26893819Title: The Girls
Author: Emma Cline
Pages: 355
Year: 2016
Publisher: Random House
Time taken to read: 1 week, 2 days
Rating: 3/5

Goodreads synopsisNorthern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence, and to that moment in a girl’s life when everything can go horribly wrong.

I found this book just chillin’ around when I was in treatment, so I just picked it up, read the first page, and then figured, why not continue? This book has been so heavily advertised by Random House, and it’s a debut, which always interests me, so I thought I’d give it a go.

The Girls has a lot of enticing language in the synopsis and the foreshadowing. I heard a lot about this “unthinkable violence,” and I was really hyped for it. Unfortunately, it didn’t live up to that hype. I really wanted some gore. I wanted blood. I wanted scandals. I wanted psychos. And I didn’t get that until the very end, so that was extremely disappointing. This is much more of a coming-of-age story than it is a psychological thriller.

I’m really unsure about how I feel about the language in this book. It’s unique, that’s for sure. It’s incredibly poetic, though I’m not the world’s biggest poetry fan. Sometimes the lines were interesting and made me look at something simple in a way I had never looked at it before. Other times, it felt like the author was just throwing words together in ways that made no sense but that she hoped people would just pretend to understand for fear of looking uncultured and stupid.

Other than that, I don’t have a whole lot to say about this book. It was different from what I expected, and different from most other things I’ve read. It just wasn’t as good as it’s made out to be by the publisher. But of course, hyping books up is their job. Just don’t expect something amazing from this, in my opinion. I don’t regret reading it, but I could have done without it.

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13426334Title: A Prayer for Owen Meany
Author: John Irving
Pages: 617
Year: 1989
Publisher: Harper
Time taken to read: 1 month, 2 weeks
Rating: 4/5

Goodreads synopsis: Eleven-year-old Owen Meany, playing in a Little League baseball game in Gravesend, New Hampshire, hits a foul ball and kills his best friend’s mother. Owen doesn’t believe in accidents; he believes he is God’s instrument. What happens to Owen after that 1953 foul is both extraordinary and terrifying. At moments a comic, self-deluded victim, but in the end the principal, tragic actor in a divine plan, Owen Meany is the most heartbreaking hero John Irving has yet created.

I finished this book about a month ago, but I’ve been slacking on my reviews. I’ve kind of been slacking on my reading as well–I didn’t meet my book goal for 2017, but it’s a new year and a new chance to read fifty new books. So A Prayer for Owen Meany I read in 2017. It’s my dad’s favorite book, and he bought me a copy to read while I was in the hospital. I wasn’t sure how our tastes would match up, but I have to say this was a phenomenal read.

I was hooked on the voice (and that Voice) from the beginning:

GOD HAS TAKEN YOUR MOTHER. MY HANDS WERE THE INSTRUMENT. GOD HAS TAKEN MY HANDS. I AM GOD’S INSTRUMENT.

Owen’s maturity and insight at such a young age is absolutely arresting. I could feel how special Owen was.

“IT JUST TAKES A LITTLE MORE FAITH.”
“It takes more practice,” I told him irritably.
“FAITH TAKES PRACTICE,” said Owen Meany

I also loved the detail in the settings and the characters, the incredible commentary on just what it was like to be a kid and a young man at that time that seems so ordinary but leads up to such an extraordinary combination of coincidences, if you believe in such a thing. I will say, sometimes it was just too much, and I was getting lost and tired, especially with the horrific length of the chapters (only nine chapters in 617 pages!). But most of the time, Owen Meany felt familiar in a way, like Owen and Johnny were friends of mine. And their friendship was something I wished I had, their closeness so enviable. And I think I’d read this book again, which is really saying something. It was a hard one to pull my nose and head out of–it stuck with me long past the moment I finished it. It’s a bit of a hike, but I definitely recommend it.

