Jane Steele ~ #JNGReads

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye is an excellent read! I highly recommend this one to fans of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre because it is a lot of fun, and offers a surprising spin on Brontë’s original classic.

I decided to read Jane Steele for two reasons: the first is that my best friend and fellow avid reader, CV, has been recommending it to me for at least a year; the second is that, as I get closer and closer to my Victorian-inspired wedding, I am planning to read as many novels related to Jane Eyre as possible, ending with an actual re-read of the classic a week before my wedding. Jane Steele marks the first novel I chose to read as part of what I am affectionately calling The Jane Eyre Initiative of 2017. And, I’ll start by bluntly stating that I am very glad I finally decided to read Faye’s book. It is not perfect by any means: there are some flaws with it that create a bit of confusion for the reader that is hard to overlook (and which necessarily caused me to decrease my overall rating of the book by 1 star). However, Jane Steele is extremely entertaining, and it is remarkable to me how expertly Faye employs a Victorian narrative voice. It really felt as though I was reading a traditional Victorian novel, and I liked Jane Steele instantly because of how forthright, honest and transparent she is both as a narrator and as a character. Whereas at times we are called, as readers, to question the narrative that Jane Eyre presents to us as well as feel frustration about her inability to fully express her emotions to the other characters in Brontë’s novel, Jane Steele is 100% honest with her audience about her preoccupations and concerns, and she is also an open book with the characters she interacts with. All of this allowed me to trust Jane Steele while simultaneously feeling empathy toward her. I wasn’t expecting to like her as much as I did, but I find now that she has become one of my favourite narrators that I’ve encountered in a long time.

Not only is Jane Steele an impressive and unique character, the story she tells is also unlike anything I’ve read in a while. To piggyback on what other reviewers have said, Jane Steele is NOT a retelling of Jane Eyre; instead, it is an entirely new story with similarities to that of Miss Eyre (more on this in a moment). The plot, characters and locations resemble those in Brontë’s much beloved novel, but there is enough distinction to make it clear that Jane Steele is its own story. It is also very fascinating that Jane Steele herself reads Jane Eyre, and as a narrator, she makes many references to Jane Eyre and to Jane’s character. She also quotes pieces of Jane Eyre at the start of each one of her own chapters, which is a delightful treat and which also indicates to the reader what is to come in the chapter. Jane Steele feels almost like a love letter to Jane Eyre; it is as if a huge fan of Jane Eyre (such as myself) decided to write her own story while constantly making allusions to how Jane Eyre has influenced and shaped her life and character. That is precisely what Jane Steele does: she tells her OWN, distinct story, while continually mentioning how Jane Eyre has made an impact on the woman she is. I absolutely loved how this was approached by Faye because I could see myself doing the exact same thing if I were to write a memoir!

There’s also so much to love about Jane Steele as a work of fiction itself: it is dark, macabre and gothic, but there are also moments of sarcasm and wit (particularly between Jane and her love interest, Mr. Thornfield) that take the reader pleasantly by surprise. Jane Steele is a bit ballsier than Jane Eyre, and she isn’t afraid to flirt, swear and generally hold her own in a conversation. She is not the governess who hides behind the curtain or shrinks into the wallpaper. Faye also does an excellent job portraying Indian culture in her treatment of the new occupants of Highgate House, and I truly felt as though she handled the concept of the “other” with tact and expertise. I found myself becoming so interested in the culture of Sahjara and Sardar Singh, and the overall ambience at Highgate House was warm, inviting and intoxicating. There wasn’t a character in the entire novel that I didn’t like; even Jane’s awful aunt Barbary and cousin Edwin were portrayed in a way that made them necessary to the structure of the story and that added something significant to the plot and to Jane’s character.

Honestly, there’s not much not to love about Jane Steele because it is just the wildest ride and is so well-written! Having said that, I couldn’t give it a full 5-star rating and that is actually down to the fact that I think it relied too heavily on similarities to Jane Eyre at points. As I mentioned, I really liked the fact that Jane Steele is a huge fan of Jane Eyre and that she uses this affection and passion as a tool to write her own memoir. The references to points in Jane Eyre that resemble moments in her own life, as well as the inclusion of important quotes from Jane Eyre, was really well done and not something I at all had an issue with. Instead, I found problematic the fact that much more of Jane Steele’s life resembles and is nearly identical to Jane Eyre’s life, and yet Jane Steele fails to mention or highlight these aspects. For example, the very fact that Jane Steele’s name is Jane or that her love interest’s name is Mr. Thornfield, which is obviously a nod to the setting of Jane Eyre, Thornfield Hall…to me, it is strange that Jane Steele wouldn’t mention what a coincidence it is that so many of the names of people she encounters line up with those in her favourite novel. I don’t know how to properly articulate this, but it almost felt as though Faye was dropping hints to the reader about how similar Jane Steele’s story is to Jane Eyre’s, and yet she fails to make those hints visible to the fan of Jane Eyre she creates herself, Jane Steele. It’s almost like Faye wants the reader to say, Oh hey, that’s a cute nod to Jane Eyre! while simultaneously making her own character oblivious to this connection. It was a bit confusing to me. In the same vein, it made no sense to me that Jane Steele also has a tumultuous relationship with her aunt and cousin, and also attends a horrendous boarding school, and yet doesn’t address the fact that these details are so close to those endured by her literary heroine. It felt to me that Jane Steele’s trajectory was TOO SIMILAR to Jane Eyre’s in many regards…I would’ve preferred if instead, Jane Steele’s story diverged more clearly from that of Jane Eyre in terms of major plot points, but without omitting the moments when Jane Steele reflects on how Jane Eyre shaped her identity.

The best way to explain this clearly is probably to use myself as an example: I read Jane Eyre for the first time when I was in grade 12, and it hugely shaped who I am in terms of my ideals, my literary preferences, my passions, etc. In many ways, my life resembles Jane’s in that I have had to stand up to authority figures on multiple occasions, in that I worked as an English tutor to young children for many years, and in that I stumbled upon my fiancé unexpectedly and he, much like Mr. Rochester, has a checkered past of romantic foibles. There are more examples of how I identify with Jane Eyre, and more become clear to me every day, BUT my life is not identical to Jane in ways that are major and impossible to overlook: I am not an orphan, I did not attend a boarding school, I did not work as a governess in an employer’s home, etc. So, were I to write a memoir, I would absolutely emphasize the points in my own story that remind me of Jane Eyre’s and make frequent reference to Charlotte Brontë’s novel and the influence it has had on me, but my life would not come across as eerily similar to Jane’s. I feel like Faye should’ve taken this approach to Jane Steele: yes, it is a great idea to make Jane Steele’s story harken back to Jane Eyre’s in subtle ways, but to have these overwhelmingly obvious plot points that are identical to those in Jane Eyre, or to give characters names that are identical to those used in Jane Eyre, seemed too heavy-handed to me. I simply wish that Jane Steele was a touch more unique and didn’t rely on Jane Eyre’s plot so frequently…and I think that these glaring similarities are what make readers think Jane Steele is a Jane Eyre retelling, which it most certainly is not and which is an assumption that I believe takes away from how poignant and brilliant Jane Steele is in its own right.

