Monthly Archives: September 2013

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby

“Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope.”
-Nick

So, after just recently learning that a.) my school doesn’t teach this book and b.) the movie just came out, I went to the library and checked out The Great Gatsby. Already I knew it was one of those “classic literature” books that English teachers love and students hate, which immediately made me think, “Well, this is going to suck.” I just finished it last night, and I think I’ve waited enough time to let it soak in before writing the review. So here it is: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

I’m not really sure how to give a summary for this one. There’s undoubtedly a lot going on in this book, so it’s hard to decide which point to focus on. I guess I’ll say it’s about Nick Carroway, a 1920s-era businessman who moves into a home next door to millionaire Jay Gatsby. This summary, taken from a reviewer on Goodreads, seems to sum everything up much better than I can:

Told from the perspective of Nick Carroway, a young man who lives in the house between Gatsby’s mansion and Tom Buchanan’s home across the Sound.
The 1920’s….a time of women becoming independent, of ravish parties and of young people losing themselves in the magic of the night. Outstanding parties, a war of love, the eyes above the ash pile, drinks and cars, oh my!

Gatsby is mysterious, trailed by constant rumors (“I believe he was an Oxford man.”, “He once killed a man.”, “He’s a gambler!”) and a murky love life. His parties are meant to please while he observes, quiet and unassuming in the background.
But do people really care for the man, or do they just like his ever-pleasant hospitality and abundance of drinks?
Behind his daring ‘get-togethers’, Gatsby is simply a sad man whose mind is glued to the past.

Daisy…the woman he loves is married to none other than Tom Buchanan, a brute of a man (not to mention racist and sexist) whose suspicions of Gatsby run deep.
Nick Carroway befriends dear Gatsby and is the calm observer of this affair. After five years of not seeing one another, Nick gets Gatsby to speak to Daisy again.

This is a story the delusion of dreams, and that of a man who has gone down in history as….”The Great Gatsby

Okay, so to the actual review.

Honestly, I’m not sure what to say. After about the first chapter or so, I realized, surprisingly, that I liked the book. It was interesting, mysterious, and I definitely wanted to keep reading. After Nick goes to Gatsby’s party, I started to realize how badly I wanted to see the movie already. But then it started to get slow. It was repetitive, hopping from affair to scandal like there was nothing else going on. And although it ended with a bang, but I’m still unsure of how I feel about it as a whole.

I am thoroughly surprised I liked it as much as I did, though. This is definitely not my kind of book, and yet I’m so excited to rent the movie this week. I might write a review of the movie adaption and add it onto the next review I post, or depending on how long it is, make it a separate post, so watch out for that. Thanks for reading!

-J

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Impulse by Ellen Hopkins

Impulse

“Love means holding on to someone just as hard as you can because if you don’t, one blink and they might disappear forever.”
-Tony

Sometimes life just gets too hard. Sometimes everything piles up until it feels like you’ve been left with one option: to end it all. That’s what Conner, Tony, and Vanessa thought, at least– but after failing at each of their suicide attempts, they end up in Aspen Springs for recovery. Now they’ve been given a second chance at life… Will they take it or opt out once again?

I know I start a lot of reviews like this, but I really love this book. The re-read for this review was probably the third or fourth, and I never get sick of it. Although I’m in love with all of Ellen Hopkins’s books, this one is definitely my favorite. It’s the first I ever read by her and what made me fall in love with her writing style and writing, period. It’s a little strange to read at first, but if you give it a chance you’ll adapt quickly and end up loving her too.

As I’ve said in previous reviews, books are always more exciting with multiple narrators. This adds to my love for this book, but I don’t think that is the main reason I like it so much. I’ve always been really into books about mental hospital/group home sort of things, as you may know by my numerous reviews about the subject, and the entire book is about this. Plus, it deals with some really important issues and “taboos,” in such a way that I strongly believe everyone should read this book at least once– especially for those who judge by reputation or first impressions, this book should be a real eye-opener.

And, like I say about all of Ellen Hopkins’s books, it’s powerful. I cry just as much now as I did the first time I read it. It really changed my opinion and views on certain things, but I won’t talk about that… spoilers and all.

What I will talk about before I go, though, is the sequel, Perfect. I don’t own it, I haven’t read it, and I haven’t seen it in any bookstores yet, but I really want to read it. From what I’ve heard, it’s three completely different narrators– two of which I remember as Cara, Conner’s twin sister, and Kendra, Conner’s ex-girlfriend who made a brief appearance in Impulse, but I don’t remember the other at all. I think it sounds like it’ll be incredible, and as soon as I find and read it, you’ll be the first to know.