18226389Title: Dark Places
Author: Gillian Flynn
Pages: 350
Year: 2009
Publisher: Broadway Books (Crown)
Time taken to read: 1 month, 5 days
Rating: 4/5

Goodreads synopsisLibby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered in “The Satan Sacrifice” of Kinnakee, Kansas.” She survived—and famously testified that her fifteen-year-old brother, Ben, was the killer. Twenty-five years later, the Kill Club—a secret secret society obsessed with notorious crimes—locates Libby and pumps her for details. They hope to discover proof that may free Ben. Libby hopes to turn a profit off her tragic history: She’ll reconnect with the players from that night and report her findings to the club—for a fee. As Libby’s search takes her from shabby Missouri strip clubs to abandoned Oklahoma tourist towns, the unimaginable truth emerges, and Libby finds herself right back where she started—on the run from a killer.

I’ve been planning to read more of Gillian Flynn’s books, as I absolutely loved Gone Girl. I did enjoy Dark Places, but it doesn’t quite match up to Flynn’s best-known book. It doesn’t really pick up until about halfway through, but I’ve found that problem in a lot of books so I wasn’t too surprised. I loved the way Flynn uses details in her settings and characterization. That Libby is a kleptomaniac is a great example of a small, interesting quirk that really lets us know how she’s been affected by everything in her life. I found myself struggling to connect with Libby, but I almost felt like that was part of her character. She’s distant. She doesn’t let people in. She keeps people at arm’s length, and she did that with us too. Maybe Flynn didn’t do that on purpose, but I found it interesting.

I have to say, the ending let me down a little. Spoiler ahead: I wanted Ben to be totally innocent. I felt so bad for him. He was sucked up into a world of drugs and rebelliousness, and sure, he had anger, but I believed that he loved his family above everything else. His role in the murders was heartbreaking to me. But I can accept it, I suppose. It makes sense why he then allowed himself to go to jail. It just squeezed my heart when he watched his sister die. Maybe that’s what books like this are supposed to do. Either way, I would have changed things slightly, but I still enjoyed reading it, and I do plan to read Sharp Objects eventually.

Sorry for the delay in reviews, my fellow readers. I finished this book like a month ago and just got around to writing about it. It’s not like I don’t have plenty of free time, because I do, but I’ve been putting it off due to pure laziness, and I still have another review to write, so expect that relatively soon, I hope. Happy reading, friends.

17819695Title: Fight On
Author: M. H. Clark
Pages: 64
Year: 2013
Publisher: Casemate Publishers
Time taken to read: 1 day
Rating: 5/5

Goodreads synopsisToday, decide to trust yourself. Decide to believe in your heart. Tell the small voice inside you’re giving it a chance. This vibrant gift book is a daily reminder for yourself or for any woman you love to be bold, be strong, and fight on.

I came across this book lying around in my treatment center the other day. It’s a series of lovely pictures of oceans and butterflies paired with inspirational quotes about believing in your potential and so on. It’s the perfect book to read out loud to yourself when you’re feeling low, or to read out loud to another person if you know they need it–that’s what I did, anyway, and it made my friend feel really good. It’s pretty easy to give this a five star rating because if you struggle with self-esteem, I think this is a good book to have on hand. It’s short enough that you could perhaps read it to yourself every morning, and I imagine it could make for a motivational start to your day. I also like that it’s physically a very tall book so the images and the words are large. Anyway, even though this isn’t much of a book review (and neither was my last one), I wanted to share this with you because I know that books like these can be a very useful tool for some people and I really enjoyed the experience of reading it. Fight on, fellow readers.

34002068Title: La La La
Author: Kate DiCamillo (Illustrated by Jaime Kim)
Pages: 72
Year: 2017
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Time taken to read: 1 day
Rating: 5/5

Goodreads synopsisThis nearly wordless graphic story follows a little girl in search of a friend. “La la la . . . la.” A little girl stands alone and sings, but hears no response. Gathering her courage and her curiosity, she skips farther out into the world, singing away to the trees and the pond and the reeds — but no song comes back to her. Day passes into night, and the girl dares to venture into the darkness toward the light of the moon, becoming more insistent in her singing, climbing as high as she can, but still there is silence in return. Dejected, she falls asleep on the ground, only to be awakened by an amazing sound. . . . She has been heard. At last.

