Review || The Inexplicable Logic of my Life- Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Trigger Warning: Attempted sexual assault, Successive deaths

 The Inexplicable Logic of my Life focuses on our main character Sal, a white boy who was adopted into a Mexican family. He has always felt in control of his life and certain of his place with his adoptive gay father and the rest of his Mexican-American family. But things start to change, and change was not something that Sal adapted to very well. Suddenly he was no longer feeling in charge of his feelings and emotions and he starts to wonder who he truly was. His own history unexpectedly returns to haunt him and together with his best-friend Samantha, he now has to confront issues of faith, loss and grief. The book takes us on a journey with Sal’s thoughts and feelings and how the experiences shape him and simultaneously help him to rediscover himself.

Having read and enjoyed Aristotle and Dante Discover The Secrets Of The Universe, I had very high expectations for this book. And I did enjoy reading it…I guess. There were various moments during the novel that gave me the opportunity to change my perspective on life and the suffering that it brings with it, however there were so many issues throughout the novel that truly disappointed me. But let me start off by talking about the things that I enjoyed.

 

“Life had its seasons, and the season of letting go would always come, but there was something very beautiful in that, in letting go. Leaves were always graceful as they floated away from the tree.”

 

First of all, this book has no romantic elements but instead focuses solely on platonic friendships and family relationships- something that is very hard to find in YA books. The only feelings that Sal and Samantha have for each other are those of a deeply rooted friendship that was quite endearing to read about. It was so refreshing to read about their relationship and the way it developed while still remaining platonic. I did however find Samantha to be a tad too self-righteous at times and always trying to be in control of their friendship. There’s no other way to describe her character other than grating and annoying and while she did grow towards the end of the novel, I still found her very much intolerable.

My favourite character by far is Fito, probably because I saw a part of myself in him, in that I often judge myself way too harshly and reject help simply because I do not think that I deserve it. I also admired his perseverance to work and continue his education despite the lack of support from his family. Sally is also an interesting character and I quite enjoyed being inside his head, being able to read his thoughts and the way he questions many things about himself and life in general. And while certain attempts at being philosophical proved ineffectual at times, I think the author truly succeeded in making the reader think about topics that people usually try to avoid. Sal is also endearing in so many ways, such as when he ‘shares’ his dog with his friends whenever they were sad, his beautiful relationship with his grandmother and his loyalty to his loved ones.

One thing that truly stands out in this book is the father-son relationship between Vicente and Sal. Sal’s father is such a gentle and compassionate soul who involves himself not only in his son’s life but also in the lives of his friends. The advice that he gives to Sal is peppered with sage wisdom, which often times helps our main character to accept and understand himself better. He is generous, authentic and honest, someone who is ready to welcome strangers into his family with open arms. It was also refreshing to have a constant presence of a father figure , unlike many YA novels where the parents somehow magically disappear, allowing the kids enough free time to take over the world!

 

Before I nodded off, I thought about what my dad had said — that life wasn’t all nice and neat like a book, and life didn’t have a plot filled with characters who said intelligent and beautiful things. But he wasn’t right about that. See, my dad said intelligent and beautiful things. And he was real. He was the most real thing in the entire world. So why couldn’t I be like him?

 

I fully applaud this book for it’s diverse cast of characters. We have a gay Mexican-American single father who is honestly the best role model one could ever have. Sáenz also tackles various issues of race, queerness and poverty that all contributed to the journey of self-discovery. The author also addressed many important themes that make you contemplate life itself. Death is constantly present throughout the novel and it takes us on an emotional journey with a family who knows that it would eventually loose a significant member soon. It made me aware that sometimes the sense of impending loss can be even more painful than missing what you have lost. That the knowledge of the lack of time you have left together makes every moment spent with each other even more precious. And death can never take away those special moments that you had shared together.

There is also a pervading theme of nature vs nurture throughout the novel, with the main character constantly trying to address this long-running debate as a way to help him find himself. The nature vs nurture argument attempts to define certain aspects of behaviour either as a product of genetics or acquired characteristics and I think the author managed to deal with this subject pretty well. While genetic inheritance does play an important role in defining our individual traits, what we learn throughout our lives prove to be very important factors that influence our own behaviours.

 

On another day, I might have cried. But I was still to mad to cry. Dad always said that there was nothing wrong with crying and that if people did more of it, well then, the world would be a better place.