Overall, Jane Steele was fabulous and I thoroughly enjoyed it! As I said, a few things about the plot could’ve been tweaked to give it more credibility as a unique, new and fresh story, but I would still highly recommend it and I may even read it again one day.

My Favourite Quotes from Jane Steele

(To entice you to pick it up because it is just so well-written!)

“I felt these insults, reader, and I collected them, strung them like sand hardened pearls, and I wore them, invisible; I wear them today.”

If I must go to hell to find my mother again, so be it: I will be another embodied disaster.

But I will be a beautiful disaster.

“Swallowing, I placed the cheque in my reticule with the two letters. I did this, reader, because the most idiotic thing Jane Eyre ever did other than to leave in the first place was to depart without her pearl necklace and half Mr. Rochester’s fortune, which he would gladly have given her. If she had been eaten by a bear upon fleeing penniless into the wilderness, I should have shaken that bear’s paw.”

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

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Ugly Love ~ #JNGReads

As it turns out, I’m not a fan of Colleen Hoover.

This is undoubtedly an unpopular opinion and one I fear I may be crucified for. But, I have my reasons, which I am hoping to clearly explain in this review of Ugly Love. I have only read two books by Colleen Hoover in my life, both during this year. The first was It Ends with Us; by the time I finished that novel, I had the sense that I really enjoyed it, but I think that had a lot to do with how emotional it was in the end and how powerful the subject matter was. When I look back, I find that I don’t remember the characters that well and I don’t feel like I truly connected to any of them in a lasting sort of way. I also distinctly remember not being able to get into Hoover’s writing style, and finding it somewhat annoying in places. However, I have heard so many great things about Hoover’s writing that I knew I would eventually have to give another one of her books a try.

For all these reasons, when I was in Chapters days before my birthday trying to decide what book to use my birthday Plum Rewards coupon on, I made my way to the Colleen Hoover section. I thought maybe, since I had a coupon and wouldn’t be spending too much money on the book, I could afford to pick up another one of hers to feel like I gave her the good ol’ college try! I don’t know why Ugly Love caught my attention because I had never heard of it before, but it did, and I found myself flipping to a random page and reading a few lines that really made me eager to delve into the whole novel. I think it was a part where Tate is feeling particularly heartbroken and lost about her “relationship” with Miles and I just felt like I couldn’t put the book back down and abandon the characters.

But honestly, I wish I did. This is not to say that the book is bad, whatsoever; on the contrary, I didn’t hate reading it at all. I just didn’t find that I loved or even liked reading it, and I believe that it just wasn’t worth it for me to pick up this novel right now, in a year when I have read some absolutely amazing stories that were of course going to overshadow one like this. It simply wasn’t the right time for me to pick up Ugly Love, and although I don’t think I would’ve really liked it no matter when I picked it up, I don’t think I would’ve been quite so annoyed with it if I picked it up, say, midway through next year instead. It felt a bit like a waste of my time right now.

Why did I feel this way about this book? Well, as I said there are a few reasons actually, each of which I will go through in turn…

Firstly, I didn’t like any of the characters. Period. This is a huge deal for me because I’m more interested in the characters in any book I read than in any single other detail (including world building and plot structure). I connect to characters fiercely and vehemently, and when that doesn’t happen for me, I find it really hard to enjoy a story. For some people, maybe hating characters is a strong enough emotion to entertain them, but for me it’s just not; I have to LOVE, or at the very least like, at minimum one of the main characters or I find it really hard to like a novel. In the case of Ugly Love, both Tate and Miles annoyed me to NO END. Listen, we’ve all been there or seen people who are there: in a “relationship” with someone who doesn’t want to fall in love and is vocal about that, yet still adamant that we can change them and convince them to have feelings for us, because we’re freaking amazing and no one can love them better! I’m not arguing that this isn’t a realistic scenario or that we don’t all kind of do some arguably pretty stupid things in these sorts of situations. Been there, done that…guilty as charged! What annoyed me about Tate and Miles, though, is that everything is sooo over the top and melodramatic. I get it, Miles went through an awful tragedy and I’m not disputing that…but the guy is WEIRD! It’s almost like he’s a sociopath at times and he’s emotionally abusive in many ways. What drove me most crazy, though, is how Tate responds to that. She LIKES IT! Okay, I don’t want to judge someone else’s relationship, but what bothers me is that Tate recognizes and vocalizes on several occasions that she is NOT happy and that she feels like Miles is controlling or (Hoover’s favourite word in Ugly Love) “invading” her, and yet she does nothing to stop it. She even talks about how apparently powerless she is to leave him, and I just wasn’t a fan of this. I like my heroines to be strong, self-assured and confident and Tate did not strike me as any of those things.

“Now he knows exactly how much I’m not Tate when I’m near him. I’m only liquid. Conforming. Doing what he asks, doing what I’m told, doing what he wants me to do.”

“‘Make me leave,’ [Miles] says, his voice pleading and warm against my throat. ‘You don’t need this.’ He’s kissing his way up my throat, breaking for breath only when he speaks. ‘I just don’t know how to stop wanting you. Tell me to go and I’ll go.’

I don’t tell him to go. I shake my head. ‘I can’t.’

I turn my face toward his just as he’s worked his way up to my mouth, then I grab his shirt and pull him to me, knowing exactly what I’m doing to myself. I know this time won’t end any prettier than the other times, but I still want it just as much. If not more.”

Secondly, I did not like how Ugly Love was written, and based on my similar experience with It Ends with Us, I’m leaning towards believing that I just don’t vibe with Hoover’s writing style. I’ve read a few reviews that talked about how repetitive Hoover’s writing is, and I 100% agree with that; the thing is, though, that it’s not just repetitive in terms of literal words or sentences (although, believe me, it is that too), it’s also repetitive in terms of concepts. If I have to read one more page of Tate discussing how scared she is that her thing, whatever it is, with Miles is going to end poorly, or one more page of Miles spouting how much he loves Rachel and everything is Rachel and the sun rises and sets for Rachel, I will seriously rip my hair out. It was fine in the beginning to read about these sorts of emotions, but it got old fast. Other than having a fair number of steamy sex scenes, nothing actually happens in the book, and that left me truly disappointed.

