Books That Broke Me

I am an anxious person.

Anyone who deals with anxiety knows that the best way to not be anxious is to AVOID ALL THE THINGS.

Anyone who deals with anxiety in this way also knows that this does not make for the most exciting life.

At some point we all come to realise that we will not die of anxiety (or whatever the thing was that we were anxious about. As it turns out, not being able to see into the future is a normal human thing rather than an indicator of impending demise).

I bring all this up because being an anxious person also makes you the sort of person who is really really good at hiding from your own feelings. That’s why, for me at least, when someone tells me a book is sad and I say yeah I’ll totally read that I am LYING.

So when I read a sad book it’s usually by accident. Or because John Green wrote it.

Whenever I read sad books, once I’ve gotten over the initial heartbreak and post-cry head ache, I always think: I feel so alive right now. And then I tell everyone in my immediate vicinity that I LOVE THEM SO MUCH OMG.

Sometimes it’s good to break your heart a bit to remind yourself that you one.

So –

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Here are some books that will break you.

(use sparingly)

The Fault In Our Stars – John Green

Was the most obvious choice I could have made? Yes. I don’t care.

TFIOS is a book about dying teenagers. And falling in love. It’s a heart breaking combination.

Sometimes when I read this I’m like LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL as I weep. Other times I’m like LIFE IS FUTILE.

It really depends on the day.

One – Sarah Crossan

Suffice to say I totally did not think through the implications of the title of this book.

It’s about two girls, Grace and Tippi, who are conjoined twins. It raises questions about what individuality even is. And then it shatters your heart into a thousand pieces.

It’s beautiful.

We Were Liars – E. Lockhart

I have mentioned a few times before that I am terrified of flying. I really want to travel, and almost all the places that I want to go will require me to get on a plane. Even though I have no money and therefore can currently go nowhere, I keep waking up at 3am freaking out about planes.

I read this book in an airport in Barcelona a couple summers ago. My friend and I had arrived several hours early because preparedness and because my friend thought that it would have some great duty free shopping. It did not. As a result I had to spend many hours in an airport watching planes take off.

This did nothing to soothe my anxieties.

So, it’s impressive that, by the time I got on the plane, I felt worse about the events in We Were Liars (which I had finished during the aforementioned hours of waiting) than I did about all the plane-related worst case scenarios that I was playing in my head.

A lot of books are described as ‘unforgettable’ when in reality actually aren’t. This one kind of is. You don’t forget that sort of trauma in a hurry.

A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness

Anyone who ever read about Manchee the dog knows that Patrick Ness is an expert in emotional torture.

Honestly I think he derives some sick sort of joy out of the process of chipping away at the existing cracks in our hard working hearts.

The instrument of torture in this story is Conor, who comes to terms with his mother’s terminal cancer through having visions of a terrifying monster.

What makes it even sadder is that it’s based on an idea by Siobhan Dowd, a wonderful YA author who herself died of cancer before being able to write the book.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – Jonathan Safran Foer

Oskar’s dad died in 9/11.

Oskar had to kind of dad who liked to send him on Reconnaissance Expeditions. Oskar loved to solve his dad’s cleverly woven mysteries.

A couple years after his death, Oskar finds a key. To Oskar, this was the Reconnaissance Expedition his father left behind. He makes it his mission to discover which lock in New York the key opens.

There is something uniquely heart wrenching in reading tragedy from the point of view of a child. Between the lines you read all the things in Oskar’s life that he isn’t yet old enough to understand. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a book about a boy learning to navigate a wound that will never truly heal.

I actually read this years ago but it’s one of those stories that’s stuck with me. Writing this has made me realise it’s time to reread it.

What was the last book you read that made you weep like a baby?

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On Louise

Louise Rennison died on Monday.

I feel like I should try and make this post funny to honour her, but I’m too sad.

Louise Rennison wrote the Georgia Nicholson books, which were honestly the books of my teens. Georgia and the Ace Gang’s ridiculous adventures brightened my days and made me laugh. Really laugh. It was when I read Louise Rennison’s books that I realised the painfully embarrassing (and totally normal) real life I was living could actually be… funny. The time Georgia shaved off her own eyebrows and had to stay home from school for a week until they grew back, and the boys she kissed who turned out pretty gross made all the stupid shit I had done that day feel less like the sort of thing I should never leave the house again over.

Louise Rennison made it so that I could lean into the silliest parts of myself. Those things that seemed so mortifying before kind of got… less. Because Georgia had done it too. And worse.

The Ace Gang taught me that my lady friends are the most important people in my life. They are the ones who hang around for the successes and the embarrassments. They taught me that you should always dance when the opportunity presents itself. While wearing Viking helmets, preferably.