 

The writing style did not change at all from his previous book: it has remained simplistic and lyrical. Personally I think it worked really well in Ari and Dante but when it came to this book, I found it quite repetitive and stilted. Every paragraph was swarming with periods that irked me to no end, not allowing the story to flow seamlessly as it should have. The same words and sentences which in the beginning where deeply poetic, became monotone and meaningless due to overuse. Also, this book, like it’s predecessor, lacks a definite plot, and instead focuses on the characters and their relationships. Thus describing it as a reflective story is more fitting. While I adore character-driven books, I felt that the author relied too much on the main character’s unpredictable aggression and it’s cause instead of an actual development. And in the end, I still couldn’t fathom the connection between his anger and the fear and hurt that he was supposedly feeling.

However, the good things about this book do not cancel out the problematic content. There are so many stereotypes and offensive dialogue throughout the novel that I was honestly not expecting and unfortunately overshadowed everything else. Such examples include:

  • ‘She didn’t throw like a girl’ (Then how is she supposed to throw?!)
  • ‘For a gay guy my dad was pretty straight’ (because his father knows how to throw a ball)
  • Sam thinks other girls are ‘bitches’ so she won’t befriend them
  • Sam also thinks that feminists ‘don’t know shit’
  • ‘You’re not a real Mexican’
  • ‘Schizophrenic dork’ was used to describe a certain character
  • Sam using her mother’s death as an excuse to be indulged

 

Spoilers: But worst of all, I hated the awful way a sexual assault was handled by the author- an unnecessary sub-plot about midway into the book that was brushed off and treated in a very problematic way. Whenever Sally tried to stand up for Sam or gotten really angry with the guy who tried to rape her, he was constantly forced to apologize. As if Sal is the bad guy, not the rapist! I can never wrap my mind around this. I also found this both disturbing and appalling because sexual assault is such a traumatizing experience and the author did not even attempt to show his readers the effects it could have on the victim. This book is written for a younger audience and it’s never ok to teach young people (or any audience for that matter) to feel sorry for the rapist. As if it’s ok to accept their apology and later attempt to go near them again! Hell no. The author should have treated this serious topic with more sensitivity and care and not use it as a throwaway plot device.

While I somewhat enjoyed reading this book, it failed miserably when it came to addressing important issues and the use of certain phrases and stereotypical comments. It’s frustrating to see a book with such potential, failing miserably with it’s problematic content. It honestly doesn’t feel like Aristotle & Dante and this book were written by the same author!


Rating: ☆☆

  •  Genre: Young Adult- Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
  • Edition: Clarion Books, March 2017, Hardback
  • Pages:452
  • Source: Book Depository

Why you should read: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

TW: Sexual Assault, Physical and Emotional Abuse, Drug Abuse, Murder, Slavery

Homegoing is a wonderfully written #ownvoices debut book that follows the story of two half-sisters: Effia and Esi in 18th century Ghana, and their vastly different destinies. One was sold into slavery in the Gold Coast’s blooming slave trade and the other married off to a British slaver. Each chapter focuses on a different family member in subsequent generations, from the years of warfare in Ghana, where the Fante and Asante nations struggle with slave trade and the British Colonization, to the struggles of people of color in America.

So why should you read this book? If the synopsis above did not convince you, then I hope the following will!

  • The book is sadly only 300 pages long and yet the author managed to write wonderfully rich characters with a very complex background, while covering so much important and often ignored history.
  • It is a family saga following 7 generations, with 14 different perspectives in total. A different character narrates each chapter, although we still meet characters from previous chapters. It truly sounds daunting and while it took some getting used to, I assure you that you will become greatly invested in every single character.
  • Gyasi connects the stories of Effia and Esi’s descendants through history until the present time. Effia’s family remains in Ghana where we see the effects of the British Colonization and internal warfare. Esi’s descendants on the other hand grow up in North/South America- from the plantations of the South to the Civil War and Great Migration, the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama and the jazz clubs and dope houses of 20th century Harlem.
  • A book about slavery is never an easy book to read and you have to mentally prepare yourself for it. We see death, horror and brutality described quite vividly. Brutality that unfortunately can still be observed today in insidious forms of racism and violence. But we need to read these books and to open our eyes to the horrors people of colour had to go through…and are still going through. We cannot remain passive to what is happening around us.
  • The characters may be fictional but the reality is not…and neither are their hardships. Gyasi managed to put a face and personality to the history that is often forgotten or ignored by people.
  • Beautiful prose with vivid descriptions that allow the reader to connect emotionally with the characters. Obviously certain characters will stand out more than the others, but each and every one of them feels real and will impact the reader one way or another.
  • The writing is engaging and captures the different periods and generations quite perfectly. It also made me realise how much the lives of previous generations can affect the generations to come.
  • You will learn many myths and stories and will be transported through many scenes that will break your heart and others that will fill you with hope.
  • This book gives the reader a chance to learn more about the culture in Ghana, which is so interesting and fascinating. It will also teach you a lot about slavery and colonialism throughout history.

