Book Review: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

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5star

I expected to like this. I didn’t expect to love it. This book is special, guys.

Jeannette Walls was an NYC gossip-columnist hiding a very big secret: she grew up in extreme poverty. Despite the fact that Jeannette and her siblings grew up to be well-off, their homeless parents were living on the streets just a few blocks away from her luxury home. This is where the memoir opens.

We then follow Jeannettte through her childhood, beginning at age 3 when she almost died from severe burns she acquired while cooking hotdogs on the stove with her mother’s permission. Obviously after reading this I was prepared to hate Jeannette’s parents. But instead Ms. Walls urges her readers to see both her alcoholic father and her irresponsible, bipolar mother the way she saw them—deeply flawed but charismatic and lovable despite putting their children in extreme danger time after time after time. There was one incident in particular when I decided, this is it, I have no more sympathy left for Rex Walls. He hurt Jeannette in a way that made me have to stop reading this book and pick up some fluffy puppy story for a few minutes. (I’m a children’s librarian, surrounded by fluffy puppy books while at work.) But then towards the end when *spoiler-spoiler,* I still wept a little for Rex. Why?? Because in his life, he’d been a victim just as much as he’d been a predator.

The Glass Castle is a very personal story, obviously. It’s a fascinating insight into one, strange family. But it’ll also make you think about the criminals, addicts, and homeless people you see on TV and meet on the street everyday. Chances are you have your own preconceptions of how these people have lived and how they were raised. We all do. The Glass Castle proves that each one of those criminals, addicts, and homeless people have a unique story to tell. You as a liberal might believe that the homeless ended up homeless because the government failed them. Your conservative friend might say that the homeless have failed themselves. You could both be wrong.

There has long been a film adaptation in the works. I hope it gets made someday. For now, Brie Larson is going to play Jeannette and Rex will be portrayed by Woody Harrelson. Both are great choices…although I imagined Rex as Matthew McConaughey through the entire book. I hope when and if the film is made it’s made well. In the right hands it could be phenomenal.

January 2016 Reading Wrap-Up

(Better late than never.)

Okay, so… 2016 really needs to step up its reading game. I read 6 books in January (2 adult fiction, 1 adult non-fiction, 2 YA, and 1 middle grade), and I only gave one of them more than 3 stars. And because I’ve read so much crap recently, my desire to read has gone down significantly. Hopefully I’ll dig myself out of this rut soon. 

Cunt: A Declaration of Independence by Inga Muscio
3/5 Stars

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I wrote a very, very long review about this modern feminist classic early in January. I didn’t except it to be my 2nd favorite January read, but here we are… It’s entertaining as hell and contains a lot of wisdom about rape culture, how capitalism harms women, and where women’s art fits into our culture, just to name a few things. I’d recommend it to any feminist of any age, with the disclaimer that there’s also A LOT of pseudo-scientific BS in this book. (And if Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright pissed you off this week, take a breather and read Cunt when you’re not so worked up over 2nd-waver weirdness.)

Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
4.5/5 Stars

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Easily the best book I read this month, Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda was on my to-read list of Goodreads Choice Awards Nominees. It’s an adorable YA LGBT romance sans any unnecessary sap and melodrama. So if that’s your jam, read it and also check out my review.

 

 

 

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
1/5 Stars

20820994I always finish books. Except, apparently, when they are as bad as I’ll Give You the Sun. Again, I wrote a very long, very snarky review on this one. Like Simon it’s a YA romance, but I’ll Give You the Sun is full of dumb YA troupes and completely lacks charm.

