Book Reviews by Seniors – Volume II

Book Reviews by Seniors - Volume II

Seniors, Contributors

The Devil in the White City by Page Cassidy

Behind the gleaming white buildings of the Chicago world’s fair lays a darker story. Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City follows the mysterious and intriguing story of an event that could be Chicago’s crowning achievement or biggest downfall.

Daniel Burnham was a well known Chicago architect leading the design of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. H.H. Holmes was a cunning Chicago serial killer relying on the fair to satisfy his needs. Their very different lives become intertwined as the Chicago World’s Fair approaches, each believing that the fair will be the perfect opportunity to make a name for themself.  Larson concocts the plot of a novel out of the story of a history book, something that is rare and difficult to do well, but The Devil in the White City manages to be interesting and mostly historically accurate. The Burnham and Holmes presented in a history textbook may be interesting enough for a page, maybe two, but Larson crafts a story that stays interesting for nearly 400 pages. And there is no doubt that he stays truthful. Larson pulls from stories, letters, and newspapers of the time, one reading, “‘In truth, it seems too light,’ a reporter observed.” His use of primary sources is proof that despite the engaging storyline, this book stays true to what actually happened at the World’s Fair. This is a unique story filled with twists and turns, and that is why I kept returning to read more. 

The story may not be action-packed, but what it lacks in action, it makes up for in mystery and suspense. Larson is able to intertwine the lives of Burnham and Holmes and illustrate the suspense leading up to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair in a way that is engaging for anyone craving a mystery. Each line has a unique flair that reflects the story as a whole and kept me wondering what would happen next. Larson writes, “It was so easy to disappear, so easy to deny knowledge, so very easy in the smoke and din to mask that something dark had taken root” (12). This sentence alone evokes a mysterious feeling, and when put in the greater context of the book, I couldn’t help but feel I had to know more.

Although I greatly enjoyed reading this, I would not recommend it for adventure seekers or romantics, but mystery readers or history buffs looking for a slight change of pace, this is a perfect read. With every twist and turn, I hope you enjoy getting closer to the truth of the Chicago World’s Fair.

Just Mercy by Calena Connor

 Imagine you are a law-abiding hard-working citizen, and somebody lies about you and suddenly you are on death row even though 12 witnesses support your innocence. Bryan Stevenson, in his book Just Mercy, sheds light on the tough topic of racism through his personal experiences as a young black Harvard-trained lawyer in the South. Through his simple writing style he gives deep insights into how African-Americans are treated in the South, and how brutal death row conditions are. Stevenson’s bravery to fight for incarcerated African-Americans at such a young age is inspiring and will make readers think about their privilege. 

Just Mercy is hard content to read, because of the injustices Stevenson witnessed; however, it is a necessary book for people to read because of how crucial it is to understand the reality of how African Americans are treated in the South in the legal system, specifically on death row. Stevenson watched the horrors of John Evans’ execution by electric chair. The electrocution started at 8:30 pm. “An overpowering stench of burnt flesh and clothing began pervading the witness room. Two doctors…declared that he was not dead…. At 8:40 pm, a third charge of electricity, 30 seconds in duration, was passed through Mr. Evans’ body…. The execution of John Evans took 14 minutes” (55). The purpose of Stevenson telling readers this story is to show how cruel executions are, and to highlight how corrupt the justice system is in parts of America. 

Stevenson’s ability to connect with people comes through strongly in his writing. He is not just a spectator describing others’ feelings, and situations, but he also describes clearly his own emotions. This allows the reader to get a better sense of how much Stevenson values humanity. Henry is the first death row prisoner that Stevenson mentions, and was the first condemned man Stevenson ever met. When he went to visit Henry, Stevenson was 24, still in law school. Stevenson conveys that he did not just fear death row, but rather the fear of his immense self-doubt. When Stevenson was done talking to Henry, “Henry turned back to look at me. I started mumbling, ‘I’m really sorry. I’m really sorr-….’ ‘Don’t worry about this, Bryan,’ he said, cutting me off. ‘Come back, okay?’” (11). Stevenson does not say anything about their actual conversation which lasted for three hours. Stevenson’s connection with Henry was not shown through the literal information they shared, but rather by their goodbye. This allows readers to have a better understanding of Henry than we could have through a conversation. 

