Brit-Bennett-the-Mothers-book-review
Oh, my heart! This book aches the whole way through. I was absolutely astonished by the writing.
The Mothers is about a young girl named Nadia who tries to cope after her mother kills herself, the catalyst for Nadia’s pursuit of any opportunity that makes her feel—any opportunity to forget her hurt. She meets Luke, the pastor’s son, and the teen romance ends abruptly, but she can’t stop imagining the life she could have had. In her suffering, she forms an unlikely friendship with a God-fearing girl named Aubrey. The characters are molded by their hurt over the years, each moving through their lives like ghosts, but they remain connected.

This is truly one of the most heart-breaking books about grief, lost love, and the severed intimacy of family. I almost couldn’t bear it. But in its ruthless untangling, there’s a bravery to it and a quiet acceptance that startles me awake.

Brit Bennett has the tragic gift of understanding the misunderstandings of people—the truth behind closed doors and the secrets we carry in our loneliness and our grief. I was weighed down by what lay behind her words. As the mothers said, “the weight of what has been lost is always heavier than what remains.” But, my goodness, I was stunned by how beautiful it was: not just the poetic language, but the way she dissects emotion and makes it uncomfortably tangible. She doesn’t apologize for it. I loved that about this story. I loved Aubrey’s story especially, and I was extremely impressed by how she fleshed out the Mothers’ collective voice. Every “we,” and “she-said-he-said” was a perfect echo of the “church gossip” of the south; I was surprised, at times, that it took place in Southern California. I was also surprised by how much we, as readers, can peer into Luke’s thoughts, motivations, desires, and fears.

What else can I say? This book made me grieve for my gender. I felt the weight of a woman’s shame—a mother’s shame— that presses and flattens you out on all sides—the shame and pressures laid upon every mother and every girl who will one day be expected to grow into a mother. “Magic you wanted was a miracle, magic you didn’t want was haunting.” “Suffering pain is what made you a woman.” Even so, this book made me proud to be a woman. I’m softened by their need for love and their need to love. They feel hurt beyond repair, but the heart is stronger. In the midst of suffering, one character remembers walking to the end of a pier—a pier that must be rebuilt time and time again because of the storms. “She wondered if that was the point, if sometimes the glory was in rebuilding the broken thing, not the result but the process of trying.”

Oh, there’s so much we don’t know about the human heart. We experience it all with Nadia: how a loved one’s face she aches to remember slowly slips away while the grainy image on a sonogram never leaves her.

There’s no doubt about it. I will definitely pick up Brit Bennett’s next book.

aristotle-and-dante-discover-the-secrets-of-the-universe

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a touching coming-of-age story about a fifteen-year-old boy named Ari and his best friend, Dante, and their unique experiences in El Paso, Texas, as Mexican-American teenagers. I listened to the audio version of this story, and while I do believe it was overhyped, I’m fully aware that my personal listening experience could have been completely different if I had physically read the book. Don’t get me wrong: Lin-Manuel Miranda was a brilliant narrator and I thoroughly enjoyed his voice for all of the characters.

I also enjoyed the story’s depiction of family and the secrets we carry, vulnerability and how we all fight our “private wars,” and the authenticity of intense teenage friendships and romance. My heart ached for Ari as he talked about every family member, especially his father and the emotional distance between them. Dante was perfectly loaristotle-and-dante-discover-the-secrets-of-the-universe-book-coverveable in every way, and I couldn’t help but smile at his sensitive spirit and quirky one-liners. I also really, really enjoyed the dream sequences in this book. They were telling and beautiful and tragic—and they seemed to unravel a part of Ari that he didn’t know was there: the struggle he constantly faced to find the secrets of the universe and the secrets of himself. Also, the fact that he named his dog Legs makes me so incredibly happy.

As much as I wanted to love this book, however, I have to say that I was mostly underwhelmed. I enjoyed the story and thought it was cute and touching, but overall, I expected much more, and I’m not sure it gripped me as much as it gripped other readers. I’m all for angsty teen protagonists, but I want the angst to be founded in something real—even if I can’t understand it as a reader.

It’s understandable for a confused character to be upset and not know why or sad and not know why, but I found that I just couldn’t connect with Ari’s anger. I tend to empathize with angry characters, especially “strange” teen characters who are feeling emotions intensely for the first time and learning about themselves and the world around them. But the interior monologue, so often, was and that made me mad. I don’t know why or I really hate that.

