History is All You Left Me, by Adam Silvera

A Book Review

 

Make no mistake. This book will break your heart, but also, it’s completely worth it. Narrated by Griffin, who is grieving his ex-boyfriend Theo, History is All You Left Me is a smart and thoroughly satisfying examination of love and grief. As Griffin tries to navigate his feelings about Theo’s death, the reader is taken on a journey between Griffin’s past with Theo and the present without him. Is it a “feel-good” sort of book? Not really. But it will make you feel *all* the feelings.

No Villains Here

What I loved the most about this book, apart from the jealousy-inducing prose was the fact that there weren’t any “villains” in this story. Although Griffin might see Jackson (Theo’s boyfriend) as a nemesis of sorts, as readers we get to know him in such a way that he is likeable. Further complicating the narrative is the fact that Griffin begins to learn that in some ways he and Jackson are similar.

A Unique Narrative Angle

The book begins with Griffin declaring, “You’re alive in alternate universes, Theo, but I live in the real world, where this morning you’re having an open-casket funeral,” making it clear from the get-go that this story is more confessional than anything else. What I like about this narrative frame is the semi-epistolary feel that Griffin’s asides to Theo bring to the story.

On one level, we have a story that follows Griffin as he grudgingly befriends Jackson while we are also exposed to the deeper (one-sided) dialogue between Griffin and Theo. This is a clever way to look at grief, because it feels like Silvera is trying to capture that feeling of losing someone, but not wanting to let go of them fully by keeping Theo’s presence within the narrative.

Heartbroken, in a Good Way

Is there a good way to feel heartbroken? I’m not sure, but if there is, History is All You Left Me has most definitely accomplished that. There are plenty of light moments that break the tension, of course, but also even though the ending is still somewhat sad it feels honest.

Without writing any spoilers, the reveals that come at the end of Griffin’s journey through his own grief and struggles with mental illness felt intense and heartbreaking, but also deeply real. I spent most of the book wishing that Theo would somehow come back to life and even though Griffin does find some closure, I was still left feeling heartbroken for him.

Read This Book (And Weep)

Prior to discovering History is All You Left Me, I didn’t think I would ever want to read a book about grief. But now, I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone. Silvera’s language is beautiful; his message is unforgettable.

What are your favourite books about grief?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’re More Victorian than we Think

Dr._Jayne's_Expectorant_(3093617372)

As someone who grew up watching The X-Files and visiting every ghostly landmark I could find, I am a total sucker for a good ghost story.  If the Victorians hadn’t been so uptight about other things, I might even pine for that long lost era, because those guys really knew how to spin a good spectral yarn.

If you’ve read The Turn of the Screw, then you’ll know what I mean.  I’ve been thinking lately that perhaps, despite our modern society, we are still in some ways just a little bit Victorian in our fascination with the supernatural. Which leads me to ask this question: are we more Victorian in our literary proclivities than we realize?

Why Ghost Stories?

So what is it about ghostly tales that draws us in? One author suggests that at least for the Victorians, gas lamps and carbon monoxide hallucinations might have been to blame for the increased interest in ghost stories, but that doesn’t account for those of us living in the present, does it? Other theories suggest that a shift in economic times increases the interest in ghost stories and Neil Gaiman has even written a few words on the subject here, but I have another theory.

The Modern Ghost

What if the popularity of ghost stories were connected in some way to the growth of technology?

If you thought that spirit photography was an old, weird tradition, how do you account for the many many pictures purporting ghostly encounters online? Or the youtube videos declaring true sightings. And this type of “true footage” story lives on in the film industry too, with titles such as Paranormal Activity, a story that chronicles the demonic stalking of a young woman through security camera footage. This certainly might account for the reason people still want to hear ghost stories, but what about the Victorians?

Victorian, At Heart

If you think about it, in some ways, ghost stories were connected to “modern” technology for the Victorians too. With the development of the electric telegraph and the radio, people were suddenly able to be in better contact with one another and to hear a real-live disembodied voice speaking across air waves, but they were still in some ways disconnected from one another.

