Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Review: The Girl with All the Gifts

"Melanie thinks: when your dreams come true, your true has moved."
-M.R. Carey, The Girl with All the Gifts

Melanie is brought to a school room everyday at gunpoint, wheeled into a room with other kids that are just like her. They're all under heavy guard, strapped into their chairs, and surrounded by a constant chemical smell. But, they just might be the answer to saving humanity.

I think this book has been out long enough that this isn't a spoiler--Melanie is a zombie. A virus/fungus has taken over the Earth, turning everyone into zombies, and the base that Melanie lives at is one of the last strongholds of humans. At the military base, Dr. Caldwell is studying Melanie and the other children to find a cure for the virus. Because the novel is narrated by multiple points of view, the way morality and the survival of humanity is presented is fascinating.

This definitely isn't your typical zombie novel, and it isn't for the faint of heart. There were passages that I had to skip over because they were simply too graphic for me--and some of the science explanations went over my head. However, I still thoroughly enjoyed this book; the writing was sound and the world created was intricate and well-thought out.

Overall, in my knowledge and reading of dystopia, this one definitely rates at the top of the list!

4/5 stars

Monday, May 22, 2017

Character Playlist: Augustus Waters

Augustus Waters Quote

Awhile back, I created a playlist for Hazel Grace, and I decided that it was high time that I created one for her love, Augustus Waters. August Waters, the beautiful, heart-throb level creation of John Green, whose story is woefully tragic, this playlist is for you.

(Spoilers included, though if you haven't read The Fault in Our Stars by now, are you ever going to?)

"Oblivion" by Bastille
When we first meet Augustus Waters, he's very afraid of oblivion, afraid of not making a mark on the world before he leaves it. Hazel helps to show him that it doesn't matter as much as he originally thought.

"Young & Wild" by The Strumbellas
In the first half of the book, Augustus embodies this sentiment. He's trying to live life as fully as he can, and he inspires Hazel to do so as well.

"Dead Sea" by The Lumineers
I imagine that, if he had more time, Augustus would be the type to travel the world, trying to find the meaning that he was craving, making the mark he desired. But fate didn't give him that opportunity.

"Sweet Disposition" by The Temper Trap
When Augustus and Hazel get to go to Amsterdam, though the ending isn't quite what they imagined, they're able to just live with abandon.

"Let's Be Still" by The Head and the Heart
As Hazel and Augustus (inevitably) fall in love, I feel that he would be completely happy just being still with Hazel. And as things take a turn for the worse, he most definitely is.

"About Today" by The National
This song speaks to the moment in the book when Hazel has to go to the ICU and purposefully distances herself from Augustus. It just fits. Though, I don't think Gus would have let Hazel walk away.

"King and Lionheart" by Of Monsters and Men
A song about a tragic love story for a book about a tragic love story.

"Holocene" by Bon Iver
The message of this song is something that Augustus eventually realizes, with the help of Hazel. That though he might not be magnificent in the eyes of the world, he certainly was magnificent in hers.

"I Gave You All" by Mumford & Sons
Augustus certainly gave all he had to Hazel before his end, his tragic end.

"Lifeforms" by Daughter
This song represents the cancer that consumes Augustus, that stops him from growing old, that takes him from Hazel.

Friday, May 12, 2017

'The Handmaid's Tale': Too Close for Comfort

*Minor spoilers ahead*

I eagerly anticipated the released of The Handmaid's Tale on Hulu for months; it is probably one of my favorite books, it provided a basis for my thesis on dystopia, and the trailers that were being released were spin-chilling. So far, it hasn't disappointed (except for the fact that it's not being released all at one. Thanks, Hulu), especially in the ways that it reflects current events in society. The Handmaid's Tale shows that despite what we may think, gender equality isn't where is should be. And the oppression of women depicted in The Handmaid's Tale hits a little too close to home.

Political Relevancy

It's no secret that in the United States, since the presidential election, women and minorities fear for the way their lives and rights will be impacted by a leader severely unqualified for the job. One of the best examples of this is the bill that was passed in the House of Representatives last week: repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act and drastically raising premiums for pretty much everyone. For example, under the new plan, people with cancer would pay 35 times more for health insurance, and raise insurance costs for pregnancy by 425%. Though the change doesn't only target women, a lot of it directly affects women in their coverage of health insurance. It's unclear how health insurance works in Gilead (it most likely doesn't exist for handmaids), but the discrimination against the vulnerable reflects what happens in The Handmaid's Tale.

