Review: History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

Trigger Warning: Death of an adolescent

First book club book review of 2020!

January’s genre is Young Adult and we voted to read History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera. The story follows a 17-year-old young man, Griffin, as he recounts falling in love and breaking up with his longtime best friend Theo in the past, and grieving the sudden tragic loss of him in the present. Each chapter is broken up between History and Today until leaving us in the present at the end. It’s a story that captures many hallmark moments of growth including first love, coming of age, coming out, first experience with loss and heartbreak, and how you pick up the pieces after your world is shattered.

This book was a bit of a somber start to our book club for the year but it was very good. The author does an excellent job of depicting obsessive compulsive order in its beginning stages as Griffin begins to recognize signs of his compulsions and the anxiety that arises if he does hear or see things in evens or stays on the left of people. Throughout their relationship, Theo finds ways to make Griffin’s symptoms “quirks” which is a reaction many people have when their loved ones show signs of mental illness to normalize it or make it ok. What I appreciate is that the author shows the danger of doing this, including delaying treatment and a fear of being “boring” or “less special” if the symptoms are managed.

The author also does a good job of dropping little bits of foreshadowing in the history parts which are resonant and poignant for the reader who knows what is coming. I felt myself cringing away from reading the inevitable heartbreak, and reading on because I wanted to see how it would play out. There were also more twists than I anticipated. I expected it to be a pretty straightforward tale of loss and grief but the author captures the unpredictable ways people can respond to grief and love and other overwhelming emotions. There was one character I expected to hate, they were kind of set up as The Other Person, and I found myself siding with the protagonist because I’d read how he fell in love and how the loss of his first love was impacting him. But the character turned out to be just as flawed, just as much in pain, and just as sympathetic as the protagonist.

I wasn’t sure where the novel would leave me emotionally. Part of that was due to the tone shifting throughout as you go from the rose tinted past to the bleak, mournful present. It would have been easy and maybe even cathartic for the author to give the reader an epilogue or have things move at a pace where the pain has healed and the protagonist is doing ok without a shadow of a doubt. He also could have really embraced the pain of the loss and left the novel in a very depressing way. In the end I felt a little bit frustrated by the uncertain tone, torn between whether he was happy and it would be ok or if he would always be haunted by this loss and the choices made by him and Theo. But that is where he is at, and we all want our grief to be washed away by a montage of healing and growing, but that’s not how life works. And maybe the best praise I can give this book is that it did feel real. I almost forgot they were fictional because they sound and act in ways that are very human.

Review: In the Presence of Absence by Mahmoud Darwish and Sinan Antoon (translator)

This will be my last memoir post for the year, just in case anyone was growing tired of them and wants to go back to the realm of fiction. This is also the last book club review of the year because for December our genre was Palestinian authors and this autobiographical book of poetry was the winner.

I was thoroughly unaware of Darwish when I read In The Presence of Absence, because my literary education has been comprised of primarily British and American authors. At first I was nervous about taking on the work because I don’t have a strong grasp of the conflict between Israel and Palestine and was worried I would need to do a lot of research to connect with the book. While I know the book would impact me on a deeper level more consistently if I was more educated about this issue, the book still resonated in many ways. I don’t feel incredibly confident about writing a review of a work by an author who means such a great deal to his country so I will simply state that it was a deeply moving book and provided a voice from a country whose pain I’ve only seen discussed peripherally by white news anchors in clips from CNN and it’s a damn shame there isn’t more space given to own voices during these conflicts.

As written in the Amazon synopsis:

“One of the most transcendent poets of his generation, Darwish composed this remarkable elegy at the apex of his creativity, but with the full knowledge that his death was imminent. Thinking it might be his final work, he summoned all his poetic genius to create a luminous work that defies categorization. In stunning language, Darwish’s self-elegy inhabits a rare space where opposites bleed and blend into each other. Prose and poetry, life and death, home and exile are all sung by the poet and his other. On the threshold of im/mortality, the poet looks back at his own existence, intertwined with that of his people. Through these lyrical meditations on love, longing, Palestine, history, friendship, family, and the ongoing conversation between life and death, the poet bids himself and his readers a poignant farewell.”

 

Review: The Department of Sensitive Crimes by Alexander McCall Smith

It’s time for another book club book review! We read The Department of Sensitive Crimes in September for our Humor genre. I was the only one who liked it but I don’t begrudge my fellow book club members for not enjoying it. It was, for all intents and purposes, a hard book to get a grasp on in a lot of ways.

Let’s start at the start with a quick synopsis. The book focuses on a Swedish team of investigators who look into Sensitive Crimes (aka weird and of no huge consequence but can’t be ignored crimes). The main character is Ulf Varg (Wolf Wolf)(Not a werewolf)(Wasted opportunity? Je pense oui) and he is our primary perspective throughout the novel as he and his team investigate who stabbed a man in the back of the knee, the mysterious disappearance of a girl’s boyfriend, and werewolves(?).