 

 

 

 

Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper
3/5 Stars

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Out of My Mind is on pretty much every list of middle grade books about children with disabilities. It’s not horrible, but I didn’t love it. Pros: I learned a lot about cerebral palsy and the sorts of accomdations people with severe CP use. There’s also a nice message about not assuming that children with cerebral palsy are stupid and don’t need friends. Cons: This message is delivered aggressively and is spoon fed to the reader, rather than allowing he/she to come to his/her own conclusions. It’s also very pessimistic. In the end, the girl with CP still doesn’t have any friends. If you’re looking for a book that shows children with disabilities in a positive light and discourages bullying, I’d recommend Wonder over this.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
2/5 Stars

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A Little Life won the Goodreads Choice Award for Best Adult Fiction Novel and was nominated for the Man Booker Prize, but I really don’t understand the hype. This 700+ pager about the life of a man who was orphaned and abused as a child is trite, melodramatic, and weirdly elitist. I’ve heard multiple people say that it’s one of the most depressing books they’ve ever read, but it didn’t move me in the slightest. I’m going to get around to writing a proper review on this one soon.

 

 

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter

2/5 Stars

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Yet another horrible choice for a Goodread’s Choice Award Nominee… Almost every negative review I read of Pretty Girls said it was too gory for their taste. After reading the book I realized that what people meant was that it was too gross for their taste. (There’s a difference, trust me.) Other than being disgusting, this book gets booooring after about the half way mark. I wrote a review on this too.

 

 

Here’s to a better February…

Book Review: I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

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hey-look-1-star

 

 

 

DNF at 55%

I haven’t abandoned a book in so long… I felt bad about breaking such a long streak of powering through shitty books. But I really didn’t want to suffer through this one any longer. I’m an adult, damnit. I have the right to stop reading something that’s boring my face off.

I was trying to find a picture or gif to describe I’ll Give You the Sun, and this is the best I could come up with:

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Like Prince, this book is so purple. And also like Prince, this book thinks it’s a lot more important than it actually is. (Sorry, Prince fans.)

I think my dislike for poetic prose is a personal taste thing. I still can’t understand why anyone would be moved by a sentence like: “The world is a wrong-sized shoe.” But whatever, to each their own. The writing style isn’t why I stopped reading this book. I stopped reading because the plot is thin and the characters are unbelievable and annoying.

The thin plot: 13-year-old fraternal twins, a guy and a girl, are both trying to get into a pretigious, fine arts high school. They’re also both crushing on boys. And then something goes down and the twins stop speaking to each other. Then there’s a tragedy. Jump forward 3 years and they’re still not really speaking to each other. Even though they live in the same house, which is totally how it would go down IRL. Neither one of them would try to make things right, nuh-uh… And yah, after about 100 pages you know exactly where the story’s going and you don’t care.

The unbelievable and annoying characters: I kind of liked Noah, even though I’m not sure if I buy that real artists think like he does. He was a little whiny, but so are all 13-year-olds. He interested me at least. I found Jude to be obnoxious. Yah, she’s been through a lot, but she’s so “I’m not like other girls” I just feel like I’ve come across her character in so many other books and I’m tired of it. No, I don’t believe that she has no friends. And no, I don’t believe that she became an entirely different person after the tragedy. Yah, that shit’s gonna change you, but not that much. And her crush on Oscar? Give me a fucking break. Borderline-statutory-rape vibes aside, the guy is so stereotypical British it’s almost offensive, and he’s a stock character damaged bad boy that is evidence of (again) lazy writing. These two are really just Edward and Bella with better vocabulary. And from what I understand [spoiler here: they get together in the end.] Which is total bullshit and should not be encouraged. I thought YA was past this crap but I guess not.

I feel bad, because a co-worker recommended this book to me as part of a “readers advisory” exercise that was supposed to help us librarians make better recommendations to our patrons. I told her that I don’t like purple writing or unrealistic romances, but I guess I didn’t explain myself well enough… I hope I enjoy her other recommendations.

2016, you better step it up. No more pretentious novels with characters named “Jude.” Please. (My angry review of A Little Life: coming soon!)

Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda: Goodreads Choice Awards Nominee Review

 

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This book is as cute as everyone says it is. It’s also funny, clever, and not the least bit sappy or emotionally manipulative. The love story between Simon and his anonymous internet friend is believable from beginning to end. Simon’s other friends and family members are also round characters, and are all likable despite their flaws.

