Saturday, 25 February 2017

Small Great Things - Jodi Picoult; Review

   

Book Details:
Hardcover: 512 pages
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (22nd Nov 2016)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1444788000
ISBN-13: 978-1444788006

Summary:

Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years' experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she's been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don't want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene?

Ruth hesitates before performing CPR and, as a result, is charged with a serious crime. Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, takes her case but gives unexpected advice: Kennedy insists that mentioning race in the courtroom is not a winning strategy. Conflicted by Kennedy's counsel, Ruth tries to keep life as normal as possible for her family—especially her teenage son—as the case becomes a media sensation. As the trial moves forward, Ruth and Kennedy must gain each other's trust, and come to see that what they've been taught their whole lives about others—and themselves—might be wrong.

With incredible empathy, intelligence, and candor, Jodi Picoult tackles race, privilege, prejudice, justice, and compassion—and doesn't offer easy answers. Small Great Things is a remarkable achievement from a writer at the top of her game.

Links To Buy:




Rating:
Review:

Jodi Picoult is one of my favourite authors, with her book Keeping Faith, (review here), 19 Minutes, and Second Glance (review here) being amongst my favourite books ever. She is definitely not one to shy away from hot topics, controversial issues and majority of the time, I feel like she handles them spectacularly, both in telling a story that is interesting, as well as shedding light on important things within the issue. This book, does exactly that, this time it’s a story about racism, very apt in todays racial climate and amidst the war cry of #BlackLivesMatter

The story follows three different narratives - of Ruth Jefferson, the black nurse and our main protagonist, as well as Turk Bauer - the white supremacist, and Kennedy - the white public defence lawyer who takes on Ruth’s case. Turk Bauer demands that no black nurse should touch his newborn child, he says this as he pulls up his sleeves to reveal a confederate flat tattoo on his arm. The hospital has no choice but to obey and the post it note is placed in Ruth’s file, issuing the order that she was no longer allowed to touch this child. When an emergency arrises and Ruth hesitates, the wheels have been put in motion and she finds herself on the end of a lawsuit, where the Bauer’s are suing her for the death of their child. 

This book was hard to read for me, especially the chapters we see from Turk’s point of view. His chapters show us glimpses into his past, how he had grown up, how his views were shaped, and I guess the main purpose of this to show that his hatred and racism wasn’t just born of ignorance, but there were reasons as to why he held and lived by these views. But to me personally, I still felt like there was no excuse whatsoever, regardless of what happened in his life as a kid and to those around him - his racism was not warranted. I felt absolutely no sympathy for Turk’s character, as horrible and cold as that sounds, as unfair as it was for his child to die, for which my heart did hurt - but this was all because of Turk and his wife’s actions. It was hard to read about the joy these characters experienced when they purposefully went out to beat up gay couples, who were just minding their own business, simply because of who they were. The hatred they spewed against those of colour, those different than them - was such a hard pill to swallow because that is what is happening in 2017, in this day and age. And it’s terrifying to read chapters from a point of view that is marred with so much hatred and anger. From Turk, we see racism in its raw form.

The chapters we see from Kenney’s point of view were interesting - I say this because Kennedy believes herself not to be a racist, as she herself claims, “she doesn’t see colour” only people - and the author has painted her in this way, with these ideals, to display the white privilege she is accustomed to. It’s easy for her not to see colour, because as someone who is white, she skates through life not having to worry about how people will react and respond to her based simply on the colour of her skin. While people of colour, people like Ruth, will always have that question in their mind, wether or not it is warranted, if someone acted in a way they did, responded to her in the way they did, because of the colour of her skin. Taking a wonderful quote from Hidden Figures, where Janelle Monae’s character is asked 
if you were a white maid, would you wish to be an engineer?” her reply -  
“I wouldn’t have to - I’d already be one.” 