I got to meet Louise a few years ago at a book signing. She was funny and kind, and even though I was at the back of a queue that must have been getting on for a hundred people long, she really took her time talking to me about my life and she told me she liked my dress. She was wonderful.

Her loss is very sad.

One

Grace and Tippi are conjoined twins. After spending their whole lives tucked away at home, their parents’ financial issues mean that they are going to have to start attending school. Private school, but all the same: it’s the outside world.

The outside world isn’t kind to the different.

Most of it, anyway.

Yasmeen, who has HIV and her best friend Jon treat Grace and Tippi like they’re actual people rather than a walking tragedy. They invite them to join their adventures without hesitation. They are the first friends Grace and Tippi have ever had, except for their sister, Dragon.

But something is looming. A decision that could tragically alter everything. A choice after which nothing will ever be the same.

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Fair Warning: this is the sort of book you need to set aside a few hours for, because once you start reading, you won’t want to stop until you get to the end. The entire novel is written in non-rhyming verse, which makes it a really quick read, and it’s so atmospheric that putting it down to simply boil the kettle is disorientating.

One, by Sarah Crossan, aside from being the most beautiful piece of fiction I have read in a long time, is basically a mission statement for why we need more diverse books. Because, to be totally honest, outside of adverts for exploitative-looking documentaries, the experience of being a conjoined twin is one I’ve never even thought about.

And I’m the but what about disabilities? person.

The whole thing is told from the perspective of Grace. I really like that Crossan chose to only have one of the twins narrate. I think it conveyed really effectively the experience of the conjoined life Grace and Tippi shared. Together but separate. We got to see how much they loved each other, but also their differences, and the resentments that sprung from them. There’s this one scene where Tippi accepts a cigarette from Yasmeen, and Grace is totally mad at her for it. But it’s not all about resentment. Grace and Tippi’s lives feature a good deal of loving compromise. Grace loves to bake and Tippi doesn’t, but they bake all the time anyways.

This book totally challenged my perceptions. One of the first questions Grace and Tippi are continually asked is why they didn’t get separated. No matter the extreme dangers involved and that both girls would have to use wheelchairs for the rest of their lives (shared legs), if they survived at all. As far as we, the rest of singleton society is concerned, a conjoined twin must long to be separate.

Reading this book make me think a lot about the paradigms I experience life through. It made me think about what it even means to be an individual, and how tied up my self-worth is with that. Individuality remains a prize so many of us are competing for.

Not Grace and Tippi. Grace and Tippi don’t want to be separate. They are more than best friends… they are each other’s worlds. They couldn’t imagine life any other way. They wouldn’t want to.

‘Plato claimed that

We were all joined to someone else once,’ I say.

‘We were humans with four arms

and four legs,

and a head of two faces,

but we were so powerful

we threatened to topple the Gods.

So they split us from our soul mates

               down the middle,

and doomed us to live

forever

without our counterparts.’

If the point of reading is to experience new worlds, then I don’t see how any bookworm could bear not to pick up One at the nearest opportunity. It’s a beautiful story of love and identity that’ll crack your heart in two.

One is the sort of story that you just can’t shake, even weeks after you finish reading it.

Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda

Simon Spier is being blackmailed. The black mailer is Martin Addison and he wants a date with Simon’s friend Abby. That Abby would never be interested is the least of Simon’s problems.

Because Simon’s secret isn’t the only one at stake.

Simon’s gay. Through looking at his emails, Martin hasn’t only uncovered this fact, but also Simon’s online potential-boyfriend, Blue. Since Blue won’t even let Simon know his identity, he’s guessing he won’t react well to having his private life scattered around the school gossip mill, either.

It could be an epic fuckstorm of a disaster. 

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Once again, I find myself asking why did I wait so long? As pretty much everyone on the entire blogosphere has said, Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli is awesomeness at its highest degree.

I fell in love with Simon straight away. He’s funny, insecure, self-involved and a total sceptic of all things relating to the high school experience. He’s confident and well-liked, but he feels like he’s always hiding.

Yeah. I fell hard for this guy.

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‘I take a sip of my beer, and it’s – I mean, it’s just astonishingly disgusting. I don’t think I was expecting it to taste like ice-cream, but holy fucking hell. People lie and get fake IDs and sneak into bars, and for this? Honestly I think I’d rather make out with Bieber. The dog. Or Justin.

Anyway, it really makes you worry about all the hype surrounding sex.’ 