Kate DiCamillo was one of my favorite authors as a kid, and recently she was doing a signing in Philly, near where I live. My dad went to the signing and picked up a copy of this for me and got it signed, along with a copy of The Tale of Despereaux. My dad told her why I couldn’t be there, so she wrote in Despereaux, “For Kate, who is strong!” That totally made my life because Ms. DiCamillo was a big inspiration for me when I was a very young reader. And I think La La La came to me at just the right time. The illustrations are breathtaking, and though I’m an adult, I related to the lonely little girl so strongly. This book felt like it was meant for me because suns have been a huge symbol for me in my recovery process, and I was already strongly considering getting a sun tattoo when I get home. Anyway, I know people who are total picture book experts who would probably have so much more to say about the book, but I have never worked on a picture book before, in terms of writing, agenting, or editing, so I will just say that this book is super cute and it definitely made me smile. Thank you, Kate. I needed this. And to my fellow readers, if you come across La La La, I definitely recommend giving it a look. And never give up hope that the world will sing back to you.

12951039Title: 8 Keys to Recovery from an Eating Disorder
Author: Carolyn Costin and Gwen Schubert Grabb
Pages: 260
Year: 2011
Publisher: W. W. Norton
Time taken to read: 9 days
Rating: 5/5

Goodreads synopsis: This is no ordinary book on how to overcome an eating disorder. The authors bravely share their unique stories of suffering from and eventually overcoming their own severe eating disorders. Interweaving personal narrative with the perspective of their own therapist-client relationship, their insights bring an unparalleled depth of awareness into just what it takes to successfully beat this challenging and seemingly intractable clinical issue. For anyone who has suffered, their family and friends, and other helping professionals, this book should be by your side. With great compassion and clinical expertise, Costin and Grabb walk readers through the ins and outs of the recovery process, describing what therapy entails, clarifying the common associated emotions such as fear, guilt, and shame, and, most of all, providing motivation to seek help if you have been discouraged, resistant, or afraid. The authors bring self-disclosure to a level not yet seen in an eating disorder book and offer hope to readers that full recovery is possible.

In my last review, I talked about how my reviews have been dwindling and about my realization that it’s hard to read fiction when we’re living in a world that’s so radically different than it was before the election, a world that’s not represented in realistic fiction anymore. But the truth is, though all that is true for me, there’s a second factor. I have been struggling a lot lately, and I’ve barely had the brain capacity to read. I write to you all today from Monte Nido, a residential eating disorder treatment facility. This is my second time in residential, and I’m sad that it’s come to this again, but this is a really great place, and I feel confident that someday I’ll make a full recovery. And through this book review, I will share with you what is so great about this place.

Monte Nido was founded by Carolyn Costin, the author of 8 KeysShe recovered from her eating disorder and made it her life’s work to create a place where others could do the same. The eight keys are exactly what they sound like: eight principles necessary to recover from an eating disorder, and they include things like, “It’s not about the food,” and “Meaning and Purpose.” The book takes you through each of the eight keys and basically explains how to look at your disorder from a new perspective. It also includes journal prompts to help you actively engage with each key. The most important and unique concept they present is the idea of the “eating disorder self” and the “healthy self.” They stress the importance of noticing the dialogues in your mind between both of those voices. The unique part is that they say the eating disorder self part of you is not a bad part of you. It’s a part of you that’s hurt. It’s sad. It’s lonely. And it needs something. Attention, love, help. You have to nurture that part of you, not get rid of it. But you need to nurture it with more positive and healthy coping skills until it has merged with your healthy self.

I was also particularly struck by the section on weighing. Costin stresses that it is absolutely essential that a person with an eating disorder stop weighing themselves completely. This is the first time I’ve heard that. All my past therapists have told me to weigh myself 1-3 times a week in the morning. I had never in my life considered just never weighing myself again. But now that the idea has been introduced to me, I realize that, as incredibly frightening as that thought is, that might just be the only way to really stick to my recovery. So, this is a thank you to Carolyn. Thank you for creating this book that has helped me see my behaviors, thoughts, and feelings in a new way, and thank you for creating this home for me to heal myself for the next three months. Fellow readers, I’ve got some interesting books with me here and decent computer access, so hopefully you’ll get a few more reviews from me this year. Stay strong, everybody.

