REVIEW: A Little Life [ part one* ]

This month I decided to tackle one of the bigger books on my shelves. At 800-ish pages, Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life seemed like what I wanted. Contemporary, set in New York, I heard it was gay and came highly recommended by someone I was close to.

But then I got 400-ish pages in and was in such a horrible mental state because of it, it’s not even funny. This is not a fun book. If anything, it’s a horrible book. So to start off this review, let’s get to the list of trigger/content warnings, shall we?

This book contains:

  • child abuse
  • sexual assault of a child
  • child abandonment (a baby literally in a dumpster)
  • child death
  • sexual assault
  • domestic abuse (that has the potential to lead to a possible murder)
  • gross dismissal of chronic pain
  • gaslighting
  • manipulation
  • graphic depictions of self-harm
  • suicidal ideation with mild intent
  • drug abuse

And that’s just the part of the book that I managed to get through.

As someone who is constantly battled chronic depression, this book actively made me want to jump in front of a train. Things only get worse and worse as the story progresses, even when you think things might turn around, the punch in the stomach is only a few paragraphs down the page.

The story itself follows four friends – JB, Jude, Willem, and Malcolm – in New York as they navigate their lives as artists, actors, lawyers, architects. Moving from post-college life into the real world is a struggle as they all fight for dream jobs with terrible pay and discover routes to where they feel their purpose is. Bouncing around in time, the narrative goes over the histories of each of them, talking about their privileged to not-so-privileged to terrible lives before they met each other.

The sad thing about this book is that all of the friends are incredibly likeable, even when they’re making asses of themselves (cough, JB, cough cough). Their histories really make you want to keep reading and find out what happened to them just as much as wanting to know where they’re all headed. It’s so beautifully prose-y and I absolutely adore the way with words that Yanagihara has, but I just couldn’t continue after the half-way mark of this book.

But this book very quickly reached torture porn levels of terrible as one of the characters gets sucked into a beyond incredibly abusive relationship. The character in question doesn’t believe he deserves a truly rewarding relationship and allows the most gruesome things to happen to him. After something of a “cliffhanger” of a chapter at what I hope was the climax of the abuse, I had to stop reading. I couldn’t take it anymore. A Little Life is literally like walking down stairs coated in broken glass barefoot into the vast depths of hell with no end or light or hope in sight.

This is not a book to read if you have any kind of major depressive issues.

I would not recommend this book to a single human being.

Ever.


* I’ve marked this as “part one” in case I do decide to go back to this book at a later date in order to try and finish it

 

(LATE) MANGA MONDAY: No Longer Human

On Monday, I mentioned I was swapping things around and doing a regular book review so that I could share my review of the manga adaptation today.

The book in question is Dazai Osamu’s novel, No Longer Human, but adapted to the manga format by Japanese body horror king, Junji Ito.

Before I continue, this review contains trigger warnings for suicide, infanticide, violent imagery, and sexual assault.

So similarly to the novel (the review of which you can read here), this was a difficult one to get through. While I am very familiar with the content and the story of No Longer Human, Ito took this one to a whole other dimension. The story, itself, is heavily inspired by Dazai’s own life and there were certainly more elements of truth in the manga as well as far more fantastical horrors.

Unlike Ito’s other major works, his adaptation of No Longer Human was less focused on body horror and far more tuned into the psychological trauma that comes with the tortures Yozo faces. What was merely implied in the source material, was presented without apologies in the manga, and I’m not entirely sure if that’s a good thing or not. The sexual assault in the beginning and even throughout the story was intense and felt like it was too much given the format of the storytelling, however the ways Yozo is consistently taken advantage of is still so important to his story arc and the way his relationships (or lack thereof) are formed.