Thirdly, and along the same vein, what was up with the chapters in Miles’ point of view verging into verse? Nope, not feeling it, and from the reviews I’ve read, I’m not the only one! I have no issue with portions of verse in prose texts, but I do have an issue with it when the verse isn’t particularly good. Miles is not a poet, and clearly neither is Hoover, and so switching into verse when Miles got overly emotional just felt so damn cheesy that I couldn’t stand it after a while (well, actually, about 2 chapters into it). It felt very unnecessary for this to happen and it took me right out of the story and prevented me from connecting with Miles at some of the most crucial moments in the text. I feel that this was a very poor stylistic choice on Hoover’s part.

Damn, I really just s$@t all over this novel, didn’t I? I swear that wasn’t my intention but I just can’t find that many good things to say about it! It wasn’t awful at all…but it really wasn’t good either. At least not in my opinion, but if you love Hoover’s work, I’d say to give it a chance.

❥❥.5 (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

If We Were Villains ~ #JNGReads

If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio is a unique and engaging mystery novel, but unfortunately it failed to grip me quite as much as I thought it would.

It is nearly impossible to say anything about this novel’s plot without including spoilers, so I will keep my summary short. If We Were Villains follows the story of Oliver Marks (the narrator) and his 6 fellow students as they attend an acting program geared specifically toward performing Shakespeare. We first meet Oliver as he is being released from prison after serving a 10 year sentence for a crime related to a tragedy that occurs during the students’ senior year at Dellecher. Oliver then recounts his story and the events leading up to his convictions, and we as readers piece together the story as we move closer toward Oliver’s trial and entrance into prison. In this sense, we already know the outcome/end of the story before it has even really begun.

This is a fantastic and fascinating premise for a mystery novel, and my issues in getting into the story did not have anything to do with the plot, which I found very intriguing. Rather, I found it very difficult to connect with any of the characters because I could not bring myself to like them or care what happened to them, including Oliver himself. Now that I sit down to write this review, I am finding it almost impossible to describe why I didn’t love the novel or the characters because each one of them was interesting enough. Each character had their own quirks, background and personality, but for some reason, they all fell flat for me and I found myself getting annoyed with them more than anything. I found Alexander to be irritating and thought his jokes weren’t funny and were poorly timed; I thought Meredith was self-centered and very difficult to get to know because she was such a total femme fatale stereotype and seemed to have no more layers than that; and I found that Wren and Filippa just faded into the background and didn’t stand out to me at all. Arguably, the three most interesting characters are James, Richard and Oliver, but I found James to be too much of a good guy, Richard too overdone as a villain, and Oliver just plain whiny. That was maybe the hardest part of the novel to accept, for me: I expected Oliver to be this super intricate character, and I wanted him to rival the unreliable narrators I’ve encountered in such great novels as The Moonstone and, more recently, Gillespie and I. Instead, all Oliver seemed to do was get overly nostalgic and sentimental, idolize and dote on his fellow students, and overall absolve all of them of any of their guilt because he held them on such a high pedestal. It grated on my nerves at points and also made it hard for me to care about Oliver…which meant that I didn’t feel any real eagerness to learn why he ended up in prison or any anxiety about his situation because I sort of assumed his own stupidity landed him there.

Moreover, although I love Shakespeare and I’m the first to appreciate a quote from one of his plays coming from either the mouth of a real person or a fictional character, I found it totally heavy-handed how often Oliver and his school mates quoted the Bard. Sure, I get it, they are theatre students and they only act in Shakespearean plays, and having them say a couple quotes here and there in conversation would’ve been cool, but a significant portion of their dialogue came straight from Shakespeare’s plays (not to mention the scenes when they are actually acting on stage and large chunks of the plays are transcribed). This just made it even harder to connect with the characters because none of them really had a voice of their own. I felt like I knew Shakespeare better than any of the characters by the time I finished If We Were Villains. Not to mention the fact that since the quotes were interwoven into every day conversation, I found myself having to pause and dissect exactly how they fit into the scene I was reading and why the character would’ve chosen to speak that specific line. This was a jarring experience and took me right out of the drama and mystery every time it happened.

That being said, If We Were Villains is an enjoyable enough book. It’s not awful by any means, and I actually quite liked the plot, even if I didn’t like the characters. I think I should also note that I recently finished the Six of Crows duology which features such a strong cast of characters, all working together, that it was hard not to compare the 7 main characters of If We Were Villains to the strong and diverse group in Six of Crows. I’m sure there are many readers out there who would have better luck with If We Were Villains, and indeed, there are some rave reviews of it on Goodreads, so I encourage readers who like unique thrillers or who have a particular fondness for Shakespeare to give it a shot. Hopefully you’ll find something to connect to in it!

❥❥❥.5 (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

The Place Between the Pillars ~ #JNGReads

❥❥❥❥.5 (out of 5)

The Place Between the Pillars by Brandon Glossop is a novel that I would not have picked up of my own accord, but that every person should pick up and read at some point in their life. It follows the life of John Hall, an Afghanistan veteran who struggles to reintegrate himself into society after his service in the army and deals primarily with substance abuse issues, aspects of PTSD and extreme feelings of hatred and prejudice. While this is not normally the type of book I would rush to pick up and devour, it is one of the more important and poignant novels I have read this year, and it is undoubtedly full of subject matter that every person should encounter and be forced to investigate. I was lucky enough to receive a copy of The Place Between the Pillars from the author himself, and I am very grateful to Brandon Glossop, not only for allowing me the opportunity to delve into his specific work, but also for opening my eyes to issues that I would’ve otherwise been totally blind to.

I don’t always do this when reviewing a novel, but in this particular case, I felt it best to write notes as I read and transcribe them below. I feel that this way of writing a review more easily and accurately reflects my various emotions throughout my entire reading process, and so I felt that this sort of review would come across as more genuine. But first, I’d like to provide a few general thoughts on the novel as a whole, before delving into more detailed notes from my reading process…

I haven’t read a book like this since my Master’s. It wasn’t a pleasant or pleasurable reading experience whatsoever, but it was an important one. The novel packs a punch, it hits the reader hard and it deals with subject matter that is in no way light or frivolous, even when it is presented with sarcasm and dry humour. It is a book that cannot be taken or entered into lightly.

Rather than being enjoyable, this book is informative. There are different types of reading experiences, and entering into a study of The Place Between the Pillars is a didactic rather than a relaxing one. It is a story that begs you to think, that is designed to shock the reader and make them uncomfortable. It isn’t an easy journey by any standards, and yet it feels like a necessary one, particularly in this day and age.

The reason I could not give this book a full 5 stars is because part of me wishes it was narrated in the first person. I think that style would’ve made it a lot easier for me to feel emotionally connected to Hall and would’ve allowed me to better empathize with and pity him. This is not to say that I think pity is always a good sentiment, but in this case, I feel it would’ve helped me to understand Hall better and feel less contempt toward him. Although the dialogues are very well-written, I also craved first person narration at times because I wanted to know what Hall really sounded like, inside his own mind, and fully uncensored. I don’t see this as a real criticism, though…if anything, it is testament to just how complex Hall’s characterization is that I wanted to get to know him better…to get inside him.

