Posted in 2018, Fiction, LGBTQ

Minotaur by J.A. Rock

This book is very well written…but badly executed. I read it because, 1) I have a thing for bull drawings (see cover) and 2) it was featured in Pride’s month reading recommendation.

I personally felt as if it were two different books merged together. You have the book of the Rock Point home….and then you have the book of the Labyrinth. Both stood well alone, but combining them felt disappointing.

I would have settled for a longer book if it had better action. My guess is that the author originally wanted to make the labyrinth scene, but then fell in love with the back story and focused more on that than on the labyrinth itself.

The labyrinth, full of promise and spooky potential, was treated like a badly managed circus. It’s not that I have an issue that a complete amateur was able to survive the place, it’s that she didn’t even get hurt. Yes, she got tricked, but she, for the most part, suffered outside of the Labyrinth way more than she did inside. How then, can I be convinced that the Labyrinth is a scary place?

The flow of the second part of the book felt like those unnecessarily dramatic stories that you can read to children to scare them. This differs from the beginning which felt more young adult and self-actualization.  

Our protagonist, although a teenager, has the emotional mindset of a child. That’s probably what made her interesting. Child-like heart but adult-like brain (or at least she wanted to act adult, anyway).

The love interest isn’t really about love….but about need and want. That, however, inspired the best quotes!

The character development is uninteresting since regardless of the circumstances, they were all haunted by their pasts. The character relationships were well thought out though.

The Beast was probably the biggest disappointment. Maybe that was the point. To not give us such an obvious villain. Or clever yet, to instate that the real villain isn’t the Beast, but society. The Beast then, becoming relatable.

Favorite Quotes:

We are all a step away from goodness cracking  under our feet and collapsing us into villany.

Loss, violence, bullying, starvation, boredom, the promise of beauty or fame or sex–chances are there is something somewhere you’d turn wicked for. Innocence starts to look haggard with age, same as skin.

My tantrums, my rotten words, the joy my fists took in meeting flesh–those were to distract others from seeing all the spots the spear could go. Until one woman stripped me truly bare, and together we built an armor that rendered me both powerful and humble. It looked so right on me that seeing myself in it for the first time.

Rivulets of grief, sliding down their bones, blushes of it in their cheeks. They suffered because they were lonely in a way people seldom talk about, a way that affects grace and movement and dreams and memory.

Perhaps we believed that if we never acted like adults, we’d never be forced out into the wider world to confront the magnitude of our desolation.

Loneliness is like having a wound sewn shut with barbed thread. We close off the parts of ourselves that are open to others and pretend to embrace the privacy of our bodies–and yet we do the closing with something that will hurt every time we move. That will remind us of the secrets we’ve tried to stow away.

I didn’t give a shit about being pretty. Yet it’s hard sometimes, in a world that promises you the most basic treasures in exchange for being a looked-upon thing, not to wish your face had been a better construct.

A soldier-ish loyalty grew on me ivy-thick, and I started to feel less like an awkward angry child and more like a warrior, with followers and a destiny and a tortured soul.

Bad things, I thought, can’t hurt you if you pursue them with devotion.

I’d spent a fair portion of my life taking, but I could now see the appeal of doing the opposite. Could imagine that it was its own sort of power, to do murder on somebody’s heart with a gift.

That’s a little blunt

I think our wishes often get as muddled as dreams. In our wishes, people are their better selves and walls lose their permanence, and no matter how heavily we populate our fantasies with friends, with family, with lovers–we are ultimately in them alone.

I don’t know why it works this way–that we blame the one who shatters the illusion, rather than the illusion itself, or ourselves for buying into it.

Shame is perhaps both a form of self-pity and a form of loneliness. In the heat of embarrassment, it’s possible to believe you are the only one who has ever felt such guilt, such a profound understanding of what an impossibility evil thing the self is.

388073c6-914c-43fc-bda1-028dd50234cc-c2c6fc9d-a9ca-4363-8ef0-ed51522b6d12-v1 Love, love, love that one!

I didn’t want to be shy or delicate. I wanted to know what it was like to ravage a body with a misguided admiration for it. To know that skin got in the way of the truth of the person, and yet that truth, that soul, was untouchable, and so you had to settle for skin.