468657Title: Skinny
Author: Ibi Kaslik
Pages: 256
Year: 2006
Publisher: Walker Children’s
Time taken to read: 2 weeks
Rating: 1/5

Goodreads synopsis: Holly’s older sister, Giselle, is self-destructing. Haunted by her love-deprived relationship with her late father, this once strong role model and medical student, is gripped by anorexia. Holly, a track star, struggles to keep her own life in balance while coping with the mental and physical deterioration of her beloved sister. Together, they can feel themselves slipping and are holding on for dear life. This honest look at the special bond between sisters is told from the perspective of both girls, as they alternate narrating each chapter. Gritty and often wryly funny, Skinny explores family relationships, love, pain, and the hunger for acceptance that drives all of us.

Writers who often focus on mental health topics tend to have this very vivid, metaphorical style of writing that’s both dark and flowery at the same time. I get the appeal, and I think it can make for some really striking sentences, but I don’t like books like this that are full of that kind of language when it really needs to be more direct and literal. There is a lot of dark imagery that’s very physical in books like these. For example, characters often talk about bleeding, and they might mean they feel like their soul is bleeding emotions or something like that, but they also might mean that they are literally taking some sharp object to their skin and making blood come out of their body in the real world, and when authors use language that sounds metaphorical, I don’t know whether or not the character is using self-harm behaviors, and I want to know. All of that sounds like a super particular issue, but throughout this book I felt unsure if things were really happening or if it was just a metaphor. I felt detached from the story and the characters for this reason, which definitely kept me from being able to enjoy it.

The writing of this book was completely chaotic. We move back and forth through time with few clues available to help the reader understand where and when a scene is taking place. Additionally, Sol’s character made no sense to me. It seems like he’s someone from Giselle’s past that she reconnects with and starts dating again, but I don’t understand who he is and how they know each other and why they’re together. We never learn anything about him, so we never get to understand who he is as a person and how his relationship with Giselle is significant. And it takes almost the entire book for me to feel like I have any sense of who Holly is as a person. The whole plot line about Giselle trying to find out exactly who her father was and what her parents’ stories are is, simply put, boring. It takes over the mental illness plot enough that Giselle’s anorexia isn’t really explored at all. I think I understood what was happening better than most readers could because I’ve had the disorder too, but if I had never experienced anything like what Giselle is suffering from, I imagine I would have been 100% lost, instead of just 95% lost. I really wanted a story about a relationship between two sisters and how anorexia takes over that relationship, but I didn’t get anything close to that, especially because ultimately it’s a guy that ruins their relationship instead of the illness. I hate to be so mean, but I really do feel like reading this book was a waste of time, and I wouldn’t recommend it.

Truthfully, you guys, it’s been hard to read lately. I’m struggling to enter into worlds of fiction, and I’ve been trying to figure out why. And I think it’s because of the political situation in America right now. When I read fiction, especially realistic fiction like this, it doesn’t feel realistic to me anymore because everything in our lives today has this sort of film over it, and that film is the fact that Trump is our President. Books don’t have that film. No one has their characters watching CNN and dealing with all the crises we’re facing on a daily basis today. Trump’s election has made every aspect of my life different, and when I read fiction, I see people who are living in a normal world–a world that doesn’t exist anymore. At least, it doesn’t exist for me and a lot of other people I know. So it’s hard to get immersed in a book to the point that it feels real, and that’s really what we all read for, isn’t it? So I don’t think I’ll achieve my Goodreads challenge this year. I’m on number 21 of 50 books with only three months left in 2017, and I’m guessing I won’t get much farther. I’m disappointed, but I’ve accepted it. Thanks to everyone who still reads my reviews as they’ve been getting less and less frequent. I hope you all can still get lost in a book.