I have not yet finished reading this book, but I highly recommend it to young adults and adults. Just Mercy has many extremely challenging moments which are too mature for young children. Readers see through Stevenson’s eyes how unjust the criminal justice system is, through clear and concise but emotional description. Reading this book is like a slap in the face to those of us who have not experienced the harsh realities that Stevenson describes. 

The Broken Family by Abbey Cranford

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, written by Mark Haddon, explores the self-identity and independence of Christopher John Francis Boone. Christopher, a teenage boy living with Asperger’s syndrome, becomes a detective to solve the murder of his neighbor’s dog. Christopher’s intelligence is unmatched (knowing all of the countries and their capitals) however, he struggles with taking social cues and hates being touched. The teen begins his journey by asking questions about the murder, which leads to an investigation in his own house and reveals secrets about his family. This easy read provides an interesting plot that will keep readers engaged as the character attempts to solve multiple mysteries. 

Christoper discovers a letter sent by his supposedly deceased mother, so his father is forced to tell him the truth, uncovering jarring secrets. After shocking news about his family, Christopher quickly becomes hysterical. This prompts a brief moment where Christopher allows his father to touch him. When comforting Christopher his father says, “Let’s sit you up and get your clothes off and get you into the bath OK?” (115). Christopher notes, “And I didn’t scream. And I didn’t fight. And I didn’t hit him” (115). Typically, his father would yell at Christopher for interfering with his privacy, but instead, his father was compassionate and Christopher did not fight. His fathers decide that it’s time to tell his son the whole truth about his mother and who killed his neighbor’s dog. Christopher becomes infuriated and decides to leave home to attempt another investigation about his family. 

The style is simplistic, using minimal style techniques that were underwhelming. Haddon does not use sophisticated language or complex stylistic techniques, mainly only using metaphors, similes, and imagery. For example, when Christopher is explaining what confuses him about human nature, metaphors are an example he uses. He says, “I laughed my socks off”, “He was the apple of my eye” (18). Thus showing that Haddon is using metaphors, however in a simplistic way. Christopher is not using metaphors to compare something but instead commenting on language.

Overall, the novel was engaging and the plot was interesting and easy to follow. The point of view was creative, and readers were able to have an insight into Christopher’s experience. Although the writing style was meant to be simplistic, at some points the novel lacked invigoration because it was so straight forward. If looking for a challenging novel that provides thought-provoking questions about the language used, this is not the book to read. Although the plot is interesting, at times this novel could be dry because of the lack of linguistic devices used. 

Nothing in Life Can Determine One’s Destiny (The Keeper), by Daniel Freedman

Like many amazing people, Tim Howard does not let his challenges define him. He has had an immensely successful career as a goalkeeper for both Everton and the US Men’s National Team along with becoming an elite athlete. But his path has had its fair share of misjudgement and hardships.

To the public, the life of a world class athlete is filled with fame, glamour, and comfort, but behind the success often lay physical, mental, and emotional hardships. In the beginning of his novel, Howard talks about the multiple struggles he had, like: having a single working mother, growing up in a low income area, having trouble in school, and feeling different from all the other kids mentally. However, he found out what had been eating away at him, “The doctor put words to my symptoms. I had obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, and Tourette Syndrome, TS- a double whammy of brain difference, a worrisome one-two punch” (28). The amazing thing about this is that Tim did not let these define him. At school, his ticks were noticeable, but on the field, his disorders disappeared and he became locked in. Reading about his ability to overcome these difficulties and succeed at what he loves is very inspirational and proves that nothing can determine your future.