On top of that, there was far more death, far more suicide, and a lot heavier darkness. Dazai was not a happy man, and it can be seen throughout his short life by reading his novels and his stories. But the way that Ito really needles out the underlying sadness and turns it into something so solid and real it’s impossible to ignore as he beats you to death with it. Again, I’m conflicted by the emotions this manga drew from me because on the one hand it was a lot to process and manage, but on the other hand, it felt so real when it comes to how dangerous unchecked mental illness can be. It shows how important it is to really care for those who are suffering.

I loved the inclusions of Dazai himself as a character. I loved Ito’s artwork as I always do. But this was a rough one. Junji Ito is one of those mangakas who I rarely recommend because of how tricky it can be to navigate horror tolerance thresholds, but if you’re already familiar (and unbothered) with his work this is one to check out for sure.

 

How Kaz Brekker Saved My Life; or A Very Personal Review of Six of Crows

While this blog post will also contain my review for Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows, it will also contain subject matter some reader my find triggering. Therefore, there is a content warning for suicide and suicidal ideation.

Should you only want to read the review, simply scroll past the first section.


It has taken me a long time to get to reading the beauty of the book that is Six of Crows. With it’s beautiful cover art, and stunning black sprayed edges, it’s a treasure on my shelves even if only to look at. There’s no real reason why I haven’t read it before now, but I will admit to reading it now primarily because I was told I’d get more from King of Scars (Bardugo’s latest book in the Grishaverse) if I did. I went into it thinking I knew what I was signing up for: a teen version of Peaky Blinders with more diversity and a touch of magic. As usual, I got a lot more than that, but I wasn’t expecting just how much more I got.

As followers of mine may know, I lost my 12-year-old cousin a year ago to suicide and it’s something I’m not ashamed to admit I’m still very much struggling to handle. As someone who has suffered very serious and very chronic depression along with being diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, suicide is something that is constantly haunting me.

Does this mean that I, myself, am suicidal?

At one point it did but I’ve gotten a little better at handling the dark days to the extend it’s more like intrusive thinking on it’s own rather than an impulsive urge to follow through on said intrusive thoughts. It’s background noise that gets louder on bad days, but still background noise. Since losing my cousin to something that I’ve thought about so intensly over the years, the noise is harder to quiet. Considering my life is not nearly where I was hoping and wanting it to be right now, it’s especially hard to ignore.

My day job is not ideal. The feeling of being a burden to those around me is suffocating. Being 24-years-old and not even really knowing who I am in my own head, let alone to the world around me, feels embarrassing when I see those around me who are younger and still more successful. These are things that make the noise loudest and sometimes it’s to the point where it’s hard to breathe.

In the past I’ve tried to keep thinking of Harry Potter or Game of Thrones or even hyper focusing on anime like Naruto, Bleach and Full Metal Alchemist for motivation to keep moving forward (a prominent line from FMA) but those things always taper out and fade away and I’m stuck scrambling to find something else to chase away the overwhelming pressure of depression.

So where does Six of Crows come in?

Right now.

The moto of the gang (essentially) run by Kaz Brekker is “No mourners. No funerals.” To paraphrase the book itself, this passes between members of The Dregs as “good luck”. But to me, it spoke to the background noise telling me “Hey, wouldn’t things just be easier if you stepped in front of the bus?” It told this voice, this noise, “No. There will be no mourners. There will be no funerals.”

6c413a0f076a683ae908f290fdbe95dbTo me, it’s a reminder of the hardships that come with death. It points at my cousin’s still mourning family and says, “Do you really want that to happen instead?”. There are many books I can get lost in for hours at a time to simply forget what’s going on around me or to help me ignore the storms of conflict that are raging in my head. No mourners. No funerals. can calm the anxiety that tightens my throat when the last thing I want to do is be a cashier. It can remind me that there are people who care about me without sounding patronizing. It’s a warm blanket in the rain that pushes me to make things better myself. And that’s what Leigh Bardugo has given me.

She has taken spite as motivation and given it a strength and a voice that I can hear in my own head and use with my own strength.