What I Thought During My Reading of The Place Between the Pillars

(These notes were written sequentially, as I read the narrative, and so my thoughts and emotions do bounce around quite a bit. It is, however, the most honest representation of what I went through as I read John Hall’s story.)

– Very graphic! You feel the wounds as if you have them – I felt physically ill at times!

* “Hall rubbed his face and looked at Hartford. Hartford looked hung over, but he was still Hartford – still human. Hall felt like something less.”

– Alcohol problem = substance abuse issues slowly build up.

* “You don’t need it…make this your last one.” = Hall thinks this and then is back to drinking 3 days later/in the next chapter…this will be a frustrating, back and forth process.

– Finding it a tad difficult to get a grasp on location at the beginning. If you’re not up on army protocol, it’s a bit jolting (for example, I wish some of the acronyms were written out, like IRF, PT, LAVs). The narration is disjointed and jarring, which is a great way to portray Hall’s substance abuse = he is out of it and so are we.

– Glossop’s descriptions are so detailed that I myself started to feel exhausted, disoriented and sick along with Hall. But, at the same time, Hall is such a flawed character that I don’t know how to feel about him. Do I feel pity? Contempt? I think Glossop wants to elicit empathy more than anything.

– Tons of vulgarity (for example, Hall blacking out and sleeping with a 15 year old)…very mature subject matter!

*racism (against Middle Eastern people) *sexism (women as whores) *alcoholism (BUT not perceived as serious or taken seriously!)

* “‘When I die, I want to know what it feels like. I want to experience it. It only happens once, and who knows, it might feel good. If not, then fuck it, it wouldn’t last long.’” = very dark and disturbing!

– Part of me felt like the story should be in first person (see my comments above)…BUT then we would sympathize more with Hall…plus, he’s blacked out for most of it anyway!

– Alcohol to MDMA…the addictions are progressing…

– Some scenes, like Hall bloody and getting out of bed, are so vivid and clearly described that I felt physically ill and my body was tingly!

– Everything is described in such meticulous detail (for example, Hall’s dinner, reading and YouTube videos, the route of his run). We feel every breath with Hall, even when nothing much happens.

– It’s heartbreaking in a way because just as Hall is recovering and getting a hold on things, he falls into another addiction. But is his life too boring? Does it lack purpose and stimulus?

– Wright’s diatribe on Middle Eastern men… Alludes to the issue of othering the enemy and overgeneralizing about an entire race of people. It is the “Us vs. Them” mentality taken to the extreme…a fundamental danger of being in the army.

– I’m not sure if I hate Hall or feel sorry for him. But how much is he to blame for? It is a much larger problem that has made him into a “monster”, but it is so hard not to judge from the standpoint of someone who has never been through what he has!

– I hate Hall, but I feel guilty for hating him because there’s a bigger reason for why he is the way he is. It is a very challenging experience for the reader!

– Hall’s diatribe on Middle Eastern people is even worse than Wright’s. He is relentless and cruel and blind to the inhumanity of what he says. And yet, he is speaking from “personal experiences” and his opinions are flawed and fucked up because of what he saw and endured. As someone who is half Middle Eastern and marrying a Middle Eastern man, I was immediately offended, but also appalled that Hall was forced into this way of thinking… How can it be reversed or stopped? What do we have to do to prevent these repercussions?

– I do like Kitty as a character. She seems to represent all of us, our shock, fear, disgust and pity… “‘You sounded sadistic, John. You sounded evil.’”

– Hall recognizes that he is wrong BUT there is a part of him that has truly suffered. He has hatred because he was wronged. What are we to make of this? “‘Well, shit, Kitty, I spent two years being trained to kill people…’”

Chapter 26 is utterly brilliant! It is entirely dialogue and written so well. It represented such realistic conversation. Glossop is a master at creating dialogue!

– I am actually feeling anxiety for Kitty! I like her a lot!

– The last third of the novel mostly centers on Hall and Kitty doing A LOT of drugs, and it made me very anxious to see them fall apart. I want them to get their acts together. They were sober for 3 months, so can’t they do it again?

– Honestly, reading about Hall and Kitty getting high makes me feel physically ill and itchy. The writing style is simple and stripped down, but that causes the reader to feel it more acutely.

Touching Moments: 1) Hall playing with the boy in Afghanistan, throwing rocks with him and hoping he will survive. 2) Hall interacting with the Muslim woman in the pet store and letting her son pet his cat. These scenes seem to allude to a buried humanity in Hall and a chance at redemption. They are moments of heart amidst depravity.

* “‘I went there to sort out my PTSD, to sort out the cause of my drinking and coke habit, and they wouldn’t touch it….they told me I couldn’t talk about anything that happened overseas, because, get this, they were worried it might traumatize the other clients.’” = This quote directly sums up our society’s failings with regards to veterans.

– Will sharing the story of the death of his friend Brett Phillips was so graphic and made me feel physically ill. Glossop is a skilled writer! He knows how to force the reader to visualize things they don’t want to!

– A heart wrenching feeling at the end that Hall will never get his life together or kick his bad habits. A very bleak and cynical tone and feeling. Such a heartbreaking conclusion with no optimism!

“‘Well I just happen to have all the ingredients for the John Hall special…coke, oxy, and MDMA.’”

There is a difference between books and literature, that much is certain. Glossop clearly has the potential to write literature. And while these sorts of hard hitting, profound novels are harder for readers to pick up because they demand a responsible and focused reading, they are the most worthwhile stories to read and encounter. Glossop, in The Place Between the Pillars, writes a story that is not only worth reading, it is a necessary read and I would recommend it to any and every adult. We all have much to learn from it.

My Favourite Passage from the Novel…

(Glossop’s writing really shines here and his potential as a writer is clear!)

“In war, death is not a very important thing. When it happens, the importance falls on how to solve it – who takes what job, what to do with the body, and how equipment is to be redistributed. If you are affected by it, you are expected to solve any resulting issues that might jeopardize your effectiveness as a soldier or inform your chain of command so that they can do it for you. In war, death is a stoppage. But in the civilized world, nothing is more important than death. Wallpaper and carpets can scream of it for years.”

*A huge thank you to Brandon Glossop for providing me with a copy of The Place Between the Pillars. It was my pleasure to read and review it!*

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

The Dead Husband Project ~ #JNGReads

“Rare to see people so raw, so exposed, reality stripped bare like that.”

I really don’t have much to say about The Dead Husband Project…because it is brilliant and anything I say about it will pale in comparison to what it actually is.

