So usually when I am preparing for a visit to Info AM, I try to think of a theme – something to hold all my bookish thoughts together. That’s probably the teacher in me – trying to make connections. Not going to happen today – today I just want to talk about some books I’ve read recently that I’ve really loved.
Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng
So this was my book club pick this year. I had such a hard time picking because I left it really late. This book was on my tbr shelf already and there were loads of copies at the book store and it had received copious praise, so it met all the requirements. It was an amazing book.
The book opens “Lydia is dead” and then it unspools the story of Lydia Lee, her younger sister, Hannah, and older brother Nathan and their parents Marilyn and James. It’s 1970s Ohio. Lydia’s story can’t be told without understanding Marilyn and James’ story…so we hear about Marilyn who is brilliant and won a scholarship to Radcliff. She’s on her way to becoming a doctor when she meets James, a fourth year graduate student in history. He’s Chinese. They fall in love, in part, because they recognize the “otherness” in each other. It’s the 50s, remember. So, Marilyn’s dreams have been deferred and she hoists all her failed ambition on Lydia. This is a tremendously powerful novel about family – and the things that we keep from the people we love the most. You know, we often talk about the transformative power of fiction – the ability of a story to just get under your skin and shake something loose and this book certainly did that for me. I came of age in the 70s, so I recognized the pop culture references and the whole book just felt familiar to me. But beyond that, it’s a mystery – like, what happened to Lydia – but it’s also about our need to follow our own path, which is sometimes very difficult to do. I felt this book in my heart and my gut. So good.
Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock – Matthew Quick
Quick might be better known for his novel (and the subsequent film) Silver Linings Playbook. This is a YA novel about a tricky subject – a book that, I think, has the potential to articulate something many of its readers might not be able to talk about. What do I do when life it just utterly miserable and I no longer have the will to go on?
Well, the answer to that question for 18-year-old Leonard Peacock is to pack his grandfather’s P38 WW2 handgun in his bookbag and head to school where he first intends to kill his former best friend, Asher, and then take his own life.
You know sometimes you start reading a book and you just fall in love with a character – yep, I loved Leonard from the start. He’s wry and self-deprecating and brutally honest. He’s also in terrible emotional distress. His mother has virtually abandoned him to pursue a career in fashion design; his father – a former rock star – is on the lam from the IRS. Leonard, although he is 18, is pretty much left to his own devices. So, on the day he decides to end it, he wraps some gifts and sets off to first visit the handful of people who have made a difference in his life including the old man who lives next door with whom he watches classic films and the one teacher at his school who actually looks him in the eye. Think about that – going through your whole day without anyone really looking at you.
Anyway – this is a fine book, quirky and funny and heart-breaking and hopeful. High school can be really hard for some kids – it seems interminable and pointless and teenagers have interior lives to which adults are not privy. This book would certainly speak to those kids. Loved it.
I ran out of time and therefore couldn’t talk about the next two books:
For my third choice I was torn between two books I read – one YA and one not, so I am going to briefly talk about them both because I couldn’t decide. Of their type they were both really good.
The first one is The Book of You by Claire Kendall.
I started it and finished it pretty much in one sitting. The story is not original – woman has a one night stand with a guy she works with who turns out to be a psychopathic stalker times a million. It’s a really timely story because woven into Clarissa’s narrative is the court case she’s on jury duty for – a woman with a dodgy past who has been raped and the guys who did it are on trial. Kendall has some interesting observations about victim blaming. Not only is Clarissa reluctant to go to the police until she has gathered sufficient evidence against her stalker, we also have to hear the horrific details about the rape-victim…and her past being called into question as a way to dismiss the charges against her attackers. Total page-turner, well-written, I’d warn readers that it is graphic.
Second book is The Replacement by Breanna Yovanoff
This was quite unlike anything I’ve read in the YA genre. Sort of a hybrid horror/fantasy novel. Sixteen year old Mackie is a replacement. He was swapped with the real Mackie when they were infants. He can’t stand blood or metal or go to church. The reason for the swap is a weird bargain the townsfolk have made with the House of Mayhem, a strange underground world ruled by The Morrigan, a child-like creature. In return for human babies, Gentry flourishes. But then when the little sister of a classmate goes missing, Mackie has to decide just how human he really is. It’s a creepy, compelling story that was quite unlike anything else I’ve ever read…which is cool in YA because genres tend to come in waves.
So, that’s what I’ve been reading recently. What’s on your nightstand?