Going into the book I anticipated it to be a bit of a Law & Order satire but that isn’t really what happened. It sort of felt like The Office mixed with a Cozy Mystery mixed with a very dry British comedy except instead of British they are Swedish and there are fish jokes. There was an almost-romance subplot between Ulf and his married cohort Anna which I dreaded. It never came to fruition but it feels like something that’s going to happen eventually and he’s just drawing it out. I could write an entire post about my hatred of investigation partners having sex and catching feelings (and how it ruined my reading of Tana French’s In The Woods) but this is not the post for that.

Maybe what I loved most about this book, other than laughing at some of the absurd but lowkey things that happen throughout, was the therapist character.

Guys, it is so hard to see a therapist depicted well in media. In movies and shows they’re either lampooned or just throwing out Deep Sincere Buy-it-on-a-LOOKHUMAN-mug quotes or they’re screwing their patients which is nausea inducing to me, a therapist. This therapist puts his foot in his mouth a bit. He doesn’t have all the right answers. He does offer new perspectives. He also has this bit about wondering about what his clients lives are like when they leave his office which hit me right in the middle of my (at the time) nearing graduation and terminating with all of my clients heart. We only see this character at the beginning and ending of the book but I adored him.

I also liked the book because I didn’t know how to feel about it. I couldn’t settle into a certain mindset or tone with it because I hadn’t read a book like this before. For most of my book club members I think this was unsettling and contributed to their dislike of it, but for me it was exciting and I embraced it. I want to read the next in the series when it comes out next April, The Talented Mr. Varg, to see if I still enjoy it and if it feels different reading it now that I have context.

Review: Observations by Marianne Moore

Observations by Marianne Moore is a book of poetry I picked up at Powell’s in Portland. It is also, I’m realizing, one of two books of poetry I read this year. Gotta beef those numbers up next year, I love poetry. A rare thing for english majors I’ve found, but that’s a conversation for another day.

I had never heard of Marianne Moore before spotting this book and picking it up on a whim. I don’t know how that’s possible due to the fact that according to the Amazon blurb and some quick research, “Marianne Moore’s Observations stands with T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, Ezra Pound’s early Cantos, and Wallace Stevens’s Harmonium as a landmark of modern poetry.” I have read The Waste Land and at least heard of Cantos (sorry Stevens, this is the first I’m hearing of you) so hearing this author I had never even heard in passing or read mentioned in a journal article was shocking.

Reviewing poetry is hard for me because I feel that poetry, maybe even more so than other forms of literature, are so personal and open to interpretation. I enjoyed reading it and there were parts that hit me and made me think, the way good poetry does. I was the poetry editor in my university’s short lived arts and lit journal but I’ve never been good at assessing what is Good Poetry. All I can really offer is her work made me feel things and it was an enjoyable read, even if I didn’t connect with all that was written, I connected with enough to be interested in reading more.

Review: Tikka Chance On Me by Suleikha Snyder

Hello reader! it’s been almost a year but it was my last year of grad school so there was a lot going on to distract me from this blog. Luckily, it did not (entirely) distract me from my reading! Also, I finished and can now say that I have graduated with my Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling!

But this blog is about books so let’s refocus on that. These next batch of reviews will be shorter because I’m trying to get them all in before the end of the year. Historically if I fall behind in a project I just abandon it, but I don’t want to do that with this blog. So even if the posts are shorter, I am determined to get something down on this blog to track my reading.

I read Suleikha Snyder’s romance novella Tikka Chance On Me and it hit me in so many catnip places. It had a character based on bearded Chris Evans (√), had a unique and likeable heroine (√√), references to Captain America (√√√), a genuine conflict and not just talk-to-each-other-already tension (√√√√) and very well written sex (√√√√√√√√√√).

In the words of the Amazon synopsis:

He’s the bad-boy biker. She’s the good girl working in her family’s Indian restaurant. On the surface, nothing about Trucker Carrigan and Pinky Grover’s instant, incendiary, attraction makes sense. But when they peel away the layers and the assumptions—and their clothes—everything falls into place. The need. The want. The light. The laughter. But is it enough? In this steamy contemporary romance that Entertainment Weekly calls “so flaming-hot it might just burn you,” Trucker and Pinky won’t find out until they take a chance on each other—and on love.

On the surface this premise wouldn’t necessarily appeal to me because I typically read historicals. What sold me on it was 1) a glowing recommendation from the Heaving Bosoms Podcast and 2) this tweet from Suleikha Snyder.

I’m a simple woman. I know what I like and I liked what I saw and I definitely liked what I read. If you’re looking for a quick read that will make you feel multiple (if not all) the feelings, I highly recommend this novella. Plus it’s only $2.99 on Amazon and well worth the investment.