Mental illness is different for every person who deals with it, but that’s the thing. We deal with it. And sometimes it’s impossibly hard to just deal with something that makes us legitimately considering the possibility that ending our lives will make it easier for those around us and even for ourselves. Let that sink it. Death as something easier. Coping is hard no matter the healthy or unhealthy method being used, because coping isn’t a solution. But it’s something that can keep us going which is so important.

Therapy and medication are proven to help, but therapy isn’t always accessible and medication doesn’t always provide ideal help as often the side effects outweigh the positives. If you are capable of trying either of these methods, I encourage you to. But if you are unable to find at least one thing to keep you moving forward. It doesn’t matter how small that thing is or how insignificant you think it might be to someone else. It does not matter what it is long as it matters to you. For me it’s this quote. It’s not wanting to put those I care about through mourning and funerals.

So this is the story of how Kaz Brekker, the Bastard of the Barrel and a very seriously fictional character, showed me that spite and perseverance can be enough. That it’s okay if that’s enough. Because as long as there are no mourners and no funerals, everything will still be moving forward. And maybe that will be okay.

And, please, if you are depressed: tell someone. If you want to die: tell someone. If you have no one to tell, I will listen to all venting. Just send me an email. If you’re struggling, there is no need to struggle alone.


THE BOOK REVIEW

Thank you for coming to my TED Talk on my personal experiences coping with mental illness. If you skipped it, thank you for coming to this review.

Six of Crows takes The Grisha Trilogy to the level the world truly deserves. The third person perspective makes the narrative so much stronger and using what I’ve been calling “the A Song of Ice and Fire method”, switching between characters every chapter is great (and with a much more manageable cast size than ASOIAF).

The Dregs we meet in this book are Kaz Brekker – the ring leader and best known criminal in the slums of Ketterdam, Inej Ghafa – Kaz’s secret finder and Wraith of Ketterdam, Jesper Fahey – gunner, gambler, and secret Grisha, and Nina Zenik – ex-member of the Ravkan Second Army and known Heartrender. We also get to know the latest Dreg still proving himself, Wylan Van Eck – son of a promenant merchant and explosives expert, and Matthias Helvar – a Fjerdan Grisha hunter.

This band of misfits joins together for the biggest heist of their careers and wind up stuck in a trap bigger than they planned for.

I loved the way each character bonded and how their motivations were all so entirely different and yet they were still so supportive of each other. I loved how this book had my heart racing at every twist to the point that it actually took me almost three weeks to finish it (something unheard of when it comes to how fast I normally read).

The diversity of the characters and even how their different cultures kept clashing just made the world feel so much more real and alive than it did in The Grisha Trilogy. Don’t get me wrong, I am still a supporter of the original trilogy, but the growth in Leigh Bardugo’s writing is an absolute honour to see.

I do think that the best part of the book is definitely Kaz. I felt a real connection to him and his constant anger hidden behind fierce nonchalance and sass. I related to his dislike of being touched and appreciated that while his emotions changed throughout the story, that his ticks remained the same. He’s come to mean a lot to me, even if he is fictional.

While being very late to this party, I adored this book from cover to cover and once I have recovered from the ending, I look forward to the beauty that is my red sprayed hardcover of Crooked Kingdom that has been sitting on my shelf since release day.

REVIEW: the mermaid’s voice returns in this one.

Thank you to NetGalley for the advance copy
the mermaid’s voice returns in this one is available March 5th, 2019


I’ve loved Amanda Lovelace’s work since her first collection and even though I don’t know her personally, I want to mention how proud I am of her for her women are some kind of magic series.

I really enjoyed this final instalment of her first series and can truly see the growth in her poetry in comparison to the princess saves herself in this one. That being said, I did struggle with getting through this one. Rather than being able to read it over the course of a few hours as I was able to do with the previous two books, this one hit closer to home. As a victim of assault myself, it pressed on a lot of nerves in a way that I’m not yet ready to deal with, which meant taking many breaks in between poems in order to collect myself.