The final perspective we get is, Ruth Jefferson. Reading her chapters was something of an eye opener for me personally. I myself am a Muslim, hijab wearing woman of colour. Sure I’ve experienced racism, to the extent that I find this to be a casual statement, because if not for the hijab on my head, then I’ve experienced it for the colour of my brown skin. But I’m not angry. I’m not paranoid. I am like Ruth Jefferson at the beginning, where she dismissed all these things while her sister kept telling her these things happen to her because she is black. I skated through life believing in the strength of my intelligence and the kindness of my soul - but I like Ruth, should have been angry. We see the progression in Ruth’s character, as she goes from being that nimble individual to wanting her voice to be heard, for her anger and hurt to be acknowledged. I couldn’t understand her at first, when things were going well for her and she was going to avoid prison time - yet she was willing to throw it all away just so she can take the stand and say her piece. I was annoyed with her, thinking she’s ruining everything she wanted in the first place! But.. in the end, I got it. I got her. Being acquitted, being able to go back to her job, if that was still an option, meant nothing to her, meant nothing to her struggle, her lifetime of struggle, if she couldn’t use this moment, this trial, as a way to express exactly what it meant to be in this position BECAUSE of the colour of her skin. This is something that we see Kennedy experience herself too - who like me, wanted nothing more than to stop Ruth from going to jail, but she too comes to understand for it’s about being heard, not being dismissed, about how you feel and what you went through. 

Like others have said in their review, it would have been SO easy for Jodi Picoult to use this book and the story, to be a spokesperson on behalf of all black Americans, but the reason I always love Picoult’s book is, that she didn’t do that. It’s about each individual’s struggle, each individual’s story and what it means to them in the grand scheme of things. It challenges and emphasises what white privilege means. Like I said earlier, this book was hard to read and uncomfortable too, mainly because of Turk’s chapters - and I can again, see from people’s review, that it was the same case for them. For a lot of the white readers, it opens their eyes to the privilege they may not have realised they had in so many instances of their life - never had to question it, simply because they are not a person of colour. 

The author brings all this together with, as always, her beautiful writing, her stop-you-in-your-tracks-and-makes-you-think sentences and plot, which guarantees that you won’t be able to put it down. It’s challenging, a heartbreaking and harrowing read of the reality of a black person vs the reality of a white person, with everything always unsaid hung between them. So many questions arise, about racism, morality, prejudice, that finicky little thing about freedom of choice to a racist person. So many things. Small, great things. A title so apt for this book and a cover so beautiful with the black and white design. The only gripe I did have with this, was like many others, the ending. The truth about Turk’s wife, Brittany, and her mother; Turk’s change, it was all too quick for me, all too convenient, and in that sense, all too unrealistic. I cannot fathom the Turk we see at the beginning of the book, to the one we see at the end. Sure, it’s fiction, but even then, with the level and intensity of hate that Turk carries, it just feel too quick to reach the end that he did. That aside, this was a spellbinding book, an important one that carries home a message that needs to be heard and realities that need to be confronted. As always, another great one from Jodi Picoult. *slow clap*. 

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Life In A Fishbowl - Len Vlahos; Review


Book Details:
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury Children's (12th Jan 2017)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1408870630
ISBN-13: 978-1408870631

Summary:

Fifteen-year-old Jackie Stone is a prisoner in her own house. Everything she says and does 24/7 is being taped and broadcast to every television in America. Why? Because her dad is dying of a brain tumor and he has auctioned his life on eBay to the highest bidder: a ruthless TV reality show executive at ATN.

Gone is her mom's attention and cooking and parent-teacher conferences. Gone is her sister's trust ever since she's been dazzled by the cameras and new-found infamy. Gone is her privacy. Gone is the whole family's dignity as ATN twists their words and makes a public mockery of their lives on Life and Death. But most of all, Jackie fears that one day very soon her father will just be . . . gone. Armed only with her ingenuity and the power of the internet, Jackie is determined to end the show and reclaim all of their lives, even in death.

