I Was Here

I Was Here – Gayle Forman

Kindle Edition

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“I don’t know if I had ever really listened to the words before, because when I did now, they were like a smack from her grave. It says you can still forgive her. And she will forgive you back.

But I don’t know that I can. And I don’t know that she did.”

– Cody Reynolds, I Was Here

Gayle Forman, author of books such as If I Stay, Where She Went, and Just One Day brings readers I Was Here, the story of one young woman’s search for answers in the wake of a tragedy. Meg and Cody were best friends. Where Meg ended, Cody began. They knew everything about each other. Except they didn’t. Not even close. Because Cody had no idea that her best friend was so depressed that she needed to swallow poison to make the pain go away. When someone takes their life unexpectedly, it’s natural for those around them to question why they didn’t see any warning signs. It’s also understandable to look for some reasoning behind their decision.

As humans we’re conditioned to ask questions about situations that leave us confused. Why? Because answers help us cope. Help us move on. And we cannot move on until we reach a conclusion, a finality in our quest for answers. So when Meg’s grieving parents ask their daughter’s best friend, Cody, who is like a second daughter to them, to pick up Meg’s stuff from school, she accepts, albeit reluctantly. Although combing through the remainders of Meg’s life feels all wrong for Cody, she continues doing so. While picking up Meg’s belongings, she meets her former roommates who were just as in the dark about Meg’s suicide as her parents and Cody, her supposed best friend. Cody also stumbles upon Ben McCallister, the guy who broke Meg’s heart.

Cody is looking for someone to blame – someone other than herself that is – for Meg’s heartache. At first, the person that fits that bill is Ben. Even more so after she finds e-mail after e-mail from Meg to Ben that for the most part go unanswered. There is one poignant response from Ben, however; the one where he tells Meg she needs to leave him alone. If only he knew the lengths she would go to to satisfy that request. Only it’s not that simple. Even Cody knows that. Most college freshmen don’t kill themselves over unrequited feelings. When Meg’s parents insist Cody keep Meg’s laptop, Cody gets an insight into her best friend’s world that she never saw coming. Meg had joined a suicide support group. But it’s not the type of group that dissuades suicide. Oh, no. It is one that encourages it.

This is a discovery that leaves Cody reeling and angry. Angry that people – specifically one person – would goad her obviously confused best friend into killing herself. This person and this group need to pay. Fueled by a myriad of emotions, Cody hatches a plan. She makes a profile for the page and begins to post in an attempt to lure out the man who helped Meg take her own life. And at first, Cody knows it’s all lies. But in a way, it’s also the truth. When she writes about losing her other half in Meg, she isn’t lying. And even though Cody goes into this knowing it’s a hoax, it doesn’t make it any less intoxicating when she is able to make contact with the user going by the name “All_BS,” fitting for an individual who offers death as a solution to those who are lost.

In addition to playing detective, Cody also struggles to keep her distance from Ben, who is intoxicating on a whole other level. He’s able to get under a skin in a way nobody else can, but it’s so wrong. So very wrong. Because this is the same guy who broke Meg’s heart. Between tracking down All_BS and her attempts to not fall into Ben’s trap like the many girls before her and Meg, Cody is barely holding it together. Maybe it would be easier to just end her own life the same way Meg did. After all, they were best friends, were they not?

Forman is able to take a book that appears to be about suicide and turn it into a story that is really much more. And she does it with extreme talent. At its core, I Was Here is about friendship, love, family, and finding oneself in a world that is more vague than certain. It’s about letting go while finding a way to hold on. And lastly, it’s about forgiveness; for those who are no longer with us and for those who still are and most importantly, for ourselves.

Fans who enjoyed Forman’s If I Stay will surely devour I Was Here. I certainly did.

Conclusion: 5/5 stars

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How it Ends

screenshot-2017-02-14-at-2-19-29-pmHow it Ends – Catherine Lo

Kindle Edition

YA

How it Ends is the story of friendship and the ebbs and flows that go along with it. Jessie is an anxious, shy, loner who has been bullied by her two ex-friends since junior high. Annie is the loud, rebellious, in your face new girl. Separately, they are fragile and lost. Together, they are strong and comfortable in their own skins. Jessie is the yin to Annie’s yang. Surely when you have a bond like that with someone, it can overcome anything…

…or can it?

Both girls are fighting their own individual battles. For Jessie, that is her anxiety and subsequent panic attacks. For Annie, it’s dealing with her new insta-family in her stepmother, Madge (Madeline) and her daughter Sophie. Annie is convinced Madge hates her and as for Sophie? Well, they’re not exactly going to win the ‘sisters of the year’ award. It’s only fitting that the more uncomfortable and out of place Annie feels within her own family the more comfortable she feels as part of Jessie’s.

But Jessie isn’t having the best home life either. Her mom is the definition of a helicopter mom. Jessie has social anxiety and is on medication, medication that her mother closely monitors. On the other hand, Jessie’s father doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with his daughter. In addition to her parents differing opinions regarding her ‘issues’ Jessie is embarrassed by their board game nights complete with tacos and sombreros, much to the chagrin of her new best friend Annie, who think it’s the coolest thing in the world. But for better or worse, at least Jessie has Annie.

