Thursday, July 31, 2014

Review: Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo

Title: Love and Other Perishable Items
Author: Laura Buzo
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication date: December 11, 2012
Rating: ★★★★

Summary (via Goodreads):

From the moment Amelia sets eyes on Chris, she is a goner. Lost. Sunk. Head over heels infatuated with him. It's problematic, since Chris, 21, is a sophisticated university student, while Amelia, 15, is 15.

Amelia isn't stupid. She knows it's not gonna happen. So she plays it cool around Chris – at least, as cool as she can. Working checkout together at the local supermarket, they strike up a friendship: swapping life stories, bantering about everything from classic books to B movies, and cataloging the many injustices of growing up. As time goes on, Amelia's crush doesn't seem so one-sided anymore. But if Chris likes her back, what then? Can two people in such different places in life really be together?

Ever since I finished reading Love and Other Perishable Items, I've been wavering on how I feel about it. On one hand, I love it a lot. It brings to mind favorites like The Piper's Son by Melina Marchetta and, to some extent, Megan McCafferty's Jessica Darling books. On the other hand, it still feels lacking, somehow. Or maybe it's just me who is left feeling empty.

The book is split between two perspectives. Part of the story is told through Amelia, who is young and hopeful and naive. The other part is revealed through pages from Chris' journal, filled with gritty truths, some dark humor, and the reality of a life not filtered through a rose-colored lens.

I could have provided strawberries, poetry and orgasms, but James, on the other hand, will provide a house in Vaucluse and a six-figure salary.

In this coming-of-age story, Amelia and Chris are ordinary people who are remarkably likable. Amelia is stuck in a bumbling stage of adolescence – she is socially awkward, giddy, childlike at times, but simultaneously struggling with very complex issues, including family dynamics, gender roles, and disappointing literature. Chris, in contrast, is legally an adult and participates in his fair share of adult activities, including alcohol consumption, drugs, and lots of sex. He's melodramatic, self-deprecating yet sanctimonious, hopelessly romantic. He lives in quiet desperation.

When I read back over what I'd written, I seriously thought about ripping out all the pages. It was a pretty poor showing all the way through, but when I got to the bit where I was writing out the lyrics from the Dire Straits "Romeo and Juliet" song, I had to rip that out.

But then, I really want to be more honest in this diary than I have been in past ones, so everything else stays in. It's bad enough that I present such a heavily edited version of myself to my friends and family; if I start editing my diary, it will reinforce my already overwhelming tendency to be gutless. But let us never speak of it.

For the record, she really did cry when we made love and said she loved me like the stars above and would love me until she died. But, you know, people say shit in the moment.

Chris and Amelia's relationship is fascinating to watch unfold. They are both caught in an in-between stage and seem to find kindred spirits in each other. What's hilariously frustrating and brilliant is that you actually kind of want it to work out between the two of them. Never mind that they're each in completely different places in life, with different wants and needs. Never mind that it's totally illegal and more than slightly sketchy on paper. They make each other happier and better, and they talk about things that matter, and you just want them together, for Pete's sake!

And yet... it's one of those universal relationship things, isn't it? Bad timing. You can't force something to happen through sheer willpower. The reality of life takes its course, and sometimes it's disappointing and sometimes it feels tragic.

5. Get together with Amelia. Accompany her to her tenth-grade formal. Fruitlessly try to convince her family that I am a perfectly decent chap. Ignore raised eyebrows from family and friends. Content myself with holding hands and kissing. Accompany Amelia on the upcoming round of her friends' sweet sixteen parties. Attempt to smuggle her into bars for my friends' birthday parties.

Unfortunately, for a coming-of-age story, Amelia never really changes in a significant way. She remains naive and idealistic – a true youngster – which is fine, except that she doesn't ever seem to learn anything. She remains enamored with Chris, and her relationship with her family doesn't evolve but for a small degree of increased understanding and disillusionment. In many ways, this book feels more like Chris' story than Amelia's.

All the same, at the end of the day, Love and Other Perishable Items remains a fascinating story. It scrutinizes contemporary feminism. It explores the failures of human nature as we eavesdrop on Chris and Amelia's conversations about fictional characters. It questions what growing up really looks like.

