Posted in Becky Albertalli, Fiction, LGBTQ

Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

Leah on the Offbeat was hilarious to read. Not because it was funny, but because I guessed the plot before even reading the book. I remember texting my friend what I thought it should be after I read the synopsis. I can’t say what it is because of spoilers.

Anyway, happy feelings aside, this book was different than Simon Vs The Homosapien’s agenda because (besides it being from the point of view of Leah) it wasn’t as happy…or innocent. Unlike Simon liking Blue, Leah liking her crush posed complicated ethical dilemmas. Also, Leah was not the way she was described by Simon. In Simon, Leah was this easily angered friend…whereas here, she was just sensitive (and no wonder, she had to deal with a lot of obstacles).

Leah and the Offbeat also slightly connect to Albertalli’s other book “The Upside of Unrequited” but it is not necessary to read in order to know what is going on.

Because I can’t write more without disclosing spoilers, I will go straight to quotes.

It’s that girlfriend feeling again, not that I’ve ever been anyone’s girlfriend. But I imagine it feels like this. Like I’m this tiny precious wanted thing. I can’t decide if I feel gross about that, or if I only think I should feel gross about it.

This feeling….I have never read it in a book before so it was…cute.

There’s a tug in my chest. Because when Bram says Simon’s name, he pronounces every part of it. Like it’s worth being careful over. It’s really sweet and everything, how wow, I get so jealous sometimes. It’s obviously not just Simon and Bram. It’s couples in general. And it’s not about the kissing stuff. It’s just — imagine being Simon. Imagine going about your day knowing someone’s carrying you in their mind. That has to be the best part of being in love–the feeling of having a home in someone else’s brain.

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I think I hate the concept of needing space. What it really means is that the person’s mad at you, or hates you, or doesn’t give a shit about you. They just don’t want to admit it.

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I used to think boners literally pointed in the direction of the person you’re attracted to, like a compass. That would be helpful. Mortifying as fuck, but at least it would clarify things.

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Let your guts hand out. I don’t even get that. Why would anyone want to live like that? Why would anyone want to live like that? Like it isn’t bad enough I’m always one breath away from falling apart. I’m supposed to fall apart under a spotlight?
It’s too much. And I don’t want to embrace the suck. I want things to not suck. And I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

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“Do I want to love him enough that leaving him would wreck me? Yeah”

*speechless*

 

 

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, 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)