BR: Every Last Word

The book Every Last Word gets recommended often as a story about obsessive compulsive disorder. I struggled to get into it at first, because Every Last Word is not focused just on OCD. It does more. It made me uncomfortable as I identified with the character, Sam, deeply as the story continued.

Mental Illness as Fluid

One of the enjoyable aspects of the novel is its complex portrayal of mental illness. I have had OCD all my life, and, unlike Sam, I hadn’t been diagnosed as a young teen. In fact, it was not until I was in my mid to late twenties that my therapist diagnosed it.

The author shows some typical OCD habits in Sam’s behavior. From the counting of threes and the obsessive researching, it seems like a classic case of OCD, but then, another disorder is introduced by the final quarter of the book, and it made me so ecstatic.

You see, the book presents Sam as a person, not an illness. When presented with difficult realities, coping mechanisms kick in. On a personal level, I relate to this very much as someone who experiences various psychotic episodes frequently. Not only that, but the book also suggests that disability is not just clear cut boxes to check. There’s more to it than what people normally expect. It’s frustrating and oddly comforting.

Identity

Another fantastic aspect of the novel is its exploration of identity’s relationship with disability. Sam focuses her energy on being “normal,” which speaks volumes about the role society plays into a disabled person’s life. There is a lot of pressure and suppression of feelings because Sam wants to appear “normal.” By extension, being “normal” implies that she is worthy of having friends, having hobbies, having interests, having relationships.

It is very powerful to see this struggle in a book because I thought no one else feels this way. Most disabled people I have met are rather accepting of their life. Not me. I always longed to fit into the mold of normalcy.

As the novel unfolds, Sam learns that her identity is beyond her illnesses. While they are a part of her life, they don’t necessarily hinder her ability to live a fulfilling life.

Disability as Different, but Not Inferior

Her therapist Shrinky Sue tells her of another patient who could see sounds. She talks of how full his life is rather than unpleasant. Sure, it is isolating to be different, but it can also help empower a person.

Sam doesn’t have a full-circle of accepting her disability completely and I found that rather satisfying, because I don’t know if anyone should be “cured” to have growth.

That’s the thing about disability, there’s no end result for recovery. It’s an ongoing process. Sometimes, you’ll fall back into the pit.

  After reading the Raven Cycle, Maggie Stiefvater became one of the most interesting authors on my
Yesterday, I finished reading the sequel to An Ember in the Ashes, which is called A Torch Against
I read Sabaa Tahir's An Ember in the Ashes over the course of two days last week.

BR: Courage and Character in Since You’ve Been Gone

When I approached Since You’ve Been Gone, I slacked and hesitated. Then, one night, I was shaking and sweating profusely. I couldn’t sleep and the world felt unbearably dark, so, I pulled out the cheery cover of Emily and Sloane’s story. I begin and I don’t stop till I am done with the book.

In Since You’ve Been Gone, Emily is part of a dynamic duo. It reminds me of my friendship with a person much louder than I am, more confident, more charming, just like Sloane. I identified with Emily on many levels, because I have never been self-assured and my anxiety prevents me from doing anything uncomfortable. I live in my own shell, like her, and I tend to be overshadowed by others. So, I had a keen interest in seeing how she grows and flourishes as a young woman, friend, partner.

Character Relationships


My favorite thing about this story is the characters. I adore all of them, especially Emily and Sloane. Speaking of which, Sloane falls under the manic pixie type of character, at least at first, but as Emily has more distance, she starts to see the cracks in the facade, and encourages Emily to open up about her insecurities regarding her family, relationships, friendships, and courage.

Courageous Characters:

The most beautiful aspect of this novel is the courage all the characters have. It takes a lot of effort to be strong and happy, to be adventurous, to be open to new people and experiences. I like that the lists they two friends make for each other are not over the top crazy. There is beauty in doing the smallest courageous acts. Ride a horse. Hug a Jamie. Apply for a job. Be part of nature and have a sense of wonder. Collins bravely faces his fear of rejection and asks out Dawn. Frank confronts his failing relationship with Lissa. It’s not just Emily and Sloane changing; it’s all of the characters moving through life and learning, which is absolutely lovely to see. It’s refreshing to see female characters focused on more than romantic relationships. I like that Dawn, Sloane, and Emily aren’t competitive or jealous, either.

Overall: 

 

Morgan Matson is becoming one of my favorite authors because she comes across as a thought-provoking person. I like that she echoes the themes of expanding horizons, and imagining people complexly. Yes it’s a book disguised as summer sweetness, but I think it’s got more going on with memorable relationships, gorgeous moments, and awesome music.