We learn that there's never a single line that we have to step across to enter adulthood. Sometimes we are shaped by unexpected revelations, disappointments, realizations that things aren't always black and white. Other times it's the choices we make that propel us into a new stage of living. Love and Other Perishable Items is innocent and gritty all at once. It never feels flowery or fluffy or unrealistic. It's the quiet but powerful story of imperfect characters who are just trying to find their way in the world. It's a story that lingers.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Review: Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

Title: Dept. of Speculation
Author: Jenny Offill
Publisher: Knopf
Publication date: January 28, 2014
Rating: ★★★★★

Summary (via Goodreads):

Jenny Offill’s heroine, referred to in these pages as simply “the wife,” once exchanged love letters with her husband, postmarked Dept. of Speculation, their code name for all the uncertainty that inheres in life and in the strangely fluid confines of a long relationship. As they confront an array of common catastrophes – a colicky baby, bedbugs, a faltering marriage, stalled ambitions – the wife analyzes her predicament, invoking everything from Keats and Kafka to the thought experiments of the Stoics to the lessons of doomed Russian cosmonauts. She muses on the consuming, capacious experience of maternal love, and the near total destruction of the self that ensues from it, as she confronts the friction between domestic life and the seductions and demands of art.

I've been sitting here, staring at this blank screen, trying to figure out what it is I could possibly say about Jenny Offill's Dept. of Speculation. I think it's perhaps one of the best books I've read this year and definitely one of the most well-written. (Between the stories and quotes and trivia, it feels a bit like a Jeanette Winterson project, or Nicole Krauss' The History of Love, or Siobhan from the no-longer-maintained (I started transcribing my favorite passages but thought I might be better off just investing in my own copy of the book because there were too many to list.)

Dept. of Speculation is about a lot of things. The slow descent into love. The process of finding someone you want to keep and who wants to stay with you too. How it sometimes feels like wading through water. It's about the gradual formation of a family and the life that comes with it and all the lives we give up. It's about the way our brains are wired, the way we make associations, the way we move from one thought to the next. It's about writing – the art and the science and the self-awareness, and how we sometimes have to trade our sanity and our happiness to create a thing of mad beauty.

This book is about the human condition. As you acquaint yourself with Jenny Offill's narrator, you think, "Christ, she is terrible, self-absorbed, judgmental, just awful," but meanwhile you're nodding in agreement. "I can't say I blame her. I would probably feel the same." It's the painful brutality of truth. She writes with such precision that if we were to say half the things she thinks, I think maybe we would all break into a million pieces, like sticking a pin into a fracture point.

And, anyway, maybe that's why you change your mind about her – you think, well, she's not so bad, because everything she says is spot-on. And suddenly it feels like we are justified in all our despicable, weak, human ways. Because she's insightful and she makes observations about the things we want, the things we need as human beings. Not just to survive – no, more than that. The things we need in order to feel fulfilled. To feel safe, intact, protected. The things that make us want to stay. She shows us all of these things in short, pithy statements, and you can't help but think to yourself, Yes, yes, that's right. And soon enough it doesn't matter so much that you did a horrible thing, or that he did things that left scars, because you realize we're all just struggling, trying to figure out how to exist in this fragile human state. (The book jacket is so very accurate. This universal shipwreck that unites us all, indeed.)

It's a terrible book to read if you're even a little bit cynical about love. Or if you're scared to fall in love. Or if you think love conquers all. It's terrible and frightening and exactly right, and it will make you rethink everything you know. Life is a series of gray lines that get grayer and grayer as time goes on.

There's an old expression: Things always look better in the morning. That's what this book feels like – like nothing is ever set in stone, like maybe life looks better once you've lived through it.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Review: Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley

Title: Graffiti Moon
Author: Cath Crowley
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication date: February 14, 2012
Rating: ★★★★½

Summary (via Goodreads):

Lucy is in love with Shadow, a mysterious graffiti artist.

Ed thought he was in love with Lucy, until she broke his nose.

Dylan loves Daisy, but throwing eggs at her probably wasn't the best way to show it.

