She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb

Warning: There are many triggers in this book for victims of many types of abuse, as well as those with mental illnesses. I won’t list the types because I don’t want spoilers, but if you think you are interested but have these types of triggers, please be advised.

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She’s Come Undone is one heck of an emotional roller-coaster. Main character Dolores takes us through her life, from one catastrophic event to the next. First, her parent’s abusive relationship. Then the death of her baby brother. Then her mother goes into a mental hospital. And her father cheats. Then her parents divorce. She eventually is moved to her grandmother’s home, away from the one friend she had made, and is forced to endure the teenage years alone. All of this is just the base of which Dolores builds her life, and as you can guess, it’s a rocky foundation. She’s depressed, she’s consoling herself with food and television, and she’s isolating herself from everyone with harsh defensive mechanisms. Taking place between the 1950’s and 1980’s, there is very little support for the circumstances and situations that Dolores is dealing with, and what support she does find comes with the price of a negative connotation.

It seems like it would be easy to pity or empathize with Dolores, but to me, for most of the book, she is an unlikable main character- which I believe is exactly what Lamb wanted his readers to think. Every time something bad happens to Dolores, she acts or lashes out, sinking into her depression and the mindset that she is alone, unloved, and unworthy. Even when someone helps her and shows her differently, she pushes them away. Parallel with the story, when Dolores lashes out, Lamb pushes away the reader intentionally- but just when you think that you’ve had enough of this book, something else keeps you reading.

It’s complex and I’m not sure if I’m explaining it eloquently enough, but to me, that’s where the power in this book is. It’s an excellent account of someone who has struggled their whole life with mental instability, with abuse, and with self-worth. It’s raw, turbulent, and emotional. Somewhere in the middle of the book, I turned my dislike for Dolores around, and was silently hoping that she would be able to stand up for herself by the book. By the end, I was smiling at the pages, glad that Dolores learns how to love and be loved.

However, I still don’t think I loved this book. Even though it was powerful, I still struggled overall with the read. I personally resent the amount of disgust shown for Dolores’ weight, and the comparisons to a beached whale. I get that that adds to her difficulties and kicks the girl when she’s down, and that it represents a lot of what our culture thinks and says about fatness, and I realized that this book was written way before the body positivity movement- but it still managed to tick me off many times. If you want a reason why, shoot me a message and I’ll get into it there.  I also hated that once she was skinny, it made her more worthy of love. I also know that Dolores’ mental issues, the whole “come undone” part of the title, was a struggle that the reader went along for the ride with, but I just felt so uncomfortable there with her, like I shouldn’t be witnessing what I was.

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In conclusion, I would recommend this book to others, but only if I really knew the person I was recommending it to, and I don’t think I’ll be rereading it. I understand why so many people recommended it, because it is so powerful, but can’t say that it became a new favorite.

Warning: There are many triggers in this book for victims of many types of abuse, as well as those with mental illnesses. I won’t list the types because I don’t want spoilers, but if you think you are interested but have these types of triggers, please be advised.

 

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Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

I’m pretty sure I started to read this while I was in middle school and couldn’t get into it, so I decided to give Speak another go.

It’s a rather quick read (I read it in a day) about a high school freshman named Melanie. Her school year starts off terribly as she finds herself friendless with a tattered reputation, and she begins to emotionally recede. Her anxiety leaves her almost speechless, and yet her inner turmoil is a constant stream of quick witted (and at times fearful) thought. As the story unfolds, we learn that Mellie became the class outcast because she had called 911 during a popular party over the summer, yet her reason behind the call goes unexplained for a long time.

In the meantime, Melanie is struggling in school. Her grades have tanked with the exception of her art class, and her parents and teachers don’t understand why. The only place she feels contentment at school is an abandoned janitorial closet that she cleaned up, and in her art class with Mr. Freeman, as she works on her yearly assignment- trees. Coached by her teacher, she tries different mediums to make her trees speak, and as the year goes on, she finally realizes the parallel between her tree’s expression and her own. When the epiphany takes hold, she decides to take action about her depression and the beast that haunts her.