I have been thinking a lot about how much things have changed for me over
Part of having an online presence is this weird isolation from real life, whatever that
  ★QUESTIONS:Question #1: The Opening Ceremony: What book did you think had an incredible opening? I'll

BR: Scarlett Epstein Hates It Here

Part of having an online presence is this weird isolation from real life, whatever that is. I remember growing up with the Harry Potter fandom, reading fanfiction, and not really being in tune with who was popular in school, or crushes, or friendships. I was kind of in my own bubble hovering maddeningly in a corner with occasional bursts of contact with the outside world. Reading Scarlett Epstein Hates It Here reminded me of these days. It was an accurate representation of coming of age under the Internet’s influence and the shock of the real life.

Unlike the fiction in Fangirl, here, the story takes on a dark commentary on Scarlett’s real life. The story reflects her difficulties in imagining Ashley and Gideon complexly. She simplifies them into these stereotypes, particularly Ashley, who is literally a robot in her story. The fact that her story garners quite a few fans is also telling because it is a testament to her ability as a writer, just like her father and his new wife. The parallels between her work and her father’s is also interesting, because, in both, they misjudge and misrepresent others.

Ruth and Dawn have this really interesting connection with Scarlett, because she assumes a lot about them, only to realize later on that she was way, way off. For instance, the story Ruth shares of her youth and her family shocks young Scarlett into seeing that perhaps her judgment of others is not entirely accurate or fair. Through Dawn, a strong feminist message is sent in a painful way as Scarlett realizes that she has been overlooking her mother’s value as a person because they value different things. Like her father, she assumes that Dawn isn’t worth much as she doesn’t function the same way. Books and imagination are hard to consider when you are trying to earn a practical living. To Scarlett, her mother is a source of embarrassment due to her profession, her lifestyle, her inability to find someone to appreciate her as a companion.

The losses Scarlett endures offer as a wake up call for her life. Avery and Scarlett lose touch with each other as Ave develops a relationship with her boyfriend. Her struggles to find a balance between her friendship with Scarlett and Ashley isolates her. It’s hard not to feel affection towards Avery, even though she’s not in the narrative for long periods of time.

This brings me to the negatives of the book: it’s very episodic and not much of a plot-driven story. It’s not very character driven, either. I wish we would have spent enough time with Dawn, or Ruth, or even Scarlett’s dad. Gideon is featured in snippets. I didn’t really like the story Scarlett creates, because it took over the narrative way too much. I feel as though the story was hijacked by this fanfiction.

Still, the story is very different due to its humor, its tone, its balancing of feminism, commentary on pop culture and Internet culture, and the exploration of growing up in a time where the Internet can skew one’s perception a lot. It’s a refreshing tale and a realistic one, too. Do check it out, if you’re ready to see a girl take on the world and be bold.

I have been thinking a lot about how much things have changed for me over
When I approached Since You've Been Gone, I slacked and hesitated. Then, one night, I
  ★QUESTIONS:Question #1: The Opening Ceremony: What book did you think had an incredible opening? I'll

BR: The Disenchantments

 

So, I bought The Disenchantments used and picked up my battered copy scared, because it’s like a first date. I would imagine, all nerves and pensiveness because I seriously don’t know what to expect. At first, I was nothing but old and angry, because I have known people like the ones in the story, especially Bev– the girl who has been haunted by something in her past. 

Bev and Complexity

She is so perfect and broken, that the boys and girls idolize her so much. It is different, though, because Bev doesn’t just serve a purpose for Colby. Instead, she goes through her own journey and learns to stop running from the past. I liked that she sang the song to her mom, and that she wrote the letter to friends. I wanted to hate her, because I identified with her so much, but I ended up just…understanding, and knowing what it is like to go through an incredible amount of pain. I am hopeful for Beverly. A lot. I didn’t expect to feel that she would lead a happy life someday, but, you know, it seems like it may happen.

 

Other Characters

Colby and Meg are fantastic, and I just adored them completely. Such beautiful imperfect people. I like their conversations and connection. This guy is just a pensive, artistic, brilliant person, and I’m happy that college isn’t presented as the “best” option out there after high school, because people are different. They have choices to make, their own routes to draw up, and so on. If I had been a bit younger, I would have been all over the tattoo theme in this book, but, I appreciate it now (just not with the same enthusiasm, I suppose).

Shipping and Pairings

Shipping is kind of difficult in this book. I was pairing everyone together, and it didn’t go the way I expected. It’s a bit of a serious book, I guess, but it has its light moments. I’ll say this much: Jasper is wonderful and I want him and Colby to be together (friends, partners, lovers, whatever. It’s up to them).