Once again, I forgot to write this review, so the review for the book I’m about halfway done with now (a big surprise, I bet, but I will say it’s a classic) will most likely be up tomorrow. Thanks for reading, and see you then!

-J

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Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Speak

“When people don’t express themselves, they die one piece at a time. You’d be shocked at how many adults are really dead inside– walking through their days with no idea who they are, just waiting for a heart attack or cancer or a Mack truck to come along and finish the job. It’s the saddest thing I know.”
-Mr. Freeman

Speak tells the story of Melinda Sordino, a freshman at Merryweather High who, just before school started, called the cops at a party. Everyone hates her– she’s left alone, desperate to fit in with someone. But they don’t know what really happened at the party, and when the story gets out, nothing will be the same.

I don’t want to spoil anything, but it’s nearly impossible to talk about this book without doing so, so this will be a fairly short review. This is one powerful book. It says so much, while Melinda says so little. But getting this look inside of the mind of a girl who has been through everything Melinda has– it’s powerful stuff. This is one of those books that really makes you think about how you treat other people, and it should not be missed.

Speak also has a Lifetime movie adaption, which I’m unsure whether to watch because A. I hate Lifetime and B. I don’t know if it’ll be worth it. The cast includes Kristen Stewart as Melinda, that kid from Sky High, and Steve Zahn, which I find to be a very strange cast, so yeah. If I do watch it, I’ll let you guys know whether it’s worth it.

And although I really like the story, I think the most powerful thing about the entire book is Laurie Halse Anderson’s little poem at the beginning. I don’t think all of the versions of this book include the poem, considering it’s about people’s reactions to the book, and it has some spoilers, but I’d like to share it here:

LISTEN

You write to us
from Houston, Brooklyn, Peoria, Rye, NY,
LA, DC, Everyanywhere USA to my mailbox, My
Space Face
Book
A livejournal of bffs whispering
Onehundredthousand whispers to Melinda and
Me.

You:
I was raped, too
sexually assaulted in seventh grade,
tenth grade, the summer after graduation
at a party
i was 16
i was 14
i was 5 and he did it for three years
i loved him
i didn’t even know him.
He was my best friend’s brother,
my grandfather, father, mommy’s boyfriend,
my date
my cousin
my coach
i met him for the first time that night and–
four guys took turns, and–
i’m a boy and this happened to me, and–

. . . I got pregnant I gave up my daughter for adoption . . .
did it happen to you, too?
U 2?

You:
i wasn’t raped, but
my dad drinks, but
i hate talking, but
my brother was shot, but
i am outcast, but
my parents split up, but
i am clanless, but
we lost our house, but
i have secrets– seven years of secrets
and i cut
myself my friends cut
we all cut cut cut
to let out the pain

. . . my 5-year-old cousin was raped– he’s beginning to act out now . . .
do you have suicidal thoughts?
do you want to kill him?

You:
Melinda is a lot like this girl I know
No she’s a lot like
(me)
i am MelindaSarah
i am MelindaRogelio i am MelindaMegan,
MelindaAmberMelindaStephenToriPhillipNavdiaTiara-
MateoKristinaBeth
it keeps hurting, but
but
but
but
this book cracked my shell
it keeps hurting I hurt, but
but your book cracked my shell.

You:
I cried when I read it.
I laughed when I read it
is that dumb?
I sat with the girl–
you know, that girl–
I sat with her because nobody sits with her at lunch
and I’m a cheerleader, so there.
speak changed my life
cracked my shell
made me think
about parties
gave me
wings this book
opened my mouth
i whispered, cried
rolled up my sleeves i
hate talking but
I am trying.

You made me remember who I am.
Thanks.

PS. Our class is gonna analyze this thing to death.

Me:
Me:
Me: weeping

With the exceptions of the first and last stanzas, this poem comes from lines and words taken from the thousands of letters and e-mails that Laurie has gotten in the past twelve years.

That’s all. I’ll leave you to digest that. Thanks for reading!

-J

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It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

It's Kind of a Funny Story

“It’s so hard to talk when you want to kill yourself. That’s above and beyond everything else, and it’s not a mental complaint– it’s a physical thing, like it’s physically hard to open your mouth and make the words come out. They don’t come out smooth and in conjunction with your brain the way normal people’s words do; they come out in chunks as if from a crushed-ice dispenser; you stumble on them as they gather behind your lower lip. So you just keep quiet.”
-Craig

After nearly committing suicide one night, depressed teenager Craig Gilner decides to check himself into the hospital. He is given a few days to stay in the adult psychiatric ward, where he meets a schizophrenic, some drug addicts, and a girl who scarred her face with scissors. (I don’t want to say too much else for fear of spoiling anything, so I’ll just awkwardly stop this summary here.)