Halse Anderson’s writing style throughout the book is broken into small thoughtful paragraphs straight from her main character’s mind, and instead of chapters, the book is broken into marking period quarters. I think this is what turned me off the first time I attempted to read this book, but I find it very clever now. This sets up the story timeline in a creative way, allowing the reader to understand the passing of time but without having it stated in the inner thoughts of the main character. I also was surprised at Mellie’s inner dialogue- though it’s a YA book, the content is, for the most part, mature. And when there are paragraphs of immaturity, it’s exactly what you would expect to come from a teenager. I thought I’d feel a little too old to be reading Speak, but Halse Anderson did a great job making Melanie’s story relatable and understandable for all ages.

As an aside, the copy I own is the platinum edition, so it came with a Q&A from the author, which I always love to read, and I found out that there is a movie version of Speak. After a little research, I found out it came out in 2004, starring a young Kristen Stewart. If you’ve seen it, what do you think? I think if the library has it, I’ll watch it and see how it compares.

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Overall, I would definitely recommend Speak. I know it’s an old YA book at this point, but it had a strong plot and main character that makes it still relevant to today.

Someone Like You by Sarah Dessen

After my Divergent bender, I needed something a little fluffy to read after to cure my book hangover. Cue Dessen.

I’ve read a few of her books back in high school, and have started a small collection at my house for just this reason. Whenever you are in a reading slump, reaching for a cute book that isn’t too long or too overly complicated (really, anything short and fluffy) is the best fix. Sarah Dessen is my go-to for such an occation, so I pulled Someone Like You off my shelf.

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The story is about Halley and Scarlett, best friends and neighbors since they were little girls. They know everything about each other, and balance each other out. Where Halley is the quiet, shy, thoughtful type, Scarlett is the strong, loud, take charge type. During the summer of their Sophomore year of high school, the two pick up cashier jobs at the local grocery, tan by the pool, and start mixing with the in crowd, meeting up with boys and sneaking around. Halley and her mother, a therapist who is slightly overbearing, start to feel tension between them as Halley starts to conceal more of her private and social life, and her mother tries to control Halley’s behavior. Meanwhile, Scarlett and a boy named Michael Sherwood start dating, and just as Halley is trying to handle the new dynamic with Scarlett, her mother sends her off (unwillingly) to a summer camp.

A week before the end of summer, Halley gets a late night call from Scarlett- Michael died in an accident. Halley immediately figures out how to get home to support Scarlett in her time of need. After all, Scarlett has always supported Halley, and that’s what best friends are for. But as the start of the school year rolls around, Halley learns Scarlett is going to need more than consoling, and it’s Halley’s turn to take charge.

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It’s a quick read at 281 pages, and though it’s a little young and predictable, it’s the perfect reset read- the kind where you don’t have to think too hard and know there is going to be a happy ending. It may be a tad boring, but this was a much needed read for me.

 

 

 

Allegiant by Veronica Roth

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Oh. My. Heart.

For those of you who haven’t read Divergent and Insurgent, you know what to do…

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Read them? Good, because there is no way I can write about Allegiant without spoilers. I’ll try to leave out what I can, but there is just SO MUCH TO TALK ABOUT.

Let’s start with a quick summary. At the beginning of the book, the Factionless have taken control of the city, declaring that there will be no more faction system. Tris is under arrest for treason, for trying to help stop the attack on Janine- which was done only to help release information that has been hidden for years. Tobias and Tris were at odds, since he was working with his mother and not with Tris, until the very last minute, when Tobias helped release the hidden information behind his mother’s back. The information contained a message from one of the original settlers of the establishment, revealing that there was life outside the city limits and why the establishment was originated.

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Now, as the novel continues, the point of view switches between Tris and Tobias every chapter. This was a little tricky for me, because for the last two books, I’ve been completely inside Tris’ head, and then getting into Allegiant, I had to start thinking like Tobias as well. There were a couple of times where the pace got fast, and as chapters whipped by, I had to go back and double check who’s point of view I was reading from. I disliked having to do that as it slow my pace, but at the same time, it was interesting to get the multiple points of view. I believe it made sense for the story to split the views, and come the end of the book, it was definitely necessary.

