Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher [Book Review]

Thirteen Reasons Why.jpgTitle : Thirteen Reasons Why

Author : Jay Asher

ISBN : 9781595147882

Publisher : Razorbill

Genre : Young Adult/ Contemporary

Pages : 336

Source : Self

Rating : 2 Stars

 

 

Unless you wish to pluck your hair out of frustration, end up with more questions and have their the pet-peeve bone tickled rather incessantly, keep away from this.

Thirteen Reasons Why is a book based on the suicide of one Hannah Baker. It revolves around the 13 reasons why she ended up committing suicide, the reasons which are made selectively public via tapes that she recorded before her death and ensured would get passed around to the 13 involved parties.

Characterisation

Well, it only says 13 people on the cover, but in reality you only get to know about 2. There’s Hannah who you wouldn’t connect to because there’s nothing told of her that would ever enable such a feeling. From the beginning of the book she’s just off rattling plot devices (aka the 12 of the 13 reasons) who’ve done nothing but anguish her (not really, they’ve all put her through such torment/minor inconveniences only once each). I use ‘anguish’ very lightly here. Even the narrator, Clay, couldn’t convince me enough to like Hannah as a person. She just seemed to rise from her grave, so to speak, to put her tormentors on trial. Further, the very attitude of Hannah’s (in actually sitting down recording the tapes, classifying the reasons into categories, making maps) speaks of clarity and doesn’t make the suicidal side of hers very believable. It’s tragic, but totally not believable.

The narrator, aka Clay Jensen, is equally bad. The narrator of a book is meant to be observant and paint an overall picture of the scenario because he is the reader’s only input into things. If an author can’t do this then the entire book fails. This here is a textbook example. Clay is so into his grief after Hannah’s suicide and angry at himself over his inability to ‘see the signs’ and save her that it’s turned into the only view he has on anything happening around him. This gets annoying real fast.

The remaining ‘support’ characters just appear to be plot devices, but nowhere to be seen as people. They’re there for the sole purpose of furthering the decision of Hannah’s suicide. They’re so two-dimensional that I can’t even recollect their names. They have nothing to offer to the book except being the catalyst that they are designed to be. There is no explanation for why they were being such jerks to Hannah. What Hannah describes is to be taken at face value, because why would a dying girl lie? Well, a dying girl might not lie but that still doesn’t give me a whole picture. People aren’t jerks for the heck of it, it’s motivated by something and this is lost to the reader.

Liked

I found it novel in the idea of using tapes in place of a suicide note with tiny ‘play’ ‘pause’ and ‘stop’ buttons denoting what the narrator was doing with the tapes. It was also pretty neat to feature a double perspective on things happening – As Hannah speaks, the narrator reacts to it making it appear very natural with the listener reacting to whatever he’s hearing. This however ended up getting pretty difficult when I was trying to speed-read the book because the difference was only in the way of font style (italics for Hannah, normal for the narrator) and I ended up confusing it pretty soon.

This book seems intended to be around one premise of how words can hurt others, how they snowball into something unimaginable and unintended – this tying in with the bullying Hannah faced. However, a lot of people who’ve rated it on a positive note seem to think that this book talks of depression and mental illnesses (because of the suicide involved). If we could remove that one misconception – this book does NOT talk of or deal with mental illnesses or depression – then I think it instantly turns into a slightly better book.

Didn’t like

The first thing I noticed reading through was the acute lack of struggle, of showing that it was Hannah’s last option to commit suicide. Reading through her reasons didn’t convince me that suicide was the only way out (this here is very subjective, but my rational mind can’t agree that she was forced to undergo anything suicide-provoking. It’s a grey area, I know). The book, for me, seemed to say that whenever things don’t seem to get better, suicide becomes a very rational option for people to take even if these problems are resolvable.

Personally I think that the reason this book exists is because she didn’t bother trying. Now it might sound harsh but my question is this: who thinks of suicide as their first and only resort? Had she seen what could be worked out (like getting away from negative influences, telling her parents), or tried getting to know a few more peers a few of who would be willing to give her a chance despite her ‘reputation’, or tried indicating that she needed help, and despite all these attempts nothing in her life changed, then the decision to commit suicide seems sensible.

She also does not bother understanding what consequences her tapes would have on the ones left behind. It’s as selfish as the act of her suicide itself is. This brings me to a related issue – Clay has done nothing to be named on the tapes. He’s only named there because for the story to make complete sense (according to Hannah) he had to be named. So he’s the golden egg amidst the rotten ones. The problem with this is that because of this, the book doesn’t reflect on how the ‘offenders’ have changed their ways upon understanding the consequences to their actions (because our narrator never does anything wrong!). This, I find, would be a significant detail for the readers to know.