Once again, I’ve forgotten to write a review. It’s been a few days since I’ve finished this incredible book, but I can still recall it rather well. No matter how messed up he is, Craig is relatable to everyone in some way. His thoughts and opinions generally make sense, even if they’re a little far-fetched. He’s a really good guy, despite the bad decisions he may make, and I think we can all relate to that somehow.

It’s rare that I truly find a book funny. Sure, I have a sense of humor, but finding an actual laugh-out-loud-funny is an unusual thing for me. This book was one of the few exceptions so far. Similar to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, It’s Kind of a Funny Story pokes fun at the mentality of the people in the ward without being offensive or rude, and I admire Ned Vizzini and Ken Kesey for being able to do that.

Now, just today I found out that this book has a film adaption. How I didn’t know beats me, especially because the cast includes people like Zach Galifinakis, Jim Gaffigan, and Emma Roberts. As of now, all I know is I need to see this movie.

And since I took so long for this review, the next review will most likely be up tomorrow. One more book to go and I’ll be book-hunting again, so please leave me some recommendations! 🙂

-J

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Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson

Before I Go to Sleep

“I cannot imagine how I will cope when I discover that my life is behind me, has already happened, and I have nothing to show for it. No treasure house of collection, no wealth of experience, no accumulated wisdom to pass on. What are we, if not an accumulation of our memories?”
-Christine

One morning, Christine Lucas wakes up having no idea where the past twenty years of her life have gone. A man who claimed to be her husband has left for work after explaining she has amnesia, and another man claiming to be her doctor has given her a journal she’s supposedly been keeping over the last few weeks. Confused and scared, she reads, unraveling everything she’s found out about her past and present and discovering what’s really been going on for all of this time.

I’m going to start off by saying this is one of my all-time favorite books, and I’m recommending it to anyone 13 or older. The reason I say that is it has a little bit of adult content, and having read this for the first time at the end of my eighth grade year, I remember feeling awkward reading those parts (and still do, being a sophomore now). Either way, the graphic content of the book is slim, and I’m sure it would be fine for most ages. The book is split into three parts: the beginning, where Christine awakens and can’t remember anything until she reads the journal; the actual journal entries that fill in the past few weeks; and what happens after she finishes reading. The entire book is filled with suspense, twists, and revelations, complete with an ending you’ll never forget.

And, if you still need a little persuading before you decide to read, check this out:

Before I Go to Sleep is the first novel by S. J. Watson published in Spring 2011. It became both a Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller and has been translated into over 30 languages, and has become a bestseller in France, Canada, Bulgaria and the Netherlands.It reached number 7 on the US bestseller list, the highest position for a debut novel by a British author since J. K. Rowling. The New York Times described the author as an “out-of-nowhere literary sensation”.

That’s from the beginning of the Wikipedia article, which also mentions that the film adaption will be coming out in 2014, with Nicole Kidman cast as Christine. This is big, guys. And I’m using this film adaption to convince more and more people to read it– I know I’m not one to see a movie based on a book without reading the book first, unless it’s purely by accident– in which case, I have to read the book immediately afterward.

So there you have it. Go read this book as soon as you possibly can, and let me know what you think (without spoilers, of course, for anyone who hasn’t read it). Thanks for reading, and hope to see you again soon!

-J

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Go Ask Alice by Beatrice Sparks

Go Ask Alice

“I guess I’ll never measure up to anyone’s expectations. I surely don’t measure up to what I’d like to be.”
-Unknown

First, I’d like to apologize for taking so long on this– I’d completely forgotten to write a review once I’d finished the book, and just now remembered it hadn’t been posted.

About five months ago, I posted a review of Jay’s Journal, which was mainly written by the same author as Go Ask Alice, although both have the author’s name listed as “Anonymous” on the front covers. And the explanation for that is simple: there’s a lot of controversy over whether these diaries are real or just made up by Beatrice Sparks, who is listed as the “editor”, or a little of both. And although I don’t want to make this a rant post, that’s probably what’s going to happen. So if that’s not what you came here for, leave now or face extreme disappointment.

Alright, so. Go Ask Alice is about a fifteen-year old girl in the 70s who writes in her diary about normal teenage problems, but eventually becomes involved with drugs. (When I say drugs, I mean LSD, although there are a few mentions of other drugs.) Pretty simple, pretty straightforward, deals with a lot of common young adult novel topics.

