Laurie Halse Anderson: The Impossible Knife of Memory

For the past five years, Hayley Kincain and her father, Andy, have been on the road, never staying long in one place as he struggles to escape the demons that have tortured him since his return from Iraq. Now they are back in the town where he grew up so Hayley can attend school. Perhaps, for the first time, Hayley can have a normal life, put aside her own painful memories, even have a relationship with Finn, the hot guy who obviously likes her but is hiding secrets of his own.

Will being back home help Andy’s PTSD, or will his terrible memories drag him to the edge of hell, and drugs push him over? The Impossible Knife of Memory is Laurie Halse Anderson at her finest: compelling, surprising, and impossible to put down.

I want to title this review:  The Impossible Mediocrity of Mental Illness YA. For as complex and nuanced as mental illness is–you’d think that we would get more than just textbook representation in our stories. Unfortunately, time and time again, it’s all I see. So rarely do I find a novel about mental illness that truly shows what it is like to be in the thick of it–instead the depiction is flat and gray.

PTSD is such an important subject, and finding good help for our soldiers is a crucial, difficult task. That is one thing about this book that I did agree with:  how Halse Anderson wrote Andy’s character refusing help or medication. His characterization wasn’t incorrect, I think I just had a hard time with Hayley’s narration of it.

Something else stuck out to me–Finn and Hayley were going through such a similar situation:  they both had family members who were addicts. But instead of talking about it or having that bring them closer together, all they did was fight and scream at each other. Their whole relationship was a weird dynamic, but that really seemed off kilter. Also, it wasn’t lost on me that Gracie continuously suspected Topher for cheating on her as a projection from her dad…though I think everyone else in the story missed that detail. Those sort of plot holes bug me.

But mostly, it’s Hayley that bothers me. Her attitude is horrible, and she’s an unreliable narrator of the worst kind. And maybe that’s the problem. I don’t mind unreliable narrators if there are ways to fill in the holes, but I felt like that knife just cut through the plot until I had an impossible amount of memory to fill.

Trigger warning:  PTSD, Panic Attacks, Knives, Blood, Suicide Ideation/Thoughts/Planning, Drowning, drugs, alcoholism

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Hannah Hart: Buffering

The wildly popular YouTube personality and author of the New York Times bestseller My Drunk Kitchen is back! This time, she’s stirring up memories and tales from her past.

By combing through the journals that Hannah has kept for much of her life, this collection of narrative essays deliver a fuller picture of her life, her experiences, and the things she’s figured out about family, faith, love, sexuality, self-worth, friendship and fame.

Revealing what makes Hannah tick, this sometimes cringe-worthy, poignant collection of stories is sure to deliver plenty of Hannah’s wit and wisdom, and hopefully encourage you to try your hand at her patented brand of reckless optimism.

Personal note:

Hello, my darlings! I am incredibly pleased to present BUFFERING: Unshared Tales of a Life Fully Loaded!

As a big fan of memoirs, I wanted to try my hand at writing about the events of my life that deserve a little more consideration than can be accomplished in 140-characters or a 6-minute vlog. Now on the cusp of turning 30, I’m ready to expose some parts of my life that I haven’t shared before. Before, it was all about privacy, process and time. And now the time has come! I’m ready to put myself out there, for you.  

I’m a little nervous about all these vulnerable words going into the world, these tales about my love life, the wrestling I’ve done with faith, how I feel about sex and my family and myself. I’ve had a lot of trials, a lot of errors, but also a lot of passion. Here’s the thing–I’ve always found comfort in the stories shared by others, so I hope my stories, now that I feel ready to tell them, will bring you some comfort too.

And when you read this book please remember: Buffering is just the time it takes to process.

Enjoy!

Love,

Hannah 

OH. OH HANNAH.

I was going to start this blog off by gushing over how much of a Hannah Hart crush I have. “Mild Obsession” wouldn’t be too far off base.

But oh, Hannah. This book.

She’d told us many times that she was revealing all her secrets in this book. And I knew it would be packed full of gayness. I knew that she came from a religious background, and that she suffered from mental illness. I expected some darkness. I know there is a lot of depth behind her bright and shiney coat of happy.

But oh. Oh Hannah.

I was sobbing by page 11. And not like, internal, this is an emotional book, I feel sad but I’m not actually outwardly crying, “sobbing.” No. SOBBING. Full on WEEPING by page 11.

I’m not going to tell you what Hannah’s secrets are. They aren’t mine to tell. But there is a reason that her introduction is called Trigger Warning. This wonderful, beautiful woman who makes us laugh with her silly puns, her goofy kitchen antics, her smooth scotchy wisdom–I don’t know how she got there. How a person goes through the seven circles of hell and emerges with such a fresh outlook on life amazes me. Those people are my heroes–and Hannah Hart is one of them.

