Posted in 2018, Fiction, John Green

Turtles All The Way Down by John Green

In my personal opinion, this book didn’t pick up momentum till a little after the middle. I picked to read this book because I heard it was sad and that it was John Green’s greatest book yet. Sadly, it did not live up to the hype. (My fault, really, for submitting to the hype.)

But let’s talk about what the book did get right. It introduced a character, Aza Homes, that has a mental illness. She has a strong case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder mixed with anxiety over germs. She has a callus on the fingerprint of her middle finger that she keeps bandaging throughout the book. She opens the wound, thinks it’s infected, cleans it and wraps it up again. She developed the callus because once upon a time, her mom told her that she knows she’s real if pinching herself hurts. That turned into a bad habit. Being inside Aza’s head is difficult if you’re not used to overthinking. She has thought spirals and constantly thinks she’s dying. Reading this book in the waiting room of a doctor’s office was strangely comforting.

The storyline was not interesting at all. Russel Pickett is a billionaire fugitive CEO that goes missing on a day of a search warrant. There is a hundred thousand dollar reward for any information that will lead to his capture. Daisy, Aza’s best friend, wants to get that reward so she convinces Aza to help her since she know’s Russel’s son Davis. Daisy and Aza are high schoolers, mind you. This is not a detective story. It’s just two girls trying to solve a crime police officers can’t. They try to put the pieces together until love gets in the way.

The relationship between Daisy and Aza was great. They are uncommon best friends and when they argue, it’s very developing. My favorite parts where with them actually talking through their feelings instead of pretending everything is okay. They are both selfish in their own way.

The relationship with Davis and Aza is sad. Mostly because of all they’ve lost and how, based on those circumstances, they have a silently strong connection with each other.

The relationship with Aza and her mom is, well, typical. It’s not that different from other single mom stories. The mom is worried about her teenage daughter, the daughter is trying to conceal her mom from worry.

This book is very monotone (well, up until the intersting part in the middle of the book). At least that’s how it felt like.

Favorite Quotes (Contains spoilers)

Man can do what he wills, but he cannot will what he wills.
-Arthur Schopenhauer

This is at the beginning of the book. I just think it’s a good quote. It basically means that just wanting something is not enough. Something that most people don’t understand. Especially if you have a disorder of some kind.

At the time I first realized I might be fictional, my weekdays were spent at a publicly funded institution on the north side of Indianapolis called White River High School, where I was required to eat lunch at a particular time–between 12:73 pm and 1:14 pm–by forces so much larger than myself that I couldn’t even begin to identify them. If those forces had given me a different lunch period, or if the tablemates who helped author my fate had chosen a different topic of conversation that September day, I would’ve met a different end–or at least a different middle But I was beginning to learn that your life is a story told about you, not one that you tell.
Of course, you pretend to be the author. You think, I now choose to go to lunch, when the monotone beep rings from on high at 12:37. But really, the bell decides. You think you’re the painter, but you’re the canvas.

This is a long quote. Well, this is actually the first page of the book. Aza, herself is an interesting character to venture on such an uncommon story. If you’ve ever had an out of body experience, this is pretty much the feeling. You don’t necessarily feel in control of your life. It feels like you are just a victim of the circumstances rather than a human being. Already, I fell in love with Aza’s thought process. What this book lacked in storytelling, it made up with fantastic thoughts. It’s possible that the storytelling would have been better if it were in the mind of Daisy, Aza’s StarWars Fan Fiction blogging best friend.

The thing about a spiral is, if you follow it inward, it never actually ends. It just keeps tightening, infinitely.

Not to mention, the deeper you go, the harder it is to see the light to find your way out. One of my favorite quotes is “My mind is dangerous neighborhood, I have to remember to bring a friend.” Although friend’s aren’t quialified professionals, sometimes their mere company alone helps. Aza admitted that it was easier to get distracted when Daisy was around. However, depending on your friends who do not understand your situation is not a full proof method. John Green wrote instances about that as well.

I would’ve told her that Davis and I never talked much, or even looked at each other, but it didn’t matter, because we were looking at the same sky together, which is maybe more intimate than eye contact anyway. Anybody can look at you. It’s quite rare to find someone who sees the same world you see.

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“Your brain seems like a very intense place,” Mom answered.
“It’s just weird, how this is decided by someone I don’t know and then I have to live by it. Like, I live on someone else’s schedule. And I’ve never even met them.”
“Yes, well, in that respect and many others, American high schools do rather resemble prisons.”

True…and hilarious. The only difference is that in high schools, thinking won’t get you killed…maybe bullied…but not killed. But that’s not the point. Our justice system since that incarceration is the only way to teach discipline.

“I’ve got a theory about uniforms. I think they design them so that you become, like, a nonperson, so that you’re not Daisy Ramirez, a Human Being, but instead a thing that brings people pizza and exchanges their ticket for plastic dinosaurs. It’s like the uniform is designed to hide me.”

Daisy is correct about uniforms. It’s to make you into one entity and not into a being. It why they are called uniforms and not costumes.

I remembered Daisy throwing daddy longlegs at me because she knew I hated them, and I’d scream and run away, flailing my arms but not actually scared, because back then all emotions felt like play, like I was experimenting with feelings rather than stuck with it. True terror isn’t being scared; it’s not having a choice in the matter.

It’s why we are afraid of situations we feel powerless in. But still, let’s take a moment to digest that. Also, I like how she ackowledged that she was experimenting on feelings. I had to go through a phase like that where I thought I was supposed to find certain things scary, or gross or whatever just because that’s what “girls” do. I feel like, regardless of gender, a few of us experiment on acting the way our family excpects us to act than how we really want to act. Of course, that might be a good thing when teaching about values and filters…but it’s counterproductive when teaching about personalities.

“Our destiny is coming into focus. We are about to live the American Dream, which is, of course, to benefit from someone else’s misfortune.”

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“Whether it hurts is kind of irrelevant.”

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I have these thoughts that Dr. Karen Singh calls “intrusives,” but the first time she said it, I heard “invasives,” which I like better, because, like invasive weeds, these thoughts seem to arrive at my biosphere from some faraway land, and then they spread out of control.
Supposedly everyone has them–you look out from over a bridge or whatever and it occurs to you out of nowhere that you could just jump. And then if you’re most people, you think, Well, that was a weird thought, and move on with your life. But for some people, the invasive can kind of take over, crowding out all of the other thoughts until it’s the only one you’re able to have, the thought you’re perpetually either thinking or distracting yourself from.

Ladies and gentlement….thought spirals!

If I die weep at my grave every day until a seedling appears in the dirt, then cry on it to make it grow until it becomes a beautiful tree whose roots surround my body.

This is just funny. Daisy is such a drama queen.

“I don’t mind worriers,” I said. “Worrying is the correct worldview. Life is worrisome.”

YES! AGREED!!! I want a t-shirt with this saying.

“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”
-William James

Aza later complains that one can’t always just simply chose a thought. I agree with Aza on this one. But it’s a powerful quote nevertheless.

Me: I is the hardest word to define.

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“I’ve noticed you use that word a lot, crazy. And you sound angry when you say it almost like you’re calling yourself a name.”
“Well, everyone’s crazy these days, Dr. Singh Adolescent sanity is so twentieth century.”
“It sounds to me like you’re being cruel to yourself.”
After a moment, I said, “How can you be anything to your self? I mean, if you can be something to your self, then your self isn’t, like, singular.”
“You’re deflecting.” I just stared at her. “You’re right that self isn’t simple, Aza. Maybe it’s not even singular. Self is a plurality, but pluralities can also be integrated, right? Think of a rainbow. It’s one arc of light, but also seven differently colored arcs of light.”

I really liked the conversations with her therapist…especially because her therapist was witty too.

“If taking a pill makes you different, like if it changes the way-down you…that’s just a screwed-up idea, you know? Who’s deciding what me means–me or the employees of the factory that makes Lexapro? It’s like I have this demon inside of me, and I want it gone, but the idea of removing it via pill is…I don’t know…weird. But a lot of days I get over that, because I do really hate the demon.”

