Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

This is my second novel by Laurie Halse Anderson, my first being Speak. I love that Anderson tackles difficult topics and she puts so much of herself into the book and characters and makes sure that the characters are portrayed correctly and that their issues are accurately written about. So I was very eager to read Wintergirls, although I have also put it off due to my own personal history with eating, not eating, and in general, having a very conflicting relationship with food.

Just like with Speak, I was not disappointed with this book. It is moving and scary. The accuracy of what the main character, Lia, goes through is so jarring.



Plot

This book starts like so many others that I have read for Mental Health Month-with the death of a friend. However, unlike the other books, it doesn't deal with the aftermath alone. Lia is a Wintergirl; a girl who is so thin, she's never warm; she is past size 0 and 00; she wants to be the thinnest. Her best friend is Cassie, who also wants to be the thinnest. Cassie was found in a hotel room alone and dead and Lia wasn't there for her, but she had 33 missed calls from her. But before that happened, Cassie was her best friend, and together, they promised to be the skinniest girls in school and helped each other achieve that goal.



Every food that Lia eats, she makes a mental note of the calories in the food. She has sewn quarters into her pockets so that she will appear to weigh more when her step mother weighs her once a week. Through the course of the book, you learn her tricks for making it look like she ate: heating up food in the microwave and smudging crumbs around her mouth; moving food around on her plate; watering soup down. She also keeps a stash of laxatives and diuretics at the back of her closet "for emergency situations." In one desperate situation, she literally washes her mouth with soap.

To top everything off, she is being haunted by the ghost of Cassie. First, she just sits in the corner of the room or foot of the bed. But as Lia comes closer and closer to Dangerland, Cassie interacts with her. Lia also refers to how she can feel other peoples skin cells in the air, ghosts trickling out of her when she cuts. 

Anytime Lia is really mad at herself, she repeats this:

"::Stupid/ugly/stupid/bitch/stupid/fat/
stupid/baby/stupid/loser/stupid/lost::" (p. 61)

She tells herself this when she cuts, when she does crunches, when she is angry that she has given into food. It is her mantra.

In what looks like it was going to be the turning point of the novel, Lia cuts herself while she is the shower and blacks out. But her young step-sister found her and she was hospitalized. This was it for her parents. She was moved back in with her mother against her will. At an appointment with her therapist, she finally tells the doctor about seeing Cassie's ghost. After hearing this, the doctor says that she would rather Lia go to a psychiatric facility instead of New Seasons.

This is what causes the turning point. Lia, instead of waiting for her step mother to pick her up from the appointment, goes to a hotel where her somewhat-friend lives; it is also where Cassie was found. Lia convinces her friend to take her with him when he leaves, but he is hesitant with Lia's condition. When she is sleeping, he robs her and leaves. For the second time, Lia almost dies. Cassie visits her and tells her that she is crossing over, but this isn't what Lia wants. Using all that is left in her, Lia calls her mother and she is saved.

Lia goes to New Seasons and is on the road to recovery at the books close. 

"I am beginning to measure myself in strength, not pounds. Sometimes in smiles." (p. 275)

What I Liked
  • Lia's internal monologue is powerful, scary, moving. Listening to what Lia puts herself through is frightening and saddening. People every day feel how Lia feels; put themselves through what Lia does. Knowing that, although this is fiction, it is incredibly real.
  • Lia's mood toward her parents decides what she calls them: happy:dad/mom; upset: Professor Overbrook/Dr. Marrigan. It's unique.
What I Didn't Like
  • Occasionally, I struggled with the writing style. It would be really quick and short (usually when she is mentally attacking herself and in a downward spiral) and then it would be slow. I understand why it was done, it just caused for some reader whiplash.
Overall Thoughts

This book took me some time to appreciate and to understand where it was going. I feel like a lot of it had to do with the writing style. But once I got past that, and realized that yes, Lia has a lot more going on that an eating disorder, the book became much better.



My own personal story with my eating disorder was short lived, starting with a high school boyfriend telling me that he thought I was fat and ending with me passing out at a color guard practice on Halloween night. I would lie about eating, pick around food, and make myself throw up when I had to eat. The weeks following my ordeal included friends and parents making sure that I was actually eating and checking my blood sugar. It was embarrassing enough for me that I never gave up eating full time again, although I have always battled with my self image.

I have never personally known anyone to suffer with an eating disorder as severe as Lia and Cassie's. But out of every form of self-harm I have ever known, read, or studied about, it is the one that saddens me the most. I know that there are other things that are worse or more life threatening, but anorexia/bulimia has a much different sadness behind it. I can't pinpoint it; I don't know why, but I feel overwhelming sadness when a person thinks they won't be happy until they reach whatever unattainable goal they have given themselves, and a lot of them fade away trying to reach it. I remember watching a Lifetime movie where a girl had written in a journal saying that she wouldn't be happy until she reaches 0.



Wintergirls does a wonderful job of putting you inside the mind of someone who suffers from an eating disorder. But just like Lia, if you suffer from it, there is an other side. You will always have to work at it, but you can break through.


Rating: 8/10
Pages: 278
Genre(s): Young Adult, Realistic Fiction, Contemporary

All Better Now: A Memoir by Emily Wing Smith

So All Better Now was the only book on my list that was non-fiction, and I don't always like non-fiction books, but this one amazing! I didn't know too much about it going in, aside from the fact that it's about a girl who is a little different who is in a car accident at a young age and discovers she has a brain tumor.

On the cover of the book, there is a picture of Emily at a young age, and despite the sweet pigtails and adorable frilly dress, she looks incredibly forlorn. From that picture, you get a good idea of what will happen in the book.



Plot

The book starts when Emily is 6 years old and starting therapy. She talks about how she likes to please her therapist, and really all adults. She doesn't like children; she is easily aggravated by their behaviors and attitudes. She argues with her mother; she doesn't really go into what type of arguments or how the turn out, but it sounds like they are a very emotion driven ordeal. She has a younger sister and a baby brother, but throughout the story, her siblings are just kind of there.