Steamships could deliver them farther than they might have thought possible and the railroads were opening up new routes of travel too. Just like us, the Victorians were experiencing a change in the way that they found human interaction. Similarly, in a world where we are increasingly connected, yet disconnected, is it really such a stretch that we would yearn for an everlasting connection to our world even after death?

 

Anxiety, Loneliness & the Spook

If you look at a ghost story like The Open Door by Margaret Oliphant (1885), which is about a boy who hears a frightening noise in his house and begins to go mad and compare it to something like Asylum by Madeleine Roux (2013) which in many ways deals with similar themes of anxiety and loneliness, it feels like the stories we tell time and again are scratching at the door of something much larger. Perhaps it is some unchecked fear of the collective unconscious that speaks to an increasingly anxious population of readers.

Whatever the case, I have a feeling that ghost stories aren’t about to disappear any time soon.

What’s your favourite ghost story?

 

 

Miss You, by Kate Eberlen

IMG_4907 (1)

 

I’m not going to lie. I chose this book because the cover was so pretty. But what I discovered was a heartfelt and deeply engrossing story of two people making a slow journey towards one another. Sure, Miss You  is a love story, but Eberlen’s intricately woven tale is also about so much more.

Stunning Settings

Perhaps my favourite element of this book were the descriptions of Italy and London, which were so detailed that I felt like I was right there along with Tess as she slurped fresh pasta with her BFF Doll. Sometimes, I think that travel scenes in novels can come across as inauthentic, but in this case, it felt like Eberlen got the details down so perfectly that the narrative felt like a true escape.

A Thought-Provoking Narrative

Apart from Miss You exploring the ideas of “true love” and the notion that there is someone out there for everyone, there is also a narrative thread that explores the idea of illness. Particularly, we learn quite early in the story that Tess’s mother has breast cancer. This becomes a deep struggle for Tess as she grows older and fears for her own health too. Paired with the will-they-won’t-they romance, this idea of fearing for one’s life in relation to illness resonated with me as a reader. It begs the question: even if we are going to die tomorrow, isn’t it still worth it to meet the potential love of our life?

That Ending!

Being that the majority of the book is a series of moments where Tess and Gus might have come across one another but didn’t, I found the build up to their final meeting to be well-drawn out. I love that there are several times when they might have met, but circumstances prevent this from happening. My one quibble was with the final chapter. While their eventual meeting was just as glorious as I’d hoped, there are a few reveals in the final pages that left me reeling. Perhaps it was because I didn’t want the book to end, but those final words left me…wanting.

Despite wanting just a little bit more, I would absolutely recommend this book. Not only is it beautifully written, but it explores some thought-provoking themes in a clever way. Now that I’ve given this book to a friend, I’m kind of already missing it.

 

If you’ve read Miss You what did you think of it? Would you recommend it to a friend?

Five Non-Fiction Books By Awesome Women

 

womens_march_on_versailles01

“Women’s March on Versailles.”

 

I believe in good vibes.   While I was compiling this list, it occurred to me that I’ve been reading all kick-ass female writers as of late. A coincidence? I think not. In light of the women’s marches happening around the world yesterday, it feels like there are a whole lot of charged emotions floating around out there. What better way is there to keep the momentum going than by reading some inspiring female writers?