Women are also directly disadvantaged in the workforce. John Green debunks the myth that the pay gap doesn't exist in this video, showing that women work in careers with generally lower salaries and are less likely to be hired if they have children. Additionally, when men are in traditionally female dominated careers, like libraries or nursing, they are more likely to be promoted than women. These disparities in the work force and salaries for women are directly reflected in The Handmaid's Tale when all bank accounts for women are frozen and they are forced to leave their jobs. Though this is a more drastic version of the inequality in the work force, it's not far off to imagine that this could happen in the near future.

Sexual Assault

A lot of what happens in The Handmaid's Tale is nightmarish and harrowing, but perhaps none more than the way that rape and sexual assault is normalized in Gilead. We see this in the first episode, when Offred is in the facility being trained as a handmaid. All of the handmaids are sitting in a circle, with one in the middle, being verbally abused for confessing she was raped in the past. The entire group is forced to point and chant "her fault," an incredibly chilling image given the way that sexual assault and rape is dealt with in the media.

Victim blaming has long been a problem with the way sexual assault is dealt with, and why only 310 assaults are reported to police out of every 1,000 rape cases, and of those reported only 6 will actually be incarcerated, according to RAINN. The Brock Turner case from last summer also exhibits this, as he was given a shorter jail time because the longer jail time (he was originally on trial for 14 years) would have a "severe impact" on him and his ability to one day make it to the Olympics.

This is all made scarily real in a world where rape is a regulated ceremony that happens each week, as the handmaids are forced into sexual slavery. In the most recent episode, Offred is forced to have sex with Nick by Serena Joy, in the hopes to conceive a baby. Women have absolutely no freedom, and are blamed for the sins of the past. It is permissible to degrade women in Gilead, and sometimes it feels the same in today's society (we elected a president who constantly degrades women, for goodness sake).

The Takeaway

Nightmarish and difficult to watch at times, I think that's the purpose of The Handmaid's Tale. It's about opening your eyes and seeing what's going on around you--and acting before it's too late. As Offred says at the beginning of the series: "I was asleep before. That's how we let it happen. When they slaughtered Congress, we didn't wake up. When they blamed terrorists, we suspended the constitution. We didn't wake up then either. Now, I'm awake."

We need to wake up.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Review: History Is All You Left Me

History Is All You Left Me Cover
"History is nothing. It can be recycled or thrown away completely. It isn't this sacred treasure chest I mistook it to be. We were something, but history isn't enough to keep something alive forever."
-Adam Silvera, History Is All You Left Me

Griffin doesn't know how to cope with his best friend and ex-boyfriend, Theo, dying in a tragic drowning accident. Though Griffin hasn't seen much of Theo since he moved to California for school and started dating Jackson, he believed that they would one day find their way back to each other. Now, that future has gone far off course and Griffin is quickly falling into a downward spiral. His obsessions are getting worse and he is lashing out at people that truly care. In order for Griffin to finally move passed Theo's death, he must confront their history and everything that's tearing him apart.

Adam Silvera has done it again. Though I didn't review it (apparently), More Happy Than Not was heartbreaking and beautiful and this book was no different. Silvera has a gift in writing raw teenage emotion, fully encompassing pain so well that it makes your heart hurt. The story feels effortless, and Silvera has created characters in Griffin, Theo, Jackson, and Wade that drive it forward, drawing you in deeper and deeper as you go. 

The complexity of the characters and the reality of their stories is what makes this novel, I think. Though none of the characters were particularly likable, with Wade as a possible exception, you still become invested in their stories and want them to turn out okay in the end. This is what makes them the most realistic, adding to the realism of the story as a whole.

All in all, this novel is absolutely heartbreaking, much like Silvera's other work as well. A bonus was the portrayal of OCD in the novel, which felt real to me and was something that Griffin always had to deal with. He couldn't just turn it on and off when he wanted, like is portrayed in some young adult literature. History Is All You Left Me feels real, which is essential for young adult literature.

P.S. What is with the theme of friends dying in young adult lit lately? I feel like I've read quite a few books like that recently, more so than usual. 

5/5 stars

Monday, May 8, 2017

Character Playlist: Park

Park edit

Music is integral to the plot of Eleanor and Park, as without it, Eleanor and Park would have never met. A few months ago, I made a playlist for Eleanor; I though it was high time that I made one for Park as well! Without further ado, a playlist inspired by Park, one that I think would suit his musical tastes.

