Reading Response: Hunger

Roxane Gay says that writing Hunger was the most difficult thing she’s ever done. I was absolutely floored by what this must have taken – this willingness to share herself and her journey with us. She is vulnerable, and honest, and real. This book brought me to tears time after time; I was sad for her, glad for her, scared for her, heartbroken for her, empowered by her, encouraged by her.

When Roxane Gay was 12 years old, she endured life-altering violent trauma. That is her story to tell, and she does. What came after was a battle with herself and the outside world, an attempt to insulate and protect herself from future hurt. While that came in the form of overeating and disordered eating, it has also manifested itself in every relationship she’s had. But I didn’t walk away from this book with pity for Roxane – though her struggle has been unimaginable; I closed the book and felt. . .hopeful. For her, for myself, for anyone who might read her book and open their eyes a bit wider.

In her story, you may see a part of someone you know. Maybe yourself. Her experiences won’t be identical to ours, of course, but her challenges, her experiences, her struggles are shared with such a raw, blunt honesty that I will never forget them.

I always wonder what healing really looks like–in body, in spirit. I’m attracted to the idea that the mind, the soul, can heal as neatly as bones. That if they are properly set for a given period of time, they will regain their original strength. Healing is not that simple. It never is.

 

Reading Response: Tell the Wolves I’m Home

The first tttwihime I saw this book, I was in Target. I grocery shop for six people and sometimes I like to reward myself for that by sneaking a book into my cart. Not every time, but sometimes.

This cover? How could I not pick it up? It’s beautiful. Then I read the blurb on the back and I hesitated. Picking books is a process for me, and I wasn’t sure it was was ideal (emotionally-speaking) at the time. Fourteen-year old June has just lost her uncle, the person who understands her most in the world, to AIDS. It’s 1987 and her family is making every attempt not to discuss the disease and what it means; that includes the man outside the funeral home who is not allowed to attend. I put the book back on the shelf.

I kept thinking about it, though. I looked at it again a few weeks later; a few weeks after that I bought it. It went to live with its unread friends on the top of my bookshelf until I read Elizabeth Naranjo’s Reading Challenge update, where she called it her favorite novel of the challenge so far. The next day I picked up and and began to read.

The book is Carol Rifka Brunt’s debut novel. I mention that now because you won’t believe it after reading the book. The writing is so beautiful. I was completely absorbed–well, as absorbed as a mother with four children home for the summer can possibly be. The subject matter is heavy. The overarching story line isn’t happy, but there is happiness to be found within it. June struggles with the loss of her uncle, the relationship with her sister, and the realization that her parents have secrets, too. There is redemption and revelation and I thought it was perfectly presented from the vantage point of a fourteen-year old girl. I used to be one, so I feel qualified to say that.

There are some definite moments of discomfort for the reader, mostly the result of the sometimes awkward friendship forged by June and Toby. None of the characters are perfect, but for the most part, you can see their motivations. I felt like I understood June so well. She is on the cusp of something–growing up–and is struggling. She’s got a foot in both worlds, not feeling she belongs in either one. There is scene where she goes into the woods to play like she used to, but she finds she can’t anymore. I remember this feeling; I see my daughters feeling this.

I tried to pretend I was in the Middle Ages, but it didn’t work. Not the way it used to. Every time I got close, I’d think of something Toby said. Or a Trivial Pursuit question. Or a snatch of a lyric from a South Pacific song. It was like my brain had actually changed. Like some part of it, my favorite part, had died off.

Although the author didn’t intend the novel to be June’s coming-of-age story, it can’t help but be. It’s more than that, though. It’s the story of a friendship–one that’s built from grief and loneliness but becomes beautiful and heartbreaking. It was a tough story told amazingly well by Brunt, and I’m so glad I read it.

Reading Response: Eligible

eligibleThe last month of school is not a good reading season for me. Life pulls me in more directions, mentally and physically, than usual. Reading is hard. Movies are sometimes easier. I stared two different books in May but couldn’t continue, due to no fault on the book’s part. They are still on my TBR pile. It wasn’t them, it was me.

But then, the glorious day came. School was out! We celebrated with friends, we went out to eat, we visited the park. . .and five days later I hesitantly cracked a book. I don’t like being a book quitter. I wanted it to stick this time. The book was Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld, and it stuck.

I love Pride & Prejudice. I like the book, I like the miniseries, I like the movie. I was pretty sure I’d like this version, provided the modernized plot wasn’t too overdone or convoluted, and I was really happy with how Curtis handled the story. All of the major players are present: the Bennets, the Lucases, Bingley, Darcy (still bearing the name Fitzwilliam, bless him), and Caroline. George Wickham is there, too, in an interesting way; he was split into two different characters, Jasper Wick and Ham Ryan (get it? get it?) and fulfilled most of his Wickhamish duties in this retelling, in a different way.