Links To Buy:




Rating:
Review:

This suddenly popped up on my radar one day as I was on the prowl for my next book on GoodReads *as you do* and as soon as I read the blurb, I was like, I’VE GOT TO READ THIS. Which I assume is everyones natural reaction when they see the book is about this guy with a tumour who sells himself on ebay. Natural, right? 

Having finished the book, I felt all kinds of emotion and couldn’t even coherently jot my thoughts down for a review - it took some cajoling from the sensible side of my brain *pun intended* until I managed to put fat fingers to keypad and bring you this review. 

This book was something else entirely. With a plot that will sell you hook, line and sinker, and writing so well paced and gripping, I guarantee you won’t be able to put it down. I hadn’t even finished the book and I already recommended it to 3 different people. 

My favourite thing about the book, was the narration - it was split several ways, between the Dad (Jared) who has said tumour, his 15 year old daughter, a bunch of the people who bid for him in the auction - and my absolute favourite - the tumour itself, which is called Glio. Glio, after glioblastoma. So many puns man, so many puns. I found this narrative from the Glio totally riveting, exciting and original and a great idea to personify that tumour into a voice. Riveting, and also extremely sad and horrifying because I kid you not, there were moments as I read Glio’s parts where I wanted to cry - because the author cunningly shows us how this tumour which is living and breathing (and chomping it’s way though the Dad’s brain) actually stumbles across memories in the brain as the Dad is thinking them.. and then eats them. And I found that so sad. Beautifully done of course but still so sad. 

The entire concept was so refreshing for me to read, the way in which we have individual characters who bid for this guys life ON EBAY OF ALL THINGS - and their little backstory as to why they’re bidding. Needless to say, a certain bidder will stand out more than anyone *cough SHERMAN* given their desire to try the extreme sport of .. killing a human. I shan't say no more, you just really really REALLY need to read this. I like his character which is, as always going to make me sound psychotic but he really pushed the boundaries of human desire and personal entertainment and was very self aware of his cold-bloodedness rather than ignorant of his own ideals. 

Jackie, the 15 year old daughter, was a great character who encapsulated the idea of not giving up, of persevering in the face of all things wrong. Her rebellion and expose of what was really going on behind the rolling cameras and TV shows, the help and attention she garnered from the World of Warcraft group, was a commendable touch to link together the ideas and reality of reality TV, and online identities. I was fist pumping my way through her chapters, for everything she did, for standing up in every and any way she could and of course all the great background characters who help her *cough Jason Sanderson*. Here’s a quick snippet of one of my favourite scenes where I did the said fist pumping:

“Give me the phone, Jackie,” Ethan said. He was panting, too. “There’s nowhere else for you to go. It’s all over.”

Jackie looked straight into his eyes. “Almost,” she said. She saw the perplexed look on his face, then turned around and threw the phone over the fence. They both watched it tumble end over end against the night sky.

A second later, there was an exclamation of joy from the other side of The Wall. “I got it!” It was Jason Sanderson’s voice. He was exactly where Hazel said he would be. What Jackie didn’t expect to hear was the cheer that went up from the crowd that had gathered around him.

Jackie turned back to Ethan. “Now,” she said, “it’s over.”
Ethan dropped to his knees, then to his butt, and sat down on the grass as if he’d been shot. Jackie stepped around him and went back into the house.”

The final 10% of the book was so fast paced and brilliant - my heart almost fell out my ass. Like seriously you need to keep your eyes glued to the page as you stumble through the final chapters of this because it all happens so fast, a good fast, to make you grip that book so tightly in your hand that the pages sweat. And omg, trying not to be spoileryyy as always but - the scene with the bathroom and the slap. BRAVO. And the pillow scene? Total lump in my throat. 