Throughout the memoir, the perspective constantly switches between Howard’s path to stardom, his famous game against Belgium, and the aspects that connect them. He begins by talking about the moments leading up to the game in Brazil while the team is in the locker room, and, as they are walking out, he jumps to his childhood and beginning in the beautiful game. He then goes on and talks about his development up until he becomes a professional for Manchester United. During his first preseason, he writes down a bible verse that turns out to have a huge purpose in his life,  “Without knowing why, I tucked the piece of paper into my day planner. I had no idea how often I would unfold it and read that line, again and again. I’d even pull it out more than a decade later, fresh off the field in Salvador, Brazil, after the U.S. lost in overtime to Belgium” (96). This quote shows how important Howard’s rituals and personal life are to him. His religious upbringings through his family are maintained even in the face of stardom. This really shows that he is not just an amazing goalkeeper, but also a person who strives to be his best self in every aspect he can be.

Overall, I highly recommend this book. The way Howard writes about his life really pulled me in and urged me to keep reading. I felt highly motivated after reading since he has proved that nothing in life can determine a person’s destiny if they have the motivation to persevere.

How The Seven of Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna Will Cure You of Boredom by Hannah Guin

The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames is a read that is sure to get you out of your current state of “quarantine boredom.” This is especially true if you enjoy story telling, world building, and even coming of age plot lines. Though I have not finished reading the book, the four hundred or so pages is not as daunting as it seemed before I began reading. The story of Assunta Fortuna, married to Antonio Fortuna, who lives in Ievoli, Italy during the 1900’s is grasping. I definitely will not be able to let this book go before I figure out where this story takes her and her children, including Stella Fortuna. Through the frequent flashback stories in this book, it feels like a family member is telling a bedtime story to stir up vivid dreams while you sleep. This book is emotionally engaging and should be your next read.

In The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna, Juliet Grames discusses themes of religion, relationships, and how the two affect each other. Assunta struggles in her relationship with Antonio, which troubles her in her faith. As someone who is not religious, I was extremely worried when I started this book. I did not think I could relate to Assunta, and without that connection between reader and story, I would feel disinterested. However, upon continuing reading, I realized Assunta’s story was not as black and white as I originally thought. Assunta’s struggles in her marriage reflect common patterns of unhealthy relationships. Assunta feeling lost in her faith is just her expression of the hardships she faces. When that became clear, I was immediately hooked. It became increasingly interesting to see how similar I was to a person that originally I felt different from. The moment Assunta became the most relatable was when, instead of blaming herself for the wrongness of her relationship, she decided to trust herself as the strong person she is. In this moment Assunta says, “this was the trouble with emigration–it dismantled the patriarchy. Because really, what Assunta, or any woman, need [sic] a husband for, when she did every goddamn thing herself?” (43). After this I found that connection with Assunta and became invested in the rest of her story.

Through her writing, Grames creates the feeling that she is next to you telling you this story. She has a conversational style of writing throughout her book. As a reader, this made it much more enjoyable than if it had been written in a more historic tone of voice, as I feared it might, considering the book is set in the 1900’s. However, I was proven wrong right away with the quote: “this is the story of Mariaestella Fortuna the Second, called Stella, formerly of Ievoli, a mountain village in Calabria, Italy, and lately of Connecticut, in the United States of America. Her life stretched over a century, and during that life she endured much bad luck and hardship. This is the story of how she never died” (1). Grames’ voice becomes alive and you are no longer reading off of paper, but just listening. This kind of tone makes it extremely engaging and never lets you put the book down.

The Seven of Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna is lively and thought provoking. Whether you read one page or a chapter, you will walk away thoughtfully challenging yourself the way Assunta does. Juliet Grames’ writing is sure to make an impact on your life, and it will be a read you will not regret.

The Hobbit by CJ Holmberg

I believe that throughout the Story of The Hobbit, our protagonist Bilbo Baggins, transformed from an introverted “homebody” into an outgoing and adventurous individual. Through the duration of this quest Biblo has to come outside of his shell. He decided he might not want to be a part of a quest where his life could be at stake. However, this all changed when he made the implicit decision to chase after Gandolph and his men after.

At first glance the Hobbit began this predominant journey all alone in his home. He was an exceptionally closeted person from head to toe. All he had known was within the four walls of his hobbit-hole. That idea changed drastically when the Hobbit was chosen for a quest to reclaim the Lonely Mountain. However, Bilbo Baggin’s main goal was to claim a treasure guarded by Smaug the dragon. In all respects many different characteristics were built up within Bilbo, from strength and bravery, to understanding the world and exploring outside of his hole. In one instance this courage finally seemed to build up once again when facing the fire breathing dragon. Bilbo states, “‘I tell you’ he said, in an effort to remain loyal to his friends and keep his end up, ‘that gold was only an afterthought with us. We came over a hill and under a hill, by wave and wind, for Revenge’” (Tolkien 225). Coinciding with the fact that Bilbo did gain some courage, the author also shows us how Bilbo is a very loyal person when it comes to one’s word, he is beyond honest and shows a new and evolving Hobbit then one we met hundreds of pages ago. The Hobbit placed a more than adequate plot for one to dig into and understand more conceptually as well. We are placed in a time where you have to understand the rules of land, and that took a lot for one to understand when reading some of these crazy encounters along their path. As the story progresses more and more pieces begin to fit into order and it feels as if you get sucked into this mythical world.  

Continuing onto the style portion of The Hobbit many different aspects could be recognized in the author’s writing. The Hobbit is written from the third-person point of view. This more easily illustrates that a narrator follows the protagonist, Bilbo Baggins, very closely throughout the story. In coincidence, our author, J.R.R. Tolkein, does a very substantial job at depicting this mythical land in which the reader is placed. His voice can be seen while reading as more or less comical, endured from the way in which Bilbo Baggins was brought about and introduced. This could be implied with all characters descriptions within the pack of 14 dwarves. The idea that Bilbo is spoken about in the third person was illustrated by the author very clearly, one occurance includes: “All this went on for what seemed to the Hobbit ages upon ages; and he was always hungry, for they were extremely careful with their provisions. Even so, as days followed days, and still the forest seemed just the same, they began to get anxious” (Tolkien 142). Here J.R.R. Tolkien speaks about Bilbo and his fellow friends on the quest with him,  he is able to depict how Bilbo is feeling and in a sense exxagerates to help the reader place themselves in this mythical land. With all of that being said the book was a wonderful read. I would recommend this to anyone interested in the fiction genre and allow them to let Tolkien guide you through his story of Bilbo Baggins.

I’ll Give You the Overview by Jenna Husson

Jandy Nelson, an American young adult author, has made herself known in recent years for her 2010 novel The Sky is Everywhere.  I recently dove into one of her more recent works, I’ll Give You the Sun, after hearing countless recommendations from friends, and it certainly lived up to my expectations. I’ll Give You the Sun takes readers through the lives of fraternal twins Noah and Jude. They have done everything together since birth, from attending the same school, to sharing the same passion for creating art. At the beginning of the novel, Jude comments on how she feels that she and Noah are more alike than different, despite being genetically fraternal. She says, “We exhale together, then inhale together, exhale, inhale, in and out, out and in… until we’re not only one age, but one complete and whole person” (Nelson 18). Although I am not finished with the book, I have heard that this idea does not last very long. They eventually attend different schools, with Noah going to public school and Jude the nearest arts school, which sparks their individual journeys of discovering who they truly are. What stuck out to me the most about how Nelson shows this is through the different art forms that the twins prefer, more specifically focused on Noah. He uses drawing to show that he romantically favors men over women, which is one significant part of his self discovery throughout the novel. Overall, Nelson uses the ideas of art and sexuality to showcase coming of age, and she does it, in my opinion, using the most intricate language that I have ever read. 

Jandy Nelson uses delicate language while alternating between Noah and Jude’s perspectives to keep the reader engaged in the twins’ stories. Her word choice displays the twins’ ever changing lives and points of view (since the novel alternates between the perspectives of Noah and Jude at different times in their lives) in a lyrical and thoughtful way. When telling a story about one of Jude’s earliest days at her new school, she writes, “Felicity says, then pauses until the room is hers, which doesn’t take more than a second because she doesn’t only sound like a daffodil, she looks and acts like one too and we all become human sighs around her” (Nelson 30). She compares humans to different aspects of nature, such as the sun and flowers, which she is known for in her other works as well as this one. Telling the story of young love that is relatable will catch teenagers’ attention and pull them into the universe of reading.

Just a Little Flea by Taeo Johnston

Acid for the Children is an autobiography about possibly the world’s most recognizable bass player, Flea, from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. However, this book is devoid of Flea’s experiences within the band. Instead, it focuses on the positive effects and opportunities that it has brought him. Therefore, the literary experience that is let loose on the reader is quite simply magical. One of the things that Balzary does best, is to promote the idea of spirituality along with a calm and tranquil mind; proving that it can alter your outlook on life. 

Flea’s usage of spirituality is a driving force throughout the book as it interprets his views on the world. “I was witnessing a nature so majestic that I felt whole. I melted away and became a part of it all” (Balzary). The world of Flea and his mind are the focus of the book, and what he perceives makes up the content. 

Flea’s usage of language and imagery paints beautiful pictures for the reader to truly immerse themselves in his ever-changing landscape. The content of the book very much follows his journey in life, starting when he was a little boy, and ending in the present as a 57-year-old man. “I wordlessly communicate with other musicians[…] but I am awkward with other people, sometimes even with my closest friends. My mind wanders, seeing others hold hands in a circle while me in my separate place” (Balzary). I personally find this quite saddening. This is an insight into the life of a man, so in the public eye that he cannot hide anywhere. It is truly fascinating to me when authors provide a window into their mind and thought process, this makes the book much more interesting.
So, is it any good? – the short answer is that I find this book hard to read for long portions of time due to its rambling nature. Flea even makes note of this in the beginning of the book in a forward note to his publisher and audience. But that, however, is what makes the book so beautiful; it’s nowhere near perfect and that is what allows it to stand out just as much as its author does. I find books to be more compelling if they read the way that the author would talk. As a reader, we get a sense in our head of how we picture the author talking to themselves while they are writing, and with this, you can really hear it shine through. This is furthered by the fact that I listened to the book; Balzary even laughs to himself while he is reading, which can guarantee a smile from the listener. Overall beautifully rough, yet masterfully crafted. I highly recommend it. 

A Female Version of The Kite Runner by Ella Li

War is something I have never experienced, and neither have many people today. When we struggle with choosing better entertainment methods, we can never imagine the circumstances of those people who have lost so much in wars. Especially, there are women who do not have much of a right in a culture and still experience the damage from wars. However, by using the simplest way to tell the story of A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini gives us a valuable chance to witness or experience the lives of two women in a complex world with no color fighting to find their sun. 

Although the story is told straightforwardly without any fancy devices, it still strikes readers the most with the reality. The book starts with the childhood of Mariam in the 1960s, an Afghan girl who is an illegitimate child of the wealthiest person in Herat. After her mother Nana who raises her has died, Fifteen-year-old Mariam was married to a widowed shoemaker, Rasheed, by her father’s wives. After a miscarriage, she experienced abuses from Rasheed. The second part is about the story of Laila whose family died in the war, and she becomes Rasheed’s second wife. Just like a female version of another best selling book of Hosseini’s, The Kite Runner, the book focuses on what wars and values of the Afghan society brings to specific people, but this time there are no men fighting for family or loyalty, there are women who fight for their children and their freedom. As a girl whose mother is a maid, Mariam has been defined as low-status no matter how hard she tries. When Mariam wants to go to school, Nana says, “What’s the sense in schooling a girl like you? It’s like shining a spittoon. There is only one skill a woman like you and me needs in life… [to] Endure” (52). The simple conversation between Nana and Mariam hits me with some values that I will never appreciate, but it is the fact that there are tons of girls who can not get education, and their lives are filled with fear and enduring. Although I haven’t finished the book, I heard that the ending is that Mariam, who has never been to school, sacrifices to become a role model, or a teacher, of Laila. Using Mariam’s story, Hosseini reminds people, who live a safe and convenient life, that there are people whose hopes have always been broken, but are still fighting. 

By reading this book, I have learnt about a different society that I can not believe really exists, but it is real in somewhere around the world. The story gives me a sense of crisis. Even though it happened in the last century, there are still many mistreated women suffering in wars today. Thus, I recommend young people who enjoy their comfortable status quo to feel the struggles of Mariam and Laila’s in this book. Therefore, more people can treasure our peaceful lives and relatively equal society. 

The Bachelor: A World of False Hope by Andrea Marguerite

How can we tell what is real and what is fake? Just watch “The Bachelor”! Amy Kaufan, an author who covers several films, tells us why Bachelor fans are so invested in watching one of ABC’s hit shows, “The Bachelor”. Her book, Bachelor Nation, uncovers the truths of the franchise, something we are unable to see on television. After conducting over a dozen interviews, Bachelor fans are now able to see the inner workings of the show, giving us a deeper understanding of why this show has changed several women’s outlook on love and marriage. The show paints a beautiful picture for romance, but that picture is too beautiful to be real. 

Kaufman’s style in this publication is very suited for this type of read, explaining her opinions and the truth in a very blunt and assertive manner. Throughout the novel, Kaufman shows us the reality of the franchise, and she backs up the truth with her own opinions. She believes that the show pollutes our thoughts on what real love is and how we find it. Kaufman narrates, “There are so many things that taint the illusion: The contestants who now go on the show to become social-media influencers. The bubble effect that convinces the cast they’re head over heels with the Bachelor or Bachelorette. The producers who masterfully persuade the participants to drop the L-bomb and get down on one knee. The editing that makes everything seem far more dramatic than it actually was. The life-altering effect the experience can have on individuals’ reputations and careers after their fifteen minutes fade away” (263). Kaufman does not hesitate to share these thoughts, and her assertive tone makes this book more enjoyable to read. Rather than being kind and tentative, Kaufman simply threw it all out there for everyone to see. Her writing style also fits this book because she is trying to show people that the entire franchise is fake. If you are trying to show people something they are unable to see, wouldn’t you also be forceful? Her confident and forceful tone will linger in peoples heads whenever “The Bachelor” airs on television. 

Some of the content included in Bachelor Nation was unnecessary, and some chapters felt as though Kaufman was writing in excessive detail to lengthen the book. In chapter 3, “The Roots of Television Romance”, Kaufman described every show and every idea that led to the creation of “The Bachelor”. I definitely think some background is important to include, but it was easy to get lost in what Kaufman was saying. Also, the inclusion of almost every person that took part in any show similar to “The Bachelor” was overwhelming. By the end of the chapter, it felt like you knew 20 more people, but you were completely unable to describe anything about them. This is probably the biggest flaw, but I think if you are a serious Bachelor fan, then it is something that can certainly be overlooked. 

I believe that the purpose of this book was to show all Bachelor Nation fans that the fantasy love seen on television isn’t real, and that you don’t need to go on a television show to find your soul mate. You can’t fall in love with someone and want to marry them in only 6 weeks. Our corrupted beliefs of love are restored in this book, and I would recommend this read to all fans of any Bachelor show. 

Looking for Alaska by Kassie Sakhat

In the novel Looking for Alaska, the narrator takes the reader through the journey of a shy boy, Miles Halter, otherwise known as “Pudge,” who transforms away from his norm, all while helplessly changing his life for the girl he falls in love with. If you’re a hopeless romantic like me, you need to give this book a read.  

Being shy was given at the beginning of the book. Miles described his going away party guests as “ vastly deeply uninterested people” (4). At Miles’s old public school, he said that he invited “the ragtag bunch of drama people and English geeks I sat with by social necessity in the cavernous cafeteria of my public school, even though I knew they wouldn’t come” (1). This sets up the reader to feel bad for Miles and to pity him for never having friends or popularity, which seems like the most important thing to get out of high school. 

If you’re a hopeless romantic, you’re going to fall in love with this book for the way he falls for Alaska. Alaska is a different kind of species to Miles, he met her on his first day at Culver Creek, the prep school he transferred to. He instantly had a crush on her, even though she had a boyfriend. Alaska seemed perfect to Miles, the way she stood up for herself and him was mesmerizing to him. Miles was attracted to Alaska’s “no care” attitude even though she was uninterested in him. They are complete yin and yangs. The reader can see the theme of love quite instantly after Miles meets Alaska because it’s the first time he talks about something in detail. For instance, he describes how he wanted to lay with her and how she was all he could think about. Miles was a nerd who had an obsession with a girl who was out of his league, “I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane” (49). The poeticness of the ways he describes her is another part of the book that I love so much my hopeless romantic heart could break for Miles.

I’m a hopeless romantic at heart in the movies you always want them to end up together. John Green twists this dream scenario and makes Disney realistic.  Alaska had depression. Alaska’s depression was not hard to observe as she would always reference death, “Y’all smoke to enjoy it, I smoke to die” (88). Alaska even revealed to him that she’s “an extremely unhappy person” (124), but Miles keeps missing the red flags. Alaska’s life took a turn, and you will have to find out why the dream scenario is not always what the reader should read. The way Miles portrayed Alaska is absolute perfection, yet people are blinded by the things they don’t want to see. Alaska truly was not what Miles thought.

The Bean Trees: Something Lost, Something Found by Abby Smook

At the beginning of The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver, Taylor Greer hops into a car to drive west, away from the small town Kentucky life she’s always known. Away from the people, whose stories are all similar and nearly predetermined, and away from a sense of unbelonging. She does not have a destination in mind, and no idea of what will come along the way, but through her journey, Taylor begins to understand what it truly means to be at home. 

Something that makes the content of The Bean Trees so special is that it all takes place through the exploration of characters. Taylor comes from a place where everyone’s stories are relatively similar, and what she comes to find is that people’s lives vary in ways that she never could have imagined. She grows to love the people whose stories are so different from hers. It is through this exploration of unique characters that it is defined for both Taylor and the reader what family can really look like. From the journey she goes on and the people she meets, Taylor learns that the human experience is far from one dimensional. 

The story manages to explore complex themes through the means of simple communication. The style focuses on developing a rich voice for each character, rather than simply focusing on Taylor. The book relies heavily on dialogue and through the characters’ conversations and relationships, the reader is able to understand how powerful their individual stories are and how incredible their connections can become. 

Taylor begins her journey with a whole life of “sameness”, and sets off to change that by discovering new surroundings. But what she thinks will be an exploration of other places really turns out to be an exploration of other people. From a mute child whose story becomes a part of Taylor’s own, to a tire store owner whose wisdom about the world helps Taylor to understand what life is about, to the immigrant couple who show her a different side of what leaving home can mean, the characters Taylor meets join together to weave her a new life. Through her connections with these unique individuals, Taylor comes to understand that family can be chosen, and her definition of home becomes built around the people that she grows to love. 

What is Her Story? by Anushka Toke

If someone was caught killing their husband and haven’t spoken since they have done it, would you be any bit curious to find out why they did that? Would you consider the murderer as a monster or someone who was actually instead part of something larger and bigger than what it seems? If any of these thoughts came across your mind when I asked you this question, a book like The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides, might be of interest to you. Alicia killed her husband Gabriel and has not spoken a word ever since. Theo Faber, a therapist, who has a particular interest in her, starts exploring why she killed her husband six years later in which Alicia still refused to speak. Alicia was considered cruel to people, but was she really? The Silent Patient is a book for audiences who like suspense, mystery, and psychological thrillers. I will try not to spoil as much as I can of the content of the book because it would then defeat the whole purpose of this genre. 

During the course of the book, Theo’s personal investigations, along with the usage of Alicia’s diary entries, make it suspenseful as well as a solidly paced novel. Throughout the novel, there is a mixture of Theo’s personal experiences as well as Alicia’s personal diaries, due to Alicia’s refusal to speak. This mixture of two different elements allows for a perfect balance. Since, this book revolves around the story of Alicia’s character, when Alicia’s character does not speak, there is a potential risk of over-reliance on Theo’s narration. However, by shedding light into Alicia’s character with her diaries to get into her personal story without taking away her character is something that creates that perfect balance to make the novel engaging and suspenseful. For example, in the very beginning of the book without any story developed yet, in Alicia’s diary, it says, “This is going to be a joyful record of ideas and images that inspire me artistically, things that make a creative impact on me. I’m only going to write positive, happy, normal thoughts. No crazy thoughts allowed. “(8). This particular quote in the book is something that makes you think of what the story behind Alicia is, knowing that she was caught killing her husband, as well as getting a little bit of an insight of who she is. 

With the usage of the first person point of view of Theo Faber, biasness can be seen, making the readers wonder if certain parts are more biased than what it actually is and if Theo is not as trustworthy of a narrator as it seems. For instance, in the beginning of the novel, when it was explaining Gabriel’s murder, most people thought of Alicia as evil for commiting the crime that she did. However, Theo thought differently by thinking that there might be a story behind it and considering”…while Alicia Berenson may be a murderer, she was also an artist.”(12-13). Theo did not want to consider Alicia a cold person without knowing her full story. This creates readers to question Theo and not see him as reliable of a narrator that he could be, due to his different opinion, potentially. 

Personally, I finished the entirety of the book. I would say that this book is more directed to people who like thrillers as well as twists, where there definitely is a big one at the end of this book. I enjoyed this book, personally. I must say though as a warning to readers that it takes quite a long time to get into the meat of the story and the writing is straightforward generally, which can create confusion at times. Overall though, this book kept me interested and wanting for more. 

You by Christina Tonna

While you might consider your civilized small talk to be an innocent conversation with a stranger, the other person involved is mentally over-analyzing your body language and convincing themselves that you two are in the process of falling in love. As shocking as it sounds, this is the exact situation that Beck, a harmless young woman, encounters with Joe Goldberg, a stalker bookstore clerk with an avid imagination when she aimlessly wandered into a bookstore in the book You, by Caroline Kepnes. 

This book contains material that leaves readers fascinated yet informed on how in this society, we are all so vulnerable to being stalked because the norm is to broadcast our lives on the internet, so even though this story is fiction, it is still relevant. When Beck enters Moonie’s Bookstore, Joe’s eyes lock in on her. Joe instantly knew it was love at first sight. When Beck went to check out, Joe swiped her name off of her credit card and thought to himself,  “Your name was a glorious place to start … The first thing I had to find was your home and the Internet was designed with love in mind. It gave me so much of you, Beck” (11). From here on, Joe was able to find out everything about her and indulge himself in her life. 

Every move and every deep, twisted thought is narrated by Joe in the first person. The reader experiences this thriller from inside of Joe’s head and is able to understand his reasoning for his crimes, almost justifying it and making it feel seemingly normal. The style in this book is written so that it allows the reader to almost be brainwashed, along with Beck, and think that Joe is just doing these crazy things out of love – until you take a step back and think to yourself, “how am I rooting for this psychopath?”. An example of Joe narrating his crazy actions as if they were normal was when he was plotting how to break into her house after finding her address online. He narrated, “I called the gas company and reported a leak at your apartment when I knew you would be at your dance class and this is the only guaranteed time that you’re away … I knew he would let me in” (24). Here, the reader is shown how giving something as small as your full name can lead to serious consequences. 

Overall, I would definitely recommend this book to anyone sixteen and up. It does contain some graphic scenes but it educates its readers how easy it is for murders (spoiler: Joe kills four people in the book) to integrate themselves into our everyday lives.