one flew over the cuckoo’s nest

Super surprised that the Goodreads summary of this novel suggests McMurphy is the hero; he is a fantastic character, sure, but I am team Chief Bromden/Broom a million percent – what an incredible journey from self-defeat to self-awareness to self-actualization. He is the perfect first-person narrator, since not only do the other characters hardly ever acknowledge his presence, but also the reader learns to treat his perspective as basically omniscient while still seeming down-to-earth. I wonder how much time Kesey spent with American Indians, because he manages to capture the wonder and power of nature in so many ways, from the smallest glimpse of a dog poking his nose in squirrel holes under the moonlight to the larger, more obvious instance of the big fishing expedition. The other reviews highlighting racism and sexism in the novel have some merit, but ultimately I think a contemporary Ken Kesey would blame those societal ills as products of the Combine, too.. and naturally insist we rebel against anything that says “different” is inherently bad.

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i’ll give you the sun

This is the kind of dreamy, fun, genuine story that makes your heart go pitter patter. I definitely read the first two chapters thinking critically of the writing, which is decidedly trying-very-hard-to-be artsy/indie/hipster/cute, but the exaggerated imagery and intense synesthesia slowly grow on you, and the characters are incredibly complex, broken but whole, interesting people (with maybe the exception of Oscar, although it’s even cool to see a guy, instead of a girl, relegated to the position of predictable love interest). I love how the novel plays with luck and destiny, but treats other subjects with the thoughtfulness they deserve, like family, sexuality, death, and of course love. Totally adding this one to my shelves as one to revisit later, maybe with more familiarity of the artists mentioned, and to recommend to anyone who wants a different kind of “literary” love story.

all the bright places

From the beginning, Niven sets up a beautiful friendship and begins to tell a story that you can tell has the potential to make readers believe in young love and remind us all why we’re alive. Literary allusions lend the text an air of sophistication without distancing the characters, and the voices of Violet and Finch are expertly crafted, so the novel really feels like young adult fiction and plays on all the innocence, confusion, and exploration that entails. I really, really wanted to be able to call this one a new favorite, thinking that finally, here is a novel that wrestles with suicide but still manages to be sweet and hopeful, but as other reviews have suggested, it does feel overdone. To me this was much better written, with more authentic voices and more original imagery, than John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, but that novel is overrated anyway – the better comparison is to Looking for Alaska, where Finch actually becomes the Alaska, the manic pixie dream boy, the puzzle to be solved. The difference is that maybe Niven took on too much at once with this one, two or three heavy topics too many, and that maybe this YA trend of making characters super “quirky” is at last being exposed as an ineffective shortcut to creating real characters.

two boys kissing

I can’t put into words how important this book should be to the world right now. Levithan writes unbelievably lyrical prose with utmost sincerity, and there were multiple moments that brought me to tears; with this many characters, it could be difficult to make readers emotionally connect to them, but they are so flawed and endearing and honest, how could you not cheer for them? The Greek chorus of men who have died from AIDS serves as a brilliant narrative technique to remind the two main boys of what has been sacrificed and lost and ruined in the name of love, and it makes the whole novel feel like a conversation that simply says, we are going to keep living, so support us and love us along the way.

since you’ve been gone

I’ve been waiting years to find another author of YA coming-of-age feminine-but-deep novels to follow in the enormous success of Sarah Dessen’s work, and Morgan Matson does that and so much more. This is exactly the kind of cute story of high school best friends that teenage girls should read to learn that they’re not alone and the world really cares about them and things turn out okay in the end. Although there are still a few too many loose ends at the conclusion, I love that we really get the sense that Emily has become someone she likes and is proud to be, and that’s all I can wish for other readers to take from the story, too. Plus, how refreshing to read about a girl who isn’t a beautiful, flawless enigma, but one who is a little shy and loves country music and takes care of her younger brother and seems human and real. It is definitely a tame read, decidedly PG-13, but one that I won’t hesitate to recommend to future little girls.

the reluctant fundamentalist

This is the most enlightening book I’ve read on Pakistan-US relations in the aftermath of 2001 (no shade to Malala), probably because the writing style is so delightfully tongue-in-cheek while still sincerely touching on some of the most engaging, interesting paradoxes of intimacy among people and what it means to feel at home. I love any narration that pushes against convention and instead builds on culture, and that is exactly what Hamid manages to do with his conversational tone and beautiful portrayal of different worlds. Somehow he manages to communicate a foreigner’s awe and appreciation for America but without naivety or blind optimism, and the ending, despite the hollowness of Erica’s character, so so so perfectly captures the weird mixture of authenticity and distrust that has come to characterize international affairs.

wonder

There aren’t enough good things to say about this story, its characters, and its understated moral lessons. Palacio writes with the empathy and grace only a mother can have in such vast reserves, and the novel serves as a lighthearted but powerful reminder to simply choose kindness. It falls apart a little at the seams, however; there are too many narrative perspectives that are not distinguishable enough from one another, with a couple undoubtedly irrelevant sections (definitely Justin’s and maybe even Jack’s), although it was a joy to read from the perspective of Via and Summer and, surprisingly, especially the “after” section from Julian. The end of the story is neatly packaged and tied in a perfect bow, yet within that package not everything seems to be in order – for example, the sister who figures so heavily into the story in the first two-thirds has all but disappeared at the end. In more than a few places throughout the book, the dialogue seems a little off, but we can always count on Auggie to give us the most honest and bittersweet story. It’s a must-read for all primary education teachers, and parents or parent-hopefuls, too.