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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.

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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.

25904473Title: So Sad Today
Author: Melissa Broder
Pages: 203
Year: 2016
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (Hachette)
Time taken to read: 3 days
Rating: 2/5

Goodreads synopsis: Melissa Broder always struggled with anxiety. In the fall of 2012, she went through a harrowing cycle of panic attacks and dread that wouldn’t abate for months. So she began @sosadtoday, an anonymous Twitter feed that allowed her to express her darkest feelings, and which quickly gained a dedicated following. In So Sad Today, Broder delves deeper into the existential themes she explores on Twitter, grappling with sex, death, love low self-esteem, addiction, and the drama of waiting for the universe to text you back. With insights as sharp as her humor, Broder explores–in prose that is both ballsy and beautiful, aggressively colloquial and achingly poetic–questions most of us are afraid to even acknowledge, let alone answer, in order to discover what it really means to be a person in this modern world.

This is a book that I was supposed to love. Personal essays about experiences with mental illness with a touch of humor or arguably too many touches is like 100% my thing. Even my book reviews have that style half the time. And yet, I very much did not like So Sad Today. I feel bad about disliking this book so much because it’s a real person’s deepest secrets and most intimate feelings. I can appreciate what she did. The things she shared are intense, and I related to her feelings of depersonalization and derealization that I have been scared to share with other people, so I applaud her for sharing them. But the rest of it…. Well, I consider myself to be pretty weird, but as I read this, I started to feel very, very normal.

The hyper-sexuality of So Sad Today is what really turned me off to it (ironically?). Gosh, at least eighty percent of it is about sex, and I was uncomfortable to say the least while reading, for instance, the chapter that is mostly made up of very graphic sexts. Call me prudish (or perhaps semi-asexual) if you like, but I have no interest in that sort of thing, so I started to think maybe this book just isn’t for me.

Argh. I’m struggling with this, you guys. I want to say that objectively, definitively, there’s too much sex in this book. Yet, there’s nothing about literature that’s objective. This is when I start to think about what a book review’s purpose really is, and what anyone’s opinion on a book really means. This is Broder’s life story, and she can tell it however she likes. I can’t suggest that she write a different story because then it would not be true. All I can say is that I did not enjoy reading her story. In addition to my discomfort, I felt her writing was repetitive. There is a chapter that solely consists of single lines followed by “: a love story,” which is supposed to indicate that each line is the title of a love story. After several of those lines, I was incredibly bored. I was like, okay, I get the point. And her writing wasn’t particularly vivid, despite its detailed grotesqueness. I couldn’t see what she saw. (Though often, I really didn’t want to.)

What I wanted to hear more about was her struggles with addiction. I’ve dealt with many of the same issues as the author, but I’ve never experienced an alcohol/drug addiction, so I was really curious to know more about what that was like for her. Yet, I felt she didn’t go into it very deeply, and I think the book would be a lot stronger if she had included some more discussion on that topic instead of so many sexts.

Okay, so I wrote all of that about a week ago, and I felt like I was going in circles and I needed to take a step back from it. And coming back to it, I have more definitive things to say about it. It was brave of the author to share all the things that she did, and I hope it was cathartic and freeing for her. However, from a literary standpoint, she failed to tell her story in a way that was vivid and interesting, and her writing is repetitive and chaotic. Therefore, I did not enjoy reading this, and my rating is rather low. This review is rather chaotic itself, so thanks for bearing with me! This was a hard one. Happy reading, my friends.

25987144Title: The Last Good Girl
Author: Allison Leotta
Pages: 292
Year: 2016
Publisher: Touchstone (Simon & Schuster)
Time taken to read: 2 weeks
Rating: 4/5

Goodreads synopsisEmily, a freshman at a Michigan university, has gone missing. She was last seen leaving a bar near Sigma Pi, the prestigious and secretive fraternity known on campus as “the rape factory.” The main suspect is Dylan Highsmith, the son of one of the most powerful politicians in the state. But so far the only clues are pieced-together surveillance footage of Emily leaving the bar that night…and Dylan running down the street after her. Anna Curtis is on the case when she discovers the video diary Emily kept over her first few months at college, exposing the history she had with Dylan—and accusing him of rape before she disappeared. Emily’s disappearance gets media attention and support from Title IX activists across the country, but Anna’s investigation hits a wall. Now Anna is looking for something, anything she can use to find Emily alive. But without a body or any physical evidence, she’s under threat from people who tell her to think hard before she ruins the name of an “innocent young man.” Inspired by real-life stories, The Last Good Girl shines a light on campus rape and the powerful emotional dynamics that affect the families of the men and women on both sides.

This is not my typical genre, but I got the book from Writers House when I was working there and I needed something to take to the beach last week so I went for it and I am definitely glad that I did. This book tackles an issue that is really important. Statistics on sexual assault on college campuses–and everywhere else, for that matter–are terrifying, and I’d say most colleges don’t handle it well, as we see in The Last Good Girl when the president of Tower University continuously chooses his school’s reputation and funds over the safety and well-being of his own daughter. His daughter’s rapist comes from a wealthy family that is one of the school’s top donors, and I think that makes for an incredible conflict and a plot that really made my stomach flip. I loved how purely hateable the villains in this book are. Many of Dylan’s scenes were so horrific, and Leotta did a great job painting terrifying and disturbing pictures so vivid that I felt like I was there. Which, I’m glad I wasn’t, but it’s still always satisfying to feel like you’re part of a book. On the other side, I could wholeheartedly root for Anna, her team, and all of Dylan’s victims. I think the way that Leotta showcased all the different ways that girls handle sexual assault is really important. There is no typical way to react to something like that. I know girls who have experienced sexual assault and had it ruin their lives, and I know girls who have shown no signs of PTSD afterwards and have been able to bounce back easily, and it has nothing to do with the severity of the crime. It really depends on the individual. I also really liked the varying styles of the book–we get a typical narrative interlaced with transcripts of video diaries that Emily made and various legal documents and emails pertaining to the case. It was a fun way to follow the story and learn new information.