Cover photo.
Every few chapters, an evaluation from the therapist she is seeing is included. Because the first part of the book is told from her point of view as a child, reading the evaluations gives you a better idea of what is going on with Emily. They talk about how she does not really make eye contacts; doesn't wait for instruction (which signals that she can be controlling); she draws herself smaller than  other people in her family; and despite drawing everyone with smiles, her picture are very sad.

Page 20 of All Better Now.
Through her young eyes and thought, we learn that she is "very left-handed" and calls her right hand "bad hand." She talks about how when her anxiety takes over, she gets "whoozy head" (eventually shortened to "woo-head"). She does not attempt to make friends in her group therapy sessions and again it is noted that her temper is easily tested.

When she is a little older, she tells a story of how she obeyed her parents by not going to a girls house, and while she is enjoying the park by herself, a boy comes and rapes her. She eventually tells her parents, although she never intended on telling them

As she gets older, she makes up an imaginary friend and boyfriend so that they people at her school will think she is cool. While shopping one day with a person who she considers her best friend even though she knows the feeling isn't mutual. It is on the walk home that she is hit by a car and her head is damaged. While at the hospital, they do a scan and discover a tumor that has been there possibly her whole life. It is removed and both her and her parents hope that this will fix her aggression issues and she hopes that she will finally be all better.

Despite removing the tumor, she still suffers from a lot of the issues she did beforehand and now she has to deal with being "that girl who was hit by a bus and they discovered a tumor." From here on out, she now is trying to come to terms with her new identity. 

The part where you see the biggest change in Emily is when she spends a summer at Hollins University for a writing camp. Here, she easily makes friends and for once, she doesn't feel different. When she returns for her senior year, she continues to make real friends who she goes to college with.



The book ends with an epilogue where she talks about her accomplishment: being a successful young adult writer, being married to a man who she loves, and finally feeling all better while acknowledging she  has bad days still.

What I Liked
  • I loved how she included the evaluations from her younger sessions. I wish there had been more of them, but they were really only important for when she was talking about her younger years.
  • It's a memoir, so maybe this is redundant, but it is so personal. 
  • I loved reading it through the eyes of a 6 year old, a 10 year old, onward. It makes it so much more interesting.
What I Didn't Like
  • I wish some more information about the car accident and tumor had been provided. It is an integral part of her story and I feel like it was just kind of glazed over.
  • Everything after her time at Hollins University felt rushed.
Overall Thoughts

Emily's entire story is moving. Her entire life growing up is spent with her telling herself that she needs to be sorry for everything, that she takes up too much space. It is so hard to watch a child go through everything. She needs everything so perfect and pristine and if it's not how she thinks it should be, it causes her to break down.

What I love about this book, in regards to Mental Health Month, is that it shows that you don't have to be a teen or adult to suffer from a mental health issue, but kids can as well. Kids pick up on stressors in their environment, they take everything in and internalize it. Yes, with Emily, part of it was the brain tumor, but a lot of the things she suffered with continued after the tumor was removed.

What I also love with this being a memoir is that it shows that there is another side to whatever it is you are going through and you can live with it and through it. Emily went to college; received her Bachelors and Masters; she is happily married; she has written 3 books, this one being one of them; she has friends and relationship with her family. She knows that she will always have to live with "woo-head" and "bad hand," but she doesn't let it define her. Whatever you go through, whatever you live with, it doesn't have to define you.

Rating: 10/10
Pages: 289
Genre(s): Young Adult, Biography, Memoir

Thursday, May 26, 2016

I Was Here by Gayle Forman

In so many ways, I hate this book. Cody is so stupid and immature and does not think before she acts. It is easily the most depressing of the books I have read for National Mental Health Month. Everyone in it is bitchy and moody and lies so much. I wanted to yell at all of them.

In so many ways, I loved this book. This book reads like I am watching the lives of these people unfold in front of me. I really felt like a fly on the wall, watching everyone's lives fall apart and come back together. And as much as I hated everyone's moodiness throughout it, that's what makes it so real. In this book, the characters are: upset, depressed, manipulative, insincere, happy, crazy, funny, hangry, tired, worn out, and every emotion that I have ever felt. If someone were to write a book about me, the reader would definitely see all of those emotions in me, including the ones I'm not proud of.



Plot

I Was Here starts the day that Cody receives an e-mail from her best friend, Meg, saying that she has already committed suicide. Meg sent this e-mail to Cody, her parents, and the police. Poison. That's how she did it. Cody never saw it coming. So when she finds out that the Meg she has known since Kindergarten and the Meg who was at the University of the Cascades were two different people. Her Meg was fun, vivacious, and everyone loved her; but this Meg slept all day, pushed herself on people, and had given up.

When Cody goes to Meg's apartment to clean out her stuff, she finds Meg's laptop, where a huge chuck of e-mails are missing and there is an encrypted file that Cody thinks will give her some answers. What she finds is that a boy, Ben McAllister, broke Meg's heart and that Meg was heavily involved with a suicide "support" group that helped her plan her suicide.

Cody dives into the computer and Meg's life, determined to find out what happened for real, because the Meg she knew never would have done this. She finds herself relying on Ben, and Meg's former roommates Alice, Stoner Richard, and Harry to find out everything she can, and eventually find the guy she thinks gave Meg the idea and pushed her to take her life, a person on a website Meg used with the username all_bs.

Through all of this, Cody is trying to deal with her mom, Tricia, who has never really been a mom (she even told a 2 year old Cody to call her Trisha because she was too young to be a mom) and Meg's parents, Joe and Sue. While Joe and Sue are grieving and Cody feels the pressure to find out more to help them, Tricia bad mouths Meg by saying:

"'She had everything. Those big brains. Fancy college scholarship. She even had that expensive computer you can't seem to get off of....You just had me. And you're smart, don't get me wrong, but you aren't Meg-smart. You got stuck at the shitty junior college and now, from what I can tell, you don't even have that...' Thank you Tricia, for such a precise overview of my inferiority. "But even with the deck stacked against you, you stuck to your guns,' Tricia continues on her tear....'My point is, you never quit on dance, on math, on anything, and maybe you had more reason to. You had a pile of rocks, and you cleaned them up pretty and made a necklace. Meg got jewels, and she hung herself with them.'" (pp. 150-151)

But through all of the negativity, Cody finds the guy who she blames for Meg's death, all_bs, or in the real world, Bradford Smith. So Cody embarks on a trip with Ben to Laughlin, Nevada. On her way there, she has a meaningful evening with Stoner Richard's family, and takes a detour to find her dad. But once in Laughlin, Bradford is the only thing she can think about.