Jazz and Leo are slowly encircling each other.

An intense and exhilarating 24 hours in the lives of four teenagers on the verge: of adulthood, of HSC, of finding out just who they are, and who they want to be.

I. Loved. This. Book. Graffiti Moon was filled with all of the things I need/want/adore in literature: thoughtful, funny characters who are simultaneously weird and normal; luscious writing that doesn't go over the top; relationships between people who see the best in each other. Plus, graffiti and art talk! Bonus!

The style itself is reminiscent of Hilary T. Smith's Wild Awake – with its quirky characters who are utterly imperfect but fit so well together – as well as Melina Marchetta's Jellicoe Road, which is likewise filled with compelling relationships and reckless boys and all around flawlessness. I am obsessed with both of these books, so surely that will tell you something about my reaction to this one.

Graffiti Moon is split into three perspectives, which work especially well here. Each character has such a unique, interesting voice that the multiple perspectives feel welcome. First there is Lucy Dervish who, much like her name, is dreamy and lyrical. She has interesting hobbies (glassblowing and staring up at the stars until her life feels insignificant) and interesting goals (to find Shadow). Her thoughts on love and art are the kind of thoughts you want to seep into your brain and contemplate for days on end.

Next comes Ed Skye. Ed is pensive. He's romantic. He's a little bit lost. But there's something in him – not a spark, exactly, but something that resembles embers burning beneath the surface. He feels hopeless, but he's hopeful in spite of himself. Ed has a strong artistic voice that is balanced with pragmatism. His pages are enchanting to read because everything he says sounds significant.

I felt like I needed to run but my skin wouldn't let me. I had this urge to throw cans at the windows so I could hear a noise that sounded like escape.

Finally, there's Leo the poet. Leo's pages are few and far between, but they are powerful. His poems are short and sweet, and by sweet, I mean honest and spot-on and desperate and hopeful and sad. Lucy and Ed are ultimately the heart of the story, but Leo's poems shed some much-appreciated light on what's happening elsewhere. His words provide a richness, a depth, to the story as a whole.

Lucy and Ed's relationship unfolds through candid conversation, which we experience in what feels like real time. We learn about their shared history. We fall in love as they each hold their own in their verbal (and non-verbal, as you'll see below) sparring. There's very much an "I'll show you mine if you show me yours" mentality between Lucy and Ed. It's all the better knowing who Ed is and being able to watch everything slowly unravel. That, my friends, is the right way to accomplish the slow burn. 

I look over at Ed. He's staring out the window giving Leo the thumbs-down. I wait till he's looking at me, then I give him two fingers up. He gives me two fingers back. I give him the middle finger. He gives it back to me. I don't know any more signs, so I make up one. Three fingers. Take that, mister. He sticks up four. I call your four and raise you five. He skips straight to ten and does something with his thumb that disturbs me. I bounce my hands on my lap. Ed bounces his lap right back.

Cath Crowley is great about underscoring key themes. All throughout the book, the idea of "no guts, no glory" prevails. It starts with Lucy and her best friends Jazz and Daisy as they decide to go all-out on their last night of year 12. It extends to Ed and his assertiveness with his future, his assertiveness with the girls he loves... Circumstance is another concept that's well-explored in this book – whether it defines us, whether our choices matter, whether the outcomes of our lives are inevitable. There's a subtle strand of hope that makes its way through the story.

Art is also an important element in Graffiti Moon, and it is woven into the story in such a lovely, effortless way.  Both Ed and Lucy talk about graffiti and glassblowing so conceptually and thoughtfully that my inner art kid is swooning. They don't ever dumb down what art means, and in fact, they consider all these different ways to interpret and absorb it.

Most times I look at Shadow and Poet's work, I see something different from what the words are telling me. I like that about art, that what you see is sometimes more about who you are than what's on the wall. I look at this painting and think about how everyone has some secret inside, something sleeping like that yellow bird.

The writing in Graffiti Moon is simply brilliant. There are so many pages I love in their entirety. The book is a balance of the poetic and the everyday, the lush and the ordinary. That's what makes it all the more special – that there is beauty and art and poetry in the ugly and mundane. Cath Crowley's prose often stretches to the point of overwhelming, but then she manages to reign it all back in.