Here are five of my favourite Non-Fiction reads right now:

  1. Daring Greatly, by Brene Brown – This book is the pick-me-up that you can fit into your purse (or man-bag). As a study of vulnerability, Dr. Brene Brown examines cultural myths about courage and weakness as well as providing some honest, real-human advice on how to not freak out. I was introduced to this book by a good friend of mine and was so inspired by what he had to say that I knew I had to read it. Here’s why you should read it: Brown’s heartfelt ideas on success and vulnerability will put you in an excellent mindset to go forth and be awesome.
  2. Real Artists Have Day Jobs, by Sara Benincasa – Even if you don’t make art, this book is chock full of hilarious (and short) essays that will make you laugh and think at the same time! (Did you know you could do that?) Benincasa covers such subjects as reading, decluttering your house, Feelings (with a capital “F”) and overconfidence.
  3. The Princess Diarist, by Carrie Fisher – Do yourself a favour and listen to this one on audiobook if you can. I’ll admit that hearing Carrie Fisher’s voice in my living room was a bit freaky, but her anecdotes about what it was like filming the first Star Wars movie are equal parts entertaining and thoughtful. Read it for the diary excerpts alone!
  4. Playing Dead: A Journey Through the World of Death Fraud, Elizabeth Greenwood – I came across this fascinating read while doing research for a story I was writing and couldn’t put it down. I was drawn in by Greenwood’s premise: that she faked her own death in order to uncover the secrets of the death fraud world. What I loved, though, was Greenwood’s easy narrative tone and the way that she not only talked about her own death fraud experience, but also highlighted many other real-life cases.
  5. Yes, Please, by Amy Poehler – Full of quirky stories and personal advice, I had to include Poehler’s book on my list, mainly because I think she is amazing but also because her book made me laugh when I was sleep-deprived and that means a lot. Will it blow your mind? Maybe. Will it make you laugh and also offer up funny stories from Amy Poehler’s life? You bet. (After all, sometimes the best way to reset your mind for a big, new year full of goals is to let loose and laugh a little–or a lot).

 

What books make you feel inspired?

Rolling Blackouts: A Review

fullsizerender-3

 

Rolling Blackouts was my first foray into the world of graphic journalism.  As she accompanies her journalist friends to Turkey, Iraq and Syria, Sarah Glidden takes readers through what it is like to be a journalist piecing together a story in a foreign country.  At the heart of the narrative is the question: what is journalism? Beautifully illustrated and written in a conversational, at times confessional tone, Rolling Blackouts is an illuminating read.

Behind the Scenes

What I loved most about this graphic novel was the “behind the scenes” feel that Glidden shows her readers. There are moments in the narrative where the reader gets to see how the Globalist crew looks at the information that they’ve collected and decides how they are going to craft their narrative.  Moreover, since we observe the information through Sarah’s perspective as a quasi-outsider, when she asks questions of the characters it feels genuine.

Understated Watercolours

The soft watercolour scenes are beautiful and she does an excellent job of revealing countries that a lot of people might not visit. Using a mix of more intimate close-ups of character discussions and sprawling  city and country scenes, it felt like I was right there along with her.

The use of light and darkness in Rolling Blackouts serves as a means to emphasize moments  of intimacy, which is one of the best parts of this book.  In one scene, Dan, an ex-military man talks about a friend who he lost in the war.  The scene takes place in a car, driving down a darkened country road and the only light in the scene are the pinpricks of light in the distance.  The result is a deeply honest, intimate moment.

fullsizerender

 

Everyone Has a Story

Glidden winds together a lot of fascinating human stories of refugees and civilians throughout her narrative.  What makes it so engrossing is the fact that we feel like we’re privy to real conversations (most likely because Glidden recorded many of these conversations on her trip).  In a sense, it feels like Sarah Glidden has brought me along for the ride.

Apart from the thought-provoking examination of the journalistic process, the story flow is elaborate, connecting the stories of an ex-soldier’s return to Iraq, countless refugees, civilians and officials, all of which seem to be interconnected in some way. I thought that Glidden’s illustration of flashbacks later in the narrative was particularly inventive; while the characters discuss their own feelings towards the war in Iraq, the images transport us back to a moment in the past when they were protesting.  This contrast of dialogue and illustrations captures the way that the characters are often at odds with their own feelings about the war and their roles in relation to it.

fullsizerender-2

I highly recommend that anyone who is interested in journalism or likes to read travel narratives should read Rolling Blackouts.  It’s one narrative adventure that you won’t want to miss.