According to Rainbow Rowell, this is the song Park is listening to when we're first introduced to him. As he says, "XTC was no good for drowning out the morons at the back of the bus."

To me, this song is fitting for tragic love affairs, and it works for Park and Eleanor on so many levels. Plus, it is a beautiful song. 

I image Park thought this at some point when he first sees Eleanor, and he uses music and comics to try to connect to her. And it works magnificently.

Rowell said that she played this countless times when writing the scene when Park decides to help Eleanor escape. And it couldn't be more fitting.

I don't know if I can explain why this fits Park for me, but it just does. And he definitely would listen to Bon Iver. Definitely.

Park falls for Eleanor pretty quickly, and this song describes this feeling perfectly.

Once Park's mind is made up about Eleanor, he knows that he'll do anything in order to help her.

Park found love where he wasn't looking, using Eleanor as a point to focus his life.

When Park and Eleanor are finally together, they have found something good. Plus, Alt-J is just the type of quirky music that Park would like.

This song is on Eleanor's list too, but it is too important to their relationship to not include it here as well. Park put it on a tape for her, and they discuss it at length.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Review: Goodbye Days

Goodbye Days Cover

"For the most part, you don't hold the people you love in your heart because they rescued you from drowning or pulled you from a burning house. Mostly you hold them in your heart because they save you, in a million quiet and perfect ways, from being alone."
-Goodbye Days, Jeff Zentner

Carver Briggs believes that he is the cause of the death of his three best friends, Mars, Eli, and Blake. He was the one who sent Mars the text that he was responding to when they got into a car accident, after all. And now Mars' father, a judge, is trying to pursue a criminal investigation against him. 

Through it all, Carver does have some allies: his sister, Eli's girlfriend, and even Blake's grandma, who asks Carver to spend a Goodbye Day with her, honoring Blake's memory. Soon, the other families are asking to do the same, all in the hope of finding some peace within the tragedy of loss.

This is Jeff Zentner's second novel, and I am yet again blown away by his ability to write emotions. The Serpent King (which I read last fall, but apparently didn't write a review for) slowly sunk its claws into you and grabbed hold, one of those books where you keep thinking about it for days after. Goodbye Days was no different. You start in the middle of Carver's tragedy, attending the last of the three funerals for his best friends, and are taken along with Carver as he experiences his grief throughout the novel.

Zentner's writing also realistically encapsulates anxiety and mental illness, especially with his descriptions of panic attacks. The way he introduces Carver to therapy is also a positive experience: Carver is hesitant at first, not believing that therapy will help. As they continue sessions, Carver realizes how helpful therapy can be, perhaps helping readers who might also be hesitant to see how helpful it can be as well.

Overall, I know that anytime Zentner publishes anything new, I will read it ASAP. He's definitely one to watch.

5/5 stars

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Review: The Sun Is Also a Star

The Sun is Also a Star Cover
"We're kindling amid lightning strikes, a lit match and dry wood, fire danger signs and a forest waiting to be burned."
-Nicola Yoon, The Sun Is Also a Star

Natasha is a scientist. She has always believed in facts and figures, not in fate and destiny. And definitely not in love. Especially when her family is about to be deported to Jamaica. Daniel is a poet and a dreamer, though he puts aside his desires in order to be the good son, the son that his parents are proud of. But all of that changes when he meets Natasha. The two meet one fateful day in New York City--will the universe allow them to be together?

I've never really been one to believe in fate, in destiny, in love at first sight. To me, it's always been something that exists in books, that people read about in order to escape the harshness of reality. But this book made me want to believe in the power of fate and destiny. Nicola Yoon has crafted an exquisitely beautiful story about human nature, about why things happen the way that they do. I found myself completely lost in the story, desperate to know whether Natasha and Daniel make it.

Yoon also uses the point of view of other characters that Natasha and Daniel interact with in order to give us a more complete version of the story. Not only do we get depth in the two main characters, but we get depth in the background characters, showing that humanity is more intertwined than we might originally think.

Not only does Yoon craft a romantic love story, she also addresses issues like race, immigration, and family expectations. It delves deeper than the romance, and that's part of what made me love it so much.

A beautifully romantic exploration of fate and destiny.

5/5 stars