I get that Ari is an emotionally stunted character learning to accept his own vulnerability—and that he does transition and grow thanks to Dante’s emotional honesty—but I don’t know if I fully believed Ari at times. When I DID believe him though—and his angst was founded in something real or he dug a little deeper—I was deeply moved. Those moments were in there, but in my opinion, they were few and far between.

It’s not that I was looking for fancy, flowery descriptions or vivid scenes, I just wanted something more . . . delicate. Sometimes the simple, subtle sentences jumped out at me, such as: “Love was always something heavy for me, something I had to carry.” I loved this, and I think my favorite parts of the book were when Ari was with his parents or Dante’s parents.

Overall, I enjoyed most of this book and I can see how it could be a favorite for some people. Ari and Dante are so endearing, and I also acknowledge that my listening experience may have affected how I feel about the story overall (the angst just doesn’t sit well with me when I listen to young adult books on audio, and I plan to avoid listening to YA books on audio in the future).

sweetbitter-book-review

“Taste, Chef said, is all about balance. The sour, the salty, the sweet, the bitter. Now, your tongue is coded. A certain connoisseurship of taste, a mark of how you deal with the world, is the ability to relish the bitter, to crave it even, the way you do the sweet.”

“I know you. I remember you from my youth. You contain multitudes. There is a crush of experience coursing by you. And you want to take every experience on the pulse.”

—Stephanie Danler, Sweetbitter

This book will forever leave a sweet-bitter, craving-it-always taste in my mind. I devoured it.

This coming-of-age foodie story is so much more than a young twenty-two-year-old girl moving to New York City on a whim, stumbling into a coveted job at a top NYC restaurant. It’s about remembering, having experiences instead of just wanting them, and oh, every page aches with loneliness—truly.

Tess, our main character, is unhinged, desperate for love and belonging, and she finds family—dysfunctional as it may be. Let’s just say “sweetbitter” is more appropriate than “bittersweet” for a title, because sweet-and-then-bitter is the direction of Tess’s journey. I’d say it’s more of a love story between Tess and NYC: all of the magic, fascination, and heartache were uncomfortably raw and emotionally honest. I couldn’t put it down. I truly felt as though I were reading someone’s most private secrets on the page. It was intimate beyond belief, even eating an apple in the street.

The dialogue was so real; the characters were damaged. I feel like I’m waking up from a dream, and all I can say is I have absolutely developed a fifth taste for fiction. This level of authenticity is the only flavor worth pursuing!

Visit my BookTube channel for more ramblings about this book.

DISCLAIMER: This is an R-RATED book with vulgar language. You can’t accurately capture restaurant culture—especially in NYC—without that grit. If this bothers you in any way, you may not want to read this book.

eleanor-and-park-book-review

“Holding Eleanor’s hand was like holding a butterfly. Or a heartbeat. Like holding something complete, and completely alive.”

— Rainbow Rowell, Eleanor & Park

After reading Fangirl, I knew I was hooked on Rainbow Rowell. She is an extraordinary author of young adult books, and after I read the raving review of Eleanor & Park by John Green in The New York Times, I knew I was about to fall in love.

Eleanor & Park is profoundly raw and intense. Green got it right when he said there’s nothing quite like this beautiful, haunting love story. The book is told in alternating limited third-person voices, sometimes from the voice of Eleanor: A “big girl” with bright red hair and all the wrong clothes; and Park: a half-Korean kid with a passion for good music and comic books. The book is set in Omaha, 1986, and the story unfolds when Eleanor and Park meet, begrudgingly, on the school bus. Their romance slowly builds over mixed tapes and comic books, and the entire thing is awkwardly endearing. The story is clearly about the fragile love of two misfits, two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds that—as Green so poignantly puts it—are up against the world, which is the real obstacle when you’re sixteen and in love. Just when you think you’ve read it all before, Eleanor & Park will leave you breathless.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read contemporary fiction written by an author who totally and completely remembers what it’s like to be young and in love. I’m not talking fuzzy-feel-good stuff here, I’m talking first-love, soul-crushing-beyond-butterflies, can’t-be-without-you first love that makes me think of Annie Dillard’s An American Childhood. You know the one: the chapter when she describes her sixteenth year and how she loved her first love.