 

Flannery: A Review

flannery4

Funny, honest and at times emotionally searing, Flannery is an exploration of love and relationships told from the perspective of a sixteen-year-old Flannery, who is in love with  her childhood best friend, Tyrone O’Rourke. When she makes a love potion for her Entrepreneurship class, she learns a valuable lesson about the risks of love.

Intertextuality & Romance

Flannery isn’t just a story about a crush.  A heroine on the cover of a romance novel changes from an innocent maiden to a buxom vixen with claws and fangs; another one swoons and can’t decide if she wants sexual advances or not.  Flannery’s mother Miranda even writes a blog which is inserted into the novel at times, giving the reader yet another critical lens to view the unfolding relationships in Flannery’s world.

flannery2

 An Original Narrative

Part of the charm of Flannery  is the way that the chapters alternate between flashbacks of Flannery’s life and the present.  Because of this structure, we get a real sense of Flannery’s relationship with Tyrone and her mother and it gives us a sense of how she evolves as she understands more about love.  On top of the unique structure, Flannery’s sometimes stream of conscious, always hilarious voice adds some great levity to a story that might otherwise be quite dark.

Here is one of my favourite quotes:

flannery1

Magic vs. Realism

I have always admired Lisa Moore’s realistic, yet engrossing dialogue.  There’s something about leaving out the quotation marks that gives her writing a feeling of directness.  In Flannery, the simple dialogue keeps the story rooted in reality despite the fact that Flannery is trying to sell a love potion.

In this sweet moment, Moore captures the strange, loving relationship that Miranda and Flannery have so perfectly:

flannery3

 

I have to admit, I thought that there would be more magical realism, but it turns out that the real magic in this story is Moore’s heartfelt and often visceral take on what it means to be in love.

Final Grade: A+

Five YA Books for World Mental Health Day

mental-illness

I’ve written about mental illness before, but in light of World Mental Health Day, I wanted to share a few of my favourite YA reads that feature awesome characters who have mental illnesses.  While there are a lot of fantastic books out there, I think some of the best narratives don’t focus on mental illness as a “problem” to be solved by the end of the book.  In the list below, these narratives feature characters whose mental illnesses are only a facet of a much larger (and highly entertaining) narratives.

  1. The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B, by Teresa Toten – Part love story, part hilarious super-hero themed adventure, this story is told from the perspective of Adam, who has obsessive-compulsive disorder.  It is cleverly written and filled with lots of funny and honest moments as Adam attempts to navigate a romantic relationship for the first time.
  2. Lily and Dunkin, by Donna Gephart – At its heart, this is a story about friendship.  Dunkin, who has bipolar disorder, has just moved to a new city.  As the story unfolds, he meets Lily, a transgender girl.  I loved that although part of Dunkin’s narrative deals with his struggle with bipolar disorder, the larger narrative focuses on surviving a new school and making friends.
  3. Highly Illogical Behaviour, by John Corey Whaley -Heartfelt and realistic, this narrative follows sixteen-year-old Solomon, who is agoraphobic and hasn’t left his parents’ house in three years.  Although Lisa sets out to “fix” Solomon, as you might guess, things get more complicated.  This is a fantastic book that features a character with a mental illness.  The best part? It doesn’t end with a cure.
  4. Mosquitoland, by David Arnold – Mim Malone is determined to get back to her sick mother in Cleveland and she’ll do anything to reach her.  On her road trip, Mim must face her own demons, including being medicated for her anxiety by her concerned father.  While Mim’s mantra might be “Mim Malone is not okay,” her modern-day Odyssey is a page-turner.
  5. Finding Audrey, by Sophie Kinsella – If you like Kinsella’s chick lit  books, this book has the same witty charm.  When Audrey meets Linus, they form a connection that ends up helping both Audrey and her whole family.  It’s a quick, funny read that is guaranteed to make you fall in love with Audrey too.