Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz | Review

As I write this post I have only moments ago finished reading ‘Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe’ by Benjamin Alire Saenz. Usually, I wait until the day after completing a book to start writing a review but I was so excited about this one, just couldn’t wait! With that in mind, I apologise if this review is a little all over the place, I’ll do my best to keep it professional but I have A LOT of feelings! This is the heartwarming coming of age story of two Mexican-American boys finding out about themselves, their sexuality and all the secrets of the universe.

Finding myself in book characters is one of the reasons I love reading so much. In Ari, I feel like I’ve found a character I can really relate to, from the way he has a lot of feelings that he wants to talk about but also hates talking about, to the way he becomes aware of his sexuality so gradually without realising for a long time. There were so many quotes from Ari that really connected to me because I was reading about someone who was articulating things that I have felt for a long time.

My favourite thing about this book is that it was a very typical YA romance story, but with an LGBT+ couple. So often, books about same-sex couples are made and marketed completely differently to books about straight couples. This book, however, was very much a typical coming of age story about two teenage boys, it just so happens that those two boys realise they are in love with each other. That feels like really effective representation when the story could include any couple but is specifically about a gay couple. What was particularly interesting to me was that neither of the boys ever used the word ‘gay’ to describe themselves or each other. Dante says he likes kissing boys but he never labels that. This to me, was a really accurate portrayal of what it’s like to question and realise your sexuality at a really young age. One of my favourite things about this book was they Ari and Dante’s parents realised they were in love with each other before they did! It’s so nice to read about accepting, loving families for a change.

Although this book is classified as a YA novel, it didn’t feel like typical YA to me. Often, I feel that YA authors use many stereotypes when writing teenage characters which can lead to some very cringeworthy reading. All of the characters in this novel felt believable and real. They were flawed but likeable. It was particularly refreshing to read about healthy family relationships and children who respect their parents. When Ari discovers an envelope in one of his mother’s draws, he knows it’s being hidden from him for a reason so he waits for his mother to bring it up in her own time rather than tearing it open herself. Even though Ari and his father don’t have an easy relationship, they both work hard to understand each other.This is an incredibly cinematic book and would make an absolutely beautiful film. Please, please, PLEASE, can somebody adapt this story into a beautiful, coming of age, indie film. The book itself is very dialogue heavy as it is, it almost reads like a screenplay already!

This is an incredibly cinematic book and would make an absolutely beautiful film. Please, please, PLEASE, can somebody adapt this story into a beautiful, coming of age, indie film. The book itself is very dialogue heavy as it is, it almost reads like a screenplay already!

I’m not at all hesitant to say that this is my favourite YA book, and definitely, my favourite read of the year so far! Have you read ‘Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe’? Let me know what you thought in the comments, and I’d love to hear recommendations of similar books!

Disability in ‘Everything Everything’ by Nicola Yoon

Last Wednesday, I posted some thoughts on changing my mind about books, particularly ‘Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon. When I first read this novel, I raved about how much I enjoyed it and appreciated the representation of people of colour and that it included a character with a disability/chronic health condition. I was uncomfortable with the ending but my love for the rest of the book outweighed that. Since I first posted that review, I’ve thought a lot about the way disability is portrayed and the more I’ve thought about it, the more uncomfortable and upset it has made me.

In ‘Everything, Everything’, Maddie has an immune disorder known as SCID which means she can not go outside or she would become seriously ill. However, at the end of the novel, it is revealed that Maddie never had this condition and she is in fact, perfectly healthy. It is this revelation that allows her to be with her boyfriend and have a ‘happy ending’.

This is an incredibly frustrating trope in literature where a character who is living with a disability is suddenly cured and all their problems are solved. Not only is this a very unrealistic portrayal of people who live with disability/chronic illness (that’s not to say it never happens but many people with a disability or chronic illness will have said condition for the majority if not all of their lives) but it sends the message that people can never be truly happy whilst they have a disability. I can tell you first hand that this simply isn’t the case.

The fact that this kind of representation was included in a Young Adult novel is even more troubling. Young people with disabilities who read novels which contain this kind of representation of people with disabilities will start to believe that having a disability devalues them as people and makes their life less worthwhile. There is so much negativity surrounding disability in the world and for many, literature and fiction is a safe place to turn to where they can feel accepted. How can this be the case for young people with disabilities when they are quite literally erased from stories?

As somebody who has lived with a disability all my life, I completely understand the frustration that comes with having to miss out on things as a direct result of my disability. There is a fine line between not letting your life be defined by your disability and accepting where your limitations are. However, the message of ‘Everything Everything’ is very clearly ‘living with a disability isn’t living’. Maddie is persuaded to leave her house and run away with her boyfriend because he can’t handle dating someone with a disability. Dating and relationships are difficult enough to navigate with a disability, we don’t need books telling us how difficult we are to love.

I genuinely believe Nicola Yoon was trying to portray a character who is not defined by her disability which I really do appreciate – we need more stories like that! However, it’s execution was not successful. I’d be interested to know how much research was done into disability whilst she was writing the book. Did she run this story past anyone with a disability first?