Finally, the very fact that all 13 of her reasons are put on the same level of blame is pretty infuriating. For instance, being molested and stalked is equated to having her poetry stolen and being slapped by a girl out of jealousy. Further, some of her reasons make no sense at all – one of which is that she was in a car with a drunk driver when the car knocks over a stop sign that leads to an accident later that ends up killing a person. Why this ends up being a reason for her suicide, I’ve no idea.

Finally

To sum it, I would say that this book could have been so much more but ends with a lot being desired, On the other hand, this book has a great potential as a discussion starter (be it the reasons why, or the emotions Hannah must have felt or Clay’s dealing with the aftermath of losing Hannah and so on) which is needed and should be the goal an author writing a book along these lines should aim for.

Review by Mitra Somanchi

Buy yourself a copy of the book here: Thirteen Reasons Why

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Wonder by R. J. Palacio [Book Review]

Wonder.jpg
Wonder by R. J. Palacio

Title : Wonder

Author : R. J. Palacio

ISBN : 978-0552565974

Publisher : Knopf Books

Genre : Young Adult

Pages : 316

Source : Self

Rating : 5 stars

 

 

 

 

Family. There is nothing more important. They’re the ones who show up when we are in trouble. The ones who push us to succeed. The ones who help keep our secrets. But what of those who have no family to rely on? What happens to those poor souls who have no loved ones to help them in their hour of need? Well, most learn to walk life’s road by themselves. But a sad few of us, simply stop trying. -Desperate housewives.

This is the most beautifully written book, or so I thought right after “the perks of being wallflower”. It has all the elements that make you think, assimilate and ponder on all the things that we take for granted. In the eyes of a small boy, in the eyes of his friends and how, though it sounds hard to get, everything has its own explanation if we just stop and think whilst putting ourselves in someone else’s frame of reference. I could not stop until the last page and a story from a boy who used helmet for years t cover himself to a boy who stood in front of hundreds and received a medal for being strong was magnificent. Everything and everyone is beautiful, provided, they have an explanation for their deeds. A valid one and a plausible one.

The universe would abandon us completely and the universe does not. It takes care of its most fragile creations in ways we cannot see. Like with parents who adore you blindly, and a big sister who feels guilty for being human over you, and a little gravelly-voiced kid whose friends have left him over you and even a pink haired girl who carries your picture in her wallet. May be it is a lottery, but the universe makes it all even out in the end, The universe takes care of all its birds.

Review by Pavan Kumar B C

Buy yourself a copy here: Wonder

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Simon Vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli [Book Review]

simonTitle : Simon Vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda

Author : Becky Albertalli

ISBN : 9780141356099

Publisher : Penguin

Genre : Young Adult, LGBT

Pages : 303

Source : Self

Rating : 5 stars

 

 

“People really are like house with vast rooms and tiny windows. And maybe it’s a good thing, the way we never stop surprising each other.”

It’s not very often that I pick up a YA book but Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda was on my TBR since it has been published and I was finally able to pick it up (and finish it at one go!).

Simon, who is “not openly gay” is slowly falling in love with his “e-mail friend” whom he calls Blue and who studies in the same school as his. But one day another classmate reads the emails and starts blackmailing him. Meanwhile Simon is completely falling for Blue and is desperate to find out who exactly he is.

The book alternates between the story and the e-mail exchanges between Simon and Blue and those are the most adorable part of the book. Harmless flirting, sexual & non sexual attraction, slowly falling in love while things are not going well at school, the desperation to know who your love interest actually is- all these are portrayed so effortlessly but beautifully through the e-mails that I couldn’t help myself from grinning and smiling throughout.

Though I couldn’t get many pop-culture references, but the story, plot and the lovely characters compensated for that. The “coming out” scenes have been written with great depth and understanding and though they are funny, still leave an impact.

“Why is straight the default? Everyone should have to declare one way or another, and it shouldn’t be this big awkward thing whether you’re straight, gay, bi, or whatever. I’m just saying.” 

A short, hearty, adorable book and I don’t see any reason why one shouldn’t read this.

Buy yourself a copy from Amazon here.

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Lockwood & Co by Jonathan Stroud [Series Review]

lockwood-seriesTitle : Lockwood & Co

Author : Jonathan Stroud

Publisher : Random House

Genre : Paranormal, Young Adult

Source : Self

Rating : 5 stars

 

 

 

 

 

“God rest her soul and may she never walk at night”

If you enjoy a nice rush of adrenalin from fictions, vivid ghosts roaming around, strong characters, funny dialogue and an overall well-built fantasy world in your paranormal young-adult, this is one series you shouldn’t miss.

Lockwood & Co. is an on-going series of paranormal fantasy written by Jonathan Stroud, who is also known for his Bartimaeus series. Of the Lockwood series, there are 4 books published, the latest one being just released this month.