I do think the conflict with Malcolm Dove is a bit overblown and almost too conveniently resolved. It would have benefited from a more fleshed-out storyline. The ending also seems rushed, especially given that the rest of the book progresses at a more leisurely pace. However, Graffiti Moon remains beautifully written and, despite some minor shortcomings, still feels resolved. This book is ultimately about relationships – with the people you love and with yourself – and that's what comes through, in the end.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Characters I'd Want with Me on a Deserted Island

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

For the record, I would hate being stuck on a deserted island. I don't like being hot, I don't like being out in the sun (that girl hiding out in the shadiest part of the park, smelling like sunscreen? Yes, hi, that's me), and I don't particularly care for sand. However, if I did somehow find myself on a deserted island, these would be my top [nine] picks for people I would want with me – in no particular order...

Percy Jackson from the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series by Rick Riordan. I think he could provide us all with a source of fresh water, what with him being the son of Poseidon. Also, he could summon all sorts of sea creatures including hippocampi. Free transportation!

Marcus Flutie from Megan McCafferty's Jessica Darling series... because if anyone knows how to find zen on a deserted island, it would be him. Also, he would keep me entertained. We would probably write poems on banana leaves and embark on a raw vegan diet together.

Ronan Lynch from The Raven Cycle series by Maggie Stiefvater. He could dream me a house. With air conditioning. And snacks! (For when I inevitably get tired of the raw vegan thing.)

Gansey – also from The Raven Cycle series. Let's be real. Ronan would probably ignore me whenever I asked him for things, and I would end up needing a mediator to deal with his bad attitude. Just planning ahead here...

Hermione Granger. In case the Ronan/Gansey plan doesn't work out. She could also teach me magic, since my Hogwarts acceptance letter never arrived... #squib

Luna Lovegood. Can you imagine all the pseudo-philosophical conversations we would have? Also, I think she would help keep morale high.

Froi from The Lumatere Chronicles by Melina Marchetta, goddess of everything. Because Froi is so prickly. And wonderful. And aren't you sort of curious how he would react to Luna Lovegood?

Come to think of it, I'd want Quintana there too. Because I'm definitely curious how she would respond to Luna. I think Quintana would probably try to bite Luna's face off at first. But then they would become great friends. Plus, together, Froi and Quintana would make for some dreamy entertainment.

And finally, just because I can, Jimmy Hailler from Saving Francesca. He's a sweet baby and he's gone missing for the time being and I just want him where I can see him.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Review: To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han

Title: To All the Boys I've Loved Before
Author: Jenny Han
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: April 15, 2014
Rating: ★★★½

Summary (via Goodreads):

Lara Jean Song keeps her love letters in a hatbox her mother gave her. They aren't love letters that anyone else wrote for her; these are ones she's written. One for every boy she's ever loved – five in all. When she writes, she pours out her heart and soul and says all the things she would never say in real life, because her letters are for her eyes only. Until the day her secret letters are mailed, and suddenly, Lara Jean's love life goes from imaginary to out of control.

To All the Boys I've Loved Before is not the kind of book I want to be caught reading on the subway. The entire cover reeks of starry-eyed girl mooning over, well, all the boys she's loved before. And yet... fanciful cover or not, after skimming the summary, I knew immediately that this was the kind of book that would resonate with me.

Let's face it. I'm exactly the kind of girl who falls in love with strangers, who invents a lifetime of stories about a person without even having to see their face, who may or may not have filled pages in my journal about what-ifs and could've-beens and where-are-they-nows. So when this book came into my library, I was beyond excited to read it.

"What is it with girls and rain?" Peter wonders.

"I don't know... I guess maybe because everything feels more dramatic in the rain," I say with a shrug.

"Did anything actually happen with you two, or were you just standing out in the rain picking up soccer balls?”

We may as well get this out of the way: To All the Boys is by no means a particularly refined book. The writing can be distracting at times. Most notably, our main character Lara Jean Song reads like a 13-year-old, even though she's a junior in high school. And I'll admit, the writing occasionally gave me some major Babysitters Club vibes. (Generally speaking, that isn't a problem for me because I'm quite a big fan of the BSC, but I imagine it's a turn-off for many other readers.)