When you fall in love with someone, you fall in love not only with her face and eyes and heart, but with her vision of the world. Love leaves no room to stand back and pity another’s delusions. You share them. You join hands lying down and draw an arc across the sky and tell a story about what a cloud looks like, a story that becomes your shared truth.

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You can’t unleash an act of good to tame a tragedy.

It’s not that revenge has no place in the world. But we so often clamp our jaws around the things we think we want, while the real prizes escape between our teeth, slide down our necks in rivers and are lost in our skin.

I always thought loneliness must be a quiet thing. Up all night with frog sounds, wandering an empty room by day, resenting the sun squares on the floor. Guilt too seemed like it ought to be a silent kind of suffering. But what was going on inside me was a filthy and violent underground. Jeers and wagers and the sound of creature versus creature.

I do not want the truth gone from me. I do not want only stories. What stories do to heroes is edge out the things that make them bravest–their insecurities and wrongdoings, their trashing-tailed desire for self-preservation. The way they sharpen their love with a quiet, occasional contempt for the object of it. We paint heroes in broad strokes–nameable virtues and forgivable flaws. They brood, yes, but they are never paralyzed by self-loathing. They kill, but only monsters.

Courage without fear is simply recklessness.

I could have fucked her until our cries twined and drowned out the music of suffering.

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Miss Ridges had said once that reading meant nothing unless you could articulate what a story had given you. But I’d always disagreed–though I’d never found the words to argue. You didn’t have to be able to analyze to appreciate a story. You had only to be able to feel, deep in a place that didn’t deal in words, how that story was yours and everyone else’s too.

I don’t know which one I believe in.

“Violence starts as a discovery–of power, of ambition. Of a force that rests with its head against your heart. It is always there–a shadow, featureless. Until you turn a certain way, and the silhouette resolves itself. You see the nose, the lips, the curve of the shoulder. You see what you are capable of. You feel both the danger and the ordinariness of it. Because in the end, the blood comes out of each of us the same way. And one dead human, weighed against the world and the galaxy and everything beyond, means very little.” She paused. “Every act of violence is a disappointment before it even begins.”

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Overall, I don’t think I would recommend this book. The end doesn’t justify the means.

Featured image taken from: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25866851-minotaur

 

Posted in 2018, Fiction, Our Shared Shelf

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

I read The Hate U Give because, not only was it constantly being advertised, it was the book of the month for the Our Shared Shelf virtual book club.

I was really excited to read it because one of my friends mentioned that it was an influential book for the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Now, in my opinion, if I didn’t already believe that black lives do matter, this book wouldn’t have convinced me otherwise.

The problem was that there was no connection to the main character. It’s not that she wasn’t relatable, because she was, at least for me. I can relate to not wanting to sound ghetto around white people due to the fear of judgment. I can relate to needing to separate parts of your world with different people. I can relate to constantly having the pressure of “which identity do I need to be right now” in the back of my mind that disconnects me from the moment and my reality. Very relatable, no connection though. That probably has to do with the fact that she is emotionally unavailable. She had to get hard because, well, her life has been horrible. Her family, as odd as it is (which I won’t go into detail as to why since it has little to do with my argument here, but it is rather interesting and is beneficial to the character dynamic of the book), is probably the only thing keeping her sane. (The rest of this blog contains spoilers) She watched two of her best friends getting killed….heck she watched one of her best friend getting killed when she was too young to process death, let alone murder. I can only imagine the emotional impact it can have on her. That’s probably a good cause as to why she had to shut down. She didn’t shut down in the angry teenage angst kind of way, more or less, she just stopped expressing herself. She expressed her thoughts constantly, sure. She expressed how she felt, or how she felt she needed to feel. But the majority of the time, she just felt like a narrator rather than a protagonist.