As the novel goes on, the reader finds out what is beyond the city establishment, and the whole story of how the economic structure came to be and how the ongoing genetic reconstruction experiments occurred completely redefine the lives of the main characters. As layers of the truth are revealed, you can predict an uprising coming from Tris and Tobias, but how it played out completely astounded me. This revelation complicates the fierce relationship problems between Tris and Tobias. One minute, they are on the same team, ready to fight, absolutely absorbed by each other. The next, they’re racing against each other, throwing the harshest dagger-like comments at each other, and barely speaking. Add the additional character’s conflicts, and you can see why this novel packs a punch. Basically, your heart is the punching bag, and Roth knows how to hit it- and even if you saw it coming, it still hurts.

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I don’t want to give the ending away, but I have to talk about that ending. The minute that the rebel group decides to send in a certain someone to set off the “reset” serum, I knew Tris wouldn’t let that happen. When she makes it through the first set of doors, I was thrilled that once again her Divergence won out. But then I knew that when you-know-who showed up, it was over. And I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe that Roth would do that to her readers. And I fought back tears because I was both sad AND angry. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book where this situation occurs, and I wasn’t expecting it. At least there is resolution, and I guess in retrospect, one of the themes running through the series is moving on despite the past.

So, with that in mind, I’m moving on from this series a little battered, but with no regrets. It was captivating and exhilarating, and I’m crushed that this is the end. Well, at least until I get my copy of Four, but even so. Despite the ending, I completely recommend the read.

Also, I’m gonna leave you with this, in hopes that you giggle.

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Insurgent by Veronica Roth

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I tried to read this in two days but the real world kept interrupting me. When I opened up Insurgent, I was just as absorbed as the first in the series. If you haven’t read Divergent, do that first… I’ll wait.

Done? Didn’t take you long, did it? Okay, good, because it’s hard to write a review of a second book in the series without spoilers of the first.

The book starts with Tris and Four seeking refuge at the Amity headquarters after the Dauntless, under a simulation transmitter serum, attacked the Abnegation sector and killed innocents. The faction system as they know it is shattering after Erudite and traitor Dauntless members have teamed up to hunt Divergents and they will sacrifice anyone that gets in their way of finding a serum that will control the Divergents. Leading the pack in Janine Matthews, creator of the control serums and mastermind behind the attacks.

Tris and Four try to seek help from Amity, but they refuse to offer their aid, as they seek only peace in their faction. Knowing that conflict will have to occur, Tris and Four try to plan a way to take down Janine. When the Erudite seek them and other refugees out in Amity, a few select rebels are lead by Tris and Four into the city, to rendezvous with the Factionless. After this meeting, Tris learns more about Four’s past, and they have problems trusting each other. After some time and circumstances, Tris decides that the best way to save Four and aid in the revolt is to turn herself in to Janine- leaving her life as her parents did, as her origins taught her in Abnegation.

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It’s a complete roller coaster of action and emotions. Like before, Roth does an excellent job putting you inside Tris’ head, allowing the reader to see the action and process it as Tris does. I also don’t think I pointed it out on my last review, but Roth is very acute with her details, never letting them fall through the cracks. If someone was shot, she continually displays that ailment, for instance. I find that those details really impact the story, making it more realistic to the reader.

Being as that Insurgent is left on a bit of a cliffhanger, I’m going to keep this short and say, obviously, that this is an entertaining and absolute must read. Now, I’m going to go bury my nose in Allegiant… see you in a few days!