In short, it is a pretty good book. Do check it out, if you’re up to an emotional read.

I have been thinking a lot about how much things have changed for me over
When I approached Since You've Been Gone, I slacked and hesitated. Then, one night, I
Part of having an online presence is this weird isolation from real life, whatever that

BR: Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens’ Agenda

Being stuck and sad makes reading, sleeping, eating, drinking, praying difficult. Everything is hard then. BUT, every once in a while, you get a ray of light out of nowhere. This ray for me was in Simon and Blue’s relationship. I have to admit that it took me a while to buckle down and read because things get to so dark that I can’t see my way out. I still don’t know how to find these silver linings. hilarious. He is also not dumb, impulsive, or silly. I was actually cheering him on.

Here’s one thing that didn’t change throughout the book and afterwards: I HATE MARTIN! A lot, okay? I just can’t sympathize because I can relate too much with Simon. Very much like him, I keep things to myself. I talk a lot, but I don’t ever share the private things. It’s too frightening to open up to anyone, really. So I related to a 17 year old. A lot. I still dislike Martin after his confessions. I don’t think they are justified at all. You can’t just ruin things for someone. I used to think this process was scary enough as it is, but there are so many more pressures presented in this book that just bewildered me even more. It’s good to be aware of consequences.

Oh, Blue, how I adore you. So sweet. I also adore, adore, adore Simon’s friends. They’re awesome people and I wish I had friends who connect with me on such a deep level. And, of course, the humor is just spot on. I can’t get over drunk cute Simon (or should we all call him ALEX!).

As it progressed, the story unfurled lots of great jokes and funny moments. I think there was a true balance between humor and seriousness. So many serious business times in the book, too, obviously.

Your Turn: Have you read any fun LGBT+ characters in YA Literature? Were they portrayed in a fair way? Share in the comments!

  ★QUESTIONS:Question #1: The Opening Ceremony: What book did you think had an incredible opening? I'll
  So, I bought The Disenchantments used and picked up my battered copy scared, because
While Snape is a fascinating character, he's by no means my favorite out of the

BR: Fangirl

It is kind of nice when the depression recedes enough for hope to peak through, like wild weeds in a poisonous garden festering. I don’t know how it happens, but at some point, things start looking up again. Perhaps, that is the power of fiction for me. Reading about someone else makes me forget what it’s like to be me (usually). And, yet, when I read Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, something very different happened: I read what it is like to be me. 

Cath is an eighteen year old college freshman and she has anxiety. Like, really bad anxiety. She can’t go to the cafeteria kind of anxiety. I have anxiety. She writes, and I try to write. Often, she spends her life in her head. I do that, maybe even more than she does. But, you get it, right? I found myself in her story. It is kind of weird that I experienced this deja vu with a much younger character. I’m almost thirty. I have been out of college for so long. Yet I was relating to Cath’s struggle to write, to express herself, to make friends, to get in relationships that are complex and scary. In fact, she goes on journeys I have never had the courage to experience.

As a fellow fangirl, I enjoyed her writing of Simon and Baz’s story. I fangirled at her work and her spirit.

Moreover, her relationship with her sister is powerful and moving. Wren is outgoing and often hard to reach. I have a sister like that. Like Cath, I find myself grasping and comparing and losing very regularly. It is a tough battle, because I am much older than said sibling. People tell me to get over it, to move on, but the OCD kicks in and I get stuck in destructive loops.

Oh my goodness, Nick, and how he used her, it hit so close to home. I have had this experience too many times in my life. There were moments when I had stood in the shadows to let someone take the credit for my my voice. It is practically like Ariel in Little Mermaid giving up her voice to get something else.

It’s a wonderfully written book. Funny, moving, charming, and honest: it sheds light on family, relationships, expression, art, fiction, reality, education, drinking…so many things in one work that it is sometimes overwhelming to read. I am so glad that I did read it, though, because it is one of my favorite things I have ever read. It has made me feel less strange. Yes, I am pretty weird, but maybe that is not such a bad thing. Feeling this way is a new experience and I think it’s for the better.

Please, do pick it up and check it out. Such a great book. OH, and read Carry On *afterwards.* Don’t be a dork like me and read them in the wrong order.