Now I’m going to do some comparisons between this book and Jay’s Journal, which I’ll link the review to here in case you’re interested. There are a few things they have in common that emphasize the fact that they’re not true, if even a little: tripe repetition of words or phrases (“I do! I do! I do!”), vocabulary that no normal teen uses, and nearly identical writing style. Other than the subject matter and the character of Jay’s use of poems in his entries, they could easily have been narrated by the same character. In my opinion, Go Ask Alice is wholly fiction, and Jay’s Journal is mostly fiction. I’d like to include a few passages from the books’ Wikipedia articles to show you:

From the Jay’s Journal article:

Jay’s Journal is a book presented as an autobiographical account of a depressed teenage boy who becomes involved with a Satanic group. After participating in several occult rituals, “Jay” believes he is being haunted by a demon named Raul. The book is based on “true” events of 16-year-old Alden Barrett from Pleasant Grove, Utah, who committed suicide in 1971.

Some critics have challenged the authenticity of the story, noting that the editor of this book, Beatrice Sparks, has filled the same role on many other “actual, anonymous diaries of teenagers” that explore such sensational themes as drug addiction, teenage pregnancy, and prostitution. These books, the most well-known of which is Go Ask Alice, serve as cautionary tales.

According to a book written by Barrett’s brother Scott (A Place in the Sun: The Truth Behind Jay’s Journal), and interviews with the family, Sparks used roughly 25 entries of 212 total from Barrett’s actual journal. The other entries were fictional, based on case histories from other teenagers Sparks worked with, and interviews of friends and acquaintances of Barrett.

A rock opera titled A Place in the Sun was created and performed by Utah country band Grain in 1997. According to some family members, it was a more accurate portrayal and showed Sparks’ alleged exploitation of the story.

And, from the Go Ask Alice article’s Authorship section:

Go Ask Alice was originally promoted as nonfiction and was published under the byline “Anonymous.” However, not long after its publication, Beatrice Sparks, a psychologist, began making media appearances presenting herself as the book’s editor.

Searches at the U.S. Copyright Office show that Sparks is the sole copyright holder for Go Ask Alice. Furthermore, she is listed on the copyright record as the book’s author — not as the editor, compiler, or executor, which would be more usual for someone publishing the diary of a deceased person. (According to the book itself, the sole copyright is owned by Prentice-Hall.)

In an October 1979, essay by Alleen Pace Nilsen for School Library Journal, Nilsen surmised that Sparks partially based Go Ask Alice on the diary of one of her patients, but that she had added various fictional incidents. Sparks told Nilson that she could not produce the original diary, because she had destroyed part of it after transcribing it and the rest was locked away in the publisher’s vault. Nilsen wrote, “The question of how much of Go Ask Alice was written by the real Alice and how much by Beatrice Sparks can only be conjectured.”

Sparks’ second “diary” project, Jay’s Journal, gave rise to a controversy that cast further doubt on Go Ask Alice’s veracity. Jay’s Journal was allegedly the diary of a boy who committed suicide after becoming involved with the occult. Again, Sparks claimed to have based it on the diary of a patient. However, the family of the boy in question, Alden Barrett, disowned the book. They claimed that Sparks had used only a handful of the actual diary entries, and had invented the great majority of the book, including the entire occult angle. This led many to speculate that “Alice’s” diary—if indeed it existed—had received similar treatment. No one claiming to have known the real “Alice” has ever come forward.

And a final section I’d like to share:

In an article on the Urban Legends Reference Pages (snopes.com), urban folklore expert Barbara Mikkelson points out that even before the revelations about Go Ask Alice‘s authorship, there was ample internal evidence that the book was not an actual diary. The lengthy, detailed passages about the harmful effects of illicit drugs and the relatively small amount of space dedicated to relationships and social gossip seem uncharacteristic of a teenaged girl’s diary. In addition, the article mentions the disclaimer in the book’s copyright notice page, which states: “This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.”

There are some errors of consistency. On page 16, the author has not “had time to write for two days”. In the same paragraph she refers to the last entry as “yesterday” when she says, “I’ve apologized to every room about the way I felt last night” even though according to her first sentence she would have felt that way two nights ago, not “last night”. On pages 79–80, the text describes the girl living with a friend in Coos Bay, Oregon, where she enthuses over the Diggers’ Free Store and the Psychedelic Shop – both establishments were actually in San Francisco. Another error is on page 2 where the author writes “It’s my birthday. I’m 15.” Later in the book on page 46 in August the author writes “After all I’ve just turned 15 and I can’t stop life and get off” meaning she did not turn 15 eleven months ago.