I picked up Canadian author Sarah Meehan Sirk’s collection of short stories on an absolute whim. I hadn’t heard of it, or her, before seeing the book in Chapters one day and being taken by the gorgeous cover, dark black sprayed with beautiful flowers of rich reds and blues. I wasn’t intending to buy a second book on this day, but I turned to my fiancé and said, I have to have that book – look how beautiful it is! Little did I know that the words inside were even more beautiful.

Short stories are not easy to write…believe me, I’ve tried. There is something so difficult and daunting about writing a short story, about trying to create a vast story that will fully engross a reader in a very limited amount of pages. Each word in each sentence of a short story is so very important because there aren’t that many of them available to tell a particular tale, and the short story writer must have a grasp of language akin to that of a poet – words and images must be chosen with the utmost care and never wasted. There are extremely few writers, in my opinion, who have mastered the short story genre, who have been able to make me feel things in the span of 40 pages that most 400 page novels have not, and these are the writers that I have always revered and looked up to, that I have tried to emulate in my own writing. Munro. Gallant. And now, Sirk.

Sarah Meehan Sirk is a genius. Her writing absolutely blew me away. When I’ve reviewed short story collections in the past, I’ve given ratings to individual stories, but I can’t do that in this case. Suffice it to say that there are not enough stars on Goodreads or on the planet to rate The Dead Husband Project. It is, for me, at the caliber of Munro’s Runaway (quite possibly the greatest short story collection ever published), and considering that it is Sirk’s first publication, I am incredibly eager to see what she will produce next. I would be really hard-pressed to pick a favourite story from The Dead Husband Project because literally every single one touched me and left me awe-struck. Sirk’s subjects are at once creepy and realistic, her protagonists flawed in character but flawlessly characterized. There are stories that are so inexplicably bizarre that you can’t help but ruminate on them for hours after finishing them, and there are those that are so sad and heart wrenching that you want to forget them as soon as you flip the last page. There is such vivid and pure human emotion in these stories that it is both painful to read them and impossible not to. Sirk knows something that few others do about human nature: she knows how to inhabit it, how to get into the minds of the most varied and peculiar personages, and she is clearly comfortable exploring sentiments that most humans try to ignore or deny.

If I had to pick stories that stood out from this collection (not favourites mind you because, as I said, I loved them all), well I wouldn’t want to because they are all so heavy hitting, but I could. “Barbados” haunted me for miles after I exited the subway, where I read it. It left me breathless and anxious and scared. It made me feel like my past could and would come back to snatch me up and suffocate me, as it does for so many of Sirk’s main characters. It made me afraid of former versions of myself and of the probably foolhardy decisions they had made. “In the Dark” left me raw and vulnerable. It painted such a true and realistic portrait of anxiety that it made me introspective. It forced me to examine my own anxieties and fears, and view them from an outside perspective, one that was a little less understanding and a bit more cynical. It made me see what other people, those who aren’t quite as compassionate and don’t live inside my head, might see when they look at me. “The Date”…that story I find very difficult to talk about. It left me feeling physically ill and petrified. My severe childhood fear of robots notwithstanding, this story opened my eyes to the dangers of technology, to the tumultuous and traumatic future we might all be headed towards. It made me look at love differently, it made me consider new forms of love that might spring up in decades to come, and the new forms of acceptance they will require and necessitate.

Reading The Dead Husband Project left me irrevocably changed. I am a different human for having read it, not necessarily better but in no way worse. The best description would be to say that it damaged me, it scraped me down to the core, it turned me inside out and made my heart race with exhilaration and nerves and excitement. It was one of the most all-encompassing, disturbing and visceral reading experiences I have had in recent years, and it has left me with much to contemplate.

The Dead Husband Project is not for the faint of heart because it will shock and overwhelm you. But, oh, is it ever worth it because it is one of the most riveting and powerful pieces of literature I have ever encountered. An absolute must read!

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

The Dickensian Second Coming

“The chain of events, the links in our lives – what leads us where we’re going, the courses we follow to our ends, what we don’t see coming, and what we do – all this can be mysterious, or simply unseen, or even obvious.”

One does not embark on reading a John Irving novel lightly…

Is Avenue of Mysteries my favourite John Irving novel? No. Is it still worthy of a 5-star rating? Is it still better than 99% of the books I’ve read in my lifetime? Yes…because it is a John Irving novel.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I am a writer and an avid reader because of John Irving. He is one of my all-time favourite authors in the world, and I am absolutely and consistently blown away by each and every novel he writes. He quite frankly is the modern day Dickens; somehow he has managed to write 14 novels, all with vastly different characters and plots but with a distinct Irving style that is sharply recognizable and unlike anything any other authors have put out. Irving is a truly unique voice in literature, and he painstakingly crafts narratives that are sweeping and vast, but with these minute details and intricacies that he reveals with enviable patience and calculated insight. Honestly, a John Irving novel is not a book you can pick up flippantly, or decide to read just for the hell of it – you have to be prepared, emotionally, physically (his books are looong and heavy, especially if you have them in hardcover!) and mentally to embark on a journey that will sometimes be tedious and daunting but will definitely be rewarding!

In his long and established career, John Irving has produced some incredible novels. My personal favourite is A Prayer for Owen Meany, a novel that I actually read twice in the span of one month when I was in grade 12. That novel changed my whole life – it gave me this drive and determination to become a writer because I felt this desire to make something as brilliant as Irving did. I know now that I will most likely never achieve that, but John Irving has always been on this pedestal for me because he is the absolute pinnacle of everything I find impressive and enthralling about literature…he is everything I have ever wanted to be as a writer myself.

John Irving cares about his characters and his stories. I read once that he actually writes all of his novels out by hand, which I have major respect for – as I said, he is thoroughly connected to the stories he creates, and he is committed to delivering tales that are massive in scope but intimate in description. Irving at once provides readers with the idea that they have been on a lifelong journey with his characters, while simultaneously making them privy to the tiniest, most private thoughts of those characters’ minds. Somehow he manages to both create stories that are HUGE and very very small. He is a true genius in that sense, and his characters are more real and fleshed out than some of the actual people I know.

I’m lucky enough to be getting the chance to see John Irving in person at the beginning of September, at one of my favourite buildings at my former university, and this is what encouraged me to pick up Avenue of Mysteries this past week. I actually bought the book when it first came out, in 2015, so needless to say, it has been sitting on my bookshelf, unread, for quite some time. That’s because, like I said before, you have to be in the proper mood to read an Irving novel. It’s the same as with Dickens – you don’t just pick up a Dickens novel off your shelf randomly because it’s such a huge commitment and you know it will take so much effort and brain power to read. John Irving novels are the same – you have to be ready to read something incredibly dense, but to also read between the lines. John Irving reveals things out of order, a tiny snippet at a time, and so you have to be ready, as a reader, to pick up the pieces and patiently wait for everything to come together.