The struggle with accepting mental disorders.

“I guess I just don’t like having to live inside of a body? If that makes sense. And I think maybe deep down I am just an instrument that exists to turn oxygen into carbon dioxide, just like merely an organism in this…vastness. And it’s kind of terrifying to me that what I think of as, like, my quote unquote self isn’t really under my control?”

I remember having similar thoughts, although not so detailed, when they taught me about the cognitive functions and all that jazz. How is it that the most important thing for us to do to live, we have no power over?

“Nobody ever says anything is too bad to be true.”

Ha! Guys, let’s start saying this! Actually…I’ve said something similar to this. One of my friend’s used LOL in a depressing text and I asked her why. She said because it was hard to fathom that it was real. That’s when I said “yeah, it sounds too horrible to be real.”

It’s a weird phrase in English, in love, like it’s a sea you drown in or a town you live in. You don’t get to be in anything else–in friendship or in anger or in hope. All you can be in is love. And I wanted to tell him that even though I’d never been in love, I knew what it was like to be in a feeling, to be not just surrounded by it but also permeated by it, the way my grandmother talked about God being everywhere. When my thoughts spiraled, I was in the spiral, and of it. And I wanted to tell him that the idea of being in a feeling gave language to something I couldn’t describe before, created a form for it, but I couldn’t figure out how to say any of that out loud.

False. You can be in fear, lust, depression, denial…there’s a lot of emotions you can inhabit. Love just happens to be the most song-inspiring.

“I like short poems with weird rhyme schemes, because that’s what life is like.”

I don’t….because that’s what life is like. I want poetry to take me to a new place. However, every now and then, I do appreciate realism.

I could feel the tension in the air, and I knew he was trying to figure out how to make me happy again. His brain was spinning right alongside mine. I couldn’t make myself happy, but I could make people around me miserable.

That last sentence is one of my biggest fears. As the youngin of the family, I grew up with the feeling of being a burden. So that particular sentence hit me hard.

“There’s a moment,” she said, “near the end of Ulysses when the character Molly Bloom appears to speak directly to the author. She says, ‘O Jamesy let me out of this.’ You’re imprisoned within a self that doesn’t feel wholly yours, like Molly Bloom. But also, to you that self often feels deeply contaminated.”
I nodded.
“But you give your thoughts too much power, Aza. Thoughts are only thoughts. They are not you. You do belong to yourself, even when your thoughts don’t.”
“But your thoughts are you. I think therefore I am, right.”
“No, not really. A fuller formation of Descarte’s philosophy would be Dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum. ‘I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am.’ Descarted wanted to know if you could really know that anything was real, but he believed his ability to doubt reality proed that, while it might not be real, he was. You are as real as anyone, and your doubts make you more real, not less.”

I never knew this about Descartes and his philosphy. I like it!

Every loss is unprecedented. You can’t ever know someone else’s hurt, not really–just like touching someone else’s body isn’t the same as having someone else’s body.

Thank you! This is true!

“What I love about science is that as you learn, you don’t really get answers. You just get better questions.”

Never thought about it like that. Reminds me of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

Chewie and Rey are accompanied by a blue-haired girl named Ayala, whom Rey describes as “my best friend and greatest burden.”

So….burden issue…re-triggered.

I expected the sight of Daisy to piss me off, but when I actually saw her, sitting on the steps outside school, bundled up against the cold, a gloved hand waving at me, I felt like–well, like I deserved it, really. Like Ayala was the thing Daisy had to do to live with me.

I have conflicting emotions with this.

“There’s no self to hate. It’s like, when I look into myself, there’s no actual me–just a bunch of thoughts and behaviors and circumstances. And a lot of them just don’t feel like they’re mine. They’re not things I want to think or do or whatever. And when I look for the, like, Real Me, I never find it.

Identity issues. I can relate.

So you would, and in writing it down you realize, love is not a tragedy or failure, but a gift.
You remember your first love because they show you, prove to you, that you can love and be loved, that nothing in this world is deserved except for love, that love is both how you become a person, and why.

The “why” part struck me as unusual. What are your opinions on that? I disagree but I don’t know why. Maybe because I don’t believe that love should define your why’s. Maybe because the love I’ve known in my life was never explanatory. Or maybe because I was thought love was a tool to help-build your character, but never the answer.

 

Featured Image taken from: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35504431-turtles-all-the-way-down

Posted in 2018, Fiction

The Five People You Meet In Heaven by Mitch Albom

I don’t know why I think this, but I feel like this book is underrated. There is nothing too special about the book to make me think that, I just do.

The story follows a man named Eddie, from the day of this death (which just happens to be his birthday) to the five people he meets in heaven, and the stories in between.

The concept is that when you die, you meet five people in heaven that help you understand your life. The themes I see throughout the book is forgiveness, how to let go, integrity, and humility.

Let’s get straight to the quotes:

“There are five people you meet in heaven,” the Blue Man suddenly said. “Each of us was in your life for a reason. You may not have known the reason at the time, and that is what heaven is for. For understanding your life on earth.”
Eddie looked confused.
“People think of heaven as a paradise garden, a place where they can float on clouds and laze in rivers and mountains. But scenery without solace is meaningless.
“This is the greatest gift God can give you: to understand what happened in your life. Yo have it explained. It is the peace you have been searching for.”

I don’t believe in heaven, but if I did, that’s what I would want.

“Fairness,” he said, “does not govern life and death. If it did, no good person would ever die young.”

“My funeral,” the Blue Man said. “Look at the mourners. Some did not even know me well, yet they came. Why? Did you ever wonder? Why people gather when others die? Why people feel they should?
“It is because the human spirit knows, deep down, that all lives intersect. That death doesnt’ just take someone, it misses someone else, and in the small distance between being taken and being missed, lives are changed.”

“Strangers,” the Blue Man said, “are just family you have yet to come to know.”

“No life is a waste,” the Blue Man said. “The only time we waste is the time we spend thinking we are alone.”

That was the first lesson. From that, I took that no event is random. The circumstances have a reason for why it happened the way it did, whether we agree with it or not.

He wakes up the next morning and he has a fresh new world to work with, but he has something else, too. He has his yesterday.”

I never realized how powerful the past can be till I read this. You get a fresh start with the knowledge of yesterday. It’s common sense, but how many times have we taken something for granted.

“Sacrifice,” The Captain said. “You made one. I made one. We all make them. But you were angry over yours. You kept thinking about what you lost.
“You didn’t get it. Sacrifice is a part of life. It’s supposed to be. It’s not something to regret. It’s something to aspire to. Little sacrifices. Big sacrifices. A mother works so her son can go to school. A daughter moves home to take care of her sick father.
“A son goes to war…”

Sacrifice is the second lesson. Bitterness can ruin a soul faster than any substance. Sacrifice is selflessness. It’s understanding that you are not entitled. It’s knowing you are a part of a greater scheme of life.

Through it all, despite it all, Eddie privately adored his old man, because sons will adore their fathers through even the worst behavior. It is how they learn devotion. Before he can devote himself to God or a woman, a boy will devote himself to his father, even foolishly, even beyond explanation.

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Parents rarely let go of their children, so children let go of them. They move on. They move away. The moments that used to define them- a mother’s approval, a father’s nod- are covered by moments of their own accomplishments. It is not until much later, as the skin sags and the heart weakens, that children understand; their stories, and all their accomplishments, sit atop the stories of their mothers and fathers, stones upon stones, beneath the waters of their lives.

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“People don’t die because of loyalty.”
“They don’t?” She smiled. “Religion? Government? Are we not loyal to such things, sometimes to the death?”
Eddie shrugged.
“Better,” she said, “to be loyal to one another.”

This is the 3rd lesson. Although in this lesson she was referring to her father’s loyalty to his friend, in a way, Eddie was loyal to his father. It’s why he pretty much took his place as his mother’s caretaker and his position in the amusement park. But most importantly, he was loyal to his anger towards his father. This is why the next quote is effective.