And then…well, then things start to change. Alliances shift. Annie becomes closer to Courtney and Lissette, aka the bane of Jessie’s existence. And the more Jessie feels like she’s losing Annie, the more she clings to her. And as much as Annie loves Jessie, she doesn’t want to have only one friend. Then, of course, a boy comes into the mix. Annie starts dating Scott, Jessie’s lab partner whom she has a huge crush on, even though she won’t admit to it.

However, I should clarify that this is not a book about two best friends falling apart due to a guy. Yes, he’s one reason that Jessie starts to pull back from Annie, but he’s not the main reason. I think that’s really true to life, which is hardly ever black and white. There are shades of gray. It doesn’t help that Jessie keeps her anxiety hidden from Annie. I get it, though. I do. We still have a huge stigma surrounding mental health and people do judge you when they find out you have anxiety. I think it’s because people equate anxiety with weakness.

While reading this book, I was struck by how much I could relate to Jessie. A lot of what she deals with, I did when I was younger and still do now. Jessie has this incessant need to check and make sure that nobody is upset with her, to check that Annie is truly her best friend and that she won’t pull a Courtney on her. Now, I know for people who don’t have anxiety – or for someone like Annie who is left in the dark for much of the novel about the extent of Jessie’s anxiety – these are behaviors that are considered annoying. But I must say that anxiety can be incredibly crippling. Imagine walking a tightrope and that is what having anxiety is like when you’re dealing with the outside world. You’re constantly trying to figure out how to balance keeping yourself calm while not intruding on others. I know first-hand that the need for constant reassurance unfortunately comes at the expense – or annoyance – of others.

So I guess I can’t be too mad at Annie for not getting it and Annie goes through a lot of her own share of pain, and I felt for her, too. There’s one event that takes place in Annie’s life that is completely heart wrenching. and I am sure it’s one that too many young girls, or women in general, have to go through.

Conclusion:

I think this is a pretty realistic story of the trials and tribulations of friendship, among other things, like how we feel about ourselves, which is really the most important relationship we can ever have in life.

4/5 stars

The Forgetting Time

The Forgetting Time – Sharon Guskin (physical book)images-1

Wow. Sharon Guskin hits a home run with her debut novel, The Forgetting Time. I really did not want this book to end because I found it so engrossing. But with that being said, it may not be for everyone. The story follows single mom Janie and her precocious son four year old son, Noah. Parenting is never easy, and parenting as a single mother is even harder, but as the story unfolds, Janie cannot even begin to imagine how difficult caring for Noah will become. You see, Janie finds that Noah’s oddities can no longer be dismissed as him having a vivid imagination. Noah remembers things he should have no memory of, like a vacation house. He’s never seen a gun, but tells stories of being shot. And Janie’s never read Harry Potter to him, and yet, he knows details from the books. Faced with the possibility that Noah might be sick, Janie becomes desperate for answers, desperate enough to seek out Dr. Jerome Anderson. Anderson, who was once a prominent and promising professor of psychology is now the laughing stock of his field. Why? Because his life’s work has become about chasing down accounts of past lives.

Now, you don’t have to believe in reincarnation to enjoy this book, but being more open to it helps.

In the end, though, it’s not about the metaphysical. It’s a book that challenges us to ask questions, questions like, what came before and how does it affect who we are now? Do we really only live once? And finally, can we ever reconcile our past with our future?

Conclusion: 5/5 Stars

Still Alice

Still Alice – Lisa Genova (Kindle edition)images

Harvard professor Alice Howland had the life she always wanted. A loving husband and three successful children.

And then she got the one thing she never wanted….or expected. At 50, Alice is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. As her mind slowly deteriorates, Alice struggles to hold onto those aspects of her life that she holds most dear. Her words. Her memories. Her life.

This is an incredibly realistic and therefore painful depiction of what it’s like for those suffering from Alzheimer’s and what it is like for their families. For Alice, it’s made worse due to the fact that her type of Alzheimer’s is genetic. So, not only is this disease going to rob her of her life and those activities of daily living we take for granted, but it also holds the possibility of robbing the lives of her children as well.

It’s not an easy read. I found myself aching for Alice as her Alzheimer’s progressed and she had difficulty recognizing her children. I wanted to jump into the pages and give her a hug. I wanted to be able to save her and find a way for her to get her life back. I felt her humiliation and frustration.

And I also felt for Alice’s family. Her husband, John, a scientist who can’t do anything for his ailing wife; her three children. Anna, newly married and trying to get pregnant, Tom, a surgeon, and Lydia, an aspiring actress.

I pictured myself in Alice’s shoes, my world crumbling around me. Losing the ability to process situations, fearing for when I would not remember those I love more than anything in the world, but also how devastating it would be to lose myself. Maybe we don’t always have a grip on who we are 100% of the time. We feel lost and confused, but it’s a temporary feeling. Except for when it isn’t.

