Book Review: I Was Here by Gayle Forman

gayle forman books

 

Cody and Meg were inseparable.
Two peas in a pod.
Until . . . they weren’t anymore.
 
When her best friend Meg drinks a bottle of industrial-strength cleaner alone in a motel room, Cody is understandably shocked and devastated. She and Meg shared everything—so how was there no warning? But when Cody travels to Meg’s college town to pack up the belongings left behind, she discovers that there’s a lot that Meg never told her. About her old roommates, the sort of people Cody never would have met in her dead-end small town in Washington. About Ben McAllister, the boy with a guitar and a sneer, who broke Meg’s heart. And about an encrypted computer file that Cody can’t open—until she does, and suddenly everything Cody thought she knew about her best friend’s death gets thrown into question.

I think that depression and suicide is something that has affected everyone, if not directly then peripherally.  I’ve had ex-boyfriends and friends that suffered from depression and suicidal ideations, and most everyone knows someone who has been affected in one way or another.

I Was Here opens the reader to a lot of emotions that come along with dealing with suicide.  Forman depicts survivor’s guilt, the standard emotions that come along with loss, and showcases an aspect of the mental health community that everyone needs to be aware of.

Cody didn’t handle Meg leaving and changing her life as well as she could have, yes, but growing pains happen in friendships.  However, much of the novel is about Cody and how she discovers Meg’s secret life with depression (I am an advocate of being 100% honest and upfront with your friends about any struggle you might be having with mental illness) and her descent into the pro-suicide internet groups.  Cody struggles with discovering who she is without her best friend, but ends up finding a lot of new ones along the way and ends up exposing her town and the police to the website that encouraged Meg’s iwasherequotesuicidal ideations.

I suppose for me it wasn’t a surprise to hear about the online community for those that have suicidal ideations, because as someone who suffered from an eating disorder for almost 15 years, I am well versed in pro-ana and pro-mia sites that serve as motivation for those suffering.  What was very interesting to me was that Forman drew this story from real life inspiration, and that she was so moved by one young woman’s story that she expanded upon it and created a novel that can help educate as well as it can entertain readers.

This isn’t an easy story to read.  It is hard to read about someone who ended their own life, and I understand that this can be triggering to some readers.  But this is an excellent story and a good platform for readers to learn.

If you or anyone you know suffers from depression or suicidal ideation, please reach out and find help.

4.5 Bards for I Was Here

four.fivebards

Book Review: Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten

They say Delia burned herself to death in her stepfather’s shed. They say it was suicide.

But June doesn’t believe it.

June and Delia used to be closer than anything. Best friends in that way that comes before everyone else-before guys, before family. It was like being in love, but more. They had a billion secrets, tying them together like thin silk cords.

But one night a year ago, everything changed. June, Delia, and June’s boyfriend Ryan were just having a little fun. Their good time got out of hand. And in the cold blue light of morning, June knew only this-things would never be the same again.

And now, a year later, Delia is dead. June is certain she was murdered. And she owes it to her to find out the truth…which is far more complicated than she ever could have imagined.

This novel started off really awesome.  I will argue that the first half of this book was really spot on.  I will admit that I finished this book in around 3 hours, so it wasn’t that it became hard to read or that it was difficult in anyway.  In fact, I’ll tell you that it is easy and enjoyable.  Then why am I saying just the first half was good?  Well…let me just start with the good.

June is basically your typical high school teenager.  She underestimates her beauty, her intelligence, and her ability to stand up to anyone other than her equally typical boyfriend, Ryan.  She has a really interesting family consisting of a single, drunken mother, but we really don’t see a whole lot about that and we don’t hear about how it affected her growing up or anything.  The entirety of June throughout this novel revolves around Delia.  She is practically a non-entity until Delia is mentioned or brought up.  Delia is the sun and June is the scorched planet Mercury that rotates super close.  But then Delia kills herself, supposedly.  This is where the first half gets interesting.

June begins to suspect foul play in Delia’s death and basically goes off the deep end and reads absolutely anything possible, no matter how far fetched, as being related to Delia’s supposed suicide and everything that happened in their friendship.  The fact of the matter is that their friendship is so complicated and a bit obsessive.  I say “a bit,” but it begins to seem unhealthy around the halfway mark in the book when a pretty big “twist” occurs.  Why is twist in quotations?  Well, because it wasn’t much of a twist to me when I saw it coming.

The latter half of the book does have it’s highlights.  The synopsis refers to Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls as being for fans of E.Lockhart’s We Were Liars.  I’d say it’s a fairly weak comparison, but it does have the disjointed narration aspect down pat in the second half.  You will start to question every perception June has ever made and a lot of what she tells you as a narrator.  But, the novel then randomly splits into dual narration between June and Delia, after not doing this at all in the first half.  Delia’s narration, other than being peppered with heavy references to fire and burning, is even more full of confused statements and weird obssessive thoughts about June.