“I loved my boyfriend so tenderly, I thought I must transmogrify into vapor. It would take spectroscopic analysis to locate my molecules in thin air. No possible way of holding him was close enough. Nothing could cure this bad case of gentleness except, perhaps, violence: maybe if he swung me by the legs and split my skull on a tree? Would that ease this insane wish to kiss too much his eyelids’ outer corners and his temples, as if I could love up his brain?”

No, Eleanor & Park is not nearly as grandiose, but it is fragile and pure and raw and heartbreaking; it makes every obstacle they face, especially Eleanor’s step-father, an even greater betrayal. I also have to agree with John Green (his review really does say it all, folks!) that Park’s parents are so wonderfully portrayed, or the two best-drawn parents I can remember in a young adult novel. This book was adorable, heartwarming and heartbreaking all at the same time, but it was also honest and vulnerable—almost uncomfortably so. The awkwardness makes these two characters remarkably real.

That said, GO READ THIS BOOK! And gush over this Danish folk song inspired by Eleanor & Park. . . .

fangirl-book-review

“I’d rather be broken than wasted.”

— Rainbow Rowell, Fangirl

Fangirl is a beautifully delicate coming-of-age story that I really resonate with—not because I am a fangirl like Cath, but because I am a twin and Rowell really nails the #twinning relationship. I may not be as delightfully nerdy as Cath, but I do identify with her in a lot of ways, and I am not the only reader to feel this way. Rowell taps into this new world and really brings it to light, making readers feel as though they are on the inside of this secret universe. She has an incredible ability to build complex characters and still make the pages turn. I’m serious, y’all. These characters came to life for me. I feel like I know them, and I was so sad to say good-bye.

In this YA novel, everyone is a Simon Snow fan, but Cath takes “fandom” to a whole new level. She is a college freshman who would rather stay shut up in her dorm room than mingle with her twin sister, Wren, at fraternity parties. Wren is the social “pretty one,” which doesn’t exactly feed Cath’s self-esteem. Cath eats, breathes, sleeps and writes Simon Snow, and has made the Snow series her identity ever since it began when she was a kid. Readers learn right away that Wren used to also consume the book series and help Cath with her fanfiction—an almost ritualistic piece of their hearts that helped them deal with their mother leaving when they were kids—but she’s growing up and desperate for an identity outside of “the twins.”

As the girls prepare for college, Wren tells Cath that she doesn’t want to be roommates. While Wren claws for a new identity, Cath has to learn how to deal with changes she never wanted and come out of her shell as someone other than “the quiet, anti-social, less pretty twin.” She also has to cope with new feelings surrounding a mentally unstable father, sassy roommate and a new, swoon-worthy boy. In the process of stubborn change, Cath learns who she is as an individual, friend, and writer. I won’t give too much away, but she opens herself up to love, and I rooted for her the whole way.

I was so invested in the relationships in this story, especially Cath and Wren. It’s clear that Rowell has the power of stirring up nostalgia in her readers, which—I’m sure—is why Fangirl is loved by many. I was flooded with my own coming-of-age story, insecurities, and fears I had to face as a twin and college student. When you grow up with a twin by your side, your own personal narrative always includes this . . . other person. You don’t know life any other way. When you step out of your child’s skin and that relationship is suddenly rocky, it’s scary and confusing. I rooted for Cath, but my heart also went out to Wren when I learned about her own inner struggles halfway through the book.

I was hooked right away on the complexities of Wren and Cath’s friendship—they love each other and know each other more than any other human being, and yet there is this complicated “tension” that I truly think all twins are familiar with because of competition and comparison. As a twin, leading your own story isn’t easy. Every twin—and teen for that matter—has to deal with the hard growing pains.

Twins also experience authentic, special love, and Rowell captures this conflict beautifully. Obviously, I could talk about this one relationship in the book for pages and pages. Fangirl is not centered on this twin relationship, but it is definitely what grabbed me most. Wanting to let go of or cling to the other in the midst of change, feeling self-conscious or inferior to “the pretty one,” especially when boyfriends are thrown into the mix . . . It’s all complicated. And oh, Cath, I totally get it—you have all of this frustration and you feel immature for caring so much.

I adore this book and the characters Rainbow Rowell created. I won’t gush too much over dreamy Levi, but just know this gal squealed a lot. The romance is perfect and so is the dialogue; everything flows without being cutesy or overdone. I think it’s safe to say I’ve found my new favorite young-adult author! I can’t wait to read Eleanor & Park.