I will note, however, that when I was 16-going-on-17, I probably sounded and acted the same as Lara Jean. It's a side-effect of living in a comfortable place – read: the suburbs – and having others around to take care of you. Lara Jean is mothered by Margot, to the point where she can't feel confident in her own decisions without some external validation. She exists in la la land where life, for the most part, is roses and daisies and daffodils. In a lot of ways, that's how I was in high school: sheltered, young, and naive. So yes, Lara Jean may have sounded like a child, but it's not unrealistic, nor is it necessarily an inaccurate portrayal of a 16-year-old girl.

Despite the writing level,  I really enjoyed this book precisely because of the characters. It is uncanny how much I identified with Margot, Lara Jean, and Kitty each. In very specific ways, too. It felt as if I could combine all of their weird quirks to form a rough picture of myself.

Also – I'm just going to be blunt here – it's nice to read a main character who is funny and silly and intelligent and sure-footed (in some parts of her life, at least) and normal and not white. I mean, how refreshing is it to see an actual Asian girl on a book cover?! I loved all the bits and pieces of culture that were embedded into this book. I constantly found myself laughing along and nodding.

Lara Jean has such a rich relationship with her family. I continue to believe family dynamics are fascinating, and while the Song family isn't particularly complex, they are still a joy to explore. I particularly adored the development of Lara Jean's relationship with Kitty – the initial clashing and then the closeness that formed as a result of Margot going off to college. The character growth in To All the Boys was an understated kind. Incremental, slow. It was made apparent only when Margot returned for Christmas break and "suddenly" Lara Jean had her own opinions, thoughts, desires. Sure, maybe it felt like nothing was happening, but isn't that how life is sometimes? You change and grow; your hair gets a fraction longer; days pass, and then weeks, and before you know it, you're different, not quite who you once were.

When someone's been gone a long time, at first you save up all the things you want to tell them. You try to keep track of everything in your head. But it's like trying to hold on to a fistful of sand: all the little bits slip out of your hands, and then you're just clutching air and grit. That's why you can't save it all up like that.

Because by the time you finally see each other, you're catching up only on the big things, because it's too much bother to tell about the little things. But the little things are what make up life.

Sadly, the ending of To All the Boys was a bit of a disappointment. It felt abrupt, to say the least. The resolution between Margot and Lara Jean seemed overly convenient. There was practically no mention of Josh, which is odd, given that a big chunk of this book was indirectly about him. Genevieve disappeared, which I thought unfair, and Lara Jean's relationship with Peter was left hanging.

According to Jenny Han, there WILL be one more book, which I hope will provide some much needed resolution. I still wish this could have been a tighter story – I'm a big fan of standalone novels; who's got all that shelf space anyway? – but I'll be generous here. This book has many flaws, absolutely. But it has many redeeming elements as well.

Margot would say she belongs to herself. Kitty would say she belongs to no one. And I guess I would say I belong to my sisters and my dad, but that won't always be true. To belong to someone – I didn't know it, but now that I think about it, it seems like that's all I've ever wanted. To really be somebody's, and to have them be mine.

To All the Boys I've Loved Before is ultimately a story filled with truths. It's a candid exploration of love and relationships. Lara Jean wonders if there's a difference between belonging to and belonging with someone – and maybe the words do matter, and maybe it's just semantics. Either way, it's a curious thing to think about. Equally interesting is the way we come to love people... the way distance can shape a relationship... the way time can corrode it.

If there's one thing that this book has reinforced for me, it's that relationships are both fragile and strong. They are malleable, never fixed. One day, a person may not remember you exist. The next, you run into them at a Model UN conference and they can't stop thinking about you for weeks. That's the allure of this book. It's a study in possibilities, and sometimes the possibilities seem endless.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Things We Leave (and Find) in Books

A few weeks ago, I saw this picture of a left-behind bookmark on my local library's Instagram, and it got me thinking...