I get it. She has a painful story to tell, and if I were in her situation, I probably wouldn’t have had the magnitude to tell it. Maybe if she made Khalil more of a person rather than a memory, things might have felt different. I know that he technically was a memory…but the thing about the mind is that it can make memories feel real. She could have written him to be somewhat present. The way her aftermath occurred made it seem like she just underwent a very traumatic experience….if I didn’t know that he was her best friend, I wouldn’t assume that he was. It was too…detached. Or maybe she’s just more grown up than I am, but if my best friend was wrongly killed, I’d be broken to the point of dysfunction. That is why I couldn’t connect with her. If her emotions were a little more extreme it might have changed the whole story. If she were angrier, or more fearful, or even completely dead inside (this is a teenager we are talking about, after all…I’ve been there….it’s crazy) and she is acting all responsible. But, I guess the end result is that it got the message across. No matter how well you cooperate and follow the laws, black people still have injustice brought upon them. No matter how many right things she did, in the end, she still lost the war. So I would say that the protagonist here isn’t really Starr, but the black lives matter movement itself….leaving the antagonist to be the system.

“‘Pac rapped ’bout that stuff too, yeah, but he also cared ’bout uplifting black people,” says Daddy. “Like he took the word ‘[n-word]’ and gave it a whole new meaning–Never Ignorant Getting Goals Accomplished. And he said Thug Life meant–”
“The Hate U Give Little Infants F—s Everybody.”

I didn’t grow up listening to Tupac. I only really know a few songs from him but I always knew he was a big deal….kind of like Elvis, Michael Jackson and The Beatles…although I didn’t grow up listening to them either. Suffice to say, I might not have the best music taste.

Regardless, I never knew this about Tupac. I asked a friend who loves him if this is true (because part of me thought this was just a theory from the author…kind of like the gang theory from Harry Potter [also mentioned in the book…which makes total sense and that’s somewhat the reason I liked the series]) and she said it’s true (even if it weren’t true, that wouldn’t take away from the book. It’s a cool saying). Anyway, the reason I bring this up is because, since it is true (according to my one source, so don’t take my word for it), I feel like all his work in the progression of black people has gotten lost somewhere. I don’t mean black people in general. I mostly mean the hip hop artists, whom, instead of using the N word as an empowerment tool, they use it to bring other’s down. The usage of it in the songs these days is similar to using the B word. There is no grace to it. So it’s sad that Tupac made it meaningful, and that these new artists, whom claim to be inspired by Tupac, are shattering that legacy.

Now thug is an appropriate acronym. I do believe that, even though we try to act otherwise, we are affected by how others view us and treat us. We become the product of our environment. It’s why we love stories with underdogs, and going against all odds and other unreal things that don’t normally happen to the average person. We are amazed by the unordinary because we are prone to become numb to our surroundings. People settle. It happens. We let our dreams die. When our dreams die, it affects the world. Think of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” There was a plan for your existence, and if, for whatever reason you stop honoring that path, it affect the world…directly or indirectly.

“This neighborhood makes young men deaf to their elders”

The truth to this statement caused me to pause and digest. Sometimes, when the situation seems overwhelming, we stop listening to wisdom and start listening to the fastest way out. I don’t blame Khalil for needing to sell drugs (before we knew the real reason). When people are taught to believe that you won’t accomplish much, you look for a way out. You think you will be an exception. You think you’ll figure it out the way no one else has done so before. Life is extremely personal and it’s hard to believe that you are just a vulnerable piece in the game of life. Elders are wise from their experiences and obseravations. Youth blinds us to time because the pressure of it feels deathly.

“Sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. The key is to never stop doing right.”

One of the reasons I loved reading this book is because the family had strong moral values…well….to an extent. It’s hopeful to read about people continually trying to do good regardless of the circumstances. It’s easy to give in to the darkness, and this family kept trying to be better…to do better even after they’ve already made countless mistakes. George W. Bush made a speech where he said “Self-correction is the secret strength of freedom. We are a nation with a history of resilience and genius for renwal.” That’s essentially what the characters in this book embraced. It’s refreshing. I’m always reading books where characters are trying to justify their actions but here….they face the truth, as ugly as it is and learn from it.

I also liked that the main family had to fight off racism…not just from the cops…but internally as well. Starr had to face dating her white boyfriend after a white cop shot her best friend. She knew it was wrong to judge him by his color, but…it is what it is. There is this invisible line when two cultures (whether ethnic or religious) merge of what’s appropriate and not appropriate. Starr refused to let any of her white friends in on her personal life…and she doesn’t introduce her black friends to her white friends. She is certain they wouldn’t understand (and there is truth to that) but she doesn’t even give them a chance. She, without realizing it, judged them. It happens. The question though is whether or not you let arrogance rule your thoughts. She learned to try and see the best in people regardless of the exterior. Great character development.