Elizabeth is a 38-year old writer living in New York City when her father has a heart attack. She and Jane, a yoga teacher also in NYC, fly back to their hometown of Cincinnati to tend to their father, their basketcase mother, and their three spoiled sisters. Well, to be fair, all of the Bennet girls have been spoiled to some extent, but Jane and Lizzy have at least learned how to be decent people in the wake of it. Lizzy is imperfect but likeable. At a party at the Lucases’, they meet Fitzwilliam Darcy (just call him Darcy) and his friend Chip Bingley, both doctor acquaintances of Dr. Lucas. And things progress much as you’d expect, but in a new way. Curtis’ writing is fun and light and she tells the story well. It’s a long book, but many of the chapters are short, which I liked a lot.

And there are some twists. Lydia’s scandalous marriage is not scandalous in the same way as Austen wrote it, and the family’s reactions get a little sketchy and nerve-wracking at times. Bingley is the former star of a Bachelor-type dating show called Eligible, and is kinda still finding himself. He seems a bit wishy-washy, but isn’t he in Austen’s version as well? Darcy and Liz’s relationship follows a similar track but feels new.

I’d definitely recommend Eligible to Austen fans and those who have never read the original. I thought it was entertaining and well-written. And it got me out of my Reading Slump! Look out, TBR pile. I’m back.

Reading Response: The Love that Split the World

Two things pro51hdo1g8aSL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_mpted me to pick up Emily Henry’s The Love that Split the World. First, I heard that Lionsgate had picked up the film rights. Yes, I know that not every book optioned for film is a good book, but it piqued my curiosity, okay? Secondly, that cover. I don’t judge books by their cover, but I will pick up a book because of a beautiful one.

Once I was finished, I tweeted that I’d only stopped reading to sleep and switch my laundry around. That wasn’t entirely true; I also fixed food for myself and my offspring. Aside from that nonsense, I was reading. It was definitely hard to put down. The mystery begins to build immediately, and along the way you suspect things and then they’re wrong, then you suspect things and you might be right–but wait! What about that thing that happened a few chapters ago? How will that work out? Et cetera.

It’s hard to talk too much about the plot without giving things away, and this book is probably best read knowing very little. Natalie is visited for years by a “spirit” she calls Grandmother. Grandmother tells Natalie story after story: Native American folklore and Bible stories, and encourages Natalie to remember them. One night, as Natalie is preparing to graduate from high school, Grandmother visits again and tells her, “Three months to save him, Natalie.” Grandmother stresses the importance of the stories, but Nat doesn’t know who to save, or how, or even why, and she’s not sure she’ll ever see Grandmother again. Immediately after, she meets Beau, a student at her high school–or is he?–and she starts to see “wrong things”; the places she’s known all her life seem to have more than one version.

As the explanation for what was happening started to unfold, I’ll admit it was hard at times to keep up. I don’t read books with magical/fantastical elements to them very often, so that might be why these parts slowed me down. They didn’t affect how I felt about the story, though. I was left guessing until the conclusion, although I had a lot of feelings about how it all would shake out. In the end, his book lived up to its intriguing cover, and I’ll definitely keep an eye out for Emily’s next book.

Reading Response: The Life Intended

I knew athelifeintendedbout a quarter of the way through The Life Intended by Kristin Harmel that it was going to make me cry. But I was too far in to turn back. The central character, Kate, begins to have vivid dreams of her husband Patrick and their life together–a life that never happened because Patrick died twelve years earlier. Kate is naturally troubled by the dreams but finds comfort in them, compared to a reality where she still feels unsettled. Most surprising, though, is the appearance of a daughter, Hannah, who doesn’t exist in the real world.

If you read the reviews on Goodreads, you’ll see many saying that what would usually be an end-of-book reveal becomes obvious early on, and I’d agree. But I felt invested enough to continue, and wanted to know how it would all play out. Not everyone would feel that way, though, and that will be a major factor in whether I recommend this book. It’s entirely possible that the author meant it this way, that it was planned for us to suspect how things would end, and just stay along for the ride. It’s maybe not how I would have preferred to find out, but it didn’t ruin the book for me.

I liked the characters and enjoyed the subplots of Kate’s career (music therapy), how the appearance of a hard-of-hearing character launched her into learning ASL, and how she began to merge the two. It really just scratched the surface, of course, but I thought it was different and interesting.  I loved Kate’s relationship with Patrick’s mother, Joan; it was well done and realistic. There were some fantastical elements but for me, they didn’t distract from the story.

Did I cry? Maybe a little. Am I sorry I read it? Not at all.