When we read, we often (hopefully) come away with something new. Maybe it teaches us something. Maybe it reminds us of something. Maybe it articulates something that we've never known how to explain before. To me, a good book leaves you with more than you started with.

But what about the other way around? Do we ever leave the book with something more? A small piece of ourselves, perhaps? A grocery list. A train ticket. A note to self.

Once, in the middle of my sophomore year in college, I found a green leaf pressed between the pages of a book. It felt like magic at the time. I had reached up to dog-ear the page (sacrilege, I know) to bookmark this gorgeous passage and realized there was already a crease from the previous lender. I turned the page and discovered a bookmark leaf – presumably from June 2007, the last time the book had been borrowed from the library. It was green and fresh and brilliant in the middle of winter, fossilized between pages about fossils.

What's the coolest object you've ever found in a book? Alternately, have you ever left something tucked in between the pages, whether accidentally or on purpose?

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Review: The Dream Thieves (The Raven Boys #2) by Maggie Stiefvater

Title: The Dream Thieves (The Raven Boys #2)
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Publisher: Scholastic
Publication date: September 17, 2013
Rating: ★★½

Summary (via Goodreads):

Now that the ley lines around Cabeswater have been woken, nothing for Ronan, Gansey, Blue, and Adam will be the same.

Ronan, for one, is falling more and more deeply into his dreams, and his dreams are intruding more and more into waking life.

Meanwhile, some very sinister people are looking for some of the same pieces of the Cabeswater puzzle that Gansey is after...

To be frank, I couldn't decide if I should just copy my Goodreads status updates here, or if I should write a proper review. I figured the former might be a bit too snarky for this space, as my 31 Goodreads comments can be condensed into a few key sentiments:

"Go away Adam"
"Go away Adam"

Needless to say, I just don't get the hype.

Certainly there's lots of good things about The Dream Thieves. For one, the prose is heavy and sophisticated, at times reminiscent of Neil Gaiman's surreal, hypnotic writing. What works well in The Dream Thieves is this blend of lucid dream (literally) and vague fantasy, mixed with a healthy dose of present-day culture. I mean, the Gray Man grooving to the Kinks? Yes, please.

Several characters also continue to show strong development. Adam becomes infinitely darker and douchier… (Granted, I stopped caring about him precisely because he turned into a blockhead… I mean, his use of feminism as an insult? Have we not moved past that yet?) We also develop a much more complex picture of Gansey. (In fact, I quite like Sad Gansey. I think I prefer him to Upbeat Gansey.) As for Ronan, this whole book might as well be called The Ronan Show. We get reacquainted with Ronan from a multitude of angles and it's really satisfying. (Insert bawdy Kavinsky-esque joke here.)

There are two moments between Blue and Gansey that stand out in my mind. One is a homesick phone call that Gansey makes from his family's mansion in Washington, DC. The other occurs at night, on the side of a mountain. Both are moments that allow you to see a different Gansey – truer, softer, without all the walls up. I wish that version of Gansey had been explored more in this book.

The Gray Man is a compelling character as well – a hit man that we come to sympathize with, somehow. Maybe it's the fact that he has decent taste in music, or the fact that other characters help us see the good in him. It's funny how thin that line is between good and evil. One might even say that the line is… gray.

To me, Joseph Kavinsky is easily the most fascinating character we meet. In The Dream Thieves, his life literally is sex, drugs, and cars. And yet there's so much more to him. He's one of the few characters whose point of view we don't get to explore. All we know about him is filtered through Ronan's eyes – which is not a bad thing, per se. We just don't get to learn as much about him as we do with the other characters. It's a shame, because he seems to have one of the most unexpected backgrounds and definitely one of the most dynamic personalities.

As you can see, this book is filled with all sorts of characters who have such interesting backstories and so much potential. Unfortunately, Maggie Stiefvater seems to overextend herself because we end up with half a dozen story lines that are halfheartedly developed. Most of her characters are totally underutilized (don't even get me started on Noah) and plot lines are dropped off and picked back up and dropped again.