I want to make sure I give a shoutout to Wyatt, who is one of the best characters in this book and has the most significant character arc. He learns the most throughout the story, and it is my hope that readers who aren’t knowledgable on the subject of sexual assault are able to learn alongside him. It was really uplifting to watch his empathy grow and his values change as he witnesses deeply disturbing crimes. Good job, Wyatt, and thank you for setting a good example for young men.

As much as I ultimately loved the premise and thought the characters were very well executed, I did have a few problems with the book. It took me a while to read because it didn’t really start to pick up until a little bit past the middle. I often find myself struggling to get through the first half of a book and racing through the second, so Leotta is not alone in this particular fault. However, I wouldn’t knock off a star just for that. I also felt that the dialogue in the book is rather stiff. Most of the regular dialogue is actually fine, but the language in Emily’s video diaries sounds nothing like real speech–especially speech that a teenage girl would say out loud to herself on camera. In one of the early videos, she describes her therapist as a “pretty psychologist with brown hair and a warm smile.” That would be a nice description, but who would ever say that out loud? It certainly didn’t feel right to me. That’s really what made me drop this book to four stars. Additionally, I feel a little iffy on the subplots with Anna’s various relationships. I definitely wanted to see more between her and her sister Jody. We get little hints that Jody was once arrested, but what exactly happened there was never revealed, which was a bit disappointing.

I was very nervous that the ending was going to let me down, but I felt very satisfied with the big reveal and how the whole case played out. I hadn’t realized this until I looked up the book on Goodreads today, but The Last Good Girl is actually number five in Leotta’s Anna Curtis series. This book can definitely be read as a stand alone novel, but I will be going to the library to look for more Anna Curtis adventures. Anna is a great feminist character, and I’m excited to see her serve some more justice to the world. I really recommend this book to anyone, because I guarantee you know someone who has experienced sexual assault, if you haven’t experienced it yourself, and it’s really important that we as a society learn about it and understand how and why it happens, how to prevent it (e.g., teaching boys to respect women), and how to heal from it and help others heal as well.

24266809Title: An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes
Author: Randy Ribay
Pages: 240
Year: 2015
Publisher: Merit Press (F&W)
Time taken to read: 1 week, 4 days
Rating: 2/5

Goodreads synopsisAs their senior year approaches, four diverse friends joined by their weekly Dungeons & Dragons game struggle to figure out real life. Archie’s trying to cope with the lingering effects of his parents’ divorce, Mari’s considering an opportunity to contact her biological mother, Dante’s working up the courage to come out to his friends, and Sam’s clinging to a failing relationship. The four eventually embark on a cross-country road trip in an attempt to solve–or to avoid–their problems. Told in the narrative style of Akira Kurosawa’s RASHOMAN, AN INFINITE NUMBER OF PARALLEL UNIVERSES is at turns geeky, funny, and lyrical as it tells a story about that time in life when friends need each other to become more than just people that hang out.

It seems that most reviewers can agree on one thing about this book: it has a great amount of diversity in multiple ways. For me, that’s about the only strength of An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes. Somehow this book is both cliche and too out there all at the same time. The characters are two-dimensional, stereotypical geeks, each one with their designated quirk, and they go on a road trip (and none of their parents call the police…?) where a bunch of really ridiculous things happen, perhaps in an attempt to counteract all the cliches. The kids go through a random yet thematically predictable series of events that does result in character development, but I think the author started them off far too problematic. Each one of them says something pretty offensive at some point, and though they all end up learning and apologizing, the development is rushed, and the things that some of them say are dreadful enough that I couldn’t feel certain while reading the book that the author actually did mean for this to be a critique of those ideas.

Additionally, I never felt connected to the characters–not as a group nor individually. Since we go through the perspectives of each of the four main characters and the book is rather short, we don’t get to spend very much time with any of them. Plus, they all make a point of the fact that though they play a game together regularly, they don’t actually know each other very well at all, so I think it’s a little farfetched that they all agree to go on this road trip from New Jersey to Seattle to help Sam and Sarah–not to mention the fact that earlier in the book they even say that they don’t actually like Sam and Sarah together. I felt very disconnected from both the plot and the characters because of this, and I ended up skimming the last third or so of the book because there was nothing to make me care. The only storyline I was moderately interested in was Mari’s reconnection with her birth mother and the progression of her adoptive mother’s cancer, and that really never went anywhere. Ultimately, this one fell very flat for me, but I hope that there are kids out there who benefited from the diversity of this book at least.

Side note: I know I haven’t posted many reviews lately–I recently moved and have been dealing with transferring my job and, well, the rest of my life, but I am getting settled and will hopefully be reviewing more now! Thanks for staying with me, readers.