June really just wants to be loved and accepted.

The ending was nice in that it provides the reader with the option to decide the characters’ fate.  There are pretty much two ways that a reader could decide on, but I’m fairly certain a lot of readers will choose a specific one based on other reviews I’ve seen and reactions I’ve noticed.

Either way, I’m giving Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls an average rating because it really wasn’t unenjoyable.  I just wish it had been stronger as a story.

3 Bards

threebards

Book Review: My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

Sixteen-year-old physics nerd Aysel is obsessed with plotting her own death. With a mother who can barely look at her without wincing, classmates who whisper behind her back, and a father whose violent crime rocked her small town, Aysel is ready to turn her potential energy into nothingness.

There’s only one problem: she’s not sure she has the courage to do it alone. But once she discovers a website with a section called Suicide Partners, Aysel’s convinced she’s found her solution: a teen boy with the username FrozenRobot (aka Roman) who’s haunted by a family tragedy is looking for a partner.

Even though Aysel and Roman have nothing in common, they slowly start to fill in each other’s broken lives. But as their suicide pact becomes more concrete, Aysel begins to question whether she really wants to go through with it. Ultimately, she must choose between wanting to die or trying to convince Roman to live so they can discover the potential of their energy together. Except that Roman may not be so easy to convince.

I can tell you that I’ve been struggling to really find a good contemporary young adult novel to really kickstart my interest.  I tend to be more interested in fantasy, science fiction, and fairy tale adaptations.  Nothing against contemporary, but I even tend to prefer historical YA over anything set today.  Maybe it’s because I’m just living in today and it seems a bit dull, but Warga’s novel really gave me a push into understanding why contemporary fiction can be so important.  Now I haven’t been living under a rock, so I’ve read YA books that deal with mental illness before (primarily books about teens suffering from Eating Disorders), but the only other contemporary novels I’ve read that feature the treatment of mental illness or anything like that were by Sarah Dessen.  Even then, it wasn’t a main topic of the narrative.

Well, now that I’ve bored you a bit with the ramblings of a book reviewer, I can start the (actual) review:

Warga’s novel doesn’t skirt around the fact that the main character is depressed and suicidal. (It is in the synopsis, btw) But the straightforwardness, not only of the main character, but of the narrative itself is quite refreshing.  I enjoyed the depressed, but thoughtful, voice of Aysel.  She was contradictory, she was absolutely quizzical, she was endearing, she was frustrating, and she felt so REAL.  Roman, also known as FrozenRobot, was a bit more flat as a character, and I found him a bit irritating through a lot of the narrative.  He was just so absolutely determined and seemed to be offended anytime Aysel expressed any type of possible thought that may have been toward the future.

I really appreciated how Warga depicted how depression can manifest in different people in different ways.  Aysel, for instance, was an outcast due to the actions of her father and how the public perceived her in relation to those actions.  This was a contributing factor to her depression, and it resembles a basic “warning sign” of depression.  Roman, on the other hand, isolated himself from his fellow popular friends and even quit playing a sport he loved as a form of punishment. This also led to him being alone with his thoughts.  I loved that both characters had very distinct aspects of their depression, but I appreciate and applaud Warga’s ability to not glamorize suicide and suicidal thoughts.  It is important to seek help for these thoughts, and I really liked that the publisher and author included a lot of resources in case readers need to reach out.

Now, to Warga, it was absolutely inspired to use physics and energy in this.  Not only did it speak to me as a former Science major, but also as a current (not so secretive) science nerd.  Brilliant.  I refuse to give away any of the quotes or aspects of this from the story because it really just made My Heart and Other Black Holes even more heartfelt and enjoyable.

I leave you with one of (that’s right, ONE OF) the dozens of memorable quotes from this story:

“I wonder if that’s how darkness wins, by convincing us to trap it inside ourselves, instead of emptying it out.”

Kudos to you Jasmine Warga, for really showing me that contemporary young adult fiction is not something to be underestimated.

4.5 Bards.

four.fivebards

Waiting on Wednesday

waiting on wednesday

Every week Breaking the Spine hosts the bookish meme for book bloggers to share what books they are waiting on to be released!  This week I’m waiting on:

Release Date: January 27, 2015

Cody and Meg were inseparable.
Two peas in a pod.
Until . . . they weren’t anymore.
 