Not to mention, the pacing is so bizarre. The plot is so slow for the majority of the book – and I mean, dull as dishwater, watching grass grow-slow. I'm guessing at least half of the entire book is pure character development, which means we're reading, for example, about Adam feeling sorry for himself, or Adam with a chip on his shoulder, or Adam being an entitled jerk. (GO AWAY ADAM.) I'm a sucker for character development, but when it feels aimless, it gets real old, real fast.

This goes on for a few hundred pages… and then in the last 50 pages or so, everything happens all at once and you're just like, "…what? Where did that come from? Why did this book have to drag on and on for that to occur?" It is very much a slow burn, but the problem is that you feel the heat for 400 pages and eventually all you want to do is go jump in a pool and swim away.

Simply put, this book was not for me. It felt too meandering and stray. Good prose and complex characters do not a strong story make.

Monday, July 7, 2014

On Diversity: To All the Boys I've Loved Before

Last week, I finished reading Jenny Han's To All the Boys I've Loved Before and I'm working on a review for it, but first can we just celebrate this rare sighting of the Asian-American protagonist?! HOORAY! Balloons! Noise! Confetti everywhere! In recognition, I'm sharing some of my favorite quintessentially Asian-American moments from the book.

1. Asian Grandma Realness

He loves Korean food. When my grandma comes to visit, he won't leave her side. He'll even watch Korean dramas with her. She cuts him pieces of apple and peels clementines for him like he's a baby. My grandma likes boys better than girls.

2. The No-Shoes Rule

"Is this for the PTA bake sale?" Peter brushes past me and starts taking off his sneakers. "You guys are a no-shoes house, right?"

3. Probiotic Yogurt Drinks

Without turning around, he lifts his hand up for a high five and Kitty leans forward and slaps it heartily. "Hey, gimme a sip of whatever it is you're drinking back there."

"It's almost gone, so you can have the rest," she says.

Kitty hands it over, and Peter tips back the plastic container in his mouth. "This is good," he says.

"It's from the Korean grocery store," Kitty tells him. "They come in a pack and you can put them in the freezer and if you pack it for lunch, it'll be icy and cold when you drink it."

"Sounds good to me. Lara Jean, bring me one of those tomorrow morning, will you? For services rendered."

4. Halloween. #thestruggle #unfair

"What do you want me to do? Do you want me to pop over to the Halloween store during lunch and buy a red wig and be Mary Jane?"

Smoothly Peter says, "Could you? That'd be great."

"No, I could not. You know why? Because I'm Asian, and people will just think I'm in a manga costume."

5. Korean Stationery Life

Instead I sit down and write Margot a letter on stationery my grandma bought me in Korea. It's pale blue with a border of fluffy white lambs.

Based on personal experience, I've found that one of the challenges of being Asian-American is that you're in an in-between state: Asian, but Americanized. At times it's hard to balance what your family wants and what your peers expect... which is partly why I like this book so much. Lara Jean doesn't tiptoe around her background. And she isn't "weird" for having a no-shoes house, or for eating pungent food, or for having fluffy white lambs on her stationery. She just is. And she's surrounded by people who appreciate where she comes from.

I love all of this culture embedded into the book.

I love this idea of being proud – even if that pride is subtle – of your background.

For those of you who have read To All the Boys, what was your reading experience like? Did you like or even care about Lara Jean's culture? Did you learn anything new, or was it all old news? Discuss! Inquiring minds want to know!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A Brief Intermission: A Northern Light

It's July! July! Where has the summer gone? Hope you all have nice weekend plans to look forward to – this week I'm off to Vermont with some friends for the Fourth of July. So looking forward to getting out of the city.

I'm currently reading A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly, probably the first historical fiction book I've picked up since I was in middle school. It's quite fascinating so far, what with the notes of feminism vs. patriarchy, duty vs. desire, and how sometimes all of those things blend together... Jury's still out on this one as I'm only halfway through, but you have to read this quote, because it is so lovely and I am so obsessed:

My uncle has a beautiful North Woods voice. You can hear the dry bite of a January morning in it and the rasp of wood smoke. His laughter is the sound of a creek under ice, low and rushing.

Are you picturing the hearts-for-eyes emoji? Because that's what I look like every time I reread those words. It's the kind of description that could make you fall in love with someone, don't you think?