“Learn this from me. Holding anger is a poison. It eats you from inside. We think that gating is a weapon that attacks the person who harmed us. But hatred is a curved blade. And the harm we do, we do to ourselves.
Forgive, Edward. Forgive. Do you remember the lightness you felt when you first arrived in heaven?
That’s because no one is born with anger. And when we die, the soul is freed of it. But now, here, in order to move on, you must understand why you felt what you did, and why you no longer need to feel it.”

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Love, like rain, can nourish from above, drenching couples with a soaking joy. But sometimes, under the angry heat of life, love dries on the surface and must nourish from below, tending to its roots, keeping itself alive.

“Lost love is still love, Eddie. It takes a different form, that’s all. You can’t see their smile or bring them food or tousle their hair or move them around a dance floor. But when those senses weaken, another heightens. Memory. Memory becomes your partner. You nurture it. You hold it. You dance with it.
Life has to end,” she said. “Love doesn’t.”

The fourth lesson is love. Eddie loved his wife. The old fashion love. Where you can’t really move on without your partner.

The 5th lesson is redemption and purpose. I couldn’t find a good quote for it. Nor do I want to go into detail about it because this is something that you should read and experience the impact for yourself. I didn’t know if anything was able to top love, but this did it.

Let me know what you think of this book, and what lessons you believe you might have in your heaven.

Featured image taken from: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3431.The_Five_People_You_Meet_in_Heaven

 

Posted in 2018, Becky Albertalli, Fiction, LGBTQ

Simon VS The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

NON-SPOILER REVIEW

Simon Vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda is a fun read. It’s also a fast read. I spent a whole day trying to be productive only to find myself back in bed with the book unable to spend more than an hour away from it. If this were a relationship, my friends would have an intervention to stop my clinginess. In short, it’s addictive.

What makes Simon Vs The Home Sapiens Agenda different than most LGBT books is that Simon isn’t ashamed of being gay. He is more afraid of someone outing his online love interest: Blue. The reason he doesn’t want to come out himself is that he doesn’t want to be treated like a different person. He knows his family and friends will accept him but he doesn’t know how it will affect how they act around him.

I love Albertalli’s version of coming out. It’s not about declaring your sexuality, but rather, any change of your personality is a version of coming out. Whether you suddenly decide you’re going to be in a band or you started drinking coffee, anything that alters the perception of you is a form of coming out to the world. It’s neat that it’s comparable to little things because sometimes, coming out as gay seems like a monumental change when in reality, in this day and age, it is far more accepted than a decade ago (depending on where you live and your belief system, of course).

Simon has three best friends; Nick, Leah (Albertalli announced a sequel called Leah on the Off-Beat), and Abby. He has a younger sister who goes to the same high school and an older sister in college. His parents are happily married. The story basically centers around him trying to find out the identity of Blue while keeping it secret from his friends and family. The storyline might sound boring but because life happens, it’s actually interesting. Since he is not constantly beating himself up, like most LGBT books, it’s not as emotionally draining.

Warning: if you read this book, you might develop a strong craving for Oreos.

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Favorite Quotes (some contain spoilers)

“Thanks, but I’m driving.” says Leah. But she wouldn’t be drinking if she wasn’t driving. I know that. Because there’s this invisible line, and on one side are people like Garrett and Abby and Nick and every musician ever. People who go to parties and drink and don’t get wasted off of one beer. People who have had sex and don’t think it’s a huge deal.

I like this quote because it perfectly sums out how I felt as a teenager. The outside of popular kids who go to parties and can talk to strangers without overanalyzing everything.

I know this is weird, but I make my bed every single day, even though the rest of my room is a hellscape of paper and laundry and books and clutter. Sometimes I feel like my bed is a lifeboat.

I like this quote because before I read this book, I saw a video where a soldier was saying “If you want to save the world, start by making your bed.” But I can also relate in the sense that if my bed is made, I feel like I can breathe when I walk into my room. There is something about it being made that brings a sense of calm. And if it’s unmade, I not only feel tired, I feel the overwhelmingness of my future that I was trying to avoid the whole day. Lifeboat, indeed.

My mom was the one who got obsessed with the idea that I had a girlfriend even though I had never had one before. I don’t know why that came as such a freaking surprise to her, since I’m pretty sure most people start out never having had one.

This was just hilarious. And true.

But I’m tired of coming out. All I ever do is come out. I try not to change, but I keep changing, in all these tiny ways. I get a girlfriend. I have a beer. And every freaking time, I have to reintroduce myself to the universe all over again.

This twist on coming out has been comforting. He didn’t see his sexual preference any different than all these little changes in habits. “Before I didn’t drink coffee, now I do.” “Before I wasn’t sure I liked boys, now I know.” It’s a life-changing moment, but not in the typical sense of life-changing. Not in the way that it feels like EVERYTHING is going to be different…just a part of you. It reminds me of a study that I was told about where people assume the life-changing events are big, like moving to a new home or changing careers…but in actuality, life-changing events are small, like reading a good book or watching an impactful movie. These things that you can do on your leisure time that do not require much thought about how it is impacting your life. That might not be a fair comparison since Simon did think about it…a lot. But you get the point, I hope. Coming out is just an addition to your personality; not the entirety of your personality.

I actually hate when people say that. I mean, I feel secure in my masculinity, too. Being secure in your masculinity isn’t the same as being straight.

Funny. Never thought about it like this.

They don’t have a clue. They don’t even know I’m gay.
And I don’t know how to do this. Ever since I told Abby on Friday, I kind of thought it would be easy to tell Leah and Nick. Easier, anyway, now that my mouth is used to saying the words.
It’s not easier. It’s impossible. Because even though it feels like I’ve known Abby forever, I really only met her four months ago. And I guess there hasn’t been time for her to have any set ideas about me yet. But I’ve known Leah since sixth grade, and Nick since we were four. And this gay thing. It feels so big. It’s almost insurmountable. I don’t know how to tell them something like this and still come out of it feeling like Simon. Because if Leah and Nick don’t recognize me, I don’t even recognize myself anymore.

2d7202eb-7380-4e61-bb10-fe0cea0c76f8-c2c6fc9d-a9ca-4363-8ef0-ed51522b6d12-v1That last sentence is heartbreaking. It’s also scary. But I get it, as a teenager, you aren’t really an individual yet (yes, there are some exceptions, but for the most part, we are a combination of our friends, families, and education.) Best friends are usually more important than family. Best friends are the family we chose to be a part of and if for whatever reason they stop choosing us…that’s just…emotionally scarring.

Trying not to think about something is like playing freaking Whac-A-Mole. Every time you push one thought down, another one nudges its way to the surface.

5b8bb193-be92-43af-8542-64710654691b-c2c6fc9d-a9ca-4363-8ef0-ed51522b6d12-v1I know the feeling!

In this moment, all I want is for things to feel like Christmas again. I  want it to feel how it used to feel.

This reminded me of the post that I saw where someone wrote something similar to this and someone else responded by saying that “we’re growing up” as in Christmas is for kids. When I was in college I joked with my professor that I believed in Santa Clause but the reason he stopped coming is that once we hit puberty, we are naughty by default. So I understand how Christmas feels different. But I think what makes it different is a form of growing up. We lose some sort of innocence when we have to show up and own up to our lives. Essentially, that is what was happening to Simon when he started feeling like this. He had to come out. It made things different because he no longer had the blissful ignorance of wondering what the future would hold. Because he knew. Everyone at school would know. His friends would now know. Blue knew. Things changed. It was no longer an innocent interaction of e-mails with another gay boy from school. It became real. And realness ruins the magic of Christmas. It will never feel that way it used to feel…but that doesn’t mean it will always feel awkward or uncomfortable.

 

PS. The Oreo craving took a month to settle down.

Image taken from: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/19547856-simon-vs-the-homo-sapiens-agenda

Posted in Fiction, John Green, Looking For Alaska

Looking For Alaska by John Green

SPOILER FREE REVIEW

Looking For Alaska by John Green is a story of adventure, love, loss, and friendship. Miles “Pudge” Halter is a teenager searching for the “Great Perhaps” and convinces his parents to let him go to his father’s old boarding school.  There he meets The Colonel (his roommate and fast friend), Alaska Young (neighbor), Takumi and Lara. Together they pull pranks and participate in other teenage antics.