When she find him, she is disgusted. He is a middle aged man who lives in a crappy apartment and who gets his powerful quotes from Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, and the worst part, he has a teenage son. After Cody yells at him and he informs her that he never told Meg or her to do anything, he just gave them the information they were asking for, she realizes he is right, and she begins to break down.



After an emotional night and morning with Ben, Cody is all but relieved when Tricia calls panicked and gets her a plane ticket to come home. Upon arriving home, she tells Tricia everything from the very beginning. Tricia tells her that she needs to tell Joe and Sue what she has found out, which she does. But the reaction that she expects does not come.

Joe and Sue knew that their daughter suffered from depression and had been on medication since the 10th grade when Meg had suffered her first clinical episode, which Meg had always told her that she had had mono. They all hid it because they knew the stigma that would follow her if people knew, and since Sue suffered from it as well, she didn't want her daughter to be burdened with it as well. But when Meg went to college, she stopped taking her medication, and things went down from there. They were in the process of forcing Meg's hand when Meg seemed to bounce back, and then she killed herself. 

One year after Meg's death, everything has seem to come full circle. Meg's body has finally been cremated; Cody is in college again and  has built a better relationship with her mom; and everyone can breathe a little easier.

What I Liked
  • Like I said earlier, when you read this, it is like you are watching everything unfold before you. Partly, it's because Gayle Forman is an amazing writer. But the other part is this situation is so real and raw, it's hard not to.
  • I love Stoner Richard. He's not a huge part of the story, but when he is there, he's amazing. And, in my honest opinion, he delivers one of the best lines in the novel. When Cody, Ben, and Richard are talking about how Cody tracked down all_bs by acting like she was depressed, and Cody tells them that she found the part of herself that didn't want to exist anymore, Richard says "Everyone goes there. Everyone has their days. Everyone imagines it." (p. 203) And this I know to be true. Everyone has a time in their life, or even times, where they get so rundown, they think about not existing. That doesn't mean they're suicidal, or necessarily depressed. But the thing to do when you're feeling you're at your breaking point, reach out and let someone know how you're feeling. Just talking about it can help so much.
  • The slow building love between Cody and Ben breaks up some of the sadness. I don't think they'll make it long because they fight a lot, but they're sweet.

What I Didn't Like
  • This book is depressing. As Cody searches for the part of herself that doesn't want to survive so that all_bs will reach out to her, you yourself go down a spiral with her. This book has a lot of negativity in it. Not a lot of good happens in it. Even Cody's memories of times before Meg took her life are upsetting. 
  • Ben is an asshole. I know he had a horrible father figure growing up and it's part of his rocker mystic, but he's an asshole. Cody does some shitty things to him too, I won't pretend she wasn't, but I feel the toxic relationship building, which is why I don't think they'll last long.
Overall Thoughts

You know what I liked most about this book? It talks about the stigma that people with mental illnesses face. Granted, it's not until the end, but it's part of the reveal. Like, everyone but you and Cody knew that Meg had been facing this for years and because her parents didn't want to add to her burden, no one else knew.

This is what Mental Health Month is all about! Demolishing the stigma behind the disorders. Just because you suffer from depression or are bipolar or are agoraphobic or suffer from anxiety, it does not make you any less of a person and you deserve so much respect. You do not deserve to be treated like a second class citizen just because you aren't like everyone else. The day I told my brother that I suffered from anxiety and something he said set me off, it was the most freeing day of my life. He didn't know, and yes, he looked sad for me, but it also made sense. People who are perfectly healthy don't just run down Hollywood Blvd and hide in a random Starbucks because they had a fight with a family member. Since then, I am more open about talking my anxiety and past depression (clearly). Does everyone take it as well as my brother did? No. But most of them do. And as long as I am taking care of myself, that's all that matters.



Again, I know I put this information in my review for Thirteen Reasons Why, but it is important, and it can't be said enough. These are the warning signs listed on the SAVE website if someone is contemplating suicide.
  • Talking about wanting to die or kill oneself.
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself, such as research or buying a gun.
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.
  • Talking about feeling trapped or unbearable pain.
  • Talking about being a burden to others.
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs.
  • Acting anxious or agitated; being reckless.
  • Sleeping too little or too much.
  • Withdrawn or feeling isolated.
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.
  • Displaying extreme mood swings.
  • Preoccupation with death.
  • Suddenly happier, calmer.
  • Loss of interest in things one cares about.
  • Visiting or calling people to say goodbye.
  • Making arrangements; setting ones affairs in order.
  • Giving things away, such as prized possessions.
In an emergency, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Please, do not be afraid to reach out to someone if you are or if you know someone who is contemplating suicide. It's a cliche, but it's always darkest before the dawn. Please, reach out if you need to.

Rating: 6/10
Pages: 270 (paperback)
Genre(s): Young Adult, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Hold Still by Nina LaCour

Hold Still is the 5th book I am reading for Mental Health Awareness Month and is a captivating book about a girl, Caitlin, who is trying to survive the death of her best friend, Ingrid, who killed herself at the end of sophomore year. Although the books starts slow, and I was questioning if I would like Caitlin as a character, about a third in, it picks up speed as Caitlin comes to terms with the death of her friend, and learns that life moves on.



Plot

The book is split into five parts: Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring, and Summer Again.



Summer is short. There is not much dialogue. Caitlin is going through depression, and you can hear the worry in her parents voices, and even in the voices of people she comes in contact with, like a bus driver. And then it is September and she must go back to school.

Fall starts with Caitlin up in the middle of the night and taking a picture of her house and sleeping in her car. The start of the school year is tough. She expects everyone to be talking about Ingrid's death, but even worse, no one is talking about it. People do whisper about Caitlin, the friend of the girl who killed herself. Her favorite teacher that she thought would be her saving grace, Ms. Delani, is ignoring her, making the start of school even more aggravating. 

We also meet a few very important characters: Dylan, a new girl; Jayson, the boy Ingrid had a crush on; and Taylor, a boy in Caitlin's class who becomes important to her.