When I first heard of Me Before You, I was drawn to the cast. Emilia
While it is endearing,  My Big Fat Greek Wedding relies on stereotypes to communicate the difference
When I approached Since You've Been Gone, I slacked and hesitated. Then, one night, I

BR: Carry On, Rosebud Boy

Yesterday, I started reading Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On. Having read Eleanor and Park, and Attachments, and enjoying them to an extent, I had a feeling that I may at least like Carry On. I just finished it today. I know. One day! It is a record for me. I read slow and struggle often to focus. So, this is indicative of how great this story was. What a way to start a new year! The book is easily one of my favorites already.

It started off confusing. There is very little background information, which is understandable because this book is supposed to be the final one in a series. So, it took me a bit of time to follow what was going on. I understand that this is kind of a take on Harry Potter but to me, Rowell’s work stands on its own, as a work that is unique. It offers a lot of insight on the Chosen One trope, on fantasy in general, and on relationships.

What I love is that the romance is sweet, but, sexuality is not something that runs the story, like many YA novels do.  Baz, at some point in the book, refers to his relationship with Simon as less erotic than he’d imagined it would be. I think that’s more realistic as far as relationships go. It is really nice that they both lose a lot throughout the book. Simon truly loses his magic, the Mage, Agatha. Rowell even makes him get into therapy, because this stuff is intense. It is not like he fell in love and then everything is rosy and perfect. Not at all. Romance is not the goal in life. It is an aspect of life. There are other things that come into play.

Overall, I thought it was a lovely book with complexity and an exploration of so many tropes in fiction. Give it a go, definitely!

I have been thinking a lot about how much things have changed for me over
When I approached Since You've Been Gone, I slacked and hesitated. Then, one night, I
Part of having an online presence is this weird isolation from real life, whatever that

BR: “Big Magic” and Creativity

I’m a fan of Eat, Pray, Love. Having listened to many of her speeches, I became a fan of Liz Gilbert. Naturally, I gravitated towards her new book Big Magic, which is a book about creativity and inspiration. It is such a wonderful book. I gave it five stars. I enjoyed it immensely. Let’s talk about it. It was awesome.

In this book, Liz Gilbert talks about her relationship with creativity and how she approaches it. I thought it was such a great reflection that taught me so much. I learned that creativity is something to be cultivated and fostered. It is part of our well-being. It is, in short, part of being okay. So, I need to be more creative. Write more, read more, dream more. I used to feel more, but I got scared of myself, of letting go of control. I think control is underrated, though.

Part of creativity, I have learned from Gilbert, is about taking chances and being brave enough to face fears. Old Grandfather Fear is part of the creative process, but he is to be faced and mostly ignored. He does not get to pick the snacks; he does not get to play the radio. He does not have control over us. At least, he should not be given the keys to the car. He can be part of the journey. But he should not given power over us.

Another thing I learned is that it is important to focus on being a trickster when it comes to creativity. Have fun. Don’t take it seriously. Don’t approach it as a sacred process. It is fun. It is supposed to be fun. And, I have forgotten this. I have been waiting for inspiration to strike, for a sense of beauty to come into my life. But, what if it is within me? What if I can be happy just creating images, poetry, blog posts, tweets, anything…I can express myself in so many ways. I have been defined by people as an artist. I have not seen myself as such because I thought of artists as martyrs, as holy people. I just want to create things every day. Express my fears, my dreams, thoughts. I think I should allow myself to do this daily, even if it is not perfect or “good.”

If you would like to learn more about ways to find creativity and inspiration, check out Big Magic. It is a beautiful, wonderful book. I cannot recommed it enough!

"The sun stopped shining for me is all. The whole story is: I am sad.
I read Sabaa Tahir's An Ember in the Ashes over the course of two days last week.
    I am going to share with you my experience of reading One Dark Throne by

BR: Depression and Art in Hold Still

“The sun stopped shining for me is all. The whole story is: I am sad. I am sad all the time and the sadness is so heavy that I can’t get away from it. Not ever.” –Nina LaCour, Hold Still.

Accuracy in the Complications 


It is very rare for an author to capture the pains of being suicidal and misunderstood. It is hard to convey this isolation, the desperate attempts to find glimmers of hope, the guilt for not being okay. Yet, LaCour achieves these feats with grace and honest understanding. It’s so matter of fact, this loneliness depression Ingrid has. There is no “justification” going on and I was so grateful for that, because mental illness is not something to reason with. It just exists and seeps the life out of you. Ingrid’s self-harm, her sadness, her despair: all are presented as valid. Caitlin never blames her friend for feeling this way. If anything, she mostly struggled with how she didn’t do anything to help, which is a powerful message to have in a book aimed at young adults. It’s interesting to read, because I was at this point before, and just taken to a hospital, so my life was spared. But, I remember the note-writing and the research. It is unfortunate that some people write about self-harm methods and techniques, about suicide ways. In a way, this book offers a suggestion: consider the impact you have on others since you don’t operate in a vacuum. 