When her best friend Meg drinks a bottle of industrial-strength cleaner alone in a motel room, Cody is understandably shocked and devastated. She and Meg shared everything—so how was there no warning? But when Cody travels to Meg’s college town to pack up the belongings left behind, she discovers that there’s a lot that Meg never told her. About her old roommates, the sort of people Cody never would have met in her dead-end small town in Washington. About Ben McAllister, the boy with a guitar and a sneer, who broke Meg’s heart. And about an encrypted computer file that Cody can’t open—until she does, and suddenly everything Cody thought she knew about her best friend’s death gets thrown into question.
 

Waiting on Wednesday

waiting on wednesday

Every week Breaking the Spine hosts the bookish meme for book bloggers to share what books they are waiting on to be released!  This week I’m waiting on:

Release Date: February 10, 2015

The last time Lex was happy, it was before. When she had a family that was whole. A boyfriend she loved. Friends who didn’t look at her like she might break down at any moment.

Now she’s just the girl whose brother killed himself. And it feels like that’s all she’ll ever be.

As Lex starts to put her life back together, she tries to block out what happened the night Tyler died. But there’s a secret she hasn’t told anyone-a text Tyler sent, that could have changed everything.

Lex’s brother is gone. But Lex is about to discover that a ghost doesn’t have to be real to keep you from moving on.

 

Waiting on Wednesday

waiting on wednesday

 

Every week Breaking the Spine hosts the bookish meme for book bloggers to share what books they are waiting on to be released!  This week I’m waiting on:

Release Date: February 10, 2015

Sixteen-year-old physics nerd Aysel is obsessed with plotting her own death. With a mother who can barely look at her without wincing, classmates who whisper behind her back, and a father whose violent crime rocked her small town, Aysel is ready to turn her potential energy into nothingness.

There’s only one problem: she’s not sure she has the courage to do it alone. But once she discovers a website with a section called Suicide Partners, Aysel’s convinced she’s found her solution: a teen boy with the username FrozenRobot (aka Roman) who’s haunted by a family tragedy is looking for a partner.

Even though Aysel and Roman have nothing in common, they slowly start to fill in each other’s broken lives. But as their suicide pact becomes more concrete, Aysel begins to question whether she really wants to go through with it. Ultimately, she must choose between wanting to die or trying to convince Roman to live so they can discover the potential of their energy together. Except that Roman may not be so easy to convince.

Book Review: Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira

It begins as an assignment for English class: Write a letter to a dead person.

Laurel chooses Kurt Cobain because her sister, May, loved him. And he died young, just like May. Soon, Laurel has a notebook full of letters to the dead—to people like Janis Joplin, Heath Ledger, Amelia Earhart, and Amy Winehouse—though she never gives a single one of them to her teacher. She writes about starting high school, navigating the choppy waters of new friendships, learning to live with her splintering family, falling in love for the first time, and, most important, trying to grieve for May. But how do you mourn for someone you haven’t forgiven?

It’s not until Laurel has written the truth about what happened to herself that she can finally accept what happened to May. And only when Laurel has begun to see her sister as the person she was—lovely and amazing and deeply flawed—can she truly start to discover her own path.

I went into this novel thinking that I wasn’t going to like it due to the structural nature of the narrative.  I mean, reading a book that exists only in letter form? Eh, it worked for Mary Shelley in Frankenstein, but can it work for a more contemporary author? (Yes, that is right, Frankenstein is told through a series of letters from Robert Walton to his sister M.S–I could also go into the argument that M.S. is Mary Shelley herself, but I’ll save it for another time.)

lovelettersI normally have problems reading novels that are written in a somewhat lyrical style, mostly because I tend to enjoy the more direct writing of a first person POV or even the third person POV that is straight forward with information.  However, Dellaira has made me want to try reading other lyrical novels again, just to see if my perspective has changed.  Yes, you can argue that using letters as the writing style of choice can be a little overpowering, especially since the audience is effectively removed from the tale when not being addressed as an indirect “you.”  But I think that this is the reason that I ended up appreciating Laurel’s story much more.

As a history nut, the specific people that Dellaira used in Laurel’s journey were somewhat perfect in my eyes.  Not only did each embody certain aspects of Laurel, but also parts of May and the other secondary characters in her life.  While it took a while for the narrative to really reach the pennacle of the novel, which was discovering the information behind May’s death, which is still left up to the reader in ambiguity, I think that the journey was the purpose of this novel more than the discovery.

I know that Love Letters to the Dead has had some mixed reviews from what I’ve read, but believe me when I say that you will be better for reading and discovering this novel in either outcome.  No matter if you like it or not, it is still a beautiful story of a girl’s journey to define herself separate from her sister’s existence, and it is wonderfully written.

4.5 Bards

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