There are so many passages in the book like this that just plastered a happy grin all over my face. There was a similar level of real-ness to all the characters in the book. He has Abbey, his confident cheerleader friend, and Nick, the cute gamer guy with the guitar. Even Martin, the supposed villain of the piece, is impossible to truly hate. His awkward and hilarious antics in no way make up for the shitty things he does, but I could summon up far more pity for him than I could genuine resentment. My favourite characters (other than Simon, obvs.) were his best friend Leah and his younger sister Nora. They are both in the painfully self-conscious phase I think most of us bookish types probably went through at some point.

The central theme of the novel is concerned with finding identity. While Simon knows himself and understands his sexuality, he struggles to share it with the people who love him. He feels trapped by the image of him that his family and friends hold, and is exhausted by the reactions he encounters whenever he deviates from their expectations.

‘… I’m tired of coming out. All I ever do is come out. I try not to change, but I keep changing, in all these tiny ways. I get a girlfriend. I have a beer. And every freaking time, I have to reintroduce myself to the universe all over again.’

What I also liked about Simon is that he is a total hypocrite in this regard. Even as he laments the way that his family box him in, he accuses his younger sister Nora of not acting ‘like herself’. Throughout the book Simon comes to realise that people can’t be boxed in. The boxes are imaginary.

‘… people really are like houses with vast rooms and tiny windows. And maybe it’s a good thing, the way we never stop surprising each other.’

And I must say before I sign off, the Spiers are my favourite family since the Chathams of Saint Anything. Becky Albertalli has no time for disappearing parents. Simon’s parents are present and excited. The family watch Bachelorette together. Afterwards they Skype about it with Alice, Simon’s sister who’s away at university.

(my mum and I did a similar thing with Broadchurch).

The only word I can use to describe this book is authentic. There was such depth of heart to every character. Becky Albertalli has created a cast of characters you’ll want to read over and over while gently prodding us to re-evaluate the paradigms we experience life through.

‘It is definitely annoying that straight (and white, for that matter) is the default, and that the only people who have to think about their identity are the ones who don’t fit that mold. Straight people should have to come out, and the more awkward it is, the better. Awkwardness should be a requirement. I guess this is sort of our version of the Homosexual Agenda?’

Book Boyfriends for Valentine’s Day

Because boys in books are just better.

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Victoria and the Rogue by Meg Cabot

Lady Victoria Arbuthnot is not amused. She’s been shipped from India to England to live with her less-than-ideal relatives, the Gardiners and their zoo of children. If that weren’t bad enough, she’s also being forced to keep her engagement to the charming Lord Malfrey a secret.

It’s all very tedious. As if the family circumstances weren’t enough, Victoria can’t seem to shake the infuriating Captain Carstairs, whose primary hobbies consist of vexing Victoria and spreading rumours about her new fiancé.

For Lady Victoria Arbuthnot, it’s a long road to happily-ever-after.

Captain Carstairs: The, he’s-mean-to-you-because-he-likes-you type. As much as I loved this book it sent me barking up a lot of the wrong trees throughout high school. Totally worth it.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Since Cath started university and her identical twin, Wren ditched her, she doesn’t know what to do with herself. After spending her teens immersed in the world of her Simon Snow fanfiction, Cath honestly doesn’t know how to operate in the real world.

One thing she absolutely does not feel ready for is falling in love. With anything. So the sudden appearance of new friends, new passions and potentially a new boy in her life have her beyond freaked out.

Will Cath figure out how to open her heart before it’s too late?

Levi: Your best friend who you can’t help but fall in love with.

First and Then by Emma Mills

Devon has been crushing on her best friend Cas since forever. He either doesn’t know or doesn’t care. Devon doesn’t even mind any more. She’s pretty much given up on it ever happening.

The butterflies in her stomach haven’t, however.

The drama begins when Devon’s weird cousin Foster comes to live with her family. Foster immediately bonds with Ezra, captain of the football team and prized jackass.

A prized jackass who also happens to be super-hot.

Devon’s life is about to get complicated…

Ezra: The broody one with the tragic history.

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

From the outside it seems like Annabel has everything.

On the inside, she’s crumbling. The girl she thought was her best friend is trying to destroy her. Her family is coming apart at the seams. Her sister is trying to starve herself to death. All Annabel wants is to disappear.

Then she meets Owen. Owen is obsessed with weird music and his radio show, Anger Management. He doesn’t take any bullshit.

He sees the cracks in Annabel’s façade. And he doesn’t leave

Owen: The guy who’s working through some stuff. The one who’s life you can’t help but fall into.

Emmy and Oliver by Robin Benway

Emmy and Oliver planned to be best friends forever. Then Oliver’s parents split up and his father kidnapped him.

Ten years later, he’s back and Emmy has no idea what to do. He’s her best friend and a stranger and the defining disaster of her life to date. Oliver barely remembers her… until he does.

As they grow closer, Emmy has to ask herself, is it possible for them to get back to the people they were supposed to be?