Caitlin

This leads me to Caitlin, who was just reeling from the loss of her best friend. She is not annoying about it, but she is grieving and struggling to understand, which makes sense. I never was the friend who wanted to save a life. I was kind of too overwhelmed by my own self that I just didn’t ever read someone’s journals or see signs of a struggle, and that makes the book even more powerful because I could learn a thing or two from Caitlin. She’s empathic and brave. I love how she reaches out to Dylan repeatedly, and chooses her to be a friend. Choosing your friends is important as hell. It is so crucial to be in control of who gets to be in your life. It’s your life. Be careful who you pick. I like the role art plays in Caitlin’s life, because it truly brings her character to maturity and understanding. She processes her identity through Ingrid’s portraits of her. In a way, I wish I could have an Ingrid to show me who I am, because, seriously, mental illnesses can hijack your sense of self. People can be limiting, and simplistic. 

Ms. Delani


Ms. Delani hit very close home because I was once a teacher, and I remember the responsibility of the position. I remember looking for signs of trouble, I remember reaching out to people, and I remember being shut out many times. But, I can’t even imagine the loss of a student. That is so difficult to process, especially when they are so engaged and talented–they leave traces around your life for good. I like that she is portrayed as a pained person who uses photography to get through the pain of the vacancy. 


Photography, friendship, love, family, are all used as vehicles to cope with loss and pain, and I think that is a wonderfully inspiring thing to read. It’s also the hardest, most honest thing you can suggest to someone with mental illness. Reach out, throw yourself into something that helps you express the pain. For some, it is photography. Caitlin saw the world differently behind the lens. She gave Ingrid a home through the pictures (and through pictures, Ingrid did the same for her best friend). Maybe it is simply creating (the tree house was a great idea, too). I like Taylor being understanding and sweet. I like Dylan and Maddy. Not like, love, and I haven’t feel this full emotionally and mentally since
The Fault in Our Stars. 

I have been thinking a lot about how much things have changed for me over
When I approached Since You've Been Gone, I slacked and hesitated. Then, one night, I
Part of having an online presence is this weird isolation from real life, whatever that

BR: Humor and Darkness in The Demon’s Lexicon

I got introduced to Sarah Rees Brennan through Cassandra Clare online. I feel a connection with certain writers. It’s not always spot on, but with SRB, it certainly was. When I started reading The Demon’s Lexicon, I was hesitant, at first, because I wasn’t sure about the set up and then later on because I started to love the characters way too much. It was truly terrifying to see the curses moving from one person to the next, the talismans lost, and demons summoned. Even now, I am scared for these precious babies.

Relationships: One of the things that I have loved most about Brennan’s writing is the relationships she establishes. For instance, I enjoy the relationship between Alan and Nick, I find it fascinating to see the relationship between the Ryves brothers and Jaimie and Mae as well. I like the push and pull between Alan and Nick while they try to figure out who they are and their relationship with the magicians. Olivia was also interesting in a haunting way. I like that she knows herself and her place in the world. I was sad to see her go. Maybe she can come back somehow. I don’t know, combustion seems kind of permanent.

Humor: The humor matched the darkness of the story, which was pretty refreshing. It honestly made me laugh a lot, just to hear the characters say the things they said, particularly Nick and Jaimie. They’re kind of an odd pair to see together, and they have their differences, for sure, so it’s a blast to read their interactions.

Originality of the World: Another superb aspect of the story was the originality factor. I like that the world was so unique and functioned within rules the characters address early on. The dances summoning the demons were epic and exciting. I just love the whole market atmosphere. It sounds so lively and tricky. I’m hoping to see the characters back at the market setting and interacting with the people there, because that’s probably one of my favorite aspects of the story.

Overall:  If you like “darker” characters, more morally ambiguous, then you’ll probably like the characters here. Everyone has complex identities and they have mixed feelings about each other. You really can’t predict what’s going to happen in the story, which is awesome to experience but also very scary. I honestly couldn’t read the book for years because I was frightened of what could happen in the first installment. I have the next one ready to go now, and I am going to delve in. Hope you check out this lovely hilarious author and read her books, too!

I read Incredibly Loud and Extremely Close a few years ago and it moved me tremendously. So,
  One of my favorite aspects of the Harry Potter series is its symmetry. It is wonderful
When I approached Since You've Been Gone, I slacked and hesitated. Then, one night, I