Well, that’s mostly all I have to say about that. I don’t think I would’ve complained so much about the validity of the book if it weren’t for my hatred of it– I found it an extremely boring, hit-and-miss novel, but the hits were so few they were nearly nonexistent. It’s a really popular book, however, so you may like it– who knows. Maybe I’m just one of those people who despises a bestseller. But, if you do decide to read it and completely agree with me, don’t say I didn’t warn you! 😉

-J

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Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson

Twisted

“Why bother trying?  What was the point?  So I could go to some suck-ass college, get a diploma, march out into a job that I hated, marry a pretty girl who would want to divorce me, but then she wouldn’t because we’d have kids, so instead she’d be the angry woman at the other end of the kitchen table, and the kids would grow up watching this, until one day I’d look at my son and he’d look just like that face in the bathroom mirror?
If that was life, then it was twisted.”
-Tyler

High school senior Tyler Miller used to be the kind of guy who faded into the background—average student, average looks, average dysfunctional family. But since he got busted for doing graffiti on the school, and spent the summer doing outdoor work to pay for it, he stands out like you wouldn’t believe. His new physique attracts the attention of queen bee Bethany Milbury, who just so happens to be his father’s boss’s daughter, the sister of his biggest enemy—and Tyler’s secret crush. And that sets off a string of events and changes that have Tyler questioning his place in the school, in his family, and in the world. (Summary credited to Goodreads.com)

I have mixed feelings on this book. I kept waiting for it to get better, for a real story to develop, for something, but it never came. In that aspect, this book irritated me. On the other hand, the characters were well-developed and generally likable, making my hate for the story especially frustrating. The main character, Tyler, is a hardworking, dysfunctional teen who knows what it’s like to be both popular and unpopular. His best friend, Calvin, aka Yoda, is a Star Wars-obsessed non-athlete with a crush on Tyler’s younger sister. Bethany is easily the most popular girl in the school, coming from a rich family and used to getting what she wants. See the variety of these characters? And that’s only three of the numerous characters featured in this book. So, overall, it was okay. Definitely wouldn’t recommend it, and don’t want to read it again, but it was good for a one-time thing.

Well, there’s not much else to say. I apologize for this not being the book that’s a big change like I promised, but that one will have to wait– I couldn’t really pay attention from the start, so it’ll most likely take me a while to read, and I don’t really want a take-forever book at the moment. Anyway, the next review will be here soon– most likely Monday or so. See you then!

-J

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Identical by Ellen Hopkins

Identical

“I will probably die before he does. Dying, for Daddy, would be the ultimate defeat. But death doesn’t scare me. To know exactly when I might expect it, up close and in my face, would actually be a comfort. Because to tell the truth, most of the time dying seems pretty much like my only means of escape.”
-Kaeleigh

Identical twins Kaeleigh and Raeanne may seem the same on the outside, but they lead completely different lives. Raeanne uses drugs, sex, and purging to settle her inner demons, while Kaeleigh turns to bingeing, drinking, and self-harm. Raeanne has relationships with numerous guys, while Kaeleigh struggles to keep one. Despite their differences, their explanations are the same: their father sexually abuses Kaeleigh consistently, while Raeanne is forced to keep quiet and stay away. But after years of enduring this torture, it comes to be too much for either twin to handle alone– but who will step up and release the other?

One word can easily describe this entire 560+ page book: powerful. It’s not for the faint of heart, and definitely don’t read it if you don’t expect to cry in the near future. And I’m not just referring to the twins’ lives– even some of the minor characters’ backstories are tear-inducing. There isn’t much else to say; Identical is one of those beautiful-in-a-sick-way novels that really makes you appreciate everything you take for granted.

Without revealing any spoilers (which is the absolute last thing I want to do, considering the huge one in this book), I think the ending of the novel is definitely a topic of discussion. It packs a punch, no doubt about that, and may even require a second read-through for you to fully get your head around. Once again, no spoilers, but I have to compare it to The Prestige. It was the first psychological thriller/twist-ending movie I’d seen since I watched The Sixth Sense at a young age, and to this day it has stuck with me and has become one of my all-time favorite movies. That’s exactly how Identical was for me: I think it’s safe to say the ending of this book was unlike any other I’ve read, and I need to find more like it.

Okay, I think that’s enough gushing in one day. I’ll have another review for you guys in a few days, and most likely it’ll be a big change from the reviews I’ve recently posted. This is a big year for books for me, and I hope you’re all as excited as I am. Have a great Labor Day weekend, and I’ll see you soon!

-J

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