With that in mind, I’ll say that Avenue of Mysteries is a remarkable novel…but then again, every John Irving novel is. Having said that, Avenue of Mysteries is not the John Irving novel I would rush out to recommend to others because it somehow didn’t feel that concise or cohesive. It felt a bit scattered to me, from the beginning, and I think that only readers who are familiar with Irving’s style and appreciate how disjointed his narratives can sometimes be will be able to appreciate Avenue of Mysteries. In many ways, I felt that it harkened back to Owen Meany (for example, Juan Diego’s sister Lupe distinctly reminded me of Owen Meany, from the way she spoke to her sometimes flawed premonitions about the future), but it wasn’t as polished of a novel. I understood that Irving’s focus was the inconsistency of dreams and memories, and I know he intended to make the novel feel like a real mind fuck for the reader (excuse my harsh language, but can anyone think of a synonym for “mind fuck”?), but I just can’t help but feel that if you don’t know Irving, you won’t get this novel at all. I wasn’t disappointed by that because I do believe I know Irving and I didn’t struggle with this text for that reason, but at the same time, I think Avenue of Mysteries is a bit less accessible and generally appealing than other Irving novels. It feels like a novel written by Irving for diehard fans of Irving!

Again, I will state that Avenue of Mysteries is brilliant, in its Irving-ian way. This also means that it’s pretty brilliant in a Dickensian sort of way too, and once again, I was struck by just how similar to Dickens’ style Irving’s is. At the same time, Irving is not playing an imitation game; he’s not trying to emulate Dickens’ style, he just writes in the same sort of style naturally, and seemingly effortlessly. I can pinpoint one aspect of Irving’s style that is so Dickensian in nature: his repetition of concepts associated with his characters. Juan Diego is never simply Juan Diego – he is always “Juan Diego, dump reader”. Edward Bonshaw is never just Edward Bonshaw – he is always “Edward Bonshaw, the parrot man” or “Senor Eduardo”. Irving creates these characters with unique facets and talents and personalities, and then he labels them, and constantly reminds the reader of these labels so that they become intimate friends and allies of the characters. However, Irving is calculated about when he chooses to use these epithets – he reiterates them at crucial moments, in the middle of specific paragraphs, in order to remind his reader of particular pieces of his characters’ identities at moments when they are most relevant and significant. Nothing is coincidental or random in an Irving novel, and this is something Dickens does too, particularly in his largest novels like Our Mutual Friend, and it creates the sense that, as an author, he knows his characters better than he even knows himself. Irving somehow manages to recreate this sort of feeling without seeming to steal from or cheat Dickens. I’ve never known a writer to so closely resemble one from the past the way Irving does Dickens. And then, of course, there’s the fact that his novels are very verbose (which is something that I clearly appreciate and can relate to as a writer)! There are times when reading an Irving novel that you have to stop and ask yourself, What is he trying to say? And then you can rewind, unpack, dissect and finally move on…it is a process that takes time and an inherent love for literature of the most literary kind. Reading an Irving novel is not, ever, an easy task…but then, the best things in life often aren’t the easiest, right?

I recommend that everyone read an Irving novel in their lifetime, but I also know that very few readers will. He’s certainly not for everyone, and Avenue of Mysteries is the ultimate example of that – it is a novel that you will either really love or absolutely hate because it is everything an Irving novel is on steroids…it is the most Irving-est of all the Irving novels. I for one LOVED it, but then again, I love anything and everything Irving touches.

My Favourite Quote from Avenue of Mysteries

“‘What did the Virgin Mary ever actually do? She didn’t even get herself pregnant!’” ~ Lupe

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5) ~ If it’s by Irving, it will always get 5/5 from me!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

It Ends With Us ~ #JNGReads

This has been a year of me reading books that I don’t feel qualified to review.

It started when I read Thirteen Reason Why earlier this year. Although I have suffered from anxiety since my early high school days, I have never felt such all-encompassing depression that I have contemplated suicide. I could not relate to Hannah’s emotional or mental state while reading the novel, and while that did not affect my overall enjoyment of it whatsoever (I do not feel it is necessary to identify with a character in order to connect with them or enjoy reading their story), it did make me feel like I had no place reviewing the novel or giving it a numeric rating. The novel wasn’t my favourite for many reasons, mainly because of how it was written, but I didn’t feel like I could actually critique it because of how important the subject matter was and how imperative I believe it is that everyone, particularly teenagers, read the story.

How do you review something that you think everyone needs to read, even if you didn’t love it and for reasons far more significant than enjoyment?

I still haven’t figured out the answer to that question, and I certainly didn’t have it when I read the novel It Happens All The Time just a short while ago. That was another novel that dealt with such important subject matter as rape and consent, and I felt totally inadequate reviewing it, considering that I have been lucky enough to never find myself in the positions of the main characters. Again, I felt that the subject matter was so poignant and timely that every reader should pick up the novel, but I didn’t absolutely love how the story was articulated or how the characters’ narrations were portrayed.

Now, here I am again, trying to review a novel that just shouldn’t be reviewed. It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover is so much more than a romance, and I’m actually thinking that it was a mistake to choose this as my first experience of Hoover’s writing. As far as I know, Hoover is an established and much loved romance writer, but It Ends With Us is apparently a departure from her usual style and genre. In this novel, Hoover decides to investigate the more complicated, complex and tragic side of a relationship, and the romance between the two main characters takes almost a backseat to their struggles.

I should warn you all that SPOILERS are ahead. If you don’t want to have any idea of what happens in It Ends With Us before picking it up, I urge you to stop reading this review here.

It is nearly impossible to talk properly about It Ends With Us without mentioning that it focuses on domestic abuse. Not only is domestic abuse a huge part of the upbringing of the main character and narrator, Lily Bloom, it also becomes a component of her own marriage to Ryle Kincaid. This is where the novel becomes both heartbreaking and profound – Hoover chooses to not just write an average, mundane, cookie-cutter romance; she chooses instead to focus on the nitty gritty of an abusive relationship, and investigate the emotions that a woman being physically and mentally abused would endure. There are a lot of romance novels out there, but very few that do something interesting, that actually talk about important topics, and Hoover totally turns the romance genre on its head and does a complete 180 with it.

I wholeheartedly respect that and I found her treatment of domestic abuse fascinating and enlightening. I love and appreciate novels with grey area – my favourite characters are the ones who are not simply black or white, good or bad, perfect or irrevocably flawed.