After the first week of school. Caitlin is looking for a missing remote in her room when she finds on of Ingrid's journals. Caitlin decides after reading the first entry to only read a little at the time. Through the entries, she learns some of Ingrid's deepest and darkest secrets that Ingrid never told her.

Slowly, Caitlin builds a relationship with Dylan, who has her own rumors following her as well. Although it starts rocky, they build their friendship, and it is the start of Caitlin realizing that she doesn't need Ingrid to feel like someone.

Her dad buys her some lumber so that she can build something. At first, she isn't sure of what to do with it, but eventually decides to build a tree house. This project helps Caitlin open up to herself, and after an emotional breakdown, with her parents.



Caitlin and Jayson bond over their mutual missing of Ingrid, and their regrets. As she mourns, she also develops a crush, and eventual relationship with Taylor. Through the course of the book, she brings each of them to a shut down theater that Ingrid and her used to always go to.

By the time it is Summer Again, Caitlin is learning how to move through this and is living life again. She has read through the journal and dispersed different pages to different people: Ingrid's brother, Ingrid's parents, Dylan. She has also mended her relationship with Ms. Delani and has re-found her love of photography. She gives Ms. Delani a passage from the journal where Ingrid praised her, so that Ms. Delani would know how important she was to Ingrid. 

She finishes the year with watching the demolition of the theater and throwing a Tree House Party.



What I Liked
  • Caitlin's stages of grief are very real. She feels everything as she mourns the death of her friend, and as the reader, you witness all of it.
  • All of the characters are very likable, all really care for Caitlin and play an important role in her moving on.
  • Her parents are so sweet; they remind me of my parents. They want to do anything they can to help Caitlin get through this in a healthy manner.
  • Through Ingrid's journal, Caitlin learns that she really didn't know as much about her best friend as she thought she knew. It just goes to show that you don't know everything about the people you are close to. Also, the signs that Ingrid did show, like the cutting, it isn't always easy to know how to react to it as a teenager when your friend shows you something like that.
What I Didn't Like
  • One character that was mentioned a few times, Henry, is clearly going through something as well. At the end of the book, this happens:
"I walk inside the house. Henry is in the foyer, sitting on the edge of the fountain under s family portrait. He has been so quiet that I didn't even notice when he slipped away...Instead of going back outside right away, I sit down next to him. We don't say anything. He stares at his hands; I tug on the ends of my sweater drawstrings. Then he dips his hand in the fountain and splashes water on his family portrait. 'Life is shit,' he tells me. I nod. 'Maybe.'...'But not all the time,' I say." (p. 220)
     
          This isn't the first instance in which Henry shows anger or that he is upset about something,                 but it is never discussed what is going on there. It just feels wrong.

Overall Thoughts

It really took a bit for the book to get going. In the first bit of it, there isn't much conversation, just Caitlin's observations, and with her in a depression, it's not that...well, there's just not a lot going on. 

When Caitlin is remembering the time that Ingrid showed her that she carved "Fuck you" into her stomach and her only response was "Fuck you too, bitch" I wanted to scream at her that she was an idiot for not telling the nurse or the counselor or her parents, anyone. In high school, when one of my friends told me that she was cutting, I told her if she did it again, I would tell the counselor. And when she did, I did exactly what I said I was going to do. Anytime she was over, I took the razors out of the bathroom, I didn't leave her alone in the kitchen with sharp knives, and I made sure she knew that I loved her. I am so furious with Caitlin for doing that.

But teenagers shouldn't have to deal with stuff like that. Ingrid shouldn't have felt so alone that cutting, random sex, and eventually killing herself was her only option. Caitlin shouldn't have to see that her friend is cutting. I read somewhere that students today have the same stress and anxiety that patients in mental facilities had in the 1950s, and that makes me sick to think. So much is expected from kids today, it just isn't fair of them. 

As a teenager, I felt like I had to fix everything, and I had to do it by myself otherwise it wasn't right. As an adult, I've learned that if you surround yourself with the right people, you don't have to. By the end of the novel, Caitlin has surrounded herself with those people and she knows that if she were ever to stumble, they would be there for her.

Bonus Material

Throughout the novel, Caitlin references a mixed tape that Ingrid's brother made her. At the end of the novel, the author, Nina LaCour, tells you what songs were on that mixed tape. I think it is so awesome that the author would do that! So here they are.
  1. "Close to Me" by The Cure
  2. "Les Étoiles Secrètes" by Ida
  3. "I'm Not Going Anywhere Tonight" by Owen
  4. "We Will Become Silhouettes" by The Postal Service
  5. "More Adventurous" by Rilo Kiley
  6. "Get Away From Me, I'm Dying" by Belle and Sebastian
  7. "Bowl of Oranges" by Bright Eyes
  8. "A Fond Farewll" by Elliot Smith
  9. "Call It Off" by Tegan and Sara
  10. "I Feel It All" by Feist
I'm going to go make a playlist of this, since my car doesn't even have a CD slot let along a cassette spot. Enjoy!



Rating: 7/10
Pages: 229
Genre(s): Young Adult, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis

Wow! I have finished The Chronicles of Narnia. I can't believe it. I definitely dragged it out, I think I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe for the first time in 5th grade maybe, but even reading it through this time, I wasn't ready for it to be finished, because you can't read a book for the first time again. But, it's finally over.



Plot

In the most basic of terms, not too many Narnians are followers of Aslan anymore, and it quickly becomes a battle between the believers and non-believers. In our world, the Pevensie's along with Lord Digory and Polly find out that a battle is ensuing in Narnia and begin to find their way to Narnia by using the rings that Digory and Polly used in The Magicians Nephew. However, through a series of events in each world, everyone dies. Non-believers fade away to an unknown fate and believers follow Aslan to his land and are saved.



I know I usually go into more details in the plots, but really, so much happens and so many characters are involved that it's easier to just read the book than give a summary.

Overall Thoughts

This book is strangely moving and depressing all at the same time. I feel like Lewis might have just been extremely done with society and he let it all out in the book. I think that was really obvious when he said:

"Oh Susan!' said Jill. 'She's interested in nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations. She always was a jolly sight too keen on being grown-up." (p. 169)

I find that somewhat insulting, but I get the point that he is trying to make. The focus of society is on less important things, no matter which world they we're talking about. Even looking outside of the Christian perspective that Lewis refers to in his books, society isn't what it used to be, just like how Narnia isn't what it used to be.