I more or less knew that would be the case and definitely appreciate that Amanda’s books all begin with a reminder to practice self-care, even while reading her poems. This is a strong and viscerally real collection on what it means to survive as a victim and not. It reads like a slap in the face for a lot of the poems, but not in a bad way. It’s a reminder to be strong and that you are strong even when you don’t think you are.

So thank you, Amanda, not only for your poetry, but for the message behind each word. Not all of us have a voice, so thank you for sharing yours so that we might find our own.

REVIEW: You Were Never Really Here

Trigger warnings: child abuse, domestic abuse, excessive substance abuse, human trafficking, sexual assault

Normally, trigger warnings go at the end of my reviews, as I usually have enough to say about the story that I can save discuss them directly in a spoilers section. However, the triggers connected to this novella are so ingrained in the story, I felt it necessary to mention them first as the review itself may be upsetting to some.

The story is about ex-Marine and ex-FBI agent, Joe and how he has become a hitman of sorts specializing in rescuing kidnapped children. After being hired to rescue a 14-year-old girl from a brothel run by the mob, the job goes sideways and Joe is determined to figure out where things went wrong.

The novella by Johnathan Ames has recently been turned in a film that received several major awards at the Festival du Cannes in 2017. Given the academic praise, I figured I would give the book a try before seeing the movie. Let me tell you one thing, I will not be seeing the movie.

The story moved at a reasonable pace, and I felt like it was action packed and gave enough information to know what kind of man Joe is. However, it was extremely graphic when it came to discussing the trafficking circles Joe used to bust as an FBI agent, and the level of violence against innocent bystanders was a little much at times. But the biggest problem, for me, was the open ending. 112 pages was more than enough for me and I wish that there had been some kind of justice or at the very least a concrete ending to the mayhem.

It was a very cinematic read, and I can see why it did so well at Cannes under the directorial eye of Lynne Ramsay (who also directed the adaptation of the very disturbing book We Need to Talk About Kevin). I can also say that as graphic as it was, it was an engaging read that was honestly reminiscent of dime store crime novels.

A solid 3 out of 5.


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Author: Jonathan Ames
Published: January 6, 2013
Pages: 112
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 9780525562894

Synopsis: Joe has witnessed things that cannot be erased. A former FBI agent and Marine, his abusive childhood has left him damaged beyond repair. He has completely withdrawn from the world and earns his living rescuing girls who have been kidnapped into the sex trade.

When he’s hired to save the daughter of a corrupt New York senator held captive at a Manhattan brothel, he stumbles into a dangerous web of conspiracy, and he pays the price. As Joe’s small web of associates are picked off one by one, he realizes that he has no choice but to take the fight to the men who want him dead.

REVIEW: The Book of Essie

Lately the book subscription that intrigues me the most is the Book of the Month Club, however, it does not ship to Canada. So instead I’m watching their selections as they are announced and request books from the library or even buy them at Canadian stores. Obviously, I’d prefer the subscription, but for the time being, I feel like this is a decent way to pick which books to read.

One of the books that really caught my attention was the debut novel from Meghan MacLean Weir, The Book of Essie. I normally don’t read much contemporary, and when I do it’s definitely not about reality TV or religion. However, there was just something about the way the synopsis was phrased (combined with it’s inclusion in BotM) that piqued my interest.

The plot centres not only around Essie herself, but her upper-classmate, Roarke, and a complicated tabloid journalist for print and TV, Libby. Essie Hicks discovers that she is pregnant and – being the star of a Keeping Up With The Kardashians style reality show about their Evangelically religious family – is not left with many options. The family decides that marriage is their best way to mask the pregnancy, leaving Essie entirely out of the decision making… or so they think.