The only problem I had with this book is that I wanted it to be longer so I could learn more about the characters and the setting. I guess that’s always the case when you enjoy a book so much!

  • Favorite quotes:

“One day, I came to these waters and I could feel the spirits of our ancestors calling to me. Some were free, and they spoke to me from the sand, but some others were trapped deep, deep, deep in the water so that I had to wade out to hear their voices. I waded out so far the water almost took me down to meet those spirits that were trapped so deep in the sea that they would never be free. When they were living they had not known where they came from, and so dead, they did not know how to get to dry land. I put you in here so that if your spirit ever wandered, you would know where home was.”

“We believe the one who has power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So when you study history you must ask yourself, Whose story am I missing?, Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could come forth? Once you have figured that out, you must find that story too. From there you get a clearer, yet still imperfect, picture.”

 “You want to know what weakness is? Weakness is treating someone as though they belong to you. Strength is knowing that everyone belongs to themselves.”

“No one forgets that they were once captive, even if they are now free.”

x.


  • Genre: Adult: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction
  • Edition: Viking, January 2017, Paperback
  • Pages: 320
  • Source: Book Depository 

Review || The Night Circus- Erin Morgenstern

The circus arrives without warning.

No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.

 Le Cirque des Rêves offers an experience that is truly unique and remarkable. Every black and white tent holds a mystery, an extraordinary experience that will leave your senses wanting more. However, behind the scenes there is a competition, a challenge between two magicians that could affect the fate of both their lives and the circus itself.

It all starts with Prospero the Enchanter, an infamous magician best known for his illusions; illustrious acts that go beyond your normal magical tricks. But he is still struck dumb when one day he finds a young girl in his dressing room who could levitate objects with her mind. There was no doubt that she was his daughter.

 Marco Alisdair lived quite an ordinary life in a London orphanage until a man in a grey suit chose him as his student and requested to leave with him with the promise of a great number of books.

Growing up, Celia and Marco are taught to manipulate the world and perform illusions concealed as normal magical tricks, which would later on prepare them for a magical contest set by their whimsical tutors. They have no knowledge of its rules or way of victory, but they do know that they are falling for each other and this could lead to complications no one could ever foresee.

“The finest of pleasures are always the unexpected ones.”

The Night Circus reads like Chandresh Christophe Lefèvres’ famous Midnight Dinners. Both have an air of nocturnal mystery to them and while you might recognize certain elements that make them what they are, the rest are shrouded in secrets. This is not an epic love story. Nor is it a heated battle between two powerful magicians. I’m still confused as to what it really is to be completely honest. All I can say is that it is a magical experience beyond even your wildest imagination!

The writing is one of the most powerful elements in this book. It is only the true magic of the written word that can induce such a sensory overload of savory smells, enchanting attractions that defy the laws of physics and the delicious taste of mulled cider. Morgensterns’ brilliant writing is induced with a poetical undertone that is able to evoke rich mesmerizing imagery, deliberately transporting you into a world full of mystery and magic. And while you can still feel your back resting against the couch and hear the rustle of the pages between your fingers, you can also feel the crisp air around you and smell the caramel wafting through the evening breeze. Various chapters written in the first person are also an effective way in allowing the reader to experience first hand the magic of the circus as if one is actually there. It’s like the author attempts to grant your wish to actually visit it by providing you with these short glimpses into the world she created. Erin Morgenstern is a wordsmith goddess. There’s no doubt about that.

“Like stepping into a fairy tale under a curtain of stars.”

The story has quite a slow start but it builds up gradually without it becoming tedious. I do have to point out however that the plot is quite slow-paced throughout the whole novel and while I understand those readers eager to see the ball rolling who might skip certain chapters, it is not really the best idea since every page is a puzzle piece that ultimately aids in forming the final picture. I did have the urge to skim over certain chapters just so I could revel in the interactions between Celia and Marco. Their relationship does take a lot of time to develop but somehow this made it even more realistic and also made those special moments between them even more memorable.

This book is truly a huge puzzle piece. The time differences in narration and the different perspectives all provided small pieces of information about the story, but never a complete picture. It was actually quite effective in increasing the tension and anticipation for forthcoming events that are only mentioned briefly. It was so beautiful the way all the different stories finally came together and everything started to make sense.