Miles is obsessed with knowing people’s last words. For the most part, he feels insecure about his looks and has a hard time making friends.

The Colonel comes from a poor family but is one of the most ethical guys at school. He doesn’t believe in ratting people out. He’s a smoker, a tough guy and an expert in geography.

Alaska seems like a party girl when you first meet her. She’s a reckless, smart, philosophical feminist.

We don’t really get to know much of Takumi and Lara outside of Mile’s point of view. The story focuses more on the relationship of Miles, The Colonel, and Alaska.

I got this book because I remember reading a quote from it and thought “this is a book I need to read.” I would recommend this book if you’re into YA books. It fits the standard of an outsider kid who finds friends and starts feeling like he belongs. There is a slightly complicated love story. And like most successful books, there are golden nuggets of wisdom buried in the book.

I would not recommend this story if you don’t like a narcissistic protagonist. Miles has low self-esteem but that doesn’t stop his sense of entitlement (to his defense, he doesn’t know he has that attribute and he isn’t a jerk about it. He’s just a…well…human).

The characters here are rather simple and it doesn’t have a strong character development, but given the events, I don’t expect it to. I wish I could say it had an interesting plot twist, but I wasn’t at all surprised. If anything, I was expecting the tragedy. That, however, didn’t take away from the story.

IN-DEPTH REVIEW (CONTAINS SPOILERS)

The book is separated from the Before and the After. This is an interesting concept because you know there has to be something big in order for there to be a before and after.

When I first started reading it, I thought the before and after was Miles losing his virginity (don’t know why just felt like that would be a big thing for a teenage boy). As the story progressed, I thought it had something to do with a tragedy revolving Alaska. Maybe she left school, maybe she wound up ODing or hanging herself. I didn’t expect her to die in a car crash persae.

One of the things I loved about this book is that the dialogue really spoke for the characters. It wasn’t just mindless conversations. They exposed parts of themselves with responses. Here are some of the quotes I dissected.

Before

“‘I guess I stay with her because she stay’s with me. And that’s not an easy thing to do. I’m a bad boyfriend. She’s a bad boyfriend. We deserve each other.'”
There are so many people who have stayed in relationships because of this mentality. The “I don’t deserve better than I have” mentality. I appreciate this being part of The Colonel’s story because at first, he seems like this confident guy. But as we start getting to know him, we get to see his insecurities. He was, by far, my favorite character.

“‘Y’all smoke to enjoy it. I smoke to die.'”
Alaska Young said this on page 44. This is when I knew something would happen to her. I feel like when you have a character as dark as this, there are only a few directions this person can take. Even if she fell in love with Pudge, he is not a strong enough character to have her change her whole personality and live the “happily ever after” most teenagers hope for. Characters like Alaska are really hard to write for, mostly because they are such forces.

“‘I’m not going to be one of those people who sits around talking about what they’re gonna do. I’m just going to do it. Imaging the future is a kind of nostalgia.'”
This is a quote that Alaska said that made it obvious that there was more to her than the party girl prankster she portrays herself to be at first.

“‘You spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth, thinking about how you’ll escape it one day, and how awesome it will be, and imagining the future keeps you going, but you never do it. You just use the future to escape the present.'”
The labyrinth becomes very symbolic in the book. It derives from Alaska’s favorite book The General in His Labyrinth by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. His last words were “How will I ever get out of this labyrinth!” Alaska was as obsessed with the mystery of the labyrinth as Pudge was obsessed with last words. Alaska and Pudge went back and forth with figuring out what it was (more on that later).

“‘I just did some calculations, and I’ve been able to determine that you’re full of shit.'”
This is going to be my new comeback. BRILLIANT! The Colonel told this to Pudge after he tried to deny that he didn’t ditch his parents to stay because of Alaska. I like that this shows that The Colonel is very perspective, and knows more about people’s intentions. He is the only one who truly knew Alaska. I also like that he lets others be who they are without trying to change them. He even told Pudge that if he does hook up with her, it would disastrous, but he never forbade him not to hook up with her.

“‘I’m really not up for answering any questions that start with how, when, where, why, or what.'”
Another response I have to add to my arsenal of conversation. This was from Alaska when she was feeling down. She can be very closed off when she wants to. This was a bit frustrating because, since we were already so invested in wanting to know Alaska, it felt like a tease…and I’m also the person who wants to really know a person by more than just a superficial level. Anyway, it plays out well enough since the second half of the book is about her friends trying to understand her last thoughts. The mystery that is Alaska Young.

“‘No woman should ever lie about another woman! You’ve violated the sacred covenant between women! How will stabbing one another in the back help women to rise above patriarchal oppression?!’
This is Alaska’s argument when The Colonel’s girlfriend Sara lies about The Colonel and Alaska hooking up. This is the moment I knew I would like Alaska. Before I was a little unsure of whether I thought she was a strong female character mostly because she seemed to tease Pudge a lot. Sometimes without meaning to, but still, it felt like she was just going to be a sexualized character (which makes sense since we are in the mind of a teenage boy). However, Green made her this complicated, deep-thinking,  character. With her witty remarks, her power over her peers and her comfort around the adults. She, for the most part, tries to be a good person.

“Just like that. From a hundred miles an hour to asleep in a nanosecond. I wanted so badly to lie down next to her on the couch, to wrap my arms around her and sleep. Not fuck, like in those movies. Not even have sex. Just sleep together, in the most innocent sense of the phrase. But I lacked the courage and she had a boyfriend and I was gawky and she was gorgeous and I was hopelessly boring and she was endlessly fascinating. So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane.”
This was the quote I read on a post that made me think “I want to read this book.” It gave me butterflies just writing it down. I’m such a hopeless romantic.

‘Don’t you know you love, Pudge? You love the girl who makes you laugh and shows you porn and drinks wine with you. You don’t love the crazy, sullen bitch.’
Alaska told this to Pudge when he was trying to console her after she started sobbing wondering why she always screws everything up. It seemed like a sudden turn from such an outspoken character. Later we find out where this “”Scared isn’t a good enough excuse!”” attitude came from. But for now, the reason I liked this remark is that it shows that she feels like people won’t like her deeper rooted emotions. That they fall in love with this idea of the perfect girl. It’s no wonder she’s cheated on all her boyfriends.

Alaska tells the group that her mother died when she was young and that her father blamed it on her because she didn’t call the police on time. She was a kid, she was in shock. Her mother was choking and she didn’t know what to do. This is why her “Scared isn’t a good excuse” mentality is so strong. This is why she thinks she screws everything up. Because her mom died from her incompetence. Now I don’t believe she was incompetent. She’s a little lost, yes, but she had a good heart.

Before she convinces the boys to distract The Eagle (their principal) so she can leave (she was drunk…), she was freaking out over something. Later we find out that she was freaking out because she forgot her mom’s death anniversary so she was going to drive to the cemetery…only she didn’t make it.  The whole after consisted of the guys trying to figure out if it were an accident or suicide. The police said she didn’t even swerve. She just drove straight to the cruiser.

After

All night, I felt paralyzed into silence, terrorized. what was I so afraid of anyway? The thing had happened. She was dead. She was warm and soft against my skin, my tongue in her mouth, and she was laughing, trying to teach me, make me better, promising to be continued. And now.
And now she was colder by the hour, more dead with every breath I took. I thought: 
That is the fear: I have lost something important, and I cannot find it, and I need it. It is fear like if someone lost his glasses and went to the glasses store and they told him that the world had run out of glasses and he would just have to do without.”
This train of thought, passing through Miles (I switch his name, he is Miles when he is by himself and Pudge when he’s with his friends). This is the constant annoying thought that keeps running through his head that makes me call him narcissistic. He is more concerned that he will never get to continue kissing Alaska, than the actual fact that she is dead. I understand though, people handle death differently. It’s a traumatic event to lose someone. It is normal to start thinking about what you lost. I have told many people that if I were to die, not one person would really know me, they would just know the role I played in their life. Therefore, given that he only knew her for less than a year, it makes sense that he only sees her as a love interest. It’s not his fault, it’s just…really annoying. He wasn’t the only one who lost Alaska, we, the audience, lost her too…and I would have like to know more about her. But, we don’t get what we want. The Colonel even called him out for this. He said that he forgot her personality already and that he was only concerned about how they hooked up. Takumi also told him that he does not get to monopolize her.