Buffering is not “just another Youtuber book.” Don’t throw it on the pile. Pick it up as soon as possible, whether you are a fan of hers or not. It will change your perspective on life–I promise you.

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Haruki Murakami: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is the long-awaited new novel– a book that sold more than a million copies the first week it went on sale in Japan–from the award-winning, internationally best-selling author Haruki Murakami.

Here he gives us the remarkable story of Tsukuru Tazaki, a young man haunted by a great loss; of dreams and nightmares that have unintended consequences for the world around us; and of a journey into the past that is necessary to mend the present. It is a story of love, friendship, and heartbreak for the ages.

I very much wanted to give Haruki Murakami another shot, since 1Q84 was such an uncomfortable book. CTT fit my reading tastes much more, so I’m glad I kept his books on my TBR.

Aside from a weird side story about an old man and death, there wasn’t really a supernatural element to this. CTT was about friendship and how lies can tear it apart. Mental illness and sexual abuse are a big part of the story, and Murakami examines suicidal contemplation.

Murakami doesn’t hold back on sex. He’s indiscriminate about identities–while the main character is mostly attracted to women in his dating life, it would seem that he is bisexual. There’s also a friend who is gay that seems to encourage him to explore that side of himself.

But the ending. This author is the king of cliffhangers. And not even, “Here’s a tease, buy my next book.” Nope. He leaves everything open for interpretation. Do with it what you will. So frustrating, but I think that’s why I am so intrigued by him. Nothing is ever finished in real life. Life is always moving on without us.

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Mental Illness Awareness Week 2016 #MIAW

I saw this video on Facebook this morning, and shared it with the following post. I’ve been trying to think of what to post today, and I think this is exactly how I need to kick this week off. Thank you, Neil. You’re an inspiration to us all.

This poem will make you laugh. It will make you sob. You might think “Wow! This guy is NUTS!”

Neil Hilborn has a bunch of these kinds of videos out, I encourage you to go watch them. He’s brilliant. And devastatingly sick. People with mental illness struggle every day with the things Neil talks about in this poem. It may be humorous, but it isn’t a joke. This is real life.

This is Mental Illness Awareness Week. Take some time to listen to people’s stories, like Neil’s. Tell yours, if you have one. Do some research, donate to organizations like NAMI, if you can. They are fighting for bills in Congress to help us get better health care for the mentally ill.

But most of all, instead of thinking “Wow! This guy is NUTS!” Try and think, “Wow, this guy is so brave! He has been to the edge again and again and again and he still can see colors. He still has hope.”

Help us reduce the stigma behind mental illness. Replace it with hope, and love, and the courage to keep fighting.

Thank you.


If you need help, please reach out to one of the following numbers. Or, for people like myself who have trouble calling, there is also a suicide prevention chat now.

http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/gethelp/lifelinechat.aspx

 

Suicide Notes

Fifteen-year-old Jeff wakes up on New Year’s Day to find himself in the hospital. Make that the psychiatric ward. With the nutjobs. Clearly, this is all a huge mistake. Forget about the bandages on his wrists and the notes on his chart. Forget about his problems with his best friend, Allie, and her boyfriend, Burke. Jeff’s perfectly fine, perfectly normal, not like the other kids in the hospital with him. Now they’ve got problems. But a funny thing happens as his forty-five-day sentence drags on: the crazies start to seem less crazy.

I REALLY hated this book at first. Hated it. The author almost lost me after the first chapter. The narrator wakes up in the “nuthouse” with a bunch of “wackjobs” and “crazies” and doesn’t know what he’s doing there. Because clearly he’s not insane. Who put him there? He doesn’t deserve this terrible treatment.

This goes on for quite awhile. He treats his therapist like shit–calling him Cat Poop–and coming up with similar names for the nurses. His first therapy sessions were ridiculous and rude and cruel.

But then you realize–this isn’t an adult. It’s a 15 year old kid. Of course he’s a sarcastic little asshole. We learn that he tried to commit suicide and he’s in denial about why he did it. He doesn’t want to face it, so he is projecting on everyone around him. And instead of anger, you begin to feel real concern and pity and love for the boy.

I suppose, because the narrator is a teenager, that this could be classified as Young Adult Fiction. However, I think it’s meant to be read from an adult perspective, because you get that instant loathing from assuming he’s more mature than he is. Either way, it’s pretty masterful how Ford turns it. I ended up appreciating the book.

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The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Charlie is a freshman.