Simon does a good job showing that coming out is scary, even for people with accepting families. Simon explains that he’s been coming out his whole life—like every time he has to remind his parents that he likes coffee, for example. And he’s tired of coming out. He’s tired of being vulnerable. I think all of us, LGBT or not, can sympathize with this feeling. But what I probably loved the most about this book were all the clever pop culture references. Simon’s sister has a dog named Bieber, who’s so named because he’s a golden retriever who always looks doped out. And Simon goes into a bit of detail about how and why his first male crush was on Daniel Radcliffe, which I easily relate to… But yah, if you’re over 40, you might not be able to appreciate the book/music/TV jokes and might not enjoy this as much as I did.

Congrats on a great first book, Ms. Albertalli. I’m looking forward to your next one.

The Top 10 Books I Read in 2015

I put together a list of 10 of the best books that I read in 2015. It took me forever. For some reason, it’s much easier for me to write about books I hate than it is to write about books I like… never mind books I love. But I tried.

Not all of these were published in 2015, although a surprising number of them were… I didn’t realize that I’d read so many new books this year until I made this list. Choosing only 10 was tough. Some of my honorable mentions include Dark Places and Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn, The Long Walk by Stephen King, Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith, A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin, and The Diviners by Libba Bray.

10. George by Alex Gino (2015), read in December

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George is a sweet, middle grade tale written by first time author and trans* rights activist Alex Gino. George knows she’s a girl, and feels like it might be time to tell everyone, by auditioning to play Charlotte in her 4th grade play. This novel is simple and straightforward. It’s not too sentimental, nor too depressing. Children will be able to relate to George, even if they’re not transgender, and adults will both feel George’s pain and admire her spirit.

Read More »

All the Bright Places: Goodreads Choice Awards Nominee Review

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5star

About 40 pages into this I started to feel as if I was riding into a deep, dark tunnel with no chance of escape.

See, if I’d known what this book was about…what it’s really about, I mean… I wouldn’t have read it. Not in a million years. I knew that two kids with depression fall in love, and I knew that the guy’s more messed up than the girl. But I’ve read books like this before and they didn’t turn me into an emotional wreck. Actually, I read a book like this a few weeks ago, My Heart and Other Black Holes, which is well-written and brutal in it’s own right, but nothing like this. Not to me. Because the guy in All the Bright Places, Theodore Finch, has bipolar disorder and is serious about committing suicide. And that hit me really close to home.

This book is very highly rated on Goodreads and elsewhere, but I’ve seen my fair share of reviews that I can only describe as: “Oh myy gawwd! This book is so unrealistic! People with mental illnesses aren’t all quirky and poetic, and if you like effing John Green, you can read this trash, but this is actual crap. And it’s so disrespectful to people who really have a mental illness!” Sooo… you can dislike this book for whatever reason, it’s a free country. But I’m going to be real freaking honest with all of you: 1) I don’t think the dialogue in this book was nearly as complex and unbelievable as in TFIOS (which I liked btw), and 2) if you read this entire book and come away with the impression that Finch is nothing like someone who has a “real mental illness,” then you have obviously never known someone with Bipolar I Disorder.

Yes, everyone is different, but trust me when I say that Finch is sooo much like the bipolar friend I had in college. Finch describes his manic days (what he refers to as “awake” days) as both exciting and terrifying. He barely sleeps. He talks a mile a minute. He can run for hours without getting tired. He has a thousand different thoughts going in and out his brain at one time. He knows a ridiculous amount about random stuff, because when he’s “awake” he has time to learn and do so much. He doesn’t have many friends because the kids at school know he’s weird, but can’t put a finger on exactly what’s wrong with him. My old friend is all of these things. But of course, Finch and my old friend are much more different than they are similar. Because like Finch says, he’s more than just a label. The symptoms of his illness can’t capture the person he really is—someone who loves music, and fake accents, and the great outdoors. The problem is, Finch isn’t sure what kind of person he really wants to be.