Daddy once told me there’s a rage passed down to every black man from his ancestors, born the moment they couldn’t stop the slave masters from hurting their families. Daddy also said there’s nothing more dangerous than when that rage is activated.

As a minority, I often find myself livid about the injustices of the past and the present. I can’t really explain why that happens, or why it feels so strong….but this works as a possible explanation.

I don’t know if I would recommend this book. It wouldn’t be for everyone. I would recommend watching the movie though. Although it hasn’t been released yet, the trailer pretty much gives the story away. Frankly though, I’m displeased at the direction they took of Khalil’s last moments…with him reaching for the brush. The way it was written in the book was so much more…intimate. His last moments were of him worrying about Starr…whereas in the trailer, it seemed he care more about impressing her, or showing off. Won’t know until the movie comes out, obviously.

Posted in 2018, John Green, Looking For Alaska

“Looking For Alaska” Discussion Questions

In the end of Looking for Alaska by John Green, he answers fan questions and in return, asks us questions.

Here is my attempt at answering his questions.

  1. Is forgiveness universal? I mean is forgiveness really available to all people, no matter the circumstances? Is it, for instance, possible for the dead to forgive the living, and for the living to forgive the dead?
    Forgiveness is universal but it’s often underutilized. It goes hand in hand with “love and compassion.” Although we are capable of forgiveness, we have a long and seemingly doomed history of wars, hatred, greed and intolerance. Often time, it’s our cultures and religious background (or lack thereof) that make it hard to learn forgiveness. Our pride is our downfall. We care more about status than morals. I’m not really one to judge because I have difficulty forgiving. I, for example, can’t fathom how anyone can forgive a child molester. Even a “born-again Christian”. I do not have the capacity to forgive that. But I am not a God. I am just a person. A person with feelings of arrogance, anger, judgement and entitlement along with feelings of compassion, empathy, sadness, selflessness and  courage. One of my biggest struggles is self-forgiveness. I have perfectionistic tendencies and it makes it near impossible to forgive my own mistakes. A good quote I heard was “Perfectionism is the highest level of spiritual abuse.” Forgiving is a spiritual act. It’s why a lot of religions try to teach it. Comprehending forgiveness is a personal trait, however. Some have it, some don’t. I am ever evolving so I do believe that one day, I can escape the labyrinth of suffering that is lack of forgiveness.
    Whether it is possible for the dead to forgive the living depends on whether or not there is an afterlife. We’ve all seen movies where spirits linger for the sake of vengeance. We’ve seen movies where spirits linger for the sake on knowledge and forgiveness. And of course, if there is nothing after this, there is nothing that can forgive. I feel like the living can forgive the dead (after all, the grudge was on the living entity of whom now the dead represents). It’s easier to forgive after you’ve removed yourself from the situation and now that the variable is gone, you can slowly heal your heart until you’ve reached a state of forgiveness. However, those cases are hard to do in instances of suicide. It’s hard to understand suicidal intentions and most people react in anger.
    But what is dead, really? Friendships can die while both party members continue to breathe and live. Jobs can die, dreams can die. Forgiving myself for my mistakes has proven far more difficult than forgiving a family member for lying or abuse. Is it really forgiving if I can forgive the whole world but not myself? What about people who say they forgive but never forget, is that really forgiving? If the trust is broken and irreparable, you just technically forgave the action but not the consequence. I can write a whole book on this so I’ll stop now.
  2. I would argue that both in fiction and in real life, teenage smoking is a symbolic action. What do you think it’s intended to symbolize, and what does it actually end up symbolizing? To phrase this question differently. Why would anyone ever pay money in exchange for the opportunity to acquire lung cancer and/or emphysema?
    In most stories, smoking for a teenager represents an act of rebellion. They are underage and they are trying to act tougher than the system. For most characters of any age, it represents a sign of discontent or even a feeling of being lost. Characters who are not usually happy with their circumstances pass the moments by smoking (I.E Alaska). Just like most addictions, it is a tool to suppress emotions. Those who are feeling powerless and confused tend to turn to substances faster than those who are truly confident in their character. So although Pudge isn’t really confident about his looks or himself, he is confident about his morals and his personality. The common excuses smokers say is “it calms me down,” “it helps me socialize,” or they simply believe it’s only a momentary habit. The only why I can come up with is that they want to die without committing to dying (just like Alaska). That or peer pressure (just like Pudge). In the case of the Colonel, he is a mixture of angry and low self-esteem. On the surface, he seems like a pretty put together guy, one who just likes to cause pranks. It would be easy to say that he only does it to rebel. But when you look deeper into his character, he is not so sure of himself of his place. It’s kind of what makes him a considerate person. 
  3. Do you like Alaska? Do you think it’s important to like people you read about?