And while he’s not the biggest geek in the school, he is by no means popular. Shy, introspective, intelligent beyond his years yet socially awkward, he is a wallflower, caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it.

Charlie is attempting to navigate his way through uncharted territory: the world of first dates and mix tapes, family dramas and new friends; the world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite. But he can’t stay on the sideline forever. Standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor.

Well, um. That was definitely not the story I expected.

Really, all I knew about this book are the images from the movie trailer. You know the ones I mean. The kids standing up outside the car “flying” like they are free and happy.

Yeah.

This book is NOT about being free and happy.

This book is about mental illness. And homosexuality. And rape. And abortion. And bullying.

It’s about all the things that really go on in high schools that we all know about but try to hide from. This book is about reality. It’s sad and strangely beautiful, if you can stand to really look at it.

And you should. You should really look at it.

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Furiously Happy

I know that I am crazy. And that has made all the difference.

I read Jenny Lawson’s first book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened a few years ago–not when it first came out, but after it had moved to the general shelves at Half-Price. I didn’t know what it was, I just found this silly book with a mouse on the cover and it was ridiculous enough, and on sale enough, to pick up. I probably got through the first few sentences before I was in love with her.

As soon as I found out The Bloggess was coming out with a new book, I started looking for updates. Due to my awesome Twitter skills, I won a contest and Jenny herself sent me a copy of her book! Yay!

Let me just tell you. Guys. Oh man. I was already laughing and crying by the end of the Note From the Author. Not even kidding. Furiously Happy is so much more intense than the first one. Jenny has gotten REAL about her battle with mental illness. I already admired her, but now she is basically my idol. This woman is badASS. To have struggled so intensely with brain fuckery and come out on the other side with such an incredible sense of humor and bombastic desire for life…sometimes it’s just hard to believe this is possible.

Sometimes it can be dangerous for one person with severe anxiety to talk to another person with severe anxiety. For example, before reading this book, I had never considered the concept of toilet corpses. I have OCCASIONALLY, especially after binging on cop shows, panicked about finding dead bodies in cars or ditches or other…normal…places. But in toilet stalls, nope. Thanks Jen. ‘Preciate that one. I can never pee again.

Furiously Happy is the kind of book I want to write someday. Jenny Lawson gives me so much hope that we can beat this stigma. Maybe not today. Maybe not this year. But there are people like me, people like Jenny out there who are not afraid to stand up and say I AM SICK AND IT IS OK TO LOVE ME ANYWAY.

“When I look at my life I see high-water marks of happiness and I see the lower places where I had to convince myself that suicide wasn’t an answer. And in between I see my life. I see that the sadness and tragedy in my life made the euphoria and delicious ecstasy that much more sweet. I see that stretching out my soul to feel every inch of horrific depression gave me room to grow and enjoy the beauty of life that others might not ever appreciate. I see that there is dust in the air that will eventually settle onto the floor to be swept out the door as a nuisance, but before that, for one brilliant moment I see the dust motes catch the sunlight and sparkle and dance like stardust. I see the beginning and end of all things. I see my life. It is beautifully ugly and tarnished in just the right way. It sparkles with debris. There is wonder and joy in the simplest of things. My mother was right.

It’s all in how you look at it.”

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I won a free copy of this book by tweeting really fast.

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Everyone Brave is Forgiven

It’s 1939 and Mary, a young socialite, is determined to shock her blueblood political family by volunteering for the war effort. She is assigned as a teacher to children who were evacuated from London and have been rejected by the countryside because they are infirm, mentally disabled, or—like Mary’s favorite student, Zachary—have colored skin.

Tom, an education administrator, is distraught when his best friend, Alastair, enlists. Alastair, an art restorer, has always seemed far removed from the violent life to which he has now condemned himself. But Tom finds distraction in Mary, first as her employer and then as their relationship quickly develops in the emotionally charged times. When Mary meets Alastair, the three are drawn into a tragic love triangle and—while war escalates and bombs begin falling around them—further into a new world unlike any they’ve ever known.

Chris Cleave has written the most unromantic WWII romance ever in the history of WWII romances.

That’s a compliment by the way.

The Goodreads’ summary above makes it seem all about the love triangle (which really doesn’t exist, by the way…not in the way we think of love triangles), but Cleave dives deep into so many social norms of 1930s-40s that most books of this nature don’t bother to look at.

The author uses historical prejudicial words throughout his narrative. Words like the n-word, mongol, retarded. Words that today are incredibly offensive, but in the 30’s were ordinary in context. But those prejudices are exactly the point Cleave is trying to make. He focuses heavily on the fact that healthy white children were rushed out to the countryside while blacks and mentally-ill children were mostly left to fend for themselves.