This was in no way a light hearted read - but covered euthanasia as its base, and we see the different perspectives of the individuals who bid for Jared, and what they think about life and preservation. Not going to wade into this with my thoughts on euthanasia, but I felt like this issue was taken seriously in the book, and portrayed just as seriously and well balanced to show the opposing ideas about life and euthanasia. It was really well done and doesn’t seem like it will be ruffling any feathers. Each to their own - and the author has wonderfully shown this through the different characters and their beliefs. 

This book managed to make me laugh and cry, which is always a sign of a good book. So well written and with brilliant characters and a storyline to grip you right from the first page, to the very very very last. This is going in one of my favourites list and definitely one of the better books I have read in 2017 and for this very reason, one you need to read to. 

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Unteachable - Leah Raeder; Review

 

Book Details:
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Atria Books; Reprint edition (23 Oct. 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1476786402
ISBN-13: 978-1476786407

Summary:

Maise O’Malley just turned eighteen, but she’s felt like a grown-up her entire life. The summer before senior year, she has plans: get into a great film school, convince her mom to go into rehab, and absolutely do not, under any circumstances, screw up her own future.

But life has a way of throwing her plans into free-fall.

When Maise meets Evan at a carnival one night, their chemistry is immediate, intense, and short-lived. Which is exactly how she likes it: no strings. But afterward, she can’t get Evan out of her head. He’s taught her that a hookup can be something more. It can be an unexpected connection with someone who truly understands her. Someone who sees beyond her bravado to the scared but strong girl inside.

That someone turns out to be her new film class teacher, Mr. Evan Wilke.

Maise and Evan resolve to keep their hands off each other, but the attraction is too much to bear. Together, they’re real and genuine; apart, they’re just actors playing their parts for everyone else. And their masks are slipping. People start to notice. Rumors fly. When the truth comes to light in a shocking way, they may learn they were just playing parts for each other, too.

Links To Buy:




Rating:

Review:

This book. WAS A FIREBALL. Like seriously, oh my god. I finished this so quickly, my heart jumping out my ass every few pages, eyes frantically scanning each page, devouring it. I loved it. And I’m of course about to tell you why.

As controversial as it is, we all sit on either side of the fence when it comes to the student-teacher relationships. While this review doesn’t call into question my personal views of it, I will say, that I am greatly glad that the relationship that developed between Evan and Maise was legal at the very least. 

You think this is going to be your usual forbidden love story about a student finding out the guy she hooked up with at a carnival before her new semester started, ends up being her teacher. You’re right, it follows that path exactly, but what I loved about this story was how heartbreaking, real, and haunting it was - which I know is a weird way to describe such a storyline. But I don’t really have any other words for it - the bond between Evan and Maise is messy, tenuous, beautiful, fragile, ugly, everything that love is to be honest. There was a raw quality to this book, it wasn’t some sugar coated fairytale love, instead I really got the characters and what they were going through - so well was the writing and development from the author. A stark contrast to another student teacher relationship story I read recently, Losing it by Cora Cormack (review for which can be found here). Unteachable is THE story I wad hoping for when I read Losing It, but failed to get. Instead, I found it here, in this book, this story, these characters - with an author who did it right. 

Poetic, beautiful and here’s just one quote of the many that this novel spits out at you when you least expect it. 

“I’ve been thinking about this all day,” he whispered.
I brushed my cheek against his. The earth sank beneath us, pressed by the weight of the whole universe above. How could it set us up like this, every planet precisely aligned, if it didn’t mean for us to collide? His heart crashed against mine, fierce and steady.
I pushed myself up on my palms. “You’ve done something to me.” My voice was quiet, too, a ribbon of breath threading into the breeze that stirred my hair. ”

It’s so intense, this thing between these two characters. Granted I did feel like there were one too many sex scenes, but as weird as this is going to sound, each of those scenes, though the act was repeatedly the same, it felt different in each. Some scenes were urgent, frantic, full of animal desire - others were really tender, slow, sweet. There were even scenes were there was no intimacy at all, just words and that alone managed to strip bare both these individual characters. I really fell into this book, sucked in, experiencing every moment that mattered with a pang. The more I read this, for some reason, I kept visualising this as a vintage-ishh movie reel, with bokeh lights and soft edges, carnival scenes, scenes in the bedroom, scenes in the rain. Maybe because a lot of this book resolves around filmography, about Maise’s desire to work on movies, about Evan’s once upon a time dream of being an actor. 