    I liked Alaska in some instances but not in others. I didn’t like her when she kept teasing Pudge. I did like her standards though, on feminism. I think it’s more important to connect to a character than like the people I read about. Even if I hate someone, but I hate them to the point where I am emotionally invested in the character, it can still make for a good story. If I like them, it’s even better. But when I feel indifferent about a character…when they’re a complete snooze to my consciousness, then the book becomes hard to continue reading. During the times when I was annoyed with Alaska, I was still emotionally invested in her. It’s like having that one friend who you tolerate even though you probably want to stay as far away from their drama as possible. That if you saw them at a party, you’d say hi and hug and still care about them even though you’ll instantly regret asking how they’ve been. Alaska hid behind her words. I think that is what was appealing about her. She was honest without being transparent. The attachment came with wanting to know more so you continue reading and reading in the hopes of finding her without any walls. She had depth. 
  4. By the end of this novel, Pudge has a lot to say about immortality and what the point of being alive is (if there is a point). To what extent do your thoughts on mortality shape your understanding of life’s meaning?
    I honestly don’t believe there is a meaning to life, therefore mortality won’t shape my understanding of it. I believe life exists because it needs to. And we are who we are not because the world needs us, but because that is how we were created. Finding purpose is a novel idea. One of my favorite quotes (I forgot who said it) states that a dog does not need to define itself to be a dog, a horse does not need to define himself to be a horse, but a person needs to define himself to be a man. We grow up with this idea that we are better than other species and therefore, we feel like our lives should have purpose. I believe it’s backwards. By redefining ourselves, we lost our purpose. I don’t think we were created just to have jobs or explore the world. I don’t know why we were created but it seems that we have become rather selfish. Other animals exist for the good of the ecosystem. We destroy the ecosystem. The heart can stop whenever it wants to. We can’t really control that. We can take preventative measures but our beliefs won’t change that. Our beliefs shape how we live our lives. It has little to do with life’s meaning and a lot to do on how we define it. But even defining it isn’t enough. I know many people who talk the talk but never walk the walk and ultimately, I think we use religion as a security blanket. I am not looking down on anyone, I love security blankets myself.
    The only correlation I can think of is: urgency. I like the scene in Fight Club where Tyler points a gun to a random stranger and tells him that if he doesn’t go after his dream, he’ll kill him. I know that sound drastic, but if he never made it until a life and death situation, the random stranger wouldn’t think he had to go after it. “I have all the time in the world.” But living life like it’s life and death is exhausting. It’s why doctors are so drained of energy. It’s why soldiers have trauma.
    My belief in life is to live it with integrity. Not to please some God. Not to please your parents. But just having morals is a way to tell life “I respect you and the gift you have given me.” Ultimately, living a life of gratitude has been a recurring theme amongst belief systems. 
  5. How would you answer the old man’s final questions for his students? What would your version of Pudge’s essay look like?
    For those who haven’t read the book, the old man asks “How will you — you personally– ever get out of this labyrinth of suffering?”
    My first mission would be to identify what suffering means in my life. Suffering very objective and therefore, different for others. An alcoholic’s version of suffering is not being able to escape the bottle, whereas the alcoholic’s partner’s version of suffering is to watch his/her partner suffer. Or even in terms of the book, Alaska’s version of suffering is never getting anything right, Pudge’s version was not being able to get together with Alaska, and The Colonel’s was not being good enough. See, different perspectives based on different values, morals, priorities and circumstances. Very similar to each other, but their own personal versions.
    What is causing suffering in my life? Something that I want to escape? Well, in short, overthinking.
    After identifying the suffering,  I would provide evidence as to why this constitutes suffering. My overthinking has led to loss of relationships, productivity, and opportunities.
    Then go into more details on the trigger moments. I.e: I was fine working where I used to work until I realized that I no longer felt satisfied because no matter how hard I work, I wasn’t making more money. Then I felt guilty for making it about the money and not about the work. Then I felt incompetent for not being able to support myself. Then I thought about all the other ways I’m incompetent until I have an self-doubting, self-loathing anxiety attack and need to escape to calm myself in the women’s bathroom. All this thinking when I could have just said “This job isn’t fulfilling to my talents or my wallet, I want to find something else.”
    Then I will list all the possible ways to escape overthinking and describe why that might work. Such as: If I meditate every day, my body will learn to breathe better naturally and calm my brain down with each breath. If I can find a power greater than myself to believe in, I might learn that it’s okay to let go of all my fears. If I can learn to let things go in general (forgive), I won’t feel the burden of my past. If I can learn to voice my concerns instead of holding them in, I can slowly see how quickly my thoughts jump from one isolating event to another, trying to merge past and present in incongruent ways that only seem to make perfect sense to me. If I can learn that my thoughts are not a direct representation of me, but rather a side-affect of living, I can separate myself and come back to my reality.
    That’s more or less how my essay will go (with more detail and proper grammar, of course). Oh, and do a small summary for a conclusion because teachers usually take off points if you don’t (at least my teachers did. I didn’t just bare my soul for them to not get an A+).