I find it completely depressing that everyone dies in the end. It was like Lost all over again; getting attached to all these people and places only for it to all come to an end so tragically. I'd almost want to be Susan if it meant that I got to live.

I'm sad it's over, but not as sad as I have been for the ending of other novels, because like I said, I knew it was going to end. And there are definitely a few Narnia novels I would read again.

"And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after." (p. 228)




Rating: 10/10
Pages: 228 (paperback)
Novels in Series: 7
Genre(s): Fiction, Classics, Young Adult

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley

Oh man! This book was amazing! This was my first John Corey Whaley book, but it was wonderful! I will definitely be looking into more of his books. The only thing I know about agoraphobia is that it is a fear of places or situations that causes panic and anxiety. I don't know how it comes about or if it is curable or anything else. At least I didn't. Now I understand a little bit about it, and I kinda get it. The world is a really scary place; so much bad happens, I definitely understand wanting to stay inside in a safe place where I feel like I can protect myself. That is why Solomon Reed in Highly Illogical Behavior hasn't left the house in 3 years.



Plot

Three years ago Solomon Reed had a panic attack at school He striped off his clothes and climbed into the fountain in front of everyone, and since then, he hasn't left his house; he hasn't even gone into the back yard. And he is perfectly fine with that. Lisa Praytor is a high school junior who remembers Solomon's break down. She wants to help him, but not because she is sorry for him, but because she wants to go to Woodlawn University and be in their psychology program, the second highest ranking psychology program in the country because she knows that there she can be number one. The only thing is, she needs a scholarship to get in. To win this scholarship, people looking to apply must write a paper about their personal experience with mental illness; this is where Solomon comes into play.

Through manipulative means, Lisa weasels her way into Solomon's life. Sol is careful about letting her in, but his grandmother tells him that if he invites Lisa over, she will buy him a pool, the only thing that might get Sol to leave the house. So, despite the voice in the back of his head telling him no, when Lisa calls him that night, he invites her over for the next day.

The first visit is short as he shows her around the house and she meets his parents, but other visits are longer as they watch movies, play card games, and learn about one another. With each visit, Lisa pays attention to Sol's different quirks and learns what triggers him. When she thinks he is ready, she brings along her boyfriend, Clark, who has a lot in common with Solomon. Through the course of the end of the school year and the summer, the three build a friendship that Sol never thought was possible for someone who lived the life that he does.



The people who know that Lisa plans to write her essay on Solomon do not agree with her plan. Her best friend Janice does not like the lack of time she is getting with Lisa; her mother is going through a strain in her marriage; and Lisa begins to questions Clarks feelings for her as he grows closer to Solomon, who is gay.

The book comes to an exciting climax when Solomon professes his love for Clark, finds out about the essay, and his grandmother is in a car accident. How everything pans out is beautiful!

What I Liked
  • All of the characters felt real, even Lisa, who I adamantly hated the entire book. Every personality quirk and conflict they face is extremely plausible. 
  • I loved learning a little bit about agoraphobia. It is not as commonly discussed as other forms of mental illness, so it was extremely interesting to know what a person who suffers from it goes through.
  • The way Solomon explains panic attacks is so accurate! This one is just one of the passages that describes his panic attacks that I related too.
"Then, as soon as he shut the door behind her, he started to feel like he couldn't catch his breath. He leaned against the wall for a second, trying to breathe through it, hoping he could shake it off. But he couldn't. Now hyperventilating, he stumbled down the hallway and into his bedroom, where he crawled under the covers and rode it out, his body shaking from side to side, his eyes closed so tightly they were starting to hurt. It was brief but intense, and afterward Solomon just lay there listening to his breath as it leveled out. Sometimes that's all you can do when it happens-hold on just long enough for the world to stop shaking. (pp. 60-61)



What I Didn't Like
  • I hate Lisa. I really, really hate Lisa. I know there are people out there like her, and I hate them too. She uses Sol for her own means and that is just disgusting!
Overall Thoughts

This book was so incredibly moving. When Sol has his big panic attack, I cried. Sol's first experience outside, there are no words. I really loved this book. It is so inspirational!



Alternating between Solomon and Lisa's point of views made the story wonderful. When Sol was saying what he thought about Lisa, you could actually like her, and then it was made so much worse when you remembered that she is using him. From Lisa's chapters, you feel what it feels like when someone you care about is breaking down and there is nothing you can do to help.

Rating: 10/10
Pages: 249 (hardback)
Genre(s): Young Adult, Contemporary, Mental Health

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

This is the third novel I've read for Mental Health Awareness Month, and this one reached out to me the most. I had actually purchased the book back in March with my birthday money. I have always heard amazing things about Thirteen Reasons Why; it's on a few of my lists: my Must Reads list, my Suggested by an Article list, and Suggested by a Person list. But I have always put it off because, lets be honest, it's a dark subject matter: girl kills herself and then forces 13 people listen to how they played a role in her suicide. But from the minute I picked it up, I couldn't stop. I needed to know why she did it and how it got there; I needed to know each of the thirteen reasons that led to the premature death of this girl. And I would be lying if I said I didn't cry multiple times throughout the novel. This book has definitely changed me.



Plot

Two weeks ago, Hannah Baker killed herself. But before she did that, she recorded 6 tapes with 13 reasons why she did it. And now, those tapes are being circulated around to the 13 different people that have in some way played a role in her ultimate decision. The tapes have shown up on Clay Jensen's doorstep; he is reason number 9. He has also had a crush on Hannah since she moved there before freshman year, but he has never had the guts to tell her, until one night they make out at a party. But partway through making out, she freaks out and he leaves, and a few days later, she's dead.

Because with this book I really don't want to give away any of the names of the people on the list, I'm not going to say much more on the subject. But the reasons started when Hannah was a freshman and the first person on her list ruined the moment of her first kiss. Rumors quickly flooded the school of the easy new freshman, Hannah Baker, and since then, Hannah has had a reputation. And each person on the list played into that reputation in some way or another. 