And what was an ‘instant’ death anyway? How long is an instant? Is it one second? Ten? The pain of those seconds must have been awful as her heart burst and her lungs collapsed and there was no air and no blood to her brain and only raw panic. What the hell is instant? Nothing is instant. Instant rice takes five minutes, instant pudding an hour. I doubt that an instant of blinding pain feels particularly instantaneous.
This train of thought gave me a headache. I get it. I have experienced deaths of those close to me and there is no such thing as consolation. It hurts. And anyone trying to make it less painful doesn’t understand the pain of loss. There is no “at least” there is only what is and what isn’t.

Yeah. I was so tired of her getting upset for no reason. The way she would get sulky and make references to the freaking oppressive weight of tragedy or whatever but then never said what was wrong, never have any goddamned reason to be sad. And I just think you out to have a reason. My girlfriend dumped me, so I’m sad. I got caught smoking, so I’m pissed off. My head hurts, so I’m cranky. She never had a reason, Pudge. I was just so tired of putting up with her drama. And I just let her go. Christ.‘”
This is The Colonel speaking. Remember how I said he knew her best, but that she didn’t let people in? This confirms it. She wouldn’t talk to her best friend about her problem. Life gets overwhelming when you don’t talk about what the real issue is. When Alaska confessed the tragedy regarding her mom, The Colonel was surprised that she never told him. But she was itching to talk about it, otherwise, she wouldn’t have said anything. Her life was slowly falling apart. That’s why she convinced Miles (not that he needed convincing) to hook up with her on a truth or dare. Because although she didn’t want to cheat on her boyfriend, she was also trapped in her mind.

‘I am sorry, Alaska. You deserved a better friend.'”
The Colonel said this as he kissed her tomb. I think he finally felt guilty that he didn’t see the signs as signs, but just as part of her personality. I don’t blame him though, how was he supposed to know? Still, that was heartbreaking. Of course, he was also feeling remorse for not stopping her. But again, how was he supposed to know?

“How will we ever get out of this labyrinth of suffering? –A. Y.
‘I’m going to leave that up for the rest of the semester,’ he said. ‘Because everybody who has ever lost their way in life has felt the nagging insistence of that question. At some point we all look up and realize we are lost in a maze, and I don’t want us to forget Alaska, and I don’t to forget that even when the material we study seems boring, we’re trying to understand how people have answered that question and the questions each of you posed in your papers–how different traditions have come to terms with what Chip, in his final, called ‘people’s rotten lots in life'”
Alaska’s labyrinth is suffering. When the guys were collecting her stuff from her room, she wrote “straight and fast” in her copy of The General and his Labyrinth. That’s when the guys started believing it was indeed, suicide because she drove straight and fast. But it wasn’t intentional at first since she had flowers for her mom. If she were going to kill herself, why bother with flowers. They believed that once the opportunity presented itself, she took it. Unless, of course, the flowers were a peace offering to her mom and it was intentional. We will never know. Also, her initial thought of what the labyrinth was life and/or death. She constantly thought about death.

The times that were the most fun seemed always to be followed by sadness now, because it was when life started to feel like it did when she was with us that we realized how utterly, totally gone she was.
I like this quote because it reminds me a lot of Inside Out, the Pixar movie. Memories change. Emotions change. Grief is a challenging emotion.

When you stopped wishing things wouldn’t fall apart, you’d stop suffering when they did.”
If Alaska was able to remove herself from the situations, maybe she would have learned how to escape the labyrinth. This was a thought that Miles had. Along with “Because memories fall apart, too. And then you’re left with nothing, left not even with a ghost but with its shadow.” He was forgetting her. His memory was fading with what he wanted, what was real and what he couldn’t comprehend.

Eventually, Miles realized that “we had to forgive to survive the labyrinth.” Forgiveness is one of the hardest acts to ever accomplish. True forgiveness. Not just in the moment forgiveness. Not just “I’m going to forget for now because I don’t want to deal with it.” Not just forgiveness for the sake of forgiving. It’s why resentments are so powerful. It’s why some of the 7 deadly sins revolve around the consequences of not forgiving. The inability to forgive is the ultimate disservice to one’s spirit. It’s how wars start. It’s how bridges are burnt. It’s how life becomes unmanageable.

I, at first, thought the labyrinth was…well…life. Not necessarily life as in real life, but life as in the standard people put you in. Your identity. How do you escape the identity that was thrust upon you, without your permission? How do you escape without suffocating? Think about it, how can Alaska forget the blame her dad put her through. How can she escape the girl her friends want her to be? The girlfriend her boyfriend wants her to be? The student they want her to be? She was never really her. That was the ultimate tragedy. If she was this fantastic person, while filtered…image how incredible she would be if she were able to escape this labyrinth?

 

 

Posted in Fiction

Joseph’s Destiny Adventure Part 1: Daily’s Dream by Coach Sharonda Crenshaw

Joseph’s Destiny Adventure is a feel-good story about finding your purpose. Well…almost. This is, after-all, part 1.

The synopsis is:

Two weeks before his 18th birthday Joseph Keller gets an epic opportunity gift wrapped in an open-ended question; “What would you do if I offered you a million dollars but you couldn’t spend it on a house, car, clothes, or travel?”

Though the question ignites him to discover his purpose in life, it will take more than one good answer to find all the necessary keys to win the challenges and finish the game!

Are you ready to play?

To be honest, when I read that…I had no idea what to expect. Which is usually a good thing! I like not knowing everything. It makes me enjoy the story more.

The first chapter felt like a pep-talk. Coach Crenshaw discussed how we’re here to serve the universe…or at least, try! (If you are completely against God, this book is NOT for you. But I would still give it a read because it mostly focuses on morals than on God.) She explains that it’s not only important to know your “what” (what referring to our purpose in life) but that it’s also important to have a strong “why”. Now, I’m a huge fan of the word “why.” It’s why I read a lot of books! It’s also why a lot of those books tend to be extremely depressing. (However….this is not one of those books! As I mentioned earlier, this is a feel-good book.)

It’s an easy read. I don’t mean the wording is easy, but the flow and rhythm were smooth. It made topic-heavy conversations seem like water-cooler talk. My only issue is that it is very dialogue heavy (which isn’t bad) but there was no clear identification to who was talking. However, the exchanges were so well done that you figured it out within a line or two.

Let’s talk characters. There were 5 main characters: Joey (short for Joseph, prefers J), Ben, their Mom, Mr. Daily, and Jesse. Joey and Ben are twins. I like this relationship because they are extremely different in characteristics. The twins lost their father about a year ago. They both took it hard, but Joey took it harder. Joe’s personality is that of the teenage boy who thinks he’s an adult but is really afraid to grow up (can’t blame him…growing up is hard). Ben has an easier time accepting things and seems more graceful and mature. Therefore, it’s no wonder why Mr. Daily picked him for the game instead of the Ben.

Mr. Daily is the owner of Daily’s Dreams, the amusement park. Not what I expected when I read the title. My first impression of Mr. Daily is that he’s this wealthy humble man that doesn’t need to define himself by his riches. He drove a basic car and had a small office. However, although he is a humble man who is not defined by his riches; we later find out that he lives in an extravagant house and owns a lot of cars…so much that he can just give them away.