I think I took the last one a little too literal. It would be interesting to see how my answers for Question 4 and 5 would change down the line as I continue reading more books. Perhaps I’ll make it a thing to answer them every two years. 

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 Non-Fiction

Go Ask Alice

Since this book was based on an actual diary, I will treat it as if it were non-fiction. Non-fiction stories, in my opinion, are allowed to have scattered ideas because who’s to say what’s right and wrong?

I will, however, paraphrase what Sarah Silverman said in her autobiography, Bedwetter. Diaries are boring. When you’re accustomed to sentence structure, character development, and the works…diaries don’t fit. Mostly, because diaries are personal…not a work of literary art. And unlike a biography, you don’t need to edit yourself and rewrite aspects.

However, this book is considered great probably due to the topic. This book covers drugs, sexual abuse, LGBT, relationships…everything but racism really. There are even instances of prostitution and teenage pregnancy.

The short (semi-spoiler) version of the story: teenage girl accidentally discovers drugs, gets sucked into the hustling world, poverty, and the next hit. Quits. Returns to her family. Repeats a few times until she winds up in a mental hospital.

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An exhausting story, really. Especially when you read it in a period of 2 days.

However, if you do not know anything about the cunning world of drugs, perhaps this book would be somewhat educational. Not in a sense of understanding why people go back into drugs…she never understood herself. More or less on, just, how euphoric it feels to go back after the drought.

Like I mentioned earlier, she repeated the cycle a few times. We get to see her mind in the eyes of her diary. She writes to her diary, her only real friend, on a somewhat common basis (or at least that is what was published). Usually whenever anything interesting happens. Each time she found herself taking drugs again, she was scared. She knew that drugs ruined her relationship with her family, and her security in school…but the feeling was superb. She really did try to stop. It would just somehow manage its way back into her life.

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My take on our protagonist
Her name was never mentioned so I am referring to her as “protagonist.” Alice is actually a reference to Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland because…well…that doesn’t really need explanation if you know the story.

For some reason, probably because of TV, I imaged her having a high pitch voice. She kept repeating words like “fun! fun! fun!” The only times I hear that, in real life, comes from teachers trying to get kids excited about things.

For someone with her train of thoughts (I’ll quote some of her writings later), she was extremely emotionally immature and underdeveloped. Which given that she was a teenager, it is not surprising. The teenage years are hard to overcome, especially when everything is new and strong and uncontrolled. She needed a lot of attention, both physical and emotional, but because she couldn’t get that…she shut down. She wouldn’t express herself to anyone other than her trusted diary.