“‘There is no such thing as bad people. We’re all just people who sometimes do bad things.’” ~ Ryle

There was not a moment in the novel that I thought that Lily should leave Ryle, just as there was not a moment when I thought she should not leave him – I had no idea what Lily should do because although I tried my hardest to put myself in her position, I simply could not. My experience and identity as a reader is limited in that way, and so I could sympathize with Lily’s circumstances and wish that she would find happiness, but I could not decide for her. That is the most hard-hitting aspect of It Ends With Us; Hoover expertly and subtly comments on the notion that people are far too easily inclined to judge others, to pronounce opinions on other people’s situations without having any real idea of what it is like to properly be in them. There are many people out there who would say of a woman in Lily’s position, Why doesn’t she just leave him? There are many people who would blame Lily for not walking away earlier, for not standing up for herself. But how many of those people have lived through a relationship like Lily and Ryle’s? How many of them have had to rip themselves away from the person they love, even if they know it is technically the right and most healthy thing to do? Hoover teaches us all, her readers, her audience, to critique less and support more, to be there for others without trying to control them, to practice compassion rather than judgment. I respect so much that Hoover has chosen to use her popularity as a romance writer to draw attention to an issue that is far too often overlooked and misunderstood by society at large.

Having said that, the reason why I find it so hard to traditionally review It Ends With Us is because there is one aspect of the story that bothered me a little bit (only enough to lower my necessary Goodreads numeric rating by 1-star, mind you). This particular detail is the aspects of the novel pertaining to Lily’s somewhat romantic relationship with Atlas, her first love. While I definitely do NOT think Ryle’s jealousy was justified or was an excuse for his treatment of Lily, I did feel that Lily’s interactions with Atlas and her reminiscing on her teenage relationship with him, both before she began dating Ryle and during her marriage, took away from the poignancy of her story with Ryle. Hoover’s decision to oscillate between scenes in which Ryle and Lily develop their relationship (both positively and negatively) and scenes of Lily thinking about Atlas and being confused by her lingering emotions for him frustrated me on many levels. I felt that the storyline with Atlas took away from the gravity of Lily’s situation with Ryle in that it drew attention away from the severity of what she was going through. It almost trivialized how difficult her life became after Ryle’s most horrible incident of domestic abuse because Lily’s admission that she wished she could easily feel something for Atlas without so much stress and trauma and confusion surrounding her brought the story back into a traditionally romantic domain that I wished it would severe all ties with. It just overall toyed with my emotions in that I was feeling hurt and scared for Lily but then hopeful that her and Atlas would “get together” in the traditional sense – it didn’t feel right to have these thoughts, which is thankfully something that Lily recognizes as well, but I found myself wishing that Atlas wasn’t even part of the equation. I ironically struggled more with the romantic moments of It Ends With Us than with the powerful moments because I grew to accept that it was not a generic romance novel and so it frustrated me to be offered tokens of romance novel stereotypes amidst such deep and meaningful subject matter. I don’t know if any of that made sense, but I feel that if It Ends With Us began and ended only with investigating Lily’s relationship with Ryle, it would’ve felt slightly less disjointed and would’ve made me feel more consistently emotional and heartbroken.

I’ll repeat, though, that It Ends With Us is still extremely poignant and important in that it is NOT just a romance novel. It is so much more and it is a book that I would undoubtedly recommend to women, and encourage them to pass on to their mothers, their daughters, and their friends.

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

*One more note… I went for a run partway through reading It Ends With Us, and a song came on my iPod that made me think of Lily. It was the song “Night So Long” by the band Haim from their newest album Something To Tell You – the deep and powerful instrumentals and the haunting harmonies made me picture Lily taking a walk in the dark, contemplating her emotions and her future. The lyrics also seemed to resonate with her experiences in the novel, so I thought I would share a few here…

“In loneliness, my only friend

In loneliness, my only fear

The nights end

Then I say goodbye to love once more

No shadow darkening the door

Until your memory is gone

The night, slow, long…”

~ “Night So Long”, Haim

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before – #JNGReads

I’ve wanted to read Jenny Han’s young adult novel To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before from the moment I saw the adorable front cover. And yesterday, I finally read it…all in one day.

I should be clear, that rarely happens for me. I’m really not the type of reader to finish a book all in one day – work and life obligations usually get in the way, and ever since graduating from my Master’s, I haven’t had the will power or desire to blast through a story. I’ve preferred to take novels more slowly and not pressure myself to get through them so quickly or within a strict timeline.

But, every now and then, a book is so easy and effortless to read that it begs to be finished all in one day. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is that book – it is written in such a fluid and engrossing style that I couldn’t put it down, that I sped through the beautiful pages (truly, the font is just gorgeous) faster than I have in a very long time. Han’s writing is elegant and simple, but her narrator, Lara Jean Song Covey, is an endearing character whose voice it is easy to get swept up in. The plot flows smoothly, with moments of excitement and uncertainty planted naturally within the 355 pages, and the dialogue is witty and clever in so many places. Lara Jean’s conversations with her friend Chris, her fake boyfriend Peter, and best friend and former crush Josh, as well as her two sisters Margot and Kitty, are realistic and detailed, from chats about zits and Christmas cookies and puppies, to conversations about more serious topics like sex and death and betrayal. Every aspect of the novel is human and real, and I was engrossed in Lara Jean’s life from the first page, and especially impressed by how details of her past were interwoven seamlessly amongst the present day narration.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is the quintessential young adult romance – and I know just how successful it is at nailing this genre because I read a novel that failed just this year. As I read To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, I couldn’t help but compare it to Stephanie Perkins’ book Anna and the French Kiss, which I honestly did not like at all. That is a VERY unpopular opinion and I don’t want to start ranting about it all over again because it will ruin the warm and fuzzy feeling that To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before gave me, but suffice it to say that I found all of the characters in Anna and the French Kiss to be seriously bratty and annoying, particularly the narrator Anna. Placing Anna in contrast to Lara Jean was very enlightening because it emphasized to me how successful Han was in creating a genuine and likeable narrator – Lara Jean is noticeably flawed, and she is still growing and learning in many ways, but she is also trying her best to be a kind, good person. She isn’t entitled, she doesn’t take life or love for granted, and she doesn’t take herself or her teenage struggles too seriously. Yes, she is mortified when the love letters she writes to her past crushes are accidentally mailed out and her feelings are revealed to them, but she is logical enough to not fall apart, to continue her relationships, to strongly stand before these guys and try to navigate the issue without fearing of her emotions or theirs. Lara Jean is really quite mature, and I think it is easy for the reader to feel inclined to cheer her on!

I really liked Lara Jean very much. I’ve read some reviews where readers have said that they disliked her because she spends much of the novel lusting after her sister’s boyfriend, but I have to severely disagree on that. Lara Jean very quickly realizes that her feelings for Josh are buried in the past, and she does everything in her power to avoid hurting her sister. She does not try to steal Josh from her, she does her best to think of him only as a friend, and I think ultimately she succeeds. Teenage love is complicated and not so easy to navigate, but I think Lara Jean is very mature about her complex relationship with Josh and I believe she acts in ways that are respectful to her sister. I was impressed with how sophisticatedly Lara Jean handled this complicated situation, and I found little to criticize her for in this instance.