Mr. Daily pulls Joey into his office and asks him “What would you do if I offered you a million dollars but you couldn’t spend it on a house, car, clothes, or travel?” Joey, of course, answers that he’d just give it back because what else is the point? Mr. Daily then offers to take him on this field trip the next day if it’s okay with his mom. He gives Ben the day off, with pay…so his mom gets suspicious and tells Joey not to take any money from this man. Joey gets upset that his mom is telling him what to do so he decides to run away. However…Ben catches up with him. When Joey asks Ben the question, he said he’d most likely help his mom pay bills and probably help his neighbor get an air conditional and a ramp for her wheelchair. See, Ben is selfless.

Joey is convinced to go back home and he goes to apologize to his mom. He admits that he’s confused and is afraid to disappoint everyone. Unfortunately, his mom was asleep during this confession. His mom apologizes as well and their bond strengthens.

He has a dream that night, with his father, telling him about his dream and how he didn’t quite achieve it the way he wanted to…but he did what he could. He tells him he needs to find something he’s passionate about….and to trust your gut.

Mr. Daily takes Joey to his house. In his backyard is another amusement park. There is a chest with $200k that requires 8 keys to open. The keys needed to unlock the chest are spread amongst the park and each key holds a gold envelope with the clue for the next key. He has 40 minutes to find all the keys. He gives him the first clue, and a Bentley to drive around and find the rest of the keys. So that’s the game. Or at least…the first part of the game.

I don’t want to go into Jesse’s character because it might spoil a lot of the story. But she was critical in helping Joey figure out a good portion of the game. I also don’t want to talk about the game because that’s where all the fun is!

So….let’s change the topic to quotes!

“I hadn’t thought about the sacrifice people make that don’t involve money.”
I feel like this quote is the difference between immaturity and maturity. As a kid, I never saw all the sacrifices my mother made. I just saw how she treated me and what she bought me…and what she fed me. But once I left the house, I realized that she gave up a lot of her dreams as well. Her financial security. Her time. Her sanity. It’s not until that moment of acknowledgment that I really started appreciating my mom. It’s easy to take someone for granted when you’re a scared, confused teenager.

“It’s never easy feeling helpless but its worse feeling hopeless.”
I am no stranger of helpnessness nor hopelessness…but out of the two, I would pick helplessness anytime. The cure for helplessness is humility. The cure for hopeless is…well…hope. It’s far easier to get into a state of humility than hope, in my opinion. There is the euphoria of hope that comes and goes…but it’s still a feeling. Whereas humilty is more action based. It’s easier to control actions than feelings.

“Your talents will help you but your dreams will help others.”
This never occured to me before. I always thought dreams could only be achieved if you had the talent and discipline to do so. It never occured ot me that dreams aren’t tied to talent, but rather, to what you can offer….talent or no talent…money or no money.

“Instead of focusing on what could go wrong if you did it, think about what you would be missing out on if you didn’t. Which would you regret the most?”
Within this past year, I started living with this mantra…so it really resonated.

“You just need to learn how to listen. We’re all full of answers, but most of the time we’re not being asked the right questions. Everything in you can be brought out with the right question.”
I like this quote because I feel like I am filled with answers…but have no one to ask me questions. About three years ago, I realize that there was more to listening than just hearing what people are saying. I started listening to what people were not saying. This helped develop close relationships. It also gave people the opportunity to see that I did care about them, beyond surface level.

“You can’t expect your life to mean something unless you do something that gives it meaning”
This quote doesn’t require a response.

“Is a dream ever alive?”
This one requires context. Mr. Daily took Joey to the cemetery and asked him what he saw. He responded with a fence. Then asked him what he didn’t see. He answered “Life.” Then Mr. Daily asked him what was the point of a cemetery. He said it gives the world somewhere to bury dead people. Mr. Daily asked if anything living is buried. Joey was confused and asked why would you bury something that’s alive…to which Mr. Daily responded is a dream ever alive?
In my book review of “The Opposite of Lonliness” I mentioned a quote I heard of how the cementary is filled with riches because it is filled with potential. Potential that was never met. This is very similar. Is a dream ever alive? A dream exists…but when it’s alive we call it ambition or drive. If a dream comes true it becomes a reality and can no longer be defined as a dream. A dream is an illusion for those asleep. If we are actively trying to make our dreams come true…we are awake…we are alive…a dream isn’t a dream. It’s a “why”. Why do we do what we do…to make our dreams come true. Our dreams are meant to help others. The purpose of life is to serve.

That was the message I took from this book.

Posted in Fiction, LGBTQ

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

You know you’re about to embark on a good book when one of the first sentences you read is “The problem with my life was that it was someone else’s idea.”

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a young adult fiction book about two teenage boys discovering themselves…and the secrets of the universe.

For those of you who haven’t read it, before going into further detail about what it’s about, I wrote the reasons for why I would and would not recommend this book in the hopes that I’d spare you time in your decision making.

I would recommend this book if you like:

  • LGBT characters.
  • teenage protagonists…correction: smart mouth teenage protagonists to which their teenage angst helps develop the story.
  • questions for the sake of asking them, not answering them.
  • minority groups who are uncertain of their identity.
  • characters with a sense of emotional awareness who overthink the tiniest of events
  • strong character development, without it progressing too rapidly or forcing change for the sake of interest.
  • simple love stories.
  • sad stories.
  • a hint of mystery, but not to the point where it takes away from the main storyline.
  • family drama where they overcome society’s challenges.

I would not recommend this book if you:

  • lack patience. This story takes a while to unfold. If you want immediate action, you will be disappointed.
  • prefer passionate love scenes. This isn’t that kind of book. It’s simple and innocent.
  • don’t like introspection. The majority of the book is spent inside the mind of our main character.
  • are a grammar nazi. The book that I have felt like there were some missing words here and there (pg 120 for example). But really it was only 3 incidents that I caught.

If these notes fit your criteria of books you want to read, great! Come back and leave a comment with your thoughts. If it’s not what you like in a book, then thank you for taking the time to read my post, I’m glad I helped you save time.

For those of you who have read it, let’s discuss! 🙂

——–the below content will contain spoilers———

Within the beginning, we get an explanation of Aristotle’s (Ari for short) family. He has two older twin sisters and one older brother. His older brother is in prison and he feels like he has to be the good son. His older sisters don’t give him any information regarding his brother. No one talks about him. His father, a soldier of the Vietnam war, also remains speechless regarding his own demons. Ari doesn’t understand him at all, even though he desperately wants to. His mother, however, is the only person he feels remotely connected to. They have this relationship built on honesty, wit, and respect (I immediately fall in love with this mother-son dynamic). They understand their roles and don’t try to blur it.

Then, we meet Dante. Dante offered to teach Ari how to swim.  My favorite thought that Ari had was “If a guy was offering to teach me how to swim, then for sure he didn’t have a life. Two guys without a life? How much fun could that be?
I had a rule that it was better to be bored by yourself than to be bored with someone else. I pretty much lived by that rule. Maybe that’s why I didn’t have any friends.”

So now we know how Ari feels about Dante, but upon exchanging names, they bonded on their philosophical names. Instant friends based on this crazy coincidence. They swam together, suggested books and comics, had discussions, came up with stories about other people…you know, typical boyhood antics.

I like to think that swimming is a metaphor for life. See, before he decided to go swimming that day, he was saying that his life was not really his. He did most things because of his parents. He was proud to go swimming that day because it was his original idea, even if he didn’t know how to swim. So here’s this kid who barely knows how to float (live his own life) and suddenly, Dante appears in the picture to teach him how to swim (learn how to slowly become his own person, with his own emotions and own stories).

Ari is your typical Mexican American who doesn’t mind his identity so much but rather, dislike the characters around him. Dante is your typical Mexican American who has shame over being Mexican.

What made me fall in love with Dante was when Ari observed that “He tried not to laugh, but he wasn’t good at controlling all the laughter that lived inside of him.” That made me smile from ear to ear, it made my heart melt and it made me jealous. I can’t remember a time where I was so filled with laughter. It feels like a dream that everyone should strive to be.

What made me fall in love with Saenz (author) was when I read “That afternoon, I learned two new words. ‘Inscrutable.’ And ‘friend.’
Words were different when they lived inside of you.”