Clay spends his evening walking/riding around town, visiting different places of importance to Hannah, seeing how they played into her story, waiting to find out how he plays into her story. Every emotion under the sun fills Clay during the night: sadness, hatred, rage, happiness, loneliness. He recalls different rumors he had heard about Hannah and how he thinks he could have stopped them; he thinks of her changed behavior and how he noticed but said nothing, did nothing.

When the tapes are over, Clay mails them to the next person, Reason #10, knowing that he will never look at any of these people the same way ever again.

What I Liked
  • This book doesn't just touch on suicide. In it, there is depression, bullying, emotional abuse, sexual harassment, rape. 
  • The fact that the book is from the POV of both the person who committed suicide and someone who is dealing with the after effects gives the book an interesting perspective. 
What I Didn't Like
  • This really isn't an issue with the book, but with Hannah. I know she's not a real person; I know that this fictional character went through some horrible things; but all I could think while she went through her different reasons is what if one of these people commits suicide because they feel so guilty about the role they played in Hannah's decision to kill herself. Some of the things are seriously messed up. But Hannah was the one who ultimately decided to take her life. And she's putting her guilt on these 13 other people. I just couldn't live with that.
Final Thoughts

I feel like in this day and age, everyone knows someone who's committed suicide, or attempted suicide, or has contemplated or attempted suicide themselves. Maybe that's why this book had such an impact on me; I fall into more than one of those categories. It's scary to think of how prevalent suicide is in our society. When a celebrity dies, it's always a question of if they took their own life. It makes me sick that it is so commonplace that people aren't surprised when someone says "Oh yeah, that person, they killed themselves," and then dishes the details of how they did it.

You never know the role you play in a persons life, what they're going to remember about you. This book shows how each person effected Hannah's life, and how their actions went much deeper than what they thought it did. One of Hannah's reasons even says:

"I don't belong on those tapes. Hannah just wanted an excuse to kill herself." (p. 110)

Well I'm sorry, but you do. And Clay felt that way too. Hannah didn't just pick these people at random, they all had a perfectly good reason to be on the list, and each of them has to live with what they did for the rest of their lives.



When I was in 5th grade, I had a choir teacher. I hated her, she was always mean. I always felt like she was always finding stupid excuses to yell at us. She never smiled. One day, I was telling my grandma about her and my grandma said something that has stayed with all these years later, and that I apply to every person. "Smile at everyone, no matter what they did to you, smile at them. You don't know what they're going through elsewhere. Just smile. It might be the only good thing they see all day." So I do, I smile at everyone. When I'm walking through the store, I smile at the people I pass down the aisles. When I'm jogging at night, I smile at the cars that pass me. When I'm with my friends and family, I smile. Because when you see someone smile, even if you don't smile back, somewhere deep inside, you feel it. And I never want someone to feel like I was disappointed in them, or disgusted by them, or whatever. I don't want to be someone's reason.

I think this book should be required reading; coincidentally, it has ended up on a few banned books lists. It's amazing. It is easily the best stand alone novel I have read this year. I really hoped that Hannah hadn't killed herself, that her parents found her in time and she was off at some rehab facility getting help, but she still decided to send out the tapes so that when she came back, the people would know what they almost caused her to do. But no, Hannah did kill herself. Luckily for me, she's a fictional character in a book. But there are people out there exactly like Hannah, and people like the ones on her list who have to live with the decisions they make.

Because this is Mental Health Awareness Month, and because I want everyone to have options and know what to look for, these are some of the warning signs of suicide from the SAVE (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education) website.
  • Talking about wanting to die or kill oneself.
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself, such as research or buying a gun.
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.
  • Talking about feeling trapped or unbearable pain.
  • Talking about being a burden to others.
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs.
  • Acting anxious or agitated; being reckless.
  • Sleeping too little or too much.
  • Withdrawn or feeling isolated.
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.
  • Displaying extreme mood swings.
  • Preoccupation with death.
  • Suddenly happier, calmer.
  • Loss of interest in things one cares about.
  • Visiting or calling people to say goodbye.
  • Making arrangements; setting ones affairs in order.
  • Giving things away, such as prized possessions.
In an emergency, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Please, don't be afraid to get help; don't be afraid to talk to someone. If someone tells you that they have been feeling depressed or contemplating suicide, don't shut them down; listen to them and help them get the help they need.



Rating: 10/10
Pages: 288
Genre(s): Young Adult, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Schizo: A Novel by Nic Sheff

This was my second novel for Mental Health Awareness Month. I honestly didn't know what to expect. Most of what I know about schizophrenia is from TV and movies, and I know that I should take everything that I see there with a grain of salt. When Nic Sheff started this novel, he did a lot of research on the subject, and so I felt going into this novel that it was going to be more realistic. On the cover, it says "How do you manage when you don't know what's real?" I knew there would be some sort of twist in the novel and I spent the entire time trying to figure out what was real and what wasn't just like Miles, the main character, does. It was eye opening.



Plot

Schizo is about Miles Cole, a teenage boy suffering from schizophrenia and suffering with the guilt that he is the cause of the disappearance and/or death of his younger brother, Teddy. He has spent the last two years believing Teddy was alive and that the police just gave up looking for him, but that none of this would have happened if he hadn't had his first attack. He and his family were at the beach when he took a couple hits from a blunt, then he went to use the restroom.

"And then...It was as though someone was there, next to me, speaking, almost whispering in my ear. The voice was like my voice, but deeper, more grown-up sounding..."Don't go, Miles. It's not safe. They're coming. Don't go!" I laughed at that...Reaching for the handle, I tried to turn the lock, but it was like my hand couldn't quite grab hold of it...There was only the voice. And that's when I saw them: the crows-black, fat, grotesque, the biggest I'd ever seen-trying to break in from all sides through the sealed plastic windows and vent openings. They cawed and cackled, and I knew that the voice was right. I couldn't leave. I had to stay locked inside or the crows...they were going to tear me apart." (pp. 18-19)



Firemen come to rescue him, which because of the delusion, he thinks they're crows as well. He is taken to the hospital and put on a 72 hour watch. Then he learns that during this time, no one was watching Teddy, and he disappeared, presumably drowned. But Miles doesn't believe that.