An example of her thoughts that proved her need for acceptance and lack of esteem can be found on pg 13, after being dropped off and kissed goodnight.

“I don’t know if he doesn’t like me or just respects me or what? I guess I just can’t be secure no matter what happens. I sometimes wish I were going with someone then I’d always know I had a date and I’d have someone I could really talk to, but my parents don’t believe in that, and besides, confidentially, no one has ever been that interested in me. Sometimes I think no one ever will be. I really do like boys a lot, sometimes I think I like them too much but I’m not very popular. I wish I were popular and beautiful and wealthy and talented. Wouldn’t it be nice to be like that?”

Those thoughts aren’t really red flags or anything, but, they are very low. Oh, I forgot to mention, at some points in her story, she seemed to be attracted to girls but dismissed it because she thought it was wrong for her to like girls. She never really experimented. That’s not the point though, I just remembered that because she said she likes boys a lot. Not once, did she talk about having any talent. She never spoke of hobbies. I don’t know if she just didn’t write them down, or if the editors didn’t think it would be important to have them published. She acknowledged everyone else’s greatness. She had a good moral compass.

Her mood switched from gratitude and excitement to confusion and frustration. But how does that differ from other teenagers? It didn’t. So then, what made her prone to drugs whereas others her age were able to hold strong? Nothing other than opportunity. She had a good family, according to what she wrote anyway. Her mother and father were together. Her younger siblings weren’t a complete terror. She just felt left out because she couldn’t make friends fast and the boy she loved didn’t like her back. In a moment of vulnerability, drugs were there. Well actually, her first and last time taking drugs, were accidents. She didn’t know what she was consuming was laced with hallucinogens.

I’m not saying that is how addiction works, that’s just how it happened in her story. She liked the feeling. She started looking forward to having “friends.”

In page 96, she said “After you’ve had it, there isn’t even life without drugs. It’s a plodding, colorless, dissonant bare existence. It stinks. And I’m glad I’m back. Glad! Glad! Glad!” If you haven’t heard already, each time you get back on it, it gets harder and harder to stop.

She had a drug-dealing boyfriend that got her into pushing drugs to her classmates and middle schoolers. At this part of the story, she tried to act real hard. It’s funny. When she’s repeated words, I see her as this innocent girl, but then she starts trying to talk the way druggies in TV sound and it just didn’t fit her persona. Which makes sense because drug dealing wasn’t her thing. She hated it. She moved to San Francisco to get away from it.

After San Francisco, her life stops being stable, even when she’s back home, living clean, with her parents. As I mentioned earlier, she didn’t go out looking for drugs again…it just happened. Or at least, that is how she wrote it. Until suddenly, she was in the hospital again because someone laced her food and she started tripping and banging her head open. “A psychotic episode” they diagnosed it.

In the end (SPOILER ALERT), she commits suicide three weeks after telling her diary that she is not going to start another one because she thinks she can hold it together now. Remember when I said the only person she expressed herself to was her diary? If her life was overwhelming enough with her diary, can you imagine the insurmountable demons she faced without it? I’m not suggesting that this is a good excuse to commit suicide. This book was published in the 70s. Which means, the story took place before then. Back then, from my understanding, they didn’t have the resources we have now. She probably didn’t know she had other options.

I wish she would have left a note. Something to let us know what her last thoughts were. But unfortunately, in reality, we don’t get to have that. It was her choice. Truly controversial book. 

My Favorite Quotes
a790712f-94fd-4c40-95ab-fec033bd90e5-c2c6fc9d-a9ca-4363-8ef0-ed51522b6d12-v1“The pill is harder to get than drugs–which shows you how screwed up this world really is!” I just thought that was funny.

“In the beginning, when they were telling me about their deep concern, I had the overwhelming desire to break down and tell them everything. I wanted to tell them! I wanted more than anything in the world to know that they understood, but naturally they just kept on talking and talking because they are incapable of really understanding anything. If only parents would listen! If only they would let us talk instead of forever and eternally and continuously harping and preaching and nagging and correcting and yacking, yacking, yacking! But they won’t listen! They simply won’t or can’t or don’t want to listen, and we kids keep winding up back in the same old frustrating, lost, lonely corner with no one to relate to either verbally or physically.” In the defense of parents, I find that a lot of people do this regardless. More people want to talk than listen. I know I’ve run into that situation where I forgot to listen. Or I am trying to talk about something extremely vulnerable but the other person keeps bringing the focus on him/her. It’s annoying, especially when you’ve been holding it in for so long and you thought this was a form of release. Or….this could have just been her excuse to not open up. Because I’ve guilty of that too.