If you’ve ever felt like you didn’t belong, reading sentences like that is…home. There is no other word to describe that sensation.

The boys eventually met each other parents. The parents were happy that this relationship was developing because they’ve seen their sons grow up without making any real friends.

One event that made us realize how much Ari cared about Dante is when Dante was telling these boys off for killing a sparrow with a BB Gun. Ari was ready to beat them up if they dared touch Dante. This sparrow showed Ari how much Dante cared about things that no one cares about. That’s also when Dante knew Ari liked to fight, but it didn’t disturb him. That night, Ari had a nightmare about sparrows falling from the sky, hurting him. He became sick and had more of the same dream, except eventually he was fighting back. Flash forward a couple chapters later, Dante sees a sparrow in the middle of the road and he goes to help him out. That’s when a car suddenly turns the corner and Ari jumps in to push Dante away, damaging his own legs in the process. I like to think of the fallen sparrow and his inability to feel free. And in those dreams, how his desire hurts him and how strongly he fights back because he feels like that’s all he can do.

During the hospital, Dante gives Ari his drawing sketchbook (earlier in the book, Dante told Ari he didn’t let anyone see his drawings). Ari decided not to look at them. At this point, he wasn’t aware, but he was conflicted with his feelings for Dante. He has this thought that if Dante really knew him, he wouldn’t like him. So Ari liked to keep a field of protection around him and his emotions. He was upset that Dante gave him the sketchbook to begin with because he felt that Dante only did it because he felt responsible for the accident. Also, he was jealous of Dante’s ability to be so expressive.

There was a moment, in the hospital, where he saw his mother and father holding hands. He then thought “I bet you could sometimes find all of the mysteries of the universe in someone’s hand.” I felt like this would have been a great opportunity to use “secrets of the universe” to foreshadow the scene in the end. Get it? You can find the secrets of the universe in someone’s hand….Aristotle and Dante discover the secrets of the universe….in the end, Ari took Dante’s hand to hold. Get it?! Cute, right?

The next few chapters we’re introduced to more people, mainly because Dante moves to Chicago. His father got a temporary job there. So we meet some of Ari’s classmates, a potential lover, his new truck, new job and a new pet. We also receive letters from Dante telling Ari he’s experimenting with weed, alcohol, and kissing. In a letter, he tells Ari that he’d rather be kissing boys.

When Dante returned, they made some ground rules. Dante can’t kiss Ari. Ari can’t run away from Dante. Although Ari was okay with Dante being gay, Dante was not confident that Ari would stand by his side due to his sexuality. Later, Dante pretty much talked Ari into kissing him. Ari said he didn’t feel anything, Dante said he did. A couple more chapters later, we find that Dante winds up in the hospital because he was beaten up by a group of guys when he was caught kissing another boy. Ari, of course, not only stood by his side, he decided to punch the leader of the pack. What a loyal friend!

However, when his parents find out that he was violent, they start becoming concerned. They confessed that his older brother was in prison for getting violent and killing someone. After an incident where Ari instinctively punches the wall. His mom has a family meeting and here the father tells him some of his war stories. After, he tells Ari that he has to stop running from Dante. When he didn’t comprehend, he explained it’s obvious Dante loves him, but what he needs to face is that he loves Dante. When Ari became confused and asked why he was saying that. His father told him that “because I can’t stand watching all that loneliness that lives inside you. Because I love you, Ari”

Whoa! Take a deep breath, right?

I still need another moment.

WOW!

Profound comfort. I will admit, I cried…

We’d have a lot less LGBT related suicides if more parents had a conversation like that with their children. Well…there would be a lot fewer suicides in general if more people chose to love.

Anyway, the book ends with Dante and Ari getting together….very pg guys. They kissed. This isn’t Brokeback Mountain. See, not that much “passionate love”…just…innocent love.

I liked a few quotes that I think are worth blogging about. The first one is from his diary entry and says “The problem is not that I don’t love my mother and father. The problem is that I don’t know how to love them.” This is relatable to anyone who was ever told that their way of loving is wrong. We learned to hide it up to the point where we don’t know how to effectively show it.

“I don’t know why I was thinking about all these things–except that’s what I always did. I guess I had my own personal television in my brain. I could control whatever to watch. I could switch the channels anytime I wanted.” This is so relatable to overthinkers! To people who think about everything!!! At all times! I remember laughing and appreciating the description of what goes on in our head.

Those are my thoughts for now. What were your thoughts on the book?

(featured image taken from: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/12000020-aristotle-and-dante-discover-the-secrets-of-the-universe?ac=1&from_search=true)

Posted in Fiction, Non-Fiction, short stories

The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories by Marina Keegan

Since this book didn’t provoke much thought, I decided to bundle my review to one post. That’s not a slight to the author. Her writing was more emotional than mental.

Introduction
The introduction built up the author really well. It was written by one of her teachers. Based on her description, I was expecting Marina’s writing to be someone overwhelming. (It wasn’t. However, it was original.) Without knowing Marina, I already felt a connection to her, just based on how much love and respect her teacher had for her and her potential. Whoa, too many pronouns.

The Opposite of Loneliness
This was a commencement speech that portrayed Marina as this lively, loving, energetic, insightful ambitious person. She starts off with “we don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness” and immediately I’m hooked. “I’m going to like this girl!” I thought after realizing that there really isn’t a word that opposes loneliness. Not really. Not sufficiently. Like most commencement speeches, she continues to inspire hope and courage. I was really excited to read what she wrote next.

Fiction

Cold Pastoral
Ironically, this short story made me feel…lonely. Not what I was expecting. I must admit that Keegan is not afraid to delve into those insecurities. The story centers around Claire. She had a friend with benefits relationship with a guy named Brian who suddenly passes away. Brian’s ex-girlfriend convinces Claire to steal his diary so his parents wouldn’t find it and read it. Claire, however, decided to read it herself. I won’t mention what was written, but it was definitely a conflicting situation. Grief and reality, all at once. Kudos for going there.

Winter Break
Another story that leaves a sense of loneliness. However, in this story, Addie and Sam are in a happy, passionate relationship. Addie is back for winter break and finds her parents miserable, although they weren’t quite ready to admit it till they saw the spark between Addie and Sam. A story with a glimpse of the dysfunction of a “normal” family.  I liked the contrast of the relationships. The young, passionate couple versus the older, no longer compatible, married couple.

Reading Alone
Reading Alone was perhaps the most original of art her stories. I have never read anything like this. The story is about this elderly woman, Anna, who has bi-weekly sessions reading to a blind man, Sam. It was recommended by her doctor since she started feeling pain after her husband decided to get out of retirement to work again. What made this story interesting is that Anna would undress as she read to Sam. Weird, right?

The Ingenue
This is a story of jealousy, distrust and “cha-cha-cha”. Our main character is intimidated by her boyfriend’s on-stage girlfriend, Olivia. Danny, the boyfriend, is adamant about being the originator of saying “cha-cha-cha” between birthday songs. She felt a strong sense of betrayal by him after he cheated on a game of Yahtzee. My take, it was a metaphor for her doubt in his loyalty in regards to Olivia. But I could be wrong since they wound up getting married.

The Emerald City
The Emerald City seems out of place. The story is a set of e-mails sent from a William Madar. He works for the Coalition Provisional Authority and has been stationed in Afghanistan. Not as a soldier though, he’s the Deputy Secretary of Housing Reconstruction. We see the e-mails he is sending to a Laura Kenzie, whom we never meet, nor do we see her responses, even though it is stated that she does reply. The story progresses with him getting a new translator, Haaya. Haaya and Will try to negotiate with a reformed member of Al Qaeda in order to get a list of names of those involved. It’s definitely a change from her other writings.

Baggage Claim
Baggage claim was the shortest of all short stories. It was about a soon-to-be-engaged couple (the girlfriend doesn’t know Kyle has a ring in his backpack) who decide to go to Unclaimed Baggage Center. They sell luggage and the equipment inside that was never claimed. Kyle, the boyfriend, decides to leave his backpack (with the ring) there because he started finding her annoying. Before the story ends, he returns to buy the ring again from the luggage place. The ending was cute, his back-and-forth conflict was nice to read. You could tell he was nervous.