The book focuses on Miles' journey of locating his brother. He tracks down the only eye witness, a woman who doesn't really have any friends, or much interaction with people, and is the definition of a crazy cat lady. She believes that a higher being caused the disappearance, aka God. Although she sounds like she is only doing all of this for attention, she does give Miles some good information: the description of the man she saw Teddy walk away with and the car he drove away in.

Miles next step is going to the police station and talking to the lead detective, who is no longer around, having moved last year. The detective who took over the case pulls out the notes and tells Miles that they had narrowed down a list of pedophiles in the area, and even one driving the car that the lady had mentioned, everyone had alibis and he thought he really did drown. Miles doesn't believe this and when he sees his opportunity, he steals some of the police files about the potential suspect.

While all of this is happening, Eliza, a crush from Miles' past, moves back to town. Before she moved away, there was a fallout between Eliza and Miles, but it's never said what. Eliza, upon seeing Miles for the first time, apologizes for what happened between them. Over the course of the novel, a sort of relationship blooms between them, but Miles pushes it away every time because he doesn't want anything to deter from finding his brother.

Through a course of events, most of which are quite terrifying, Miles ends up back in a 72 hour hold, and the deep dark secret you spend the novel trying to figure out finally comes out. 

What I Liked
  • As I stated in the beginning, I don't know much about schizophrenia. But I felt the turmoil Miles was going through. Just like him, we don't know what's real and not real. Even the crows that stalk his attacks are questionable. I wanted the answers just as much as Miles did.
  • One of Miles best friends. Jackie, deals with her own "darkness" as Miles calls it, so it doesn't just focus on schizophrenia. Although we don't know much about Jackie's darkness, it is touched upon, and by the end of the novel, both of them are working through their demons while relaxing at the beach where it all began.

What I Didn't Like
  • I don't understand the importance that Eliza played. I don't know if I missed it or what, but she just seemed there. It alluded to something happening before she moved, and she apologized, and then she wants a relationship with him and then she's sleeping with some other guy. I feel like I'm missing something. If I actually did miss something, please, someone tell me. The doctors talk about his infatuation with her, but I didn't pick up on that.
Overall Thoughts

I thought this was an amazing introductory novel into schizophrenia. I know every case is different, each person is affected by their mental illness differently, but this was still eye opening. Watching his downward spiral as he stops taking his medication all together, and when he learns that it is because he has been on the wrong medication the last two years that he hasn't made progress is saddening. But the guilt that he has been carrying around with him the last two years is the hardest part. Guilt can tear apart the healthiest of people.

The part that I loved the most was a part towards the end when Miles is talking to a friend, Wanika, he has made while in the hospital the second time. They are outside smoking and talking about their diseases and how Miles always apologizes. She tells him this:

"We're fucking sick and we take medication. What's the big deal? Would you be blaming yourself if you had fucking cancer or some shit?" (p. 246)

If there has ever been a more true statement said, I haven't heard it. Just because you suffer from a mental illness doesn't mean you have to apologize for it, especially if you are doing something about it.

This book is wonderful, and I feel like I have a better grasp on schizophrenia after reading it.

Rating: 9/10
Pages: 259
Genre(s): Young Adult, Contemporary, Mental Health

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Looking for Alaska by John Green

This is the first novel that I am reading for Mental Health Awareness Month that was suggested by the Penguin Teen. I have never read a John Green novel before, but I have seen The Fault in Our Stars movie and I know how much I cried during that one and the emotional turmoil that occurred in the movie, multiplied it by 10 and decided that that was probably what I would feel during Looking for Alaska.



Plot

The book is told from the point of view of Miles "Pudge" Halter as he starts his junior year of high school at Culver Creek Boarding School. He figures that this is a place that he can start over and make his life something special; he is looking for the "Great Perhaps."

His roommate is Chip "the Colonel" Martin, also a junior. The Colonel takes Pudge under his wing and shows him around, introducing him to Alaska Young, "the hottest girl in all of human history" (p. 14). Alaska doesn't have a filter; loves sex, alcohol and smoking; and has very eradicate behavior. 

The book is split into Before and After, Before being before everything changed, and After being after everything changed. In Before, we learn about the pranks that were played, the fun that was had, the challenges each of the students had in their own lives, and how although Alaska could be very forthcoming, not many people knew a lot about her. 

Then Alaska dies in a car accident, or she kills herself, we never know. After is spent with Alaska's closest friends trying to figure out what really happened that night. They call her boyfriend, talk to the police officer who was on the scene, and replay the night over and over in their heads. Every memory the remember of her only causes them to question even more if it was an accident or did she plan it.

Although we never know, they think they figure out why she was upset that night and why she got in the car to begin with, and can leave school with some peace that maybe everything will be okay now.

What I Liked

  • Despite it being held at a boarding school, the kids that the story focuses on are not snobs, or Weekday Warriors as they are referred to by the Colonel. They all have problems to work through, and the problem isn't waiting to be able to access their trust fund.
  • It felt so real. Maybe it's because I've had that friend that doesn't open up to me, and I only knew the snippets of their life that they were willing to share, and I've had to watch them fall apart and not know how to help. Or maybe it's because I have been there myself, where I closed off the world and only shared the details I thought were necessary. But I can empathize with every character.
  • The Fellatio Fiasco had me in tears from laughter, which I needed knowing that I was getting closer to the sad part. That is the stuff of every teenagers nightmare. If Pudge was my friend, I'd never let him forget that.

What I Didn't Like

  • Nothing, I loved the book. I thought it was extremely accurate and illicited strong emotion from me.
My Thoughts

This book perfectly paints what depression is like. Although the characters didn't register that Alaska was in anyway severely unhappy, the feelings that Alaska carried around with her after her mothers death affected the way she lived her life. She has carried this guilt around since she was a child, and her behavior was a very obvious sign when you're reading about it secondhand. To her friends, she was just occasionally moody and didn't want to answer who, what, where, when and why questions. She and the Colonel had known each other since they were freshman, but he had only just learned that her mother was dead. She drank like it was going out of style.

To someone right there on the front line, it's not clear, that was just the Alaska they knew and loved. But being someone who has been there and watched loved ones be there, I could see what was happening as it happened. 