We also get an incredible portrayal of PTSD (or shell-shock, as it was known then), from multiple characters–and not just those fighting on the front. We see drug addiction, depression, suicide–and all the horrible stigma that went along with it.

Chris Cleave kicks off #MentalHealthMonth with a beautiful, historical not-so-romantic romance that bears the ugly truth about WWII. Everyone Brave is Forgiven comes out tomorrow, May 3, and while it is brave, it certainly does not need forgiveness.

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NetGalley provided this ARC for an unbiased review. Releases May 3.

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Liar

I.

Am.

Shaking.

My goodness, was I even paying attention when I requested NetGalley ARCs for February? Two intensely emotional books due out on the same day?! What was I even THINKING?!

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Liar might be the most painful book I read all year, and it’s only the second month. Just…whoa. I don’t like trigger warning-ing (?) things unless they really merit them, but the publisher should just stamp TW in big red letters all over the cover. Guys, this book is no joke. Handle with care.

In his memoir Liar, Rob Roberge paints an extremely vivid picture of bipolar disorder and addiction. He uses the pronoun YOU, instead of writing in first or third person, to really get under the reader’s skin. You feel every single psychotic episode, every concussion, every cut, every manic moment. Also pay close attention to the dates. Every paragraph or section changes, further increasing the mania. One moment you might be in 1997, then 1912 rescuing dogs from the Titanic wreckage, then 2008, then 1972. This all happens within 2 pages. There are also subtle arrows pointing at famous suicides, and not so famous suicides, references to CTE, people with seizures, and drug addiction–all things point back to Rob’s all consuming disorder.

And it is disorder. This book held me in my own mania, and I’m serious when I tell you that this book is triggering. If you read it, find a way to cope with it. For me, it meant having my Invasive Thoughts Journal nearby, so I could purge those thoughts that were actually Rob from my mind.

I suppose this review comes off as negative, to anyone who doesn’t know how much I love getting inside people’s brains, but Liar is a work of shattered genius, and one I didn’t want to end for the sole purpose to keep Rob alive. Because to keep writing, he had to keep living, right? Let’s hope that Rob Roberge has several more books to go.

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NetGalley provided this ARC for an unbiased review. Also received book copy in Goodreads contest. Releases February 9. 

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SKIM

In my quest for graphic novel greatness, I have added everyone’s recommendations to a new list on Goodreads. I’ve searched lists from Panels. I’ve asked comic loving friends. I’ve researched on Tumblr. And now I have what I think is a fairly strong list to pull from when I am ready for new reading material.

First from that list, SKIM by Mariko Tamaki is our first review selection. Coincidentally, this is also the first black and white graphic novel I have read.

Kim, or “Skim” as her schoolmates not-so-affectionately call her, is learning to be Wiccan in cohorts with her very aggressive best friend, Lisa. Tragedy strikes the school when a classmate’s boyfriend kills himself, and Skim finds herself falling into a deep depression. Falling into love only makes things worse.

STORY:  Starting with the story first this time, as it is where most of my feelings lay. It took me a bit to warm up to this one–and by a bit, until the end. This is a pretty toxic book, and Lisa is really the center of most of it. She is that kind of friend who preys on weaker birds in the worst ways–pecking at all of their insecurities and manipulating them to comply with her wants and needs. I am not totally convinced that Skim was comfortable with being a Wiccan (I do not have anything against it as a whole, but the situations they were in in the book were not safe or healthy for a teenager), but what Lisa wants, Lisa gets. She also mocked every single thing Skim felt or tried to do to feel healthy.

The other thing that concerned me was Skim’s relationship (if you want to call it that) with her teacher. Now, it was clear that Mrs. Archer knew she had screwed up and left school, but in her wake she left an extremely depressed, obsessed teenage victim.

The end left us with a promise of healing–a new friendship, Skim standing up for herself and Katie, Lisa moving on. But there was only a few pages of that, after 140 of pain and toxicity. I needed more from that ending.

ART:  As I mentioned, there is no color in this book, only black and white, which at first was off-putting. The cover is bold orange and blue and yellow, so I didn’t realize the whole book wasn’t that way. However, due to the dark nature of the story, I color may have been misplaced here. As for the individual panels–they aren’t QUITE realistic, but more what a teenage girl would see in her insecure mind. Certain teachers are overly bloated. Lisa takes up a LOT of space, while Skim tends to melt into the background or sort of hide. She seems to be quite small emotionally, if not actually small physically. I could go on, but you get the generally idea.

Emotion is the key in this graphic novel. It’s not my favorite book, but it’s definitely…something. Be careful with it, ok? I’m going to give it 3 dragons. It’s worth reading, for sure.

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