The world of Lockwood opens up with an alternate England where the dead hardly remain under the ground. The world as we know has been taken over by the ‘Problem’ which causes ghosts and their various forms to wander around after dark. But the only people who can sense and see these disembodied apparitions happen to be children below fifteen years; once they cross this age, they slowly lose their ability and are left vulnerable to the incorporeal nastiness – a position that the adults always find themselves in. Agencies are set up with the children given training to lead the war against the ghosts, armed with salt bombs, iron chains, magnesium flares and loads of courage.

The series follows Lucy Carlyle, a ‘Sensitive’, the term used to describe a person with the ability to sense ghosts, and her joining the Lockwood agency, the smallest agency in London with only 2 other members – Anthony Lockwood and George Cubbins. Lockwood & Co., while being the smallest agency in England is also one of the few to remain independent in its functioning – no adult intervention or supervision. Upon joining, Lucy fits right in and the agency goes on to solve cases of the restless ghosts and determining the reasons of the hauntings and of the Problem itself.

While the books in the series can be read alone, it’s most fun when read in order as there are tiny details to a character that could be missed if not read. The series is rich with description, emotions, humor, wit and lots of action! While the series’ description calls it a young-adult aimed at middle graders, the series has so much to offer to any paranormal-action lover. The world is well fleshed; all the nuances chalked out and it offers a well-rounded plot-line. For instance, every apparition the agency deals with has a backstory of how it came to be – revenge or unfulfilled wish or simply a strong attachment to the object (Source, which is how the ghosts manifest) in question?

Stroud does an amazing job at imbuing the environment with everything spooky imaginable. Strong vocabulary combined with his skill at writing makes a reader imagine exactly what he wants to get across. The sense of urgency and dread is well built; add to that a sprinkle of suspense and hints of mortal danger – and there is your perfect weekend read. The narrative is usually fast-paced as Lockwood & Co. always manages to find itself in the midst of everything paranormal – the plot is ever thickening!

Of note about the protagonists (and other characters involved) is the characterization. There is nothing two-dimensional about them. They do not fall prey to the stereotyped young-adult ‘fluff’. They are strong, independent young ones with their stories, motives and abilities fueling them, making them uniquely original. Nobody is ‘dashingly’ handsome or ‘devilishly’ cool to the extent that it puts readers off. They are just kids trying to stay alive while helping people out with the hauntings. In the words of Lucy Carlyle, “I wasn’t pretty, but as my mother once said, prettiness wasn’t my profession.” 

This brings me to the second attribute of the series: the females are plain badass – which makes sense because there’s no time to be sexist with ghosts (and people) waiting to take over the world. Agents like Lucy, Holly and Flo Bones (a girl on a different level of badass) are depicted to be better and more capable than their male counterparts on certain counts. It’s refreshing to see this kind of a perspective in a children’s book, having girls head toe-to-toe with boys – equally daring, smart and unblinkingly valiant.

The development of the characters is also well scripted, with Lucy coming off as the most human, which could also be because the series is narrated from her perspective, making the readers hear her voice the most. That said, while the development of others’ might seem slow, it is definitely there. The interaction between the agents of Lockwood & Co. alone makes this book a worthy read. The banter and dialogue between them is true to a teenager stuck in a paranormal world. There is nothing extremely romantic between the characters (they are only around fourteen!). Lockwood comes off as the mysterious, optimistic, reckless and loud leader, George being the ever-required sarcastic, critical, experimental ‘researcher’ of the group with Lucy being talented, witty, emotional, and the most human of the three (and no, it’s not because she’s a girl).

One gripe I do have with the series is that it never goes into the question of the Problem itself. The author keeps referring to George working on the advent of the Problem, but there’s nothing more to add to it. Four books in, and it still feels like ghosts just started appearing out of the blue for no good reason (which is how it happened) around half a century ago. With the kind of time the agents working across the world had, it would make sense that somebody would have theories, if nothing concrete, about how the issue came to be. But nothing of this sort is mentioned and that makes the series slightly lacking – there’s a paranormal situation that people are living with for about 50 years and nobody has the slightest clue how it happened. How are people okay with that? Then again, the series is on-going, so there’s hope it will turn out to be a big reveal at the end. Fingers crossed.

To conclude this long review, Lockwood & Co. happens to be one of the better written young-adult paranormal series that I have enjoyed to the greatest extent possible (re-reads included!) It is difficult to judge which the best quality of the book is – the atmosphere, the characters, the action – because it’s all there and it’s all out there to give you a good spook!

Reviewed by Mitra Somanchi

Buy yourself a copy from here.

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The Book Thief by Markus Zusak [Book Review]

The Book thief by Markus ZusakTitle : The Book Thief

Author : Markus Zusak

ISBN : 9780375831003

Publisher : Knopf Books

Genre : Historical Fiction

Pages : 552

Source : Self

Rating : 5 stars

 

 

 

The Book Thief is a story of a 11-year old German girl, narrated by none other than Death himself. The story is set in Munich, Germany during the World War II period.