I will say, though, that the highlight of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, for me, was not the romance. Lara Jean’s crushes and her pseudo-relationship with Peter are really sweet and cute, but it would’ve ultimately bored me if they were the only, or even the central, focus of the novel. Instead, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before focuses heavily on the Covey family, on the dynamic between siblings Margot, Lara Jean and Kitty and their father. It is absolutely fascinating to see these characters interact, and I was blown away by how realistically Han describes the family life in this story. Margot was an impressive character, a truly inspiring older sister figure, and I found her relationship with Lara Jean, especially in the end when they momentarily fight and must make their way back to each other, to be incredibly heartwarming. The stand out character, however, was Kitty, in my opinion. This 9 year old girl is absolutely hilarious and such a firecracker! Her voice was so distinct, but not too juvenile, and I was so impressed by her one liners. I found myself laughing out loud at so many points because of the adorable and surprisingly adult things Kitty said, and her maturity in interacting with her sisters and father was uniquely portrayed. I have never encountered a child character like her in literature and I would be so interested to read a novel all about her and have a chance to see her grow older. She was undeniably my favourite part of the whole story (and I am really glad she got her puppy in the end – it was well deserved)!

All in all, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before was an impressive young adult novel. So many young adult novels fail to hit hard, to take their readers seriously and present them with complex and intricate characters whose personalities need to be unraveled and analyzed. Han doesn’t underestimate or belittle her young adult readers, and I appreciate the scope of her novel, how she chose not to just present a simple and cute love story but instead decided to also explore the inner workings of a strong and inspiring family. I may not rush out to buy the second and third novels in this series (mainly because I have many books on my To Read List at the moment), but I will definitely pick them up eventually because I would be happy to visit Lara Jean’s world again. Her and her sisters were characters unlike any I have encountered in recent years, and I look forward to getting to spend time with them again soon.

I highly recommend this one, to young adult readers and to older readers as well – definitely check it out before the movie adaptation, which is currently in the works, comes out!

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

It Happens All the Time ~ #JNGReads

It Happens All the Time by Amy Hatvany is a book that I don’t feel comfortable reviewing, for multiple reasons. Allow me to explain…

Hatvany’s novel deals with such important topics as rape and mental health, and so it is very difficult to write a review of a story that tackles such deep and significant issues. In a similar vein to how I felt uncomfortable reviewing Thirteen Reasons Why, I feel that It Happens All the Time is the sort of novel that should not be reviewed or rigorously critiqued and should instead be read by all adults. It would be impossible for me to say which demographic I recommend it to, because I recommend it to all readers, young and old, male and female. It would be difficult to pull apart any elements of the novel, to break apart the traits and actions of the characters, because so much of the novel’s strength and poignancy comes from the fact that the characters are flawed (some much more than others), and that there are two sides to and different opinions about every story. It Happens All the Time is not the kind of novel that, in my opinion, can be reviewed for its plot devices or structure or style because everything pales in comparison to the subject matter it investigates and the insights it offers. It is a novel that should be on every reader’s bookshelf and that parents should be encouraging their children to read, once they reach an appropriate age. It is a story that needs to be told, and then discussed at length.

So, for those reasons, I find it hard to write a traditional review of Hatvany’s novel or give it a concrete rating. The novel was a very quick read for me, and I did struggle with connecting to certain characters, particularly Tyler, because I felt that the synopsis gave away some crucial details that ultimately clouded my opinions on the characters from page one. Having said that, I was moved by the story, I was shaken and rattled by it, especially in the most tragic chapters, and I was called to question my own beliefs and assumptions. That is the mark of a great novel, most certainly, and yet I can’t quantify this experience by giving it a number of stars (although I have, for the sake of the Goodreads system). As I said, this is a novel that must be read, and so it transcends the concepts of enjoyment and pleasure and achieves status as a novel that educates and inspires and makes readers better.

Furthermore, there are so many readers who could write better “reviews” of this novel than me, and many of them have. I was touched by so many of the comments I read on Goodreads about this novel, and they certainly opened my eyes to just how prevalent and relevant the subject matter of Hatvany’s story is. One review in particular really stuck with me though and my thoughts were drawn back to it in each moment I spent reading It Happens All the Time. This review was written by a Goodreads friend of mine, Chelsea Humphrey, and it was her honest, heartfelt and touching words that really pushed and persuaded me to pick up Hatvany’s novel as soon as I could. Chelsea’s review is, in every way, more thought-provoking than mine could ever be, and I believe that even those who haven’t read It Happens All the Time will take something away from her review (follow the link above or at the end of this post to visit Chelsea’s blog and read it). I suggest you all read her review, whether you intend to pick up the novel or not, because it is intensely meaningful and eye-opening!

On that note, I must say that my biggest source of hesitancy in writing a review for It Happens All the Time comes from the fact that I have never been in Amber’s position, I have never experienced the turmoil and pain she goes through. This is not to say that a reader must have personally experienced every aspect of a story in order to understand or enjoy it, but I do feel that in the case of topics such as rape, it is extremely difficult to fathom the circumstances and emotions surrounding them without having experienced them firsthand. I did absolutely feel empathy for Amber and tried my hardest to put myself in her shoes, but I understood my limitations, I accepted the fact that I will never ever be able to comprehend her anxieties and fears and depression without having lived them myself. I don’t feel comfortable at all pronouncing judgment on her actions or choices, because I have no idea how I would react in a similar situation. I don’t feel that there’s any room for judgment in this novel whatsoever, for that reason, and I would find it impossible to contradict or criticize how the characters were portrayed because I have never been in their places. What I think is most thought-provoking and powerful about Hatvany’s description of both a rape survivor and her perpetrator is that each and every character is so human, so flawed and so realistic. There is no clear cut, neatly wrapped right or wrong, and every character exists in that gray area that we so often struggle with in real-life.

I don’t know if any of what I’ve said even makes sense, but I will try to sum up my jumbled thoughts as best I can. Read It Happens All the Time! Especially if you are someone who has never experienced the topics it investigates… Read It Happens All the Time! Have your parents read it, pass it along to your brothers and boyfriends, and encourage your children, both male and female, to read it when they reach an appropriate age. Give a copy to your best female friends, and to your best guy friends too, and start a conversation. Talk about what happens to Amber, and what happens to Tyler too, and even if your opinions vary or you can’t see eye to eye, discuss every nuance and detail and start the conversation. This is where Hatvany’s story will prove most significant: in the conversations between readers and their friends and family members. If each of us passes along our copy and challenges the person we’ve given it to to investigate their own assumptions and ideals, then we will be one step closer to making our world a safer place.

I highly recommend this one, to absolutely everyone!

Chelsea Humphrey’s review of It Happens All the Time, from her blog The Suspense Is Thrilling Me:

https://thesuspenseisthrillingme.com/2017/03/28/review-it-happens-all-the-time/

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart