Book review: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

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I suddenly understood that if every moment of a book should be taken seriously, then every moment of a life should be taken seriously as well.

Junior has lived his whole life on the Spokane Indian Reservation, and like many children on the reservation, his life has been anything but great. Kids can be cruel, and kids on the reservation are no exception. Born with water on the brain, Junior’s unusual appearance and speech patterns have led to bullying and rejection. He has only one good friend, Rowdy, his polar opposite.

The thing that sets Junior apart from most of his classmates is his sheer motivation to learn. Not only is Junior smart, but he loves to read. He loves to expand his knowledge. And he knows he’s not getting anywhere in the sorry joke of a school on the reservation. When he tells his parents that he wants to go to a white school, he’s surprised to have them agree. Thus begins Junior’s life as a “part-time Indian.”

Reardon is twenty-two miles from the reservation. Sometimes Junior gets a ride. Sometimes he hitchhikes. And sometimes he walks. The kids at his new school aren’t quite sure what to make of him. They’ve never known anyone from the reservation, so it’s a bit of an adjustment for them. But Junior is great at basketball, he’s really smart, and he always knows what to say, so it’s not long before the prettiest girl in the class has accepted him, and eventually he makes some real friends.

I really had no intentions of ever reading this book. I’ve seen it in bookstores. It’s popped up as a recommendation a few times. But if my 2016 reading challenge hadn’t required me to read a National Book Award winner, it’s doubtful that I would have ever picked it up. And that would be a shame, because this book was very good. And here’s the thing: It was not at all what I expected.

In some ways, this book is very easy to read. The writing flows beautifully. There are drawings throughout that illustrate what’s happening in Junior’s life. It feels like it was written for teenagers. But then, in other ways, it’s a very difficult book. There are some really heavy topics in here. Multiple friends and family members die. Alcoholism, eating disorders, and racism are presented in an age-appropriate (but not sugar-coated) way.

This book could have easily gone in the wrong direction, weighed down by everything terrible that happens to Junior. (And there are an awful lot of terrible things that happen over a mere 230 pages.) But the book is written in a way that doesn’t exactly make light of what’s happening, but also doesn’t dwell on the bad. Junior uses his sense of humor to get through the dark times. He draws silly cartoons to lighten the mood. His frank, often self-deprecating comments challenge the reader to examine their own preconceptions of Native American culture and their own privilege.

This book was so much more than I expected, and I’m glad to have read it.

Final rating: ★★★★☆

Book review: Heartless by Marissa Meyer

Heartless by Marissa Meyer
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Goodreads • Amazon
Publication Date: November 8, 2016
Source: Borrowed

Long before she was the terror of Wonderland—the infamous Queen of Hearts—she was just a girl who wanted to fall in love.

Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland, and a favorite of the unmarried King of Hearts, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, all she wants is to open a shop with her best friend. But according to her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for the young woman who could be the next queen.

Then Cath meets Jest, the handsome and mysterious court joker. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the king and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into an intense, secret courtship. Cath is determined to define her own destiny and fall in love on her terms. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.

In her first stand-alone teen novel, the New York Times-bestselling author dazzles us with a prequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

 

“When pleased, I beat like a drum. When sad, I break like glass. Once stolen, I can never be taken back. What am I?”

Heartless is, like all of Meyer’s work, a retelling. This time, she’s retelling Alice in Wonderland from the perspective of the Queen of Hearts. But during the majority of this book, Catherine is just a normal teenage girl. A normal teenage girl who only wants to be a baker. Who only wants to be left alone to live her life. Who certainly does not want to deal with the affections of the idiotic King of Hearts. Who has less than zero desire to be the next Queen of Hearts. All Catherine wants to do is open a bakery with her best friend, Mary Ann.

Her family has other aspirations for her. Her mother thinks that she’d be crazy not to marry the King. A royal life– who wouldn’t want that? So the King’s kind of stupid… whatever. A proposal from him would change Catherine’s life. And so her mother pushes… and pushes… and pushes. Absolutely disregarding Catherine’s discomfort with the whole idea. Not even taking into consideration that Catherine’s affections might lie elsewhere.

Because Catherine is quite taken with the new court joker, Jest. Jest is mysterious, charismatic, and gorgeous. Jest can show her places and things she’s never seen– never even dreamed of. Catherine falls hard and fast for Jest. But are his feelings real? Can their secret romance survive the pressure from her parents and from the King?

Am I still crying? I think it’s definitely within the realm of possibility that I am still crying. I went into this book knowing what would happen. Knowing that Catherine turns into the cruel Queen of Hearts. Knowing that there’s no possible way that everything works out in her favor. But still hoping. Hoping that somehow, some way, Marissa Meyer would work her magic and just let everybody be happy.

Yep, still crying. Definitely still crying.

But I recommend this book so much.

You don’t have to be a huge fan of Alice in Wonderland to enjoy it. The characters from the original are all there, but they’re different than you might remember. It was a simpler, happier time. Much less violence and decapitation. And really, your heart doesn’t get ripped out until the very end. Meyer almost had me fooled.

I wish that I could have lived in this book for a little longer. Part of me wishes that there were a sequel coming, but I also know that this story is finished. Still, I can’t wait to see what Meyer comes up with next.


For my 2016 reading challenge, I’m crossing off #32: the first book you see in a bookstore. (Which was actually the first book I saw on the Overdrive homepage, but close enough.)

   Goodreads   Amazon

Tyson and Brooklyn have been friends for years, but lately, they’ve noticed some changes. As they grow older, they find their attraction building. Their friendship used to be platonic, but now Tyson can’t just stand by while Brooklyn is on a date with someone else. Neither one wants to risk their friendship, but their other friends can’t deal with the tension anymore and push them together.

Their relationship is off-the-charts great, but that doesn’t mean that their lives are perfect. Tyson’s family life leaves a lot to be desired, and he spends more time functioning as a stand-in for his father than as a teenage boy. Brooklyn’s mother died when she was young, and while her father has stepped up to fill both roles, she wonders how her life might be different with a mother to confide in.

I thought that the story here was really great. I do love my friends-to-lovers stories, after all. I also enjoyed getting to know Tyson’s brothers. Tyler is a lot to handle, but once we learn more about his experiences, we see why. Thomas was a great character, but I did feel that his perspective was a little out of place here. I don’t think that his chapters were 100% necessary.

The biggest reason for my three-star rating was the writing. It was just off. The characters don’t sound like teenagers. Nobody sounds natural. There’s a weird lack of contractions, which makes everything sound very stilted.

But still, a good effort and a nice escape for a few hours. I’d call it more young adult than new adult, but that’s fine.

Thanks to Netgalley and the author for the ARC!

Final rating: ★★★☆☆

For my 2016 reading challenge, I’m crossing off #9: a book with less than 150 pages.  (This book is 134 pages according to Goodreads.)

Book review: Some Kind of Perfect by Krista & Becca Ritchie

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“Our bad days have the ability to become better. It may be a horrible month. A horrible year. But there will be good days, good moments, great seconds.”

What an ending.

It’s been almost a month since I finished this book, and I’m still having trouble sorting out my thoughts. It’s the end of an era. The epilogue of all the stories I’ve come to love. This series that I picked up on a whim, that grew to be my absolute favorite, is now finished.

I’m so conflicted. Because even though this was the perfect end to a perfect series, I can’t believe that it’s over. Because even though I couldn’t have come up with a better finish, I know that I’ll never get another book featuring the characters again.

Sure, they might be in the background of the Like Us series. I’m sure they’ll pop up in Whatever It Takes. But it won’t be the same.

But still, I am continually impressed with the way that Krista and Becca Ritchie develop their characters. They grow, just like real people, throughout the series. They make mistakes and learn from them. Things happen and they get stronger. Their relationships get better. I feel like I’ve watched these characters grow from babies into powerful adults. It’s the best kind of feeling.

The first book in this series is Addicted to You. If you haven’t picked it up yet, please do. It’s free on Amazon, so there’s literally nothing to lose. And it only gets better as we’re introduced to more characters. If you look at my reviews, you can see that my ratings only get higher as the series goes on. (Although I’m sure if I re-read the series from the beginning, knowing what I know now, I would give it five stars all the way through.)

The last thing I want is to spoil anybody’s experience with this series, so I’m going to end my review here. Just know that I’ve loved this series more than anything, and while I’ll miss these characters more than I can express, I cannot wait to move on to the next generation in Damaged Like Us.

Final rating: ★★★★★

For my 2016 reading challenge, I crossed off #7: a romance set in the future.

Book review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

 

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • Goodreads
Publication Date: January 13, 2015
Source: Mysteriously found on my desk at work…

Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She’s even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. ‘Jess and Jason’, she calls them. Their life – as she sees it – is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy. And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she’s only watched from afar. Now they’ll see; she’s much more than just the girl on the train…

Rachel just knows that something terrible has happened.  She sees the same beautiful, happy couple every morning as she rides the train into London.  Every morning, they’re kissing.  Hugging.  Enjoying their breakfast.  Simply being beautiful and happy.  She feels that she knows this couple, she’s almost friends with them since she’s seen them so much.  She’s nicknamed them Jess and Jason.

One morning, Rachel sees Jess on the deck with someone who is most certainly not Jason.  The two are locked in a passionate embrace, and not long after, Jess’s face is plastered across magazines and newspapers.  She’s missing, and Rachel is 100% certain that it has something to do with the strange man she was kissing on her deck.  But should she say something? After all, she doesn’t actually know this couple.  She’s only a girl on the train.

I was a little slow to read this one.  If I’m being honest, I actually didn’t want to read it at all.  I’m always saying how I have this thing with hyped books.  I never like them as much as I should, or as much as I think I might have if I didn’t have sky-high expectations going in.  But I came into work one day a few weeks ago and this book was sitting on my desk, loaned by one of my coworkers.

So I read it.

And I didn’t hate it, but I can’t really say that I enjoyed it.  It was fine, I guess.  Just fine.

The Girl on the Train is often compared to Gone Girl, and I think that’s one of the reasons I didn’t like it.  Because I, for one, really enjoyed Gone Girl, and I don’t think that it’s on the same level as The Girl on the Traini.  I could understand the motivations in Gone Girl.  Everybody was horrible, but they knew it.  In The Girl on the Train, everybody is horrible, but they don’t realize it. They all accuse each other of being awful but think of themselves as victims. I kept feeling like I was supposed to feel bad for Rachel, but I couldn’t.  She needed to get herself together.

The writing is fine, I guess, but the thing that upset me the most was how Rachel conveniently couldn’t remember the stretches of time that were vital to the investigation. Knowing that she’s an unreliable narrator, I almost thought that she was faking it at first – just pretending not to remember so that she could hide what actually happened that night.  But no, this is just a plot device so that she has a reason to see the psychologist or roam around her old neighborhood or feel bad about herself and spiral into another gin-and-tonic-induced blackout.

And then that ending – completely over-the-top.  I’m not convinced that any of these characters are better off.  I don’t think they’ve learned anything.  They haven’t learned any lessons or grown into better people.  They’ve just been dragged through the mud and left to fend for themselves. I need something at the end of a book.  Something to make the hours I spent reading worth it.

When I finished, I was left kind of puzzled about why this book is so popular.  It’s not bad by any means, but I didn’t think it was particularly good, either.  Overall, I think this book was too much it’s fine and not enough wow, this is amazing.


For my 2016 reading challenge, I’m crossing off #27: a murder mystery.