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Divergent by Veronica Roth

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I know, I know… another series that everyone had either read or heard of, and I’m yet again super late to the fanwagon. But guys… I GET IT NOW. I devoured Divergent in two days, and I’m just itching to start Insurgent, which is currently at home on my bookshelf, just calling my name…

For those of you who haven’t read the series (or seen the movies) like me, here’s a relatively short summary. Beatrice Prior (Tris) lives in dystopian Chicago. At sixteen, she is about to make the biggest choice of her life by decided what faction she is meant to live in. Growing up Abnegation, she has always felt a part of her doesn’t belong in the selfless  and reserved faction, and her curiosity has her admiring the Dauntless, who are brave and appear to fear nothing. On the day of her aptitude test, she learns that she doesn’t specifically fit into any of the factions- Abnegation, Dauntless, Candor, Amity, or Erudite- but has an aptitude for multiple factions… making her Divergent. Unsure of what this means, Beatrice chooses Dauntless, and through her guilt tries to convince herself of the saying, “Faction before Blood”. As she sheds her old identity and becomes just Tris, her initiation is nothing like what she expects. Determined to make it through initiation, Tris learns more than what it takes to become Dauntless- she learns what it takes to be Divergent.

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I’m not sure if it’s the dystopian setting, the strength of the main character, or the barrage of intense action scenes, but I am HOOKED. Like, I even did the “What faction are you?” quiz. (Divergent, with Amity as the highest score). But I’ll contain my fangirling and keep this professional. Roth’s writing had me completely absorbed. I could imagine the Chicago trains always in motion, the Dauntless leaping on and off. I could see Tris’ train of thought, not as if I was reading her mind, but as if I was doing the processing myself. I could barely breathe during the fight scenes, and felt the punch in my gut when Tris states, “The bullet hit him in the head. I know because that’s where I aimed it.”

I’m so glad that this book lived up to the hype…in my opinion, it’s actually better. Highly recommend that you read it if you haven’t, and stay tuned- I know it won’t take me long to finish the rest of the series!

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Rose and Poe by Jack Todd

If you’ve read Shakespear’s The Tempest, this may be a familiar story to you, but if not, imagine a Grimm fairy tale crossed with a contemporary crime novel, and you have Todd’s beautifully written tale, Rose & Poe.

At first, we’re introduced to Rose, the single and fiercely devoted mother of Poe, the simple minded, gentle giant who works hard to please others- especially Miranda, the lovely daughter of Thorne. Then we’re introduced to a series of other characters from the small fictional setting of Belle Coeur County (set in New England), including Thorne (aka Mister Sir Mister), a possessive father who is slowly losing his mind to dementia; Airmail, the skeezy speedster courier who has his nose in everybody’s business: and Skeeter and Moe, two young boys who think they are tracking Sasquatch (aka Sasquank).

Each character’s individual stories develop and become intertwined with Poe. Though he lives a rather sheltered life, everyone in the area knows who he is. He’s kind of hard to miss, being somewhere between eight and nine feet tall and seven hundred pounds, six fingered and six toed, with a size eighteen shoe and signature Oshkosh’b’Gosh overalls. Though simple minded, he’s been raised in the small town by a loving mother and taught to be a kind, hard working citizen. Yet, many don’t accept his social limitations and therefore ostracize him, and though his mother has protected him from as much as possible, there are still experiences that Poe suffered through just because he was different. With no one willing to defend him, Rose has always come to his rescue.

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(In my imagination, he looks a bit like this guy, except maybe a bit homelier)

The one night, Rose’s worst nightmare happens- Poe gets into a situation that Rose can’t get him out of. She knows he is innocent and wouldn’t harm a fly, but with little evidence to prove otherwise, Poe is in serious danger of being committed for a serious crime. Even with Rose doing all she can from him, nobody is willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, and being a pariah already, they don’t care to wait for the trial to have Poe hanged. Todd keeps his readers at the edge of their seat awaiting the final word on Poe’s predicament.

I actually got this novel from an Instagram giveaway from Megan at whatmeganreads and ecwpress.com. I probably wouldn’t have picked it out for myself, but Megan loved it, posted a rave review, and since we have similar tastes in books, I thought why not see if I could win a copy! I was pretty surprised, but super excited, and that I won it because it is such a great book. Also, I was surprised to see many Vermont references, including the county that I grew up in! Small world, coincidence, or fate that I should end up with this book? Who knows. Anyways… there’s no sugar coating in Rose & Poe, so the reader becomes very empathetic to the main duo. Todd builds this honest and fierce relationship between the characters and reader from the start, and it’s hard not to become involved in the novel. I, too, give it a seal of approval, and suggest you give it a shot- you won’t be disappointed.