Everything I Read in January

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Another year, another Goodreads Reading Challenge.

I finished 2018 just shy of my goal of 50 books (I managed 48, which is still pretty impressive if I do say so myself). A busy November and equally hectic December, coupled with the two LSATs I studied for last year, hindered my reading a bit more than I anticipated. I admit that it left me a bit frustrated, but it is what it is. All I can do is dust myself off and try again, which is why I set 2019’s goal at the same number.

You know how they say insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results? Yeah, I’m putting that to the test. Let’s see if I’m reasonably ambitious, or just internet-definition insane.


BEFORE I GO BY RILEY WESTON

I read this book for a book club and, honestly, I'm sort of glad I wasn't able to attend this particular meeting. While this book had a solid concept, its cast of characters garnered no emotional response from me. I just couldn't bring myself to care about them - aside from, perhaps, David and Jack, who I just felt bad for in the spaces where they weren't being used as flat and mindless plot devices. Madison treats everyone around her horribly, a trait that she clearly inherited from Annie who, despite painting herself a martyr, was just as vile and inconsiderate of others - especially her own husband - as her daughter. Without any emotional connection to the characters, and especially without any connection to the main character herself, I found myself skipping and skimming pages just to get through it. 

I can't say that it's all bad. The story itself is well-plotted and well-paced. There are few spots where the action slows down, but i never gets slow enough to be boring, which is something I appreciate in a 400 page book. Madison's health issues arise, and are subsequently batted away, in a believable way: subtle changes brushed off as soreness or exhaustion from training, which is common for real-life athletes. There is also a certain realness in the constant back-and-forth between Annie and Madison, in which they alternate between between animosity and warmth in a way that can be quite true to teenage child/parent relationships. I appreciated all of these elements, as they added some realness and authenticity to the story.

My qualm is that without characters who are, at the very least, likably unlikable, all of this background work falls flat. I've seen other reviews equate this book with John Green's The Fault in Our Stars, and I can definitely see that. I can even see it being a bit like Jesse Andrews' Me And Earl And The Dying Girl. It falls into that teen-romance-battered-by-cancer category. But Before I Go misses one vital element: characters like Hazel, Gus, and Rachel are all, even in their darkest and bleakest and most selfish moments, likable kids that audiences want to root for. Madison just doesn't fit in their roster, and her abrasive personality made it hard for me as a reader - and even for the other characters filling up her story - to connect with her.

CARNIVAL GAMES BY D.E. KERR

This book is powerful. 

I actually wound up reading this two times through to really soak it up. There is a particular intensity to this story that demanded my attention, and I felt like I owed it that second read: to understand, to sit with each poem, to gather every ounce I could. This is an extraordinarily personal piece for Kerr; something that I knew going in, and something that I understood more and more deeply with each turn of the page. The vulnerability that she shares is humbling, and the power that grows out of it will have you cheering. 

This is an important book about the equally important topic of mental and emotional abuse. It digs into the uncomfortable corners that no one ever wants to get near. It shows you the deception of emotionally abusive people, and most importantly, it shows you that there's a way out.

The further into the book you get the more and more hope is injected into every line, until the poet emerges like a phoenix from her ashes. And while every ounce of me wishes that Kerr, and that all the thousands of people like her, never had to go through this sort of pain, I'm so awed at the way she turned it into a striking story of resilience, rebirth, and regrowth. She truly did save herself, in every way, shape and form, and being allowed a glimpse inside her world is a privilege I'm grateful to have.

DAUGHTER-SEED BY ARIELLE TIPA

This is the kind of book that settles deep in your bones and reaches into the most shielded parts of your soul. Each poem packs a punch, and you're breathless from it all by the time you close the back cover. I found myself flipping right back through it a second time just to be sure I caught every nuance, every little word, every tiny metaphor. This book is a small fire. It'll catch in your heart if you let it, and you won't want to put it out.

DRAGONHEARTS BY NIKITA GILL, AMANDA LOVELACE, & TRISTA MATEER

This book is equal parts sweet and empowering. 

It took me back to the days in middle school when my friends and I used to pass around notebooks and spent worksheet papers to write poems line-by-line with one another - of course, Dragonhearts takes that to a more polished kind of poetry, but the sentiment remains. You can feel the bond that these women have with one another deepen with every turn of the page. By the end of it, you're left feeling like you can call Amanda and Nikita and Trista your friends, too. 

This book will make you feel supported, understood, and most of all powerful. It reminds you of all the good things about yourself that you oftentimes overlook, or even doubt exist at all. It's like having the girl group of your childhood dreams fall into your lap. It's truly beautiful, and an equally beautiful read.