book, but if you have, you know what I mean. For some reason those paragraphs felt like the way I think a lot. I read one review, though, that said that this book seemed to be more like a creative writing exercise than an actual book, which I feel is really accurate.

I think if you’re interested in YA books on mental health, I would give this one a go. It’s a good one to analyze and compare to other books on the topic. I want to say that you shouldn’t expect it to be all that great, but so many people seem to love it, so who knows.