Hail, Full of Grace
This feels like a story that wasn’t quite done. It has the potential for a romance novel. The story is about a woman, Audrey, who is back in her hometown for the winter. She adopted a kid by herself. She runs into her ex-boyfriend, a man who she previously had a kid with but gave the baby up for adoption since they were really young. Her new baby, Emma, has been cast to be the understudy of baby Jesus for a Christmas play. She runs into her ex-boyfriend, Julian, at a store and invites him to the play. It ends with him showing up…late. See, potential. However, I should note that he is married and has kids of his own with his wife. So, a very controversial romance story.

Sclerotherapy
This story starts with the explanation of Karen getting a tattoo of a Chinese character that supposedly said “Inner resolve and outer peace, a general levelheadedness and tranquility” only to find out by her brother’s Asian roommate that it actually meant “soybean”. It became her shame and she tried to cover it up. Finally, during a sclerotherapy session, she was asked what her tattoo meant. She first said that it meant “inner resolve and outer peace, a general levelheadedness and tranquility” but then admitted it actually meant “soybean”. This story reminded me of the struggle of being honest and acceptance towards the curve balls life throws.

Challenger Deep
If any of her stories were to make it into the big screen…I would bet on this one. Well, maybe the ingenue as a Sundance film or something. These 5 people were stuck in a submarine thirty-six thousand feet under. They were in complete darkness and couldn’t see. They were all slowly losing hope, with the exception of Ellen, who was recently engaged. Little by little, they all begin to crack. What makes this suspenseful is that there are 5 shifts needed to run the submarine….so all are needed and can’t be replaced. Therefore, it is important that everyone stay. They are all haunted by their dreams and the lights they can see in those dreams.

NonFiction

Stability in Motion
This is basically a love story for her car. She talks about how her grandma used to own it and took very good care of it. But once it was passed down to her, it started becoming messy and filled with memories of her own life. It ends with her clearing it out and passing it down to her younger brother. She reminisces about her break-ups, her first kisses, her newspapers and all other important events in her life that were lived in this car. This car that once belonged to someone else, and will now belong to someone else. In other words, it’s kind of like a country song.

Why We Care about Whales
Her writing style here was irresistible. My favorite quote:
“I worry sometimes that humans are afraid of helping humans. There’s less risk associated with animals, less fear of failure, fear of getting too involved. In war movies, a thousand soldiers can die gruesomely, but when the horse is shot, the audience is heartbroken.” How true is that?! We care about the pets more than we care about the people. She goes on about how we should care about people but that during the heat of the moment, it’s hard to be philosophical. Her description of the dying whales that washed into the shore was hauntingly beautiful.

Against the Grain
So…her mom…is the best! In this story, Marina describes the lengths her mom went through due to her (Marina’s) dietary restrictions. See, Marina was allergic to gluten during a time where there wasn’t that much information about it. Her mom, nor the doctors, could figure out why she kept getting sick, until her mom found the definition of Celiac Disease. Her mom made all new foods, researched like crazy, and tried her very best to make sure Marina didn’t feel like she was being left out. But of course, all that effort made Marina feel completely different. Who among us haven’t felt ungrateful for our mother’s efforts every now and then?

Putting the “Fun” Back in Eschatology
This is just talking about how the world will eventually end. She hopes that humanity can survive it…if we don’t fuck up. It’s just a two-page opinion piece. I personally don’t see how we cannot fuck up.

I Kill for Money
With that name, you wouldn’t think that this is the funniest story. But it is! It’s about an exterminator. Get it…he kills for the money. Clever. Tommy, the exterminator, AKA Dr. Death, is sixty-three-year-olds and loves his job. He is filled with lame jokes (depending on your sense of humor, I’m into dad jokes so is jokes were up my alley). I felt for Tim. He’s made fun of a lot but he does good work and he tries his best to be nice. The world needs more people like Tommy.

Even Artichokes Have Doubts
I never figured out why she picked that title. I can tell you that it was about doubt. In this story she talks about her personal experience regarding receiving a letter from McKinsey & Company, a consulting firm. This got her to question what her peers thought about this, especially those not studying for the finance industry. She received some feedback about the doubts her classmates felt about not being able to make a living in a non-profit, and how most feel like starting here would be a good step. Many justify it by saying they’ll get valuable experiences.

The former dean argues that you can get those experiences doing something more interesting. He continues by pointing out that “if you’re like most people, you’ll do one thing for two to three years, then something else for two to three years, and then–somewhere in that five- to seven-year distance from Yale–you’ll see a need to fully commit to something that’s a longer-term project” but what made this quote eye-opening is that he ended it by saying “If you think of your first few jobs after Yale in this way–holistically and in terms of your growth as a person rather than as a ladder rungs to a specific material outcome–you’re less likey to wake up at age forty-five married to a stranger.” But his advice was not all that extreme. He believes that you can do more good working for a corporation (even though they have a stigma about being evil) than working for consultants or banks. It’s an unproductive use of Yale graduates.

She ends it with her fears: that people are settling due to fear of not being able to succeed otherwise. She mentions how excited she gets when her classmates are passionately doing the best they can for a project and how proud they become…and how she can’t imagine a world without their visions coming to life.

The Art of Observation
I won’t go too into this one since I didn’t get much out of it. Here, she and her boyfriend are tourists in India and get asked to have their picture taken…a lot. Her boyfriend is quickly annoyed whereas she enjoys it for as long as she can. Then, late at night, she wonders how her face will be in dozens of strangers pictures….and she takes a picture of a complete stranger. A circle of silent understanding.

Song for the Special
Here she talks about how every generation thinks they’re special. She talks a lot about jealousy and how she sees other people succeeding and she wonders why she didn’t think of it. Then she gets deeper, she mentions how nothing is permanent and that the world will eventually end. “Everything will be destroyed no matter how hard we work to create it. The idea terrifies me. I want tiny permanents. I want gigantic permanents! I want what I think and who I am captured in an anthology of indulgence I can comfortingly tuck into a shelf in some labyrinthine library” I found this amusing because I believe every person should have their own memoirs. Not for money, or fame…just so that people can know you existed. That you were here and you contributed, no matter how small, to this world. That everyone’s story, no matter how horrific, tragic or boring should be told.

“I’m so jealous. Laughable jealousies, jealousies of everyone who might get a chance to speak from the dead. I’ve zoomed out my timeline to include the apocalypse, and, religionless, I worship the potential for my own tangible trace. How presumptuous! To assume specialness in the first place.” See…if we had our own memoirs, this desire might diminish. It’s true, I’ve read about it in a utopian novel…that ended horrible bad…hmmm….my thoughts are flawed somewhere.

“There’s a really good chance I’ll never do anything. It’s selfish and self-centered to consider, but it scares me.” I understand this feeling too well. My biggest fear is that I’ll never be more than average. I was taught to strive for greatness…but realistically….not everyone can be great. It’s like a lottery game. Hard work is not enough. There are many hard-working people who don’t get to where they want to be. Luck plays a big role. Opportunities help. It’s why many people say the journey is what matters…because the journey is obtainable. The destination isn’t promised. Marina, herself, didn’t get to where she wanted to be. She worked hard, won many awards but I’m sure she had bigger dreams. That’s why the book was created. To help her dreams come true. But what if her friends and family didn’t care enough? This book wouldn’t exist. Her hard-work would have disappeared. My point about luck would stand strong. It was luck that she was born to the family she was born in. Not everyone has the good fortune of caring parents.

But it is scary. The deepest quote I ever heard was “the place with the most treasure is in the cemetary….it’s buried with potential.” (it was by my friend’s mom, not some famous person…unless she got it from a famous person and I just never did my research.)

 

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone. Her writing was untamed and doesn’t follow any style I’ve read before. If you know of a book similar to this, please let me know.

 

(Image taken from: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18143905-the-opposite-of-loneliness?ac=1&from_search=true)