What can I say about the characters without drowning in my own tears? I loved each and every one of them, even those that at first glance might seem malicious. In contrast to the circus’s appearance, there is no definite black and white when it comes to the characters’ nature since each and every one of them is flawed in their own way. The author transcended the boundaries of good versus bad, giving the story a much more realistic feel to it.

“Good and evil are a great deal more complex than a princess and a dragon . . . is not the dragon the hero of his own story?”

Celia is such a strong female character with an extremely resilient personality, albeit her occasional short-temperedness. She grew up with a deluge of abuse from her father, which she learnt to tune out or retaliate with her own vehement opinions when she grew up. She might appear eerie and almost transcendental in the way that she’s described, especially during her performances, but she is actually quite reserved and friendly, and very much attuned to the feelings and emotions of the people around her. Marco on the other hand is quite charming and uses this to his advantage many times, but his intentions were never malicious. However, he was quite irresponsible when it came to his relationship with Isabel, having led her on for so many years. While he made it quite obvious in his actions regarding his feelings towards her, I wished that he were honest with her from the start. I guess his lonely childhood didn’t really help for his future interactions, having spent all his life with books and lacking any sort of social guidance when he was growing up.

“I made a wish on this tree years ago,” Marco says.

 “What did you wish for?” Bailey asks. 

Marco leans forward and whispers in Bailey’s ear. “I wished for her.”

The romance between Celia and Marco is incredibly beautiful. It feels like their love for each other was there from the moment that they were bound together, and the years apart only made it grow and flourish even more. It was refreshing however to see their relationship develop gradually and not see them fall instantly into each other’s arms just because of who they are. I loved their covert glimpses at each other, the tents that they built as their form of silent communication and the palpable electrifying feeling every time they touched. Sometimes it felt like I was intruding because their romance felt so personal and unique. I’m not ashamed to say that I was swooning the whole time!

 “I would have written you, myself, if I could put down in words everything I want to say to you. A sea of ink would not be enough.’

‘But you built me dreams instead.”

What’s beautiful about this book is that even the secondary characters are rich and complex. Widget and Poppet bring so much life to the circus, and not only because of their flaming red hair. Bailey, an ordinary teenager is just as significant as the main characters. And let’s not forget Herr Friedrick Thiessan, a maker of extraordinary clocks and writer of letters about the extraordinary. Everyone forms an integral part to the story one-way or another.

The Circus also reads like an actual character that stands out on it’s own. It is imbued with deep and complex magic, which makes it hard to fathom at times. This added a certain aura of mystery and charm to it, making it feel almost like a dream, hence its name. The circus is also what binds Celia and Marco together so in a way it represents a combination of their most profound desires. Their many tents and illusions were like a silent conversation between them, and we are the audience watching this beautiful interaction.

“You think, as you walk away from Le Cirque des Rêves and into the creeping dawn, that you felt more awake within the confines of the circus.

You are no longer quite certain which side of the fence is the dream.”

I will never grow tired of this book and it’s promise of an otherworldly experience and this is the reason why I want everyone to read it. All of you have a chance to visit this enchanting circus, wander its paths that weave around the tents, smell the cider in the air, see the black and white colors long after you’ve fallen asleep, and allow your eyes to seek the words written in an elaborate sign after the smoke and sparks dissipate:

Le Cirque des Rêves


Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆

  • Genre: Adult, Fantasy, Historical Fiction
  • Edition: Anchor Books, July 2012, Paperback
  • Pages: 516
  • Source: Book Depository

Review || The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly – Stephanie Oakes

Disturbing | Horrifying | Beautiful

“I am a blood soaked girl.”

This is a tale of horror, desperation…but also hope. The story follows seventeen-year-old Minnow Bly, a girl who was raised by a secret religious cult that existed outside the rules and norms of society. They took everything from her: her family, a chance at a normal life…and also her hands.

One day, their camps were engulfed in flames and the Prophet was murdered. Taking this chance to finally escape, Minnow flees the site only to come across a young boy whom she viciously attacked. Who killed the Prophet? How did Minnow lose her hands? And what led her to end up in a juvenile detention? The answers are slowly revealed through flashbacks as she recounts her story to an FBI detective. Because Minnow could only have her chance for freedom if she was willing to part with the terrible secrets of her past.

I came across this book by chance, lured in by its beautiful cover and trapped by its intriguing synopsis. It is a magnificent and tragic story about a young girl with a horrific past, who finally starts to learn the truth about her life and to ultimately get to think for herself. It is the kind of book that hooks you in and keeps you on the edge of your seat, making your heartbeat lose every semblance of control. It also makes you think on a much deeper level about faith, discrimination and justice.

