The Impossible Knife of Memory, an SCBWI Book Review

You know what I did immediately after I promised not to read the PTSD novel?  I went ahead and read the PTSD novel.  Good thing school started recently, so I haven’t had time to blog.  We’ve all had a sufficient break from the depressing, unjust world, right?

Good!  Let’s dive back in.

Impossible Knife of Memory

Click the image to go to the Amazon page

Book: The Impossible Knife of Memory, by Laurie Halse Anderson

Genre: Young Adult, Realistic Fiction

Recommendation:  Um… honestly?  Eh.  It’s just… you know, it’s good.  It’s okay.  I much prefer Speak.  You should read that one for sure.

Run-on Sentence Synopsis: Hayley is a high school student who classifies the whole world into either “zombies” or “freaks” in a way that seems like a forced quirk because it does very little to further the plot and her dad has PTSD in a bad way and she falls in love with a boy and she has to deal with her dad’s issues and her own issues.

Positive Feedback: Anderson is always successful at characterization in her own way.  There were some really solid emotional moments that gripped me and made me feel the characters’ pain.  As a fan of psychology, I was very interested in delving into this world of trauma and the psychological ramifications of same.  The material is handled with respect and has an appropriate weight to it.  It’s obviously not a lighthearted novel, and that’s good.  You can tell Anderson has a vested interest in representing trauma and related mental disorders accurately.

Constructive Criticism: Given my interest in psychology, I was kind of disappointed when the father’s PTSD kind of became a subplot rather than the main story.  In the end, I felt like I was reading yet another “F-the-World-Girl meets Quirky-Sexy-Boy” teen romance.  Even worse, the pacing of the romance  felt off to me.  There wasn’t a lot of chemistry between the two characters, and they fell for each other way too quickly in my opinion.  A large struggle many children go through is finding themselves parenting the parents.  That should have been the meat of this story, and I just wasn’t getting that.  This is weird, but I feel like Sarah Dessen would have written this book better.  If you want a book that touches on tough psychological issues and abusive relationships (I mean, you wouldn’t want that, but you know what I mean), then go pick up Dreamland.  Yeah… this book review just became a recommendation for another author and book.  I guess that pretty much sums it up.

I still have to read Caraval, but I don’t know when I’ll do that.  I have a baby, five classes to teach, and boxes to unpack.  But I will try my best!

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Just a Normal Tuesday, an SCBWI Book Review

Just a Normal Tuesday

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I did not mean to do two books on incredibly sensitive topics in a row.  It just worked out that way.  Next time I’m definitely going to have to do Caraval, because The Impossible Knife of Memory is about PTSD.  Gotta break up the heavy topics a little.  So…

TRIGGER WARNING: SUICIDE

Book: Just a Normal Tuesday by Kim Turrisi

Genre: Young Adult, Realistic Fiction

Recommendation: I think you can tell that this is not something you pick up for a bit of light reading.  That being said, I recommend it to anyone who is interested in the topic of psychology, has experienced suicidal thoughts, or knows someone who has taken his or her own life.  This book might be the companion you need if you’re feeling all alone or trapped inside your own head.

Run-on Sentence Synopsis: Kai comes home and checks the mail to find a letter from her older sister, Jen, informing Kai and their parents that she is going to kill herself, and Kai rushes to her sister’s apartment only to find out that she is too late and what follows is Kai’s descent into depression followed by a trip to grief camp where she learns that she can find a way to live through the tragedy that struck her.

(Necessarily) Long Review: This book is a little different.  I feel that something that touches on such an important and sensitive topic merits a very careful analysis and critique.  Therefore I won’t be separating out positive and negative comments this time.

At this point I’d like to note that it is extremely difficult for me to critique Turrisi here, as this story is semi-autobiographical; when she was fifteen, her sister killed herself.  But, to be fair, I am offering critique, not criticism (slight difference in connotation there).

Firstly, if you read this book, you are going to cry.  If you have a heart at all, you will end up bawling your eyes out at some point.  This could end up being a very necessary catharsis for you.  If you have experience with suicide or suicidal thoughts, you might not even make it all the way through the book.  That being said, I feel that Turrisi laid it on a little thick at times.  Suicide is already such an emotionally impactful event that I feel you don’t really need to push to convey that impact to readers.  The times when Turrisi shined brightest were when she let genuine emotions do the talking, rather than trying to emphasize the emotional weight with repetition and figurative language.

The biggest faults are the repetition and the occasional clunky piece of dialogue.  It sometimes borders on cheesy, and there’s a bit of a pacing issue.  The cursing sometimes feels gratuitous, the title is referenced multiple times with different wording (one crazy Tuesday, just another Monday, etc.), and the words “tingle,” “tingly,” and “tingling,” were used just a few times too many for my liking.

Another thing I have to say is that the book starts out with Kai finding her sister’s suicide letter, so we don’t get to see any characterization of the sister, Jen, except through brief little snapshots that barely warrant the term “flashback.”  Similarly, we don’t really know who Kai is as a person.  Towards the end of the book she starts to realize that she’s defining herself through her relationship with her sister, and I would have liked to see the character take steps to learn more about who she is as an individual.  I appreciate beginning in medias res, but a jump backward in time after the suicide note could have helped to establish Kai and Jen as characters.  Jen’s death would have meant more to me if that had happened.  As it was, and again I hate to say this, the first half of the novel started to drag after a while.  Because the book begins with Kai at an all-time low, we don’t get to see a downward spiral.  Instead, she starts out at rock bottom, and she slowly creeps a little farther downward over numerous pages.

The grief camp part of the book, on the other hand, picks up considerably.  Possibly because Turrisi relied a little more on fabrication – since she herself never attended such a camp  – we see a slew of interesting characters, a burgeoning romance, and some truly heartfelt and gut-wrenching stories of loss and suffering.

Overall, it’s not the perfect novel, but I genuinely believe it might be helpful to those out there who are suffering from a similar loss, or who are plagued by suicidal thoughts themselves.  I think what Turrisi created is commendable to say the least, and I would recommend picking it up as long as you are prepared to be hit where it hurts.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

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Written in the Stars, an SCBWI Book Review

Writteninthestars1

Click the picture to go to the Amazon page for the book!

As I said earlier, I didn’t make it to the autograph session, but I did run into Aisha Saeed by chance.  She is the nicest person ever.  She offered to sign my book for me when she heard I couldn’t make it later for autographs.

writteninthestars2

Boy does this book not pull its punches.  Okay, here we go with the review.

Book: Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed

Genre: Young Adult, Realistic (Unfortunately) Fiction

Recommendation: While I definitely want everyone to buy it, I need to issue a trigger warning for abuse of any kind (emotional, physical, sexual)

Run-On Sentence Synopsis: Naila is a Pakistani-American girl on the cusp of graduating high school and going away to college where she will finally be free to date her boyfriend, Saif, whom she’s been seeing in secret because her parents have always planned to arrange her marriage, and when they (inevitably) find out about Saif they bundle up Naila and her brother, Imran, to go to Pakistan for what they say is a month but what turns out to be much longer, and Naila finds herself caught up in a forced marriage and a fight for her freedom.

Positive Feedback: As I did for George, I will describe this book in one word.  That word is “Impactful.”  I felt my gut twisting, my fingernails biting into my palms, tears in my eyes, my heart racing.  I couldn’t believe that this book was based on the reality that so many women face.  I wanted to believe it was completely fictional, with no basis in reality at all.  I wanted that so badly.  But, unfortunately, this is realistic fiction all the way.  It’s important to note that this book is not a denunciation of anyone’s culture, nor is it against arranged marriages.  Thanks to this novel, I now understand the difference between arranged marriages and forced marriages.  The latter is the one that breaks my heart, and it is the subject of the novel.  This was an expertly crafted book that had emotion and heart, but (as I said) it did not once pull its punches.  Naila’s struggle feels all too real, to the point where it was difficult for me to continue, but I felt compelled to.  I was clawing my way through, desperate to find the happy ending I was hoping would appear after all the turmoil.  And then it was there, and I felt relief wash over me.  This novel is gripping.  It doesn’t let you go, and it doesn’t go easy on you.  Truth be told, I will never reread this book; it would be too difficult.  But I am very glad that I read it, and I will cherish my signed copy always.

Constructive Criticism: My one critique has to do with Naila’s desire to stay with her boyfriend, Saif, despite her parents’ belief in arranged marriages.  The problem is that the novel begins with them already together as a couple, so there was no way for me to see a build up of their chemistry.  Naila, as the narrator, told more than showed the relationship.  I wish Saeed had taken a little more time with them at the beginning, or at least shown a couple more flashbacks than she did.  The extreme version of this issue is Stephenie Meyer saying, “I’m the author and I say these two people love each other!  You’ll believe it because I said so!” (And then I imagine she mashes the two characters’ faces together like a seven-year-old would with Barbie and Ken dolls.  Mwah Mwah Mwah!)  Saeed’s writing is way better than Meyer’s, of course, so I did believe the relationship between Naila and Saif.  What little I saw worked for sure, but if I’d gotten more chances to get used to them as a couple, their inevitable forced separation would have carried that much more weight.

I don’t know what book I’m doing next time!  I think there will be three more reviews total.  It depends on what mood I’m in and when I find time to read.  See you then!

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