Meanwhile, Roarke is struggling with family issues of his own. Too poor to say their store and their home while also being too poor to send their son to college, Roarke and his family get swept up in the Hicks’ family drama while still very much dealing with his own.

And through all of this, ex-cultist Liberty Bell is trying to make a name for herself now that she has outgrown the hyper-religious, survivalist, and intolerant up-bringing she fought her way through. Having been in what she believes to be the same suffocating situation as Essie, Libby is striving to help this young girl get to a point where she can live her own life and not the life of her parents.

The three perspectives are incredibly insightful and honestly lead to a story with far more depth than what one might initially think. The characters are fully developed in their trauma and their beliefs while showing growth even before the story really starts. What I really loved best with this novel was how it delved into the consent from children into religion as well as celebrity life. It explored intolerance and how that can have very different reactions from each person who is forced into trying to change themselves. It explores cult mentality and how fanatics and extremists of anything are really no different than what society considers a cult.

But most importantly, this is a book about being brave. It is about holding your chin high and doing what you know is right, even if it is hard. It is about strength in friendships.

Trigger Warnings [[ spoilers ]]

Despite how much I love this novel, I do want to mention that there are strong mentions of homophobia, conversion therapy, suicide, racism, and sexual assault.


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Author: Meghan Maclean Weir
Published: June 12, 2018
Pages: 336
Publisher: Knopf
ISBN: 9780525520313

Synopsis: Esther Ann Hicks–Essie–is the youngest child on Six for Hicks,a reality television phenomenon. She’s grown up in the spotlight, both idolized and despised for her family’s fire-and-brimstone brand of faith. When Essie’s mother, Celia, discovers that Essie is pregnant, she arranges an emergency meeting with the show’s producers: Do they sneak Essie out of the country for an abortion? Do they pass the child off as Celia’s? Or do they try to arrange a marriage–and a ratings-blockbuster wedding? Meanwhile, Essie is quietly pairing herself up with Roarke Richards, a senior at her school with a secret of his own to protect. As the newly formed couple attempt to sell their fabricated love story to the media–through exclusive interviews with an infamously conservative reporter named Liberty Bell–Essie finds she has questions of her own: What was the real reason for her older sister leaving home? Who can she trust with the truth about her family? And how much is she willing to sacrifice to win her own freedom?

Harry Potter and the Importance of Found Family

The most important thing to me about J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is that, at it’s core, it is about friendship and being there when someone needs help. The inclusion of “found family” and destroying the concept of “blood is thicker than water” is just so, so important and after recent events, I felt that it was an important time to talk about it.

If you follow me on Twitter or even Instagram, you’ll know that ten days ago, I received a devastating phone call. A phone call that informed me that my 12-year-old cousin ended her life. This was a little girl who always wanted to know what I thought about Harry Potter, who our favourite characters were, what houses we were in. This was a little girl who texted me in the early hours of the morning to ask me if it was okay that she was a Ravenclaw. This was one of the few of my relatives who, for once, I could actually have a bond with despite all the age gaps.

My family has never been particularly close. There are huge age gaps between everyone and that created a divide early on and that has only been made worse by becoming spread out around the province. Because of that, I tended to hide away in books and envied characters with strong family relationships or tight-knit friend groups. This especially was true when it came to Harry Potter. Never having had the kind of connections that Harry had with his friends, their families, and even his adopted father figures were so important to me as a kid, and still even now.

It is so important for kids to know that things may be rough, but the people who matter the most are the ones we choose to share and spend our lives with and I think that is the most important lesson in these books I very seriously grew up with. I miss my cousin and have no idea on how to go about processing the fact that she’s gone let alone moving through it. But what I am thankful for is that Harry also went through losses. He lost both of his father figures – Remus and Sirius – on top of his mentor, Albus Dumbledore. His strength when it seems like his world is entirely crumbling around him, and even Harry knew he was never truly on his own.

