Thursday, May 24, 2018

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Nevin

All the Bright Places, by Jennifer Niven

This month, I read a book that was nothing like anything I’ve ever read before. I found this book thinking it was a typical, romance story, and after skimming the summary of it online, I thought “Okay, seems good enough for me!” I was wrong. This book did not deserve to be read by someone like me, but I knew it was meant for me. I finished All the Bright Places with a feeling of shock and a type of sadness that kind of made me feel happy (the weird emotions I am describing will all make sense after reading this book).
I was completely fooled by this novel, and I think that’s what the author wanted to have happen. Most people, including me, would not read a book specifically focused on loss or death, especially from mental illnesses or suicide. It’s as if the author knew what people would think if she labeled this as a depressing story on depressing teens- I probably wouldn’t have read this either. When I read the summary, I seriously thought this book was about two troubled teens falling in love. I should have known by the first chapter that there was going to be a lesson to the story.
This book talks about mental health and suicide in a way that doesn’t make it feel like it’s a book giving facts about mental illness. The story is focused on a real-life scenario of high school students who are faced with depression and a loss of a loved one, as if it is a thing that actually happens in real life (because it is). At the same time, it still talks about regular high school and relationships to make the reader understand that mental disorders can happen anywhere, as normal as life may seem. The main character, Theodore Finch, is a boy who everyone calls “Freak” or a “weirdo”. One day, he finds a girl on top of the school tower who almost falls to her death- Violet, the sister of a victim in a fatal car accident. Together, they explore both the dark and the light of their lives and the world, and it seems as if they’re a perfect pair. However, it soon comes to surface that Theodore suffers from depression and bipolar disorder.

This book is written so well. Every page is a different direction, and I had no idea where I was going. Every character, plot, idea, thought, is interconnected and intertwined with each other. Lines that appear in the way beginning of the story somehow end up in a major way towards the end, and you’re just left thinking: “I didn’t think it would end up like that.”  And that’s the thing- no one really knows when someone is suffering, and when something does happen, no one understands why. I’m so happy that I got to experience a story like this, and I can definitely tell that others who read this feel the same way. The stigma around psychological disorders, depression, and even bullying should not be a stigma, and I think that books like these really help to bring awareness towards those kind of topics.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

1984 by George Orwell

Seeing as I read Animal Farm last month, I continued on with the theme of Orwell’s canon
by reading his novel 1984. Written in 1944, Orwell’s book 1984 describes a dystopian future
where a totalitarian government (entitled Big Brother) exhibits mass control over its citizens. In
this society, people’s actions are highly analyzed with the help of telescreens (cameras that follow
one’s every move) as the government looks for any sign of rebellious individuals. If anyone exhibits
signs of revolt, the Thought Police “vaporize” the individual and erase any trace of his or her
existence; this causes all of the other citizens to forget about their existence. The government also
makes its citizens engage in “doublethink,” defined by Orwell as “ the power of holding two
contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.” In a sense, it’s
brainwashing. For example, the government would claim that chocolate rations are up by 200%
when just yesterday they had stated that they needed to cut the chocolate ration significantly.
In essence, the government creates their own reality by altering the past, and the general public
follows. Nobody seems to notice anything wrong with the society except for the main character,
Winston Smith.

The novel follows Winston’s evolution to individual thought as he takes action to rebel against the
totalitarian regime. He soon meets Julia who also expresses a yearning for rebellion. He knows that
they will be caught eventually, but he’s taking the dangerous actions regardless out of sheer hatred for
the government that’s oppressing him. He longs for the way things used to be: a government that
allowed its citizens to express free thought without fear of retribution, a life where he could choose
who he wanted to marry, and a world where his every action wasn’t highly monitored.

This story is very interesting as it comments on the government’s role in our lives. It analyzes the
downfalls of totalitarian regimes and the intense, watchful eyes of government. Similarly, it makes
people aware of what life is like for people under dictators and allows for us to empathize with those
who experience a suppression of freedom of speech, religion, petition, assembly, and press that we
are lucky to have in the US under the First Amendment.

The book reminds me of Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. Unbroken tells the true story of Louie
Zamperini and his horrendous plane crash and prisoner of war experience during World War II. While
he was a prisoner, many of the Japanese men in charge of the prison did everything within their power
to break Zamperini’s determined spirit. In 1984, Winston is tested in many ways by his government
as they tried to break his rebellious nature. Overall, both books are centered around men with strong
wills, a yearning for justice, and skepticism of those in power.

