My foray into re-reading some of the young adult books that I loved as a kid/teenager continued this month. I also read some great fiction, non-fiction, and memoirs.
In April 2018 I read:
A Series of Unfortunate Events by: Lemony Snicket
The Revenant by: Michael Punke
Animal Farm by: George Orwell
The Reader by: Bernard Schlink
Lies My Teacher Told Me by: James Loewen
Prozac Nation by: Elizabeth Wurtzel
Stiff by: Mary Roach
Second Glance by: Jodie Picoult
How To Be A Woman by: Caitlin Moran
Brave Enough by: Cheryl Strayed
Percy Jackson and the Olympians by: Rick Reardon
Girl, Interrupted by: Susanna Kaysen
The Handmaid’s Tale by: Margaret Atwood
Room by: Emma Donoghue
Wave by: Sonali Deraniyagala
Full Frontal Feminism by: Jessica Valenti
The Snow Child by: Eowyn Livey
Hunger by: Roxane Gay
Keep scrolling for a brief (spoiler free!) review of my thoughts on each of these books.
As an elementary-schooler, I remember reading the first six or seven books in this 13-book series written by Daniel Handler (a.k.a. Lemony Snicket.) I recently became obsessed with the Netflix adaptation, which absolutely blows the Jim Carey movie adaptation out of the water. It’s one of the truest book-to-movie/tv show adaptation, both in plot/character, as well as in spirit. Having enjoyed the show, I decided to give the series a re-read – and I think I enjoyed it even more as an adult. Snicket’s quirky, melancholic style is brilliant and apt, and makes for an amusing and engaging read. 5/5 stars.
The thing that is most astounding about this book (which was turned into the movie that finally won Leo that Oscar,) is that it is based on a true story. That simple fact, that one man could be fueled by revenge to endure so much, makes this book a captivating read, even when the prose occasionally stumbles. 4/5 stars.
This is one of those books that many people read in high school – but as it was never assigned, I didn’t. I’m glad I read it now though, because I think a lot of the (sometimes not-so-subtle) allegory would have gone over my head in high school. Worth a read, as is 1984. 4/5 stars.
This book opens by following an illicit love affair between the teenage narrator and an older woman It then traces how that relationship affects the rest of his life, and what occurs when they meet again, in dire circumstances, many years later. 4/5 stars.
James Loewen endeavors to tell American history in the truest way possible, focusing on the ways our common textbooks tell half-truths, outright lies, and perpetuate one perspective while marginalizing others. He tackles cultural figures like Christopher Columbus and key moments in history like slavery and the Civil Rights Movement, and dismantles our inherited understanding of them. If you’re surprised by what you’re reading, then you have to finish it. 5/5 stars.
Elizabeth Wurtzel’s compelling memoir details her struggles with her own brain from adolescence into her twenties. She does an excellent job of explaining the inexplicable – what exactly is going on in her head – as well as chronicling the effect her mental illness had on her friends and family (and their successes and failures in supporting her.) 5/5 stars.
This book covers an ostensibly macabre topic – what exactly happens to corpses that are donated to science. Some become medical cadavers, some become crash test dummies, and others go to body farms so forensic specialists can analyze the effects of different environmental factors on decomposing corpses. Mary Roach writes with such a balance of respect and alacrity that the book becomes incredibly readable, rather than macabre. 5/5 stars.
I’m a big fan of Jodie Picoult. I think she’s a master at interweaving multiple perspectives, and at posing moral dilemmas with no easy, black-or-white answer. This book combines Native American ancestry, eugenics, and an element of the paranormal that create an intriguing read. 4/5 stars.
I had already read Caitlin Moran’s novel called How to Build a Girl, and in reading this memoir I saw just how much of her fiction was autobiographical. Moran calls upon her own years of experience as a woman (a teenager, adult, wife, and mother) to write frankly and hilariously about everything from bras to babies, and in doing so she paints a vivid picture of where feminism is today. 4/5 stars.
For any fans of Cheryl Strayed (Wild, Torch, Tiny Beautiful Things), this book is a collection of her most inspirational quotes, pulled from books, essays, and her Dear Sugar columns. Cheryl Strayed has become one of my favorite writers, and there is something in this little book that will inspire everyone. 4/5 stars.
This was my other significant foray into YA this month. As a fan of greek mythology, I found these books compelling, entertaining, and full of heart, even as an adult when the prose is geared toward middle-schoolers. Reardon’s work has also inspired many kids with dyslexia and ADHD by giving them a hero they could relate to. 4/5 stars.
Susanna Kaysen’s memoir about her time in McLean Hospital is gritty and darkly humorous. She takes an experience that could have been isolating and demoralizing and share it openly with readers. In doing so, her fellow patients and their idiosyncrasies come vividly to life as seen through her eyes. 5/5 stars.
I did actually read this in high school, and I remember being blown away by it then. I was equally in awe of it in the re-reading, which I did in preparation for watching the Hulu adaptation. This book deftly tackles feminism, freedom, civil liberties, and faith, all through the lens of a dystopian world that doesn’t feel all that different from our own. 5/5 stars.
Another rare case where I had seen the movie before I read the book. Because I did it in that order, I was somewhat surprised that the book was narrated entirely by the five-year-old. At first, this dragged on a bit as I got used to the way he talked and saw and understood things. Once I did, it was fascinating to read a child’s perspective on such gruesome circumstances, and to comprehend Ma’s frustration with his sometimes limited understanding. 4/5 stars.
This book is heart-wrenching, there’s no other way to put it. But it is also a beautiful, evocative read. Sonali Deraniyagala chronicles her journey through a level of grief that is incomprehensible to most, and utterly and cosmically unfair. Sonali hides nothing in detailing how she felt, and still feels, about the loss, and the battle she faces every day. 5/5 stars.
Jessica Valenti has made voice known as a columnist for the Guardian and as the founder of Feministing.com, and this book (now in its second edition), builds on her platform. Her voice is frank and often vulgar, cutting to the quick of the innumerable issues women face today, including abortion, reproductive rights, sexual harassment, and the wage gap. While her vivacious support of these ideas is controversial in some circles, I think this book serves as an excellent primer for young women interested in learning what feminism is truly about. 4/5 stars.
Eowyn Livey’s prose is descriptive, at times sparse, and utterly enchanting. This story, rooted in the reality and hardship of being a homesteader in the Alaskan frontier, and in the pitfalls of navigating the later stages of a marriage in isolation, maintains a whimsical and fairy tale quality that makes it a joy to a read. 4/5 stars.
I didn’t know how much I needed to a hear a woman speak so frankly about her struggles with her body – ongoing struggles full of ups and downs, pits and valleys – until I read Roxane Gay’s searingly honest memoir. To say it made me feel less alone is an understatement. If you have body image issues, read this. If you don’t have body image issues, read this. If you are a human living in today’s world, one over-saturated by the media, read this. 5/5 stars.
There you have it – these were all the books I read in April. Click here to see what I read in March!