“When I look around here at all the ass draggers, I really think that we are a bunch of gutless wonders. We get pissed off when someone tells us what to do, but we don’t know what to do unless some fat bastard tells us. Let someone else think for us and do for us and act for us.” That was an interesting insight. You hear that when someone is zoned out, they don’t care about what is going on around there. But here, clearly, our protagonist cared about what she was identifying with. And yet, she was admitting to the helpless pattern of the addict.

“I have just read the stuff I wrote in the last few weeks and I am being drowned in my own tears, suffocated, submerged, inundated, overpowered. They are a lie! A bitter, evil cursed lie! I could never have written things like that! I could never have done things like that! It was another person, someone else! It must have been! It had to be! Someone evil and foul and degenerate wrote in my book, took over my life. Yes, they did, they did! But even as I write I know I am telling even a bigger lie! Or am I? Has my mind been damaged? Was it really just a nightmare and it seems real? I think I’ve mixed up things which are true and things which are not. All of it couldn’t be true. I must be insane.” I am always amused by identity crises. This is no different. Not being able to tell who is the real you and the fake you. Is the druggie the true you, or is the clean one who wants to give up you? Are you really as happy as you think you are? Or are you pretending out of fear? It’s interesting to think. It’s horrible if you are that person…but…interesting, nevertheless. The brain is extremely fragile.

“Maybe I’m schizo. That often starts in teenagers when they lose contact with reality, doesn’t it? Whatever it is, I’m really screwed up. I can’t even control my mind. The words I wrote when I was out are just squirming little lines and roads with a lot of rotten crap and symbols in between. Oh, what am I going to do? I need someone to talk to. I really and truly and desperately do. Oh God, please help me. I’m so scared and so cold and so alone. I have only you, Diary. You and me, what a pair.” I like this quote because it’s raw. It’s honest. It’s….the illusion of rock bottom. But we always persevere. She was having a panic attack, and your first one is always hard to identify. I’ve struggled with panic attacks, and I still have trouble identifying them in the moment. But it’s extremely gruesome. You feel susceptible to your nonsensical notions that in a different life, would have seen silly and easily overruled.

“It’s terrible not to have a friend. I’m so lonely and so alone. I think it’s worse on weekends than during the week, but I don’t know. It’s pretty bad all the time.” This is a recurring movie on the cinema of her thoughts. I’ve known how that has felt before. That’s not something that’s easy to admit out loud…or in general.

“It’s strange how much sex I’ve had and yet I don’t feel as though I’ve had any. I still want somebody to be nice and just kiss me goodnight at the door.” See, it’s not quantity but quality. But also, drugs rob you of the moment. She was usually high whenever she was having sex. Although she said it felt amazing, she didn’t think it felt real.

“I looked at the sky this morning and realized that summer is almost gone which really made me sad because it doesn’t seem as though it’s been here at all. Oh, I don’t want it to be over. I don’t want to get old. I have this very silly fear, dear friend, that one day I’ll be old, without having really been young. I wonder if it could happen that quickly or if I’ve ruined my life already. Do you think life can get by you without you even seeing it?” The only worse than dying is not living.

Time for the last quote…I know I’m sad about that too.

“Anyway, this morning I was reading an article on identity and responsibility, and it said that kids who aren’t allowed to make any decisions for themselves never grow up, and kids who have to make all the decisions before they’re ready never grow either.” This quote doesn’t really need any explanation, just a simple digestion of information. Do you fall into a certain category? I know I do. Being a parent must be hard.

That’s my take on this book. I did not read the excerpt of Jay’s Journal because…there’s only so much drama a person can take. What were your thoughts?

 

Featured Image was taken from https://www.goodreads.com/book/photo/46799.Go_Ask_Alice
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)