I’d recommend this book for anyone interested in the science fiction genre as well as romance. I
feel that this book is one that should be read at least once in one’s life time. It really helps the reader
view the world differently by gaining a new perspective of the media and government.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Animal Farm by George Orwell

Animal Farm by George Orwell is considered to be a classic for redefining the way author’s use allegory to comment on politics and society. It’s political message has transcended the time in which it was written, allowing for many to enjoy the lessons to be learned in this novella. Using a swiftian style of writing, Orwell’s work is a satirical fable that highlights his views on control, government, and the corruptive nature of the power.

Orwell takes a third person perspective in telling the tale of Manor Farm, later dubbed “Animal Farm”.
The story begins with the introduction of Mr. Jones, the owner. An older man with an affinity for
alcohol, Jones is described in the way that the animals see him: cruel, unjust, and totalitarian. Old
Major, the eldest pig on the farm, calls a meeting for all of the animals in the barn. While on his
deathbed, Old Major recounts the lessons he’s learned over the course of his life, saying that “man
serves the interests of no creature except himself” and “whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.” He
then foreshadows the end of the book by saying, “even when you have conquered (man), do not adopt
his vices.”

The book follows the animals along their rebellion against the tyrannical nature of Mr. Jones and his
family, soon earning the right to govern themselves. It goes on to describe life under “Anamalism”
which is the ideology under which the newly named “Animal Farm” rules by. The ultimate belief of
this doctrine is that every animal is treated equal. The pigs (seen as the smartest animals on the farm)
take to governing the rest of the animals. Slowly, however, we see them abuse their power by allowing
themselves extra privileges such as the only apples, no working hours, and lodging in the human’s house.
Overtime, we see that the animals’ quest to justice, equality, and independence has been completely
undermined by the pigs’ thirst for more and more power. The animals, however, are completely
brainwashed by the manipulation of the pigs, causing the book to express a serious case of dramatic
irony.

Because Animal Farm is a satirical piece, it is very similar to Jonathan Swift’s satire “A Modest
Proposal”. In this work, Swift sarcastically explains that the poor Irish families should fatten their
children and sell them to the rich English landowners for them to disperse out to the Irish population
as food claiming that this will solve the issues of overpopulation, hunger, and unemployment in
Ireland. Both of these works satirically analyze the author’s political views.

Overall, Animal Farm is an effective use of satire and clearly indicates Orwell’s dislike of dictatorial regimes and the hungering effects of power. I completely recommend this read to anyone who is interested in politics, satires, and powerful writing.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

The color purple is a classic novel of an African American woman living in rural Georgia during the early 20th century. The novel follows Celie throughout her life and the many defining moments that occur. From the very beginning, we learn that she lives in a traumatic house. She lives with constant rape from someone she calls her “father” and has had both of her children taken away by God.
When Mr., a local farmer, comes to ask for her sister Nettie’s hand in marriage, her father adamantly refuses, but offers Celie to him; warning that she’s “ugly” and “spoiled”. She reluctantly goes with Mr. to take care of his home and his late wife’s children. Eventually Nettie comes to visit, but is kicked out by Mr. when she refuses his advances. Her sister is the only person who truly loves her, and Celie is devastated to lose her. While with Mr., she doesn’t escape the abuse. She meets many strong woman who advise her to stand up for herself and refuse to be taken advantage of: Shug Avery, Mr.’s lover, and Sophia.
One night Shug Avery asks Celie about her sister, who she assumes is dead because she promised to write and never did. Shug informs Celie that she’s seen Mr. hiding the letters. Celie reads her sister’s letters and learns that she’s apart of a missionary in Africa with Celie’s long lost children and their adoptive parents. Overcome with anger, Celie has to refrain from killing Mr. and eventually snaps and declares her independence and curses him for the abuse he subjected her to for so many years.
After Nettie and her children return from Africa, she is filled with relief and eventually makes amends with Mr.. At the very end of this novel, she discloses her forgiveness to everyone and admits that even with her old age, she feels the youngest she’s ever been.
This novel is a classic story of a woman suffering through the hardships of life and finally realizing her potential for success and independence.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

     The House on Mango Street is the story about a Latina named Esperanza growing up in Chicago. Esperanza lives in a small red house on Mango Street with her family. They all share one bedroom and one bath. Her parents promised they would move into a larger house where each person would have their own room. The house on Mango Street is not the house that she dreams about. As Esperanza grows up, she wishes to fit in with the kids in school. She wants to be as beautiful as the other girls, and dress as nice as her peers. When her friends and teachers ask her where she lives, she would lie and point to a bigger house. Esperanza is ashamed of her family's poverty.
     Towards the end of the novel, Esperanza encounters "the three sisters." They ask Esperanza to make a wish. She does what she is told then the sisters tell Esperanza that her wish will come true. A couple years later, Esperanza got what she wished for. Her dream home. The sisters tell her that she may leave Mango Street, but she cannot leave her past.
     This story is told through vignettes. Vignettes are short pieces of writing, poetry, music, etc. It is intended towards more mature readers as rape and beatings are told throughout the story.