There’s a certain fragility to this story, it’s tenuous and fluttery at first, but the more we find out about these characters and their lives and how they intertwine, its precarious not just because of the nature and status of their relationship, but also because it’s a real and raw portrayal of love itself. The fleeting-ness of it all, the vulnerability, the intensity - and for me personally, all of this was captured to wonderfully well with these two characters. 

Talking of the characters themselves - I loved both Evan and Maise, and I appreciate the fact of how real they felt, fully fleshed out, raw edges, imperfections galore and the ability of both these characters to see themselves fully, unhidden, acknowledge what they were like, the pitfalls, the real person behind their facade. Told through Maise’s point of view, we got the most sense of this from her, the way she sees herself, sees others, the snippets of hindsight comments she adds to her narration as the story moves along, a foreshadowing of what was to come that she should have seen the signs for. I loved that, it kept the narration fresh and easy to follow for me. 

Evan of course came across as nothing but a gorgeous and sweet character in my head. I visualised him as being Oscar Issac. Who is 1. gorgeous and 2. gorgeous. About sums it up right? Kidddinngggg guys - but Evan in this story isn’t some arrogant, egotistical, creep who preys on students, or not even that, but he’s not mean, or gives off a negative or weird vibe like a teacher who sleeps with a student would - mainly because A - they slept together before he knew they were student teacher, and B - as the story goes on, it’s more than physical, there’s a change within them both, they form an honest and real relationship - which means it’s undoubtedly full of flaws and fears. Evan is gentle, sweet, caring, passionate, honest. All things wonderful and I’m so glad the teacher in this instance was portrayed as such. AND he’s hot. Like smoking. For that very reason, Oscar Issac just popped into my head. Let’s add some visuals shall we? I mean come on, tell me this wouldn’t be THE perfect Evan for this story? That picture on the top even looks like it could be from the carnival scene where he first meets Maise. 


 

I'm also somewhat surprised at myself, because my brain would instantly run to Ezra Fitz from Pretty Little Liars (c'mon guys, we alllll know who I'm on about here) when a student teacher relationship is mentioned. But for some reason, in this book, the first image to sideball me was of Oscar Issac instead. I AIN'T COMPLAINING. 



I loved Siobhan, Wesley, even Hiyam for their diversity of characteristics. The pacing of the book was brilliant, and of course the whole forbidden relationship aspect between them really keeps you on the edge of your seat. Like dude. That scene with Wesley and the revelation was a total ‘OH SHIIII HE DIDN’T” heart stopping moment. I swear my palms were getting slick with what was going to happen next. My heart was pumping furiously, thinking surely he wouldn't do this?! Unreaaaal. 

I wish there was more to the ending; in a sense I get it, there wasn’t much to draw out, but it felt a little unfinished to me and wanted a more wholesome wrap up to the story. Maybe just a couple more pages to round it off - but aside from that gripe, I loved this book. I felt somewhat intoxicated by this story and the rush in it - like I said earlier, I felt like I was reading this book through a bokeh-ishh haze, soft and rounded around the edges. 

Also, MAJOR fist pump for this part of the book:

“I looked at my desk. Someone had carved RIHANNA = SLUT. I thought about adding CHRIS BROWN = DOMESTIC ABUSER, but Mr Wilke probably would've caught me before I finished.”

I loved it, and it was a book that was well done given how easy it is to veer off the far end of this kind of topic in a book and make it a hot mess - but this was just perfecto. From the characters, to the writing - would totally recommend this to everyone.