“Anger is a kind of murder you commit in your heart.” If this is true, I’m a daily murderer. My heart is more full of blood than I ever imagined.”

 In a way you could say that the book has no introduction. The main story takes place before the very first line and you cannot help but read on to find an answer to the whats and whys that haunt you with every word. You are instantly plunged into the turmoil of Minnow’s life and this added a new level of intrigue and anticipation for the reader. The very first sentence emanates a darkness that pervades through the rest of the story and while it is not really fast-paced, there is a feeling of foreboding and trepidation in every single sentence that added a sense of urgency to it.

I have never read a book about religious cults before and this was quite disturbing to read at times. The author managed to describe religious fanaticism so perfectly through her flawless imagery and leaves you with this unsettling feeling throughout the whole novel. It is frightening to see people blindly following a person without ever doubting his ways or motives. They accepted his answers to their questions without a second thought because they wanted to believe in something, even if they were all lies. What makes this even more horrifying was the way these lies poisoned their minds and robbed them of their own free will. They demonstrated their ‘fate’ in the most perverse way, crossing boundaries they never thought they would cross, ridiculing human life in the most revolting way. And sadly, such things do exist in real life even if we don’t hear about them that often.

“I guess people can’t be content without answers, even if they’re wrong. We’d rather have a lie than a question that we can never know the answer to.”

 The sexism in the community is horrendous and I appreciate the way the author addressed this issue in such a raw and open way. I think it is tremendously important to bring to light the reality of this situation even in fiction books. Women lacked any sort of purpose, except to marry and have children; a notion that was quite synonymous a few years ago and still is in certain countries. They had no voice to rebel this belief and mostly agreed to it because that is what ‘God’ wanted from them…or so they were led to believe. Isolated from the world, they were forced to marry at a very young age without their consent, beaten senseless with the slightest insubordination and never allowed to read or touch a single book. Relieving these memories was a harrowing experience for Minnow, but at the same time necessary for her in order to realise the truth about the world and heal the wounds of her past.

Minnow is such a wonderful character and her growth throughout the book was both heart breaking and beautiful because in order for her to move forward she had to recount the horrors of her past that was akin to experiencing them all over again. However this proved how strong she really is, strong enough to face her past and ultimately learning to make her own decisions about what to believe in, something she was hindered from doing in the cult. The first person narrative brings to life Minnow’s voice, a voice so honest and powerful. Her words are honestly arresting and demand to be heard. She also sounds quite mature for her age, I guess both the result of her upbringing and the terrors that she had experienced.

“That’s how you avoid becoming a moth,” he says. “Stop asking others what to believe. Figure it out for yourself.”

 I cannot fail from mentioning Angel as well because she is a perfect example of morality and justice in this book. Angel has a history of family abuse and was sent to juvenile detention for murdering her own uncle. On the outset this might seem like a reasonable outcome however the author makes you dig so much deeper than that. It makes you question the morality of their crimes and whether their actions are justifiable considering it was an act of self-defence. It makes you wonder how these girls were put behind bars while their abuser might still be roaming free outside.

There is romance in this book but not the kind that overshadows the main plot. It is beautiful and quite refreshing, giving the reader a pause from the horrifying scenes. In my opinion, the relationship between Jude and Minnow is extremely important not only because it is beautiful in it’s purest sense, but also because it breaks the barrier of racism that the cult sowed in it’s people. Two people of different colour fall in love and it is beautiful and genuine. A  beautiful flower amongst the surrounding thorns.

“Jude taught me what love was: to be willing to hold on to another person’s pain. That’s it.”

The writing is haunting and impeccable. Oakes’ style of writing makes you feel more involved in the story and much more attuned to the characters thoughts and feelings. I felt for Minnow in ways that I cannot even describe properly. There were times where I tried to imagine a life without hands, the horror of being deprived of such a necessity for such a senseless reason. And it is unbearable to even think about it. I also appreciated the fact that the author used flashbacks to bring to life Minnow’s past and it was a perfect way to bring out the stark contrast between then and now, the Minnow before and the Minnow after. The horrors of the world described in this book were absolutely mind-numbing, with scenes so graphic and horrifying that made me want to stop reading at times. This is the reason why this book might not be for everyone but I would still highly recommend it [and you can always skip the parts you may find unbearable].

A haunting book such as this one deserves so much praise, both for it’s complex characters and the beautiful writing. So don’t hesitate to read it! It is definitely one of my top favourites this year!  x

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆


  • Genre: Young- Adult, Contemporary, Mystery
  • Edition: Dial Books, June 2015, Hardcover
  • Pages: 400