Friday, February 2, 2018


    The Catcher in the Rye is certainly
an interesting read that’s open for debate. By that, I mean it in the sense
that it’s interesting, but not for everyone. Written in 1951, J.D. Salinger
brings us the story of Holden Caulfield, a 17-year-old rebellious boy that was,
for lack of a better term, an interesting main character. And the book begins
in a rather odd fashion. Odd in regards that it begins with the main character
speaking directly to you! While this is somewhat common in movies and TV shows,
it’s odd for a book. I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers, since this is a review,
but some things may need to slip to explain this. At the start of the book,
Holden is almost immediately portrayed as lazy, uncaring, and just flat out
incompetent (or insolent, if you prefer).

First, let’s go over
what I consider to be the bad parts of this book. Now, one thing to be wary of
in this book is that there is profanity, but it also helps the reader relate to
this character, which is one of the harder things to do in my opinion. However,
there seems to be too much of it for my tastes, but that’s completely
suggestive. And it also touches on themes centered around morality, which is
welcome to me, but it won’t appeal to everyone, as readers these days seem to
be more interested in reading thrillers or fantasy stories. At least, that’s
what I’ve seen. Most of the book is also just a flashback, and something about
that just annoys me. It probably won’t bother you at all though, since it’s
done in a way that you don’t really notice until you reach present day. So it
isn’t all bad.

Next, we’ll go over the
aspects of this book that stood out for me. The message of this story is that
you should always stay yourself and keep your spirits up. However, this theme
only really appeals to teenagers, it seems, as the main character will
generally make decisions that, if you’re an adult, will make you want to slap
him across his face. But that’s another thing: The character is such a
relatable person and well-written main character that, when you read this book,
you’ll be happy to follow into his life to face his problems with him.
Atmosphere, one of the hardest things to create in a story, seems to come
easily to the author in this book. You may not think this is important now, but
it plays a critical role in setting the pace of the story and the emotions that
the author is trying to portray through this story.

Overall, the question is
whether this story is good or not. Again, it’s up for debate. The negatives
that I listed are subjective, but everything is in this story. I think that it
is an overrated book, but one that easily makes my list of top books I’ve read.
But I feel that everyone’s experience will be different with this book, which
is something that is very intriguing to me. Depending on how you feel or what
your opinions or morals are, this book will be a masterpiece, boring, or
somewhere inbetween. Whatever your experience, it is definitely worth a read.
And even if you don’t like it, you’ll still have some food left for the mind.
If you don’t know what I mean by that, I mean that you’ll walk away with a bit
more understanding of yourself.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Art of War by Sun Tzu

The Art of War, by Sun Tzu

This month, I stepped out of my small, comfort zone of romance books and fell in love with this quick read that I was assigned to read for my english class. This book left me with new words of wisdom and an urge to learn more about ancient cultures. It was a great change from the same plot, romance novels I always read. Although there are only 13 chapters with tiny blocks of text, the knowledge and advice gained through this book is spectacular. The name might not sound very interesting and seems only applicable to lovers of history, but I assure you that this is a classic that everyone should read at least once!
The Art of War is an ancient Chinese source of quotes by Sun Tzu, who was a military strategist and leader during a time of war and imperialism in China. Not much is known about him, but his words on military tactics, written on bamboo sheets, are still circulating around the world today. Each of the 13 chapters cover a certain concept used for fighting or strategy, and it is written more like a conversational guide book than a textbook or story. It is a very simple and easy book to read, but its concepts and deep meanings go a long way to help anyone. Although his advice was mainly used for fighting in battles and conquering enemies, many of his sayings can be applied to modern life skills. One of the chapters in the book was dedicated to types of terrain and which kinds of land are best suited for attacking, and there are parts where he gives advice about the general enemy, such as “all warfare is based on deception”. This quote can further be expanded onto general topics, saying that people can be deceitful and it is always best to be careful and to stay prepared. There are also chapters on the great use of fire, and even an entire part about the use of spies.
Sun Tzu’s The Art of War has made significant marks on the history of warfare in the world and has influenced many nations in all aspects of life. His military strategies have been used by Japanese samurai, leaders in communist China, and even American politics. Recently, the founder of Snapchat had bought the book for him and his employees after being beat down by the founder of Facebook, which shows that Sun Tzu’s advice can even be used in the modern business world.

I believe that anyone can enjoy reading this book, even if military and war books are not your type. It is such a quick read, but the wisdom you will gain will go a long way. The style of writing also makes the book a fun experience, for it sounds like Sun Tzu is telling you his advice himself! Believe it or not, but everyone who reads this book will come out with tips they never thought they needed.