Oliver: The cute guy who got kidnapped by his dad. You know the one. The guy who disappeared for ten years then made you feel like he was never gone.

 

 

 

Vivian Versus America

This review contains spoilers for Vivian Versus the Apocalypse.

Vivian Apple has been through a lot since the first rapture. Now that the evil Church of America Corporation have complete control over the country, her only choice is a life on the run. After tracking down Beaton Frick himself, Viv and her best friend Harp know a little about the circumstances of the first rapture – totally fake, of course, and involving at least one instance of mass murder. They know they have solid evidence against the church, but after Peter’s capture, they are unsure how to proceed. After finding Vivian’s not-so-raptured mother and the sister she never knew she had, things are more confusing than ever.

It’s fortunate then, that Vivian’s new sister, Winnie, is part of an anti-Church militia, bent on taking the Corporation down by any means necessary. Together they travel to LA to the Church headquarters.

How do you go about taking down a cult that has captured the majority of Americans in its thrall? Vivian and her new friends are going to have to figure it out…

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I read Vivian Versus the Apocalypse about a year ago. I liked it well enough, but there was nothing about it that made me desperate to pick up the sequel. At this point, I honestly have no idea why this was, because Vivian Versus America, by Katie Coyle is a brilliant book.

The truth is, there will always somebody trying to make a profit on the end of the world. In this case, it’s the Church of America Corporation, who in addition to publishing The Book of Frick (much loved bible substitute), also sell clothes, food and home accessories, all of which will make you just that little bit more Godly.

You can buy your way into heaven, it turns out.

Vivian Versus America is a super depressing book. The Church has risen to such shocking power as a result of the fact that the world probably is ending. America has been battered by severe storms and for months the sun has been misbehaving. Just as people were adjusting to the prospect of a future that was brutally limited, Beaton Frick appeared with a way out. It was built on aggression, ignorance and hatred.

People ate it up.

Vivian and Harp are two teenage girls – barely more than children – but once the Church have publicised their names and images and labelled them the enemy, people don’t hesitate to attack them in the street. In this America, a person can only be with the Church or against them, and if you fall into the latter category believers feel no obligation toward you or your safety. As the situation progresses and society disintegrates (and the Church of America step in with a new, well equipped police force, obviously) it is not only believers who are guilty of violence.

‘We just have to believe we’re capable of better. Because the Church doesn’t. They count on us being scared and weak; they count on us turning on each other. And some do…. But there are millions and millions of people in this country, Viv. The people who scare you… they’re only the loudest. They’ve got access to the screens and microphones, and they’re counting on the rest of us keeping our heads low, because we’re too afraid to fight back. But just because we’re not as loud doesn’t mean we’re alone.’

Katie Coyle explores the darkest aspects of human nature. She looks at how easily we can be led into a place of violence and aggression when we’re desperate to escape from feelings of fear and hopelessness. As I’ve already mentioned, this in no way limited to the believers. Everybody has blood on their hands by the end.

The weird thing about reading this – and probably what stopped me from starting it for so long – is that Vivian is by far the least interesting character in the book. She’s a very typical YA protagonist. The good girl turned warrior with all the inherent insecurities to boot. Her romance bores me, and she takes risks for it that made me roll my eyes hard. I was fascinated however, with the other women in her family. Much of the first book is dedicated to the problems of Vivian’s mother and by the beginning of …Versus America she has been cast as the other great villain of Vivian’s life. Winnie, Viv’s sister, I loved and I still wish we could have gotten more of. She’s brave – she’s pretty much decided that she’ll take down the Church or die trying. She’s accepts people for who they are, without tolerating their bullshit. The calm objectivity she projects enables her to have relationships with her estranged mother and her resentful sister. She understood, much more than Vivian, that any moment could be the end. She wasn’t going to die with unfinished business. The relationships of these three women added another fascinating layer to the book.

‘I know now that my mother will always be searching. I can’t divert her from her quest for herself; I can’t insist that I alone should be enough for her. She is more than just my mother – she’s a person all of her own, and she has the right to seek answers. She’s just not satisfied yet. I realize that a part of me loves this about her, even as it hurts.’

This is one of the first dystopic fictions I’ve ever read that I actually felt in my heart. Looking at the news right now there is a grim reality to this book that is inescapable. It’s a compelling story.

‘…the world is dark, and frightening. The country is huge and unknown. Some lay in wait, wanting to manipulate us, to turn us against one another – for money, or for power. It doesn’t matter. All I know is they will not be able to do it if we hold tight to each other. If we find in ourselves the capacity to love without fear or condition, to accept the humanity of others as simple, irrefutable fact. I believe we are capable of this.’