Liesel (The Book Thief) loses her brother and is orphaned when her mother leaves her, after giving her away to her foster parents Hans and Rosa Hubermann, who live in Himmel street, Munich. Hans, an accordionist and painter, teaches Liesel how to read and write. Rosa, a gruff woman, swears a lot but has a heart of gold. Liesel is loved greatly by them.

In keeping a promise, Hans agrees to shelter Max Vandenburg, his friend’s son and a jew, in the basement of his house. During the course of his stay at the hubermanns, Max becomes great friends with Liesel. He writes two books for her, ‘The standover man’ and ‘The word shaker’.

Liesel loses everything when Himmel street is bombed, including her parents, her next door neighbor and best friend Rudy Steiner and a book she had written about her life, titled ‘The Book Thief’. The book is later found by Death.

The story is a strong one – it moves like a sailboat on a brisk day. The choice to tell the story through Death was a good one. Death foreshadows constantly, so we know a bit about which characters will die. This doesn’t ruin the shock value, instead it heightens the anticipation and dread of the reader.

Few quotes from the book:

“A DEFINITION NOT FOUND
IN THE DICTIONARY
Not leaving: an act of trust and love,
often deciphered by children”

“I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.”

“Imagine smiling after a slap in the face. Then think of doing it twenty-four hours a day.”

The Book Thief is beautifully written, extremely engrossing. A masterpiece.

MUST READ.

The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupery [Book Review]

The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-ExuperyTitle : The Little Prince

Author : Antoine De Saint-Exupery

ISBN : 9780156012195

Publisher : Harcourt, Inc/

Genre : Young Adult

Pages : 98

Source : Self

Rating : 4 stars

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

The author is stranded in a deserted following a flight accident and there he meets a tiny boy with yellow hair- “The Little Prince”. He comes from a tiny planet where there are 3 volcanoes which are tinier than him and a flower that he loves. Before reaching earth, the little prince had already travelled to 5 other planets and has encountered weird men. Sounds Fairytale-ish? Ofcourse it is!

This book is the most mesmerizing and unforgettable tale of liveliness, affection and loss of innocence, shaped and drawn by the very talented Antoine de Saint-Exupéry that has been making us laugh and weep for years.

“In the course of this life I have had a great many encounters with a great many people who have been concerned with matters of consequence. I have lived a great deal among grown-ups. I have seen them intimately, close at hand. And that hasn’t much improved my opinion of them.”

The Little Prince is a short fairytale originally written (and illustrated as well) by Antoine De Saint- Exupery. And it is a strange coincident that the author died in a plane accident few months after the book was published.

The conversation between the protagonist and the little prince is full of small pockets of philosophy and the story is as much as for adults as it is for kids. And not to forget the beautiful illustrations.

This is not just a children’s book. It’s for adults too, who remember being children and feel the nostalgia for the simple comfort of childhood innocence.

Amidst all the serious non fiction that I have been reading these days, this book came as a welcome respite leaving me all smiling and a bit sad too (towards the end).

Buy a copy from Amazon here

All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven [Book Review]

All the bright places by Jennifer NivenTitle : All The Bright Places

Author : Jennifer Niven

ISBN : 9780385755887

Publisher : Knopf

Genre : Young Adult

Pages : 378

Source : Self

Rating : 4 stars

 

 

 

This is the story of two teenagers- Theodore Finch, with a broken family and suicidal tendencies and Violet Markey, a forlorn girl recuperating from the death of her sister. They are together in the high school when they come close and brew up their love story.

But this is not a normal love story, for these two are not normal people, both are broken beyond limits, though due to different reasons and the way their love story moves on is very distinct, comforting yet disturbing at some points.
The ending, no matter how heartbreaking it might be, is the USP of this story and makes it remarkable and different from other YA fiction.

This book unlike other YA fiction doesn’t condescend and doesn’t sound corny or try too hard.

“It’s my experience that people are a lot more sympathetic if they can see you hurting, and for the millionth time in my life I wish for measles or smallpox or some other easily understood disease just to make it easier on me and also on them.”

The novel touches on depression, death and suicide. It paints a picture of love on a canvas of pain. One of the things that will really draw the reader is the portrayal of the characters. The characters feel very real and capture the life of someone who feels a variety of emotions, the confusion and pretenses of being a teenager.

The most important thing about this novel is it spreads awareness about mental illness and suicide. The book talks about an important issues that needs more recognition especially with young people.

The book gives light on how young people should understand and deal with people who suffer from depression, bulimia, bipolar disorders and other mental illnesses.

One of the most popular books of 2015, it is a must read if you loved “Fault in Our Stars” and are a fan of the likes of John Green and Rainbow Rowell.

If these are not your genre, you can choose to ignore.