For anyone who has had a relative with Alzheimer’s, you know how excruciating and awful it can be. But we expect it with relatives who are elderly. We don’t expect it with people we love and care about who are still relatively young. We don’t see it coming for us either. There’s a lot of scary things out there, but for me, this book was terrifying. Not because it was some thriller about a serial killer, but because it was just….too real. But that’s also what makes it a wonderful story that will stay with you long after you have finished the last page.

Conclusion: 5/5 stars

What Was Mine

25111142What Was Mine – Helen Klein Ross (Physical book edition)

Genre: Fiction, contemporary fiction,

Admittedly this book started off a little slow for me, but once I got into it, I pretty much plowed through it. The chapters themselves are not very lengthy so it’s very possible to get through the book pretty quickly.

Anyway, moving on. This is a story about a kidnapping. Lucy has been trying for years to have a baby, but nothing has worked. Eventually she and her husband end up divorcing due to the stress of infertility. Lucy resigns herself to the fact that she will never have a bay. That is, until she happens upon an unattended infant in an IKEA store.

(Disclaimer: I’m going to be really honest here. Lucy’s reasons for taking the baby are pretty much crap. Natalie aka Mia, was not some neglected child. It was a mistake for her mother to step away, true, but that doesn’t make Lucy the law and sure as hell doesn’t give her justification for, you know, kidnapping someone else’s kid!)

Ugh. Sorry, but the anger.

Marilyn will never forget the day she last saw her four month old daughter, Natalie. She’ll also never forget the mistake she made of taking that call while she was in IKEA. Marilyn was a loving, doting mother whose only crime was letting her guard down for a few minutes. Those few minutes changed everything about Marilyn’s life. Reeling from the disappearance of her daughter, Marilyn navigates the days after with trepidation. She loses her marriage and herself. But somehow, she manages to get through the darkness and find some light with a new love and ends up having three more kids, though her heart is still broken from losing Natalie.

Natalie/Mia. Mia always knew she was adopted. She knew that Lucy wasn’t her birth mother, but all the same, she was her mother. Until Mia finds out the truth. Lucy is not her adoptive mother. Lucy is her abductor. Now she’s faced with the prospect of getting to know the mother she was stolen from, as well as her biological siblings. But how can she just forget the last twenty-one years of her life? She hates Lucy. Or does she? It was difficult watching Mia trying to navigate this new chapter of her life. I can’t imagine finding out that the person I trusted most in this world was capable of such an awful crime.

It was also difficult seeing Lucy try to justify her actions. Yes, Lucy wanted a child and after trying and failing, I understand the urge continued to grow. But with that being said, nothing makes what Lucy did OKAY. Not only did she make a choice that directly affected Mia and Marilyn, but Lucy’s own family. Her sister who is in complete shock that Lucy could do such a heinous act. Marilyn’s other children. I guess the best way I can describe it is if you cut down one tree in the forest, even if there’s hundreds of other trees there, the one you’re cutting down is significant to the forest. To the birds and other animals that need that tree.

Conclusion: 4.5/5 stars. I can’t give it the full five because I really hated Lucy. Still, an enjoyable (and quick) read that you’ll be intrigued (and possibly horrified) by.

Please Ignore Vera Dietz

6665671***Kindle Version***

I’m pretty sure the reason I flock to YA (young adult) fiction so often is because somewhere I’m still an angst-filled sixteen year old (the part of me who wears graphic t’s and jeans really). I just don’t feel like I’ve accomplished enough to relate to books about 20-somethings who start out in search of something and then well, actually find something by the end of the book, because life doesn’t work like that.

You know it. I know it. We all know it, even Hollywood knows it which is why they choose to make  movies about it to inspire people. Yeah, well, I remain uninspired.

But YA novels just speak to me more and are generally more entertaining. That’s not to say I don’t read adult fiction, but more often than not, when I need to do a little bit of soul searching, I’ll read a YA book instead.

Having read A.S. King’s Ask the Passengers back in November, I had a pretty decent idea of the author’s style of writing, and I had a good feeling  I would therefore enjoy Please Ignore Vera Dietz.

PIVD is the story of high school senior, Vera Dietz, who has been dealing with the death of her best friend (and possible true love) Charlie Khan. While Vera is devastated by her BFF’s death, she’s also conflicted because before he died, Charlie turned against Vera in the cruel way that teenagers do, in the way you hope they look back when they have developed some perspective on the matter and realize how much of an asshole they were. Unfortunately, Charlie never gets that chance, at least not in person.

Throughout the novel, which is mostly is told through Vera’s POV, we get a picture of a lonely teenager who is trying to escape her own destiny, and how much destiny really plays a part in who you are as well as who you become. But as much as the book is about finding a way to not become the person you think you were destined to be, it is also about Vera coming to terms with her future, a future that doesn’t include the one person she thought she could trust forever.

What I like about PIVD is that it is told through different perspectives, not just Vera’s, although she is the main voice. We get insight from Charlie, as well as Vera’s dad, and the town itself. A bit of cynicism mixed with humor, love, hate, death, life, and forgiveness, Please Ignore Vera Dietz is truly a memorable novel and one that should not just fall under the category of “just a YA book.”

King truly knows how to speak to people of all ages, and because of that, I highly recommend this book.

Conclusion: 5/5 stars.