Dealing with the death of a loved one, especially one that was unexpected and may have been suicide, that's not ever going to be easy. There aren't classes that you can take to make it easier. Everyone grieves differently and at a different pace. I knew that my Grandma Peterson was going to die, we went to the hospital to visit her; I was 10 years old. When I was 18 years old and graduating, it hit me that she wasn't around to see it. I don't remember what even made me think of it, but it hit me like a ton of bricks, and I had to mourn her loss all over again, this time as an adult with a better understanding of death. Death, when expected, is hard enough. This book beautifully illustrates what unexpected death feels like.

I don't think Alaska meant to kill herself. Should she have been driving? Hell no. But do I understand why she was driving, regardless of the fact that she was inebriated and hysterical? Yes. And although I wouldn't wish what happened to Alaska on my worst enemy, I know that she found peace. I wish she could have opened up more to Pudge or the Colonel or her boyfriend, anyone. I wish that Takumi or Pudge or the Colonel didn't let her get in the car and drive away. I'd like to hope that in that situation, I wouldn't have let me friend get behind the wheel.

There is no shame in suffering from depression, or any other mental illness. But please, reach out to someone. And if someone tells you what they are going through, don't alienate them or tell them they are overreacting, just listen and ask them what they need. You can always go to the National Alliance on Mental Health website, where there are tons of resources for both people suffering with a mental illness and loved ones trying to help. 



Rating:9/10
Pages: 221
Genre(s): Young Adult, Realistic Fiction, Coming of Age
Would I Recommend It?: Yes, an amazingly powerful read!

Friday, May 13, 2016

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis

Before Christmas, I had never read The Chronicles of Narnia in its entirety, I had only read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe; I had read that one multiple times, both for school and pleasure. The world of Narnia has always fascinated me, and so I decided it was finally time to read the whole series. So with an Amazon gift card from my brother and sister-in-law, I bought it and have been slowly working my way through it.



When I got my series, it was set up in a different order that what Goodreads listed the titles as. My set was in chronological order, starting with The Magicians Nephew and ending with The Last Battle. Goodreads lists CoN in publication order, which starts with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. So this threw me off a little bit, because I am a stickler for doing things in order, and this one has two. So I pulled up my good old friend Google and did some searching. On Wikipedia (I know, not always reliable) it talks about how this is kind of a big issue in the book community. But there was one bit for me that made up my mind for me on how I was going to read it.


"To make the case for chronological order, Lewis' stepson, Douglas Gresham, quoted Lewis' 1957 reply to a letter from an American fan who was having an argument with his mother about the order:

'I think I agree with you [chronological] order for reading the books more than with your mother's. The series was not planned beforehand as she thinks. When I wrote The Lion I did not know I was going to write any more. Then I wrote P. Caspian as a sequel and still didn't think there would be any more., and when I had done The Voyage I felt quite sure it would be the last, but I found I was wrong. So perhaps it does not matter very much in which order anyone reads them. I'm not even sure that all the others were written in the same order in which they were published.'"

So if Lewis says that this is the order he likes them in, this is what I'm doing then. Who am I to go against the authors wishes, er, well thoughts on the matter. So I am sadly almost done with this story, and it makes me quite sad, and I have been putting it off more and more.



Plot

This book revolves around Eustace, who we met in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and Jill, new to the Narnia characters, trying to find King Caspian X's son, Prince Rilian who has been missing for the last 10 years. When arriving in Narnia, Aslan gives Jill 4 signs in which they will be able to find the Prince.

"First; as soon as the boy Eustace sets foot in Narnia, he will meet an old and dear friend....Second; you must journey out of Narnia to the north till you come to the ruined city of the ancient giants. Third; you shall find a writing on a stone in that ruined city, and you must do what the writing tells you. Fourth; you will know the lost prince (if you find him) by this, that he will be the first person you have met in your travels who will as you to do something in my name, in the name of Aslan." (p. 24)



So Eustace and Jill set out on the journey to find the lost prince, as they don't realize that the old friend Eustace sees first is Caspian as he has aged greatly since the last trip to Narnia. They are accompanied by Puddleglum, who is a Marsh-wiggle, a creature of Narnia that is a bit of a Debbie Downer (at least this one is) and is like a man and frog combined. They make their way to the ruined city, but run into a woman and a knight. 

The woman points them in the direction of The House of Harfang, which is where a group of giants live. However, the giants are not good people (creatures?) and plan on eating their guests for the Fall Harvest. Once they make a break for it, they finally find their way to Underland where they again run into the knight. The knight is quite the interesting of folk, very cocky and I am not at all a fan of him. However, he has a curse on him, where for one hour every night where he becomes ferocious and turns into a deadly serpent. So, the queen locks him to this silver throne that keeps him and everyone around him safe. But he tells our travelers that they can come back once he has been bound, as long as they promise not to undo his bindings.

This is where we discover that the knight is actually Prince Rilian and they set him free. When the queen learns of this, she tries to use magic to keep them there, and when that doesn't work, she turns into a serpent and attacks, but Rilian chops her head off. They then have to escape from Underland, which is falling apart now that the Green Witch isn't holding it together anymore.

Rilian makes it back to Narnia just in time to see his father, Caspian, one more time before he dies.

My Thoughts

I find this one harder to write in my usual format, just because of all of these books tying together, and with this one, there isn't anything that I didn't really not like, but also nothing that makes the book stand out among the others. It is probably my least favorite Narnia book, just because it didn't seem as adventurous  as the other books. In the other Narnia books, the little quests in the big adventure were more mentally and physically trying; here, the only thing that was stressful was getting out of the giants house before they became dinner. Everything else felt quite...easy, I guess. 

I was really sad that Caspian died at the end. I wish it hadn't happened that way. That means that Rilian lost both parents early. I mean, Caspian's death wasn't early, but he did lose 10 years with his son. But it does serve a purpose at the very end, so I guess it's okay-ish.

So back to Narnia I go!



Rating: 6/10
Pages: 257 (paperback)
Number of Books in Series: 7
Genre(s): Fantasy, Fiction, Classics
Would I Recommend It?: Yes, I think everyone should read the Narnia series.