After seeing the trailer, it seems those ableist messages are even more prominent than the film. This is hardly surprising when you realise it was made by the same people who gave us ‘Me Before You’.

What are your thoughts on disability in ‘Everything Everything’? Have you seen the film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman | Review

I should preface this review by saying I’m finding it very difficult to write about this book without spoiling the plot completely so this may not be the most engaging review I’ve written for this blog but I really do encourage you all to read it!

What struck me about ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ by Gail Honeyman* was the character of Eleanor. I found her to be complex, intriguing, relatable and completely unlikeable for most of the book. As someone who has often struggled to fit in, I instantly connected to Eleanor’s loneliness and the comfort she took in her rigid routine. A boring, mindless job followed by an evening of drinking alone and eating oven cooked pizzas from Tesco is a routine I’m sure many readers will have experienced have experienced at some point in their lives. However, as we learn later in the novel, what sets Eleanor apart is that his routine is a coping mechanism and her way of dealing with some truly awful experiences.

Honesty, I found it difficult to get into the story at first. The opening felt as though it was dragging on.  I appreciate this being a plot device to highlight the monotony of Eleanor’s life, however, I feel it may put many people off and make them give up on the book early meaning they miss out on some really interesting character development. I also found Eleanor’s arrogance and judgemental nature to be very frustrating at times, although I forgive her for the things she says about her colleagues -they don’t seem like nice people at all.

When I first read the synopsis of this book I was intrigued but I also had some slight trepidation. It sounded as though it was going to be one of these stories where a woman falls in love with a man and is suddenly a better person because of it. Whilst there is definitely an element of that in the novel it is not the focus and it is dealt with well. Eleanor has an obsession with Raymond, an average (at best) musician, she seems willing to look past all his so called flaws because she is so infatuated with him. In actual fact, Eleanor’s feelings for him and the relationship that builds throughout the novel is only a fraction of the plot. The standout theme of the story is trauma, how it affects people and the lengths people will go to in order to cope with some awful experiences and just how difficult it can be to live a ‘normal’ life when someone has lived through said trauma.

In the simplest terms, this story says a lot about the judgments we pass on others and assumptions we make about people who don’t behave to our standard of normal. This is shown through Eleanor’s own prejudices and those of her co-workers who make very snap judgements about her. It is also reflected in the reviews of this book, with many people admitting they assumed Eleanor had Asperger’s Syndrome or Autism when they first started reading. This book challenges our assumptions about Eleanor and other people who we have deemed to be ‘odd’ or different.

Please don’t let a slightly slow start deter you from a fascinating, hilarious, surprising and heartbreaking read.

Have you read ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’? Let me know what you thought in the comments!

*An early copy of this book was sent to me by the publisher via NetGalley, however, all opinions are my own and I am not being paid for this review*

Changing Minds

A few weeks ago, I posted a review of ‘Everything, Everything’ by Nicola Yoon. In it, I said it was one of my favourite YA books I’d read in a long time. I also expressed a slight discomfort with the handling of disability/chronic illness at the end of the novel but was willing to look past it because I loved the rest of the book so much. However, over the last few weeks, the more thought I’ve put into it, the more upset I’ve become with the portrayal of disability. This left me with a dilemma. Do I delete the original post and reupload an updated version? Do I post my new thoughts but keep the original one on my blog?

On the one hand, that review was an honest one and I don’t want to delete it just because I’ve changed my mind about it. On the other hand, however, the issue that I’ve changed my mind about, the representation of disability, is one that I’m extremely passionate about. I’m always trying to stress the importance of good representation particularly of people with disabilities. For me, it would go against a really important belief of mine if I didn’t address the issue I had with that particular novel.

We all change our minds, it’s a part of life and there is nothing wrong with it. I’m well aware that after some time, I may begin to disagree with some of my own opinions of certain books. So how do we deal with this? To me, if it’s a simple matter of a change of taste, there’s no problem with leaving the review up. What I’m struggling with at the moment is that my change of mind happened so quickly and so strongly that it would feel like I was lying if I didn’t rectify it in some way.

Maybe this is just a side-effect of settling into the world of book blogging. This blog is still in its early days so I’m constantly coming across little road blocks that make me rethink what I post and talk about on my little corner of the internet. That will always be the case. I’d interested to hear how others deal with this particular dilemma.

How do you feel about changing your mind about reviews? Maybe you’re a book blogger and you’ve come across this situation before, or perhaps you’re a reader and you’d be interested to read an updated review. Let me know in the comments below.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood | Review

Rereading books I love is something I do quite often. However, I very rarely reread books that I didn’t like, simply because I’m of the strong opinion that life is too short to read books you don’t like. During my first year of my English A level, I read ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ by Margaret Atwood* as part of my required reading and I did not like it one bit. When I saw the trailer for the new TV adaptation which has just come out in the UK, I thought I should give the book another try, and, for some reason, I absolutely loved it.

‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is a dystopian novel set in America, now called Gilead. The country faces a fertility crisis so all fertile women, like the protagonist Offred (‘Of Fred’) are trained to be handmaids to infertile couples. Now, their only purpose in life is to have a baby for their commander and his wife.

So many of the themes in The Handmaid’s Tale have started to feel less like the stuff of dystopian fiction and more like things that are starting to emerge in society right now. Perhaps that new sense of relevance is what changed my mind about the novel. As I was reading, I was constantly highlighting lines that sounded as though they had come straight out of a recent news article. It’s terrifying that a book written in the 1980s which was supposed to be a very extreme example of what may happen if we do not protect women’s rights now feels so familiar to readers. What was so terrifying about this society was Atwood’s portrayal of the division between all the women. We see Offred’s inner conflict with her own beliefs and those of the Gileadian society which seemed to have been drilled into all the handmaid’s. So much so that it begins to permeate her own consciousness. Atwood shows this through Offred’s jealousy and hatred of Janine.

Dystopian fiction is one of my favourite genres, what sets ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ apart from most dystopian novels is that Atwood gives us a view of what life was like in “the time before”. Something I found particularly fascinating was the way so many of the characters were rebelling against the new society. Of course, this is the case in dystopian fiction but in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, almost every character we meet is rebelling in some way, even those in positions of power and privilege rebel as we see with The Commander and his wife.

‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is the kind of book one could read multiple times and find something new each time. I feel like my new found love for this book will only increase the more I read it.

Have you read ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’? Let me know what you thought in the comments, but no spoilers for the TV series, please!

That’s a Wrap!

Usually, on the first Wednesday of the month, I would be posting my monthly wrap up of all the books I read in May. However, I have decided to stop this style of post as I have noticed it was having a negative effect on my reading.

Wrap-ups are a great way to track your reading progress as well as being a quick and concise way to share recommendations. Often a review of only a couple of sentences is enough to have me itching to pick up a copy of the book for myself. Many of the books on my ever-growing TBR list came from the snippets of reviews I  have read in wrap up posts.

Despite this, after a few months of regular wrap up posts, I was beginning to feel an increasing pressure to read more just so I could show off on my blog at the end of the month. This completely defeats the purpose of reading and was starting to turn a hobby into a chore. If the end of the month came around and I hadn’t read what I deemed to be ‘enough’ books, I would scramble to find the shortest book for me to skim read just so I could add it to my total. Each month, I started my wrap up with an excuse as to why I didn’t read more, even though, this is my blog and I don’t have to make apologies or excuses for reading too little or too much.

One of my reading resolutions was not to get so bogged down in numbers and keeping a tally of the books I’ve read. When I start my degree in September I will have considerably less time to read what I want, when I want so I’m trying to make the most of this pressure free reading time.

So, instead of wrapping up everything I’ve read each month, I’ll be tweeting about my favourite book of the month, you can follow my twitter account here.

What are your thoughts on wrap-up posts? Do you enjoy them or do you find the pressure is just too much? Let me know in the comments!

Hamlet: Globe to Globe by Dominic Dromgoole | Review

It is very rare for me to get excited about a non-fiction book but I have been itching to write this review since I first started reading Dominic Dromgoole’s ‘Hamlet: Globe to Globe’.* It was one of those magical moments when you see a book in a bookshop and you know you will not be able to leave the shop without buying that book.

After many years of studying English Literature and Drama, I have become something of a Shakespeare nerd. I could write a whole separate post on why I love Shakespeare so much and, spoiler alert, I probably will at some point. Whilst browsing through my local bookshop, I saw this book on the New Releases shelf and knew that I would not be able to leave the shop without buying that book.

2016 was the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death so as part of the ‘celebrations’ (it seems a weird word to use to describe the anniversary of someone’s death) Dominic Dromgoole, artistic director at The Globe set about organising a tour of Hamlet which in which the company performed in every country of the world. This book tells the story of that journey whilst exploring one of Shakespeare’s best-known plays and the effect it has had on the world since it was first written. Dromgoole shares some of the funniest, scariest and most moving moments of the tour interspersed with analysis of the play and the reception the company received in each country. It really is a fascinating read for any fan of Shakespeare or even theatre in general. My only criticism is that, at times, Dromgoole’s praise for Hamlet and Shakespeare felt, to me at least, as though Dromgoole thought Shakespeare is immune from all critique just because he is The Bard, but I suppose that is quite common if you are a big fan of somebody.

My only regret about this book was that I didn’t have it when I was studying Hamlet for my English A-level. Dromgoole offers a fascinating insight into the play as well as different ways it has been portrayed over the years. I often highlight passages I enjoy or turn down page corners as I’m reading but this book took that to a whole new level.  I was particularly intrigued to read about Charlotte Cushman, who was among one of the first women to play Hamlet. Seriously, Google that woman, she is brilliant.

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If you’re reading this and you enjoy or are studying Shakespeare, I strongly recommend you pick this book up!

Have you read Hamlet: Globe to Globe? Let me know what you thought in the comments!