Finch thinks he wants to be with Violet, but he tells her she should run away from him if she knows what’s good for herself. (And man, have I heard this line before…) Violet basically tells him, “In case you haven’t noticed, I’m broken too.” Her sister passed away almost a year ago, and Violet’s fallen into a depression because of it. So these kids can relate to each other, but what happens when you’re the less mentally ill one in a relationship where both of you are mentally ill?

Seriously, this book is so important . Everyone should read it. Especially if you’re a parent, or you know someone with a severe mental illness, or you’re about to enter the phase in your life when many people are diagnosed with mental illnesses…that-no-so-magic 16-20 age range. Read it even if you’re like me and you know that it’ll mess you up for a bit. I’m going to compare All the Bright Places to Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me of all things. I said in my review of that book, I said that Coates doesn’t give us the key to ending racism, but he can help us understand why racism exists in this country and what it feels like to be a victim of this institutional racism. I believe that empathy can go a long way. So read All the Bright Places and walk a mile in the shoes of a kid with bipolar disorder. Then come back and dare to tell me that we don’t need to fix the way we talk about and treat mental illness.

Last thing: I’m glad that this is going to be a movie, because I know Finch and Violet’s story will reach more people that way. But I don’t know if I’ll have the strength to watch it. Definitely approve of casting Elle Fanning. She’ll do a great job.

George: Goodreads Choice Awards Nominee Review

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5star-2

I can confidently say that this book is near perfect.

George is a very simple, straightforward story about a 4th grader who was assigned male at birth but knows in her heart she’s a girl. She comes out to her friends and family after declaring that she wants to play Charlotte in her school’s rendition of Charlotte’s Web. [And lemme just take a moment to say that the idea of a group of 9-year-olds acting out Charlotte’s Web on stage makes me so happy.] George’s character shines, as does her best friend’s, her best friend’s dad, her mother, her brother…really, all of the characters are well-developed. And the series of events are realistic. It’s not too sad or sappy, but it might make you cry a little, and cheer a little bit more.

I’d recommend this little gem to everyone- as a lesson in acceptance, to inspire confidence, and/or just for a good read.

My Heart and Other Black Holes: Goodreads Chioce Awards 2015 Nominee Review

(Man that’s a long title.)

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4-out-of-5-stars

My Heart and Other Black Holes, written by first-time YA author Jasmine Warga, is about a suicide pact. I know. It could be beautiful and profound, or it could be full of disastrous cheese and cliches. And honestly, I was getting ready to shit all over this book. But surprisingly, I actually liked it.

A lot of young adult authors turn mental illness into something way too interesting and dramatic… their female characters cry about the losses they’ve experienced every night, longing for an adventure to take them out of their slump, and crap like that. In reality, depression is usually pretty boring. Jasmine Warga does a good job conveying this. The protagonist, Aysel, is a very regular girl. She has serious issues, but she’s a regular girl nonetheless. She doesn’t have many friends, or interests, or talents, and she has no hopes for her future because she wants to kill herself. In the meantime, she spends her freetime doing a lot of nothing. Sadly, this is what depression looks like in the real world. Her voice is also very authentic. She doesn’t use any flowery language to describe her day to day activities. Because not everyone who’s depressed or terminally ill is a poet, guys.

But don’t get me wrong, the book is far from boring, and Ayself herself isn’t boring. Underneath her depression, you can see clear hints of a personality, and the kind of life she’d want to live if she didn’t have this “worm” inside of her killing all of her passion. Early on, Aysel meets her suicide partner, and the impact they have on each other unfolds nicely. I think Aysel’s backstory also unfolds nicely. There aren’t any major twists. Everything appropriately reveals itself gradually.

I’ve read that some people take issue with the ending. I can see where they’re coming from. It was a bit rushed for me too. But it didn’t offend me. When I closed the book I was satisfied. I don’t know if it would be a good read for someone newly struggling with depression, because it doesn’t offer up too many solutions. But for someone who’s “been there, done that” with mental illnesses a few times, it was pretty uplifting.

Let me know what you thought about this book if you’ve read it! You can also see the full list of Goodreads Choice Award Nominees that I want to read here, and check out my Goodreads account here.