It takes strength to move on through tragedies, and it can be hard to ask for help when things just feel so utterly terrible. But even when you don’t know how to ask, keep people close and tell them you love them. And always remember:

“The ones that love us never truly leave us.” – Sirius Black

 

REVIEW: Wonderblood

I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review


Wonderblood is a unique novel of three interwoven narratives, full of magic, mystery, and violence. Written in gorgeous prose, Julia Whicker’s debut novel is winding and strange and wonderful. Note that this book does contain some triggering content around a character who is a minor, including sexual assault, gaslighting, physical abuse, and Stockholm syndrome.

The Story

Hundreds of years in the future, America has become overrun by a Mad Cow-like disease called Bent Head, pushing society back into living conditions similar to the Dark Ages of Medieval times. The story follows a girl held captive by her abusive brother in his carnival only to then be held captive by a man claiming to be the True King, the current king’s astronomer, and a Hierophant struggling with his faith.

I found this story fascinating as, according to this world, a dystopia has once again lead to an archaic form of patriarchy. One would think that “the future” is always spaceships and technology, even if it is a little dated, but in this world, all knowledge of science has been long forgotten and even practicing medicine is outlawed and considered heretical. Even the magic of the world is complex and Whicker does a brilliant job of winding coincidence with the examples of magic, making to so it’s hard to tell if magic really does exist within this world of if it’s all merely happenstance.

 

The Characters

The characters of this story are hard to get into since this is a narrative entirely driven by character motivation. I don’t want to give spoilers, so instead I’ll give a sum-up.

If I’m being honest, I didn’t like any of the characters in this story, but all for incredibly different reasons. Some of the characters are not meant to be liked – such as Orchid, an angry woman who wants to be queen and who reminds me very much of Cersei Lannister – but I also had a hard time feeling sorry for the characters who were meant to be liked because they did very little to escape their predicaments.

Now, even though I didn’t like the characters, that wasn’t enough to make me stop reading and please don’t let this discourage you from picking up this book, because – believe me – it’s worth reading.

 

The Issues [ spoilers / trigger warning ]

 

Now, my issues with this book are minimal, but I do hope that Whicker writes a sequel to fix these problems. The only big issue that comes to mind is the open ending and the loose ends. Will we learn the girl’s name? What will happen to her and Orchid? Will Tygo learn that he has a little sister? Will David figure out that he should be in Kansas and not Cape Canaveral? So many questions come up at the end of this book that I am honestly praying that there is more coming.

Next up, let’s get into the triggers. This book contains implied incestual sexual assault, attempted sexual assault, gaslighting, physical abuse (branding), and Stockholm syndrome all to the same 15-year-old character.

It is heavily implied that the girl’s brother has been raping her since she joined his carnival and then her husband turns around and attempts to rape her as well. Not only that, but she has been branded twice – once by both men – in a claiming ritual of sorts. She is heavily gaslighted by David and often verbally abused by his first wife, Orchid. Despite all of this, she is convinced that David loves her and through this grows to love him back.

What bothers me more than anything about all of this, is that is all happens to the girl. The 15-year-old girl. Of course it doesn’t happen all at once and the majority of these moments are quick to skim through, but the context of it all made me uncomfortable.

Conclusion ★★★★

This novel has it’s problems, but if anyone reading this review has knowledge of Game of Thrones, it’s nothing people haven’t seen/read before (although that doesn’t make it okay). Having read this book right after going to see the film Annihilation (based on the Area X series by Jeff VanderMeer), it was just what I was looking for. It kept me incredibly entertained and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a sequel to this one. This isn’t a book for everyone, but if you’re looking for something weird and unique, I recommend this book wholeheartedly. Julia Whicker is definitely an author I will be keeping my eye on.


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Author: Julia Whicker
Published:  April 3, 2018
Pages: 304
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
ISBN: 9781250066060

Synopsis: A mad cow-like disease called “Bent Head” has killed off millions. Those who remain worship the ruins of NASA’s space shuttles, and Cape Canaveral is their Mecca. Medicine and science have been rejected in favor of magic, prophecy, and blood sacrifice.

When traveling marauders led by the bloodthirsty Mr. Capulatio invade her camp, a young girl named Aurora is taken captive as his bride and forced to join his band on their journey to Cape Canaveral. As war nears, she must decide if she is willing to become her captor’s queen. But then other queens emerge, some grotesque and others aggrieved, and not all are pleased with the girl’s ascent. Politics and survival are at the centre of this ravishing novel.

REVIEW: Fire Song

I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review


Based on the movie of the same name, author and director Adam Garnet Jones’s novel Fire Song is a story of loss, grief, and bad decisions. Tackling some prominent issues with the Native communities in Canada, Fire Song is an intense novel if only a touch disjointed. Trigger warning: This book contains suicide, attempted suicide, sexual assault, homophobia and underage drug use.

The Story

Shane’s younger sister Destiny has died. On top of that he is in love with his best friend, David, despite being in a committed relationship with a girl named Tara. And the cherry on top? Shane has been accepted into university in Toronto but is too broke to be able to make it while the band won’t help him because of legal complications caused by the death of his father years previous.

Shane is at his breaking point between wanting to come out to his friends and family about his relationship with David and wanting to get the hell off of the res. Meanwhile, their area is plagued by underage drinking and drug use thanks to dealer, Debbie, and the constant threat of teenage suicide.

As you can see, there’s a lot going on in this story as we get more and more into the characters’ lives and at times, this felt distracting while my mind kept thinking of the loose ends. Not only that, but the third person perspective was interrupted at times by journal entries from Tara that often felt unnecessary to the story and off-pace for sure.

The Characters

Shane seems like a nice enough kid who just wants a better future for himself than being just another “Indian stereotype”. However, he makes some pretty terrible decisions when it comes to his girlfriend, Tara, his choice of friends, and thinking becoming a drug dealer is a great way to pay for school. The latter of which bugged me because Shane is rather against Debbie selling her products to kids.

David is a traditional kid. He strongly believes in his tribe’s old ways and seems to struggle with his sexuality as he wants to keep hiding what he has with Shane from everyone he can. He also has a little bit of a selfish streak as he wants Shane in his life, but is rather reluctant to leave the res and have a good life together.

Tara, Ashley, and Kyle are the main-player side characters that sadly feel under-developed. Tara secretly writes poetry and has a rather abusive father who – it is heavily implied – get’s a little too hands-y with his daughter while he’s drunk. Ashley is the friend and her main purpose is really just to get mad at Shane. Kyle is Debbie’s nephew and is a typical douche bag who thinks he can be inappropriate with any girl who crosses his path regardless of his relationship with Ashley or if the girl in question is in a relationship herself.

The Issues [ spoilers / trigger warning ]

I have several large issues with this novel, but I’m only going to list a few. First off, the journal entries from Tara felt out of place in a third-person present narrative. She writes in the first person past-tense and these chapters didn’t really move the story forward.

Next are the selfish behaviours of David and Shane. Shane continues to go out with Tara despite that he’s cheating on her with David. It’s one thing to have “a beard” when the girl is privy to the situation – still unfair but at least everyone is on the same page – but this is blatant cheating that is encouraged by David to the point where Shane doesn’t even mind because he is also convinced he loves Tara as well. They fight all the time and say hurtful things to each other constantly. It’s a form of internalized homophobia that hurts everyone. Even readers.

Third of all, the sexual assault seemed unnecessary and Tara’s suicide seemed like overkill. Not only that but even if the moments weren’t out of place, it made very little sense for Kyle to be the rapist that pushed Tara over the edge. It’s mentioned several times that Tara’s father is a pervert, even more so when he’s drunk, and implied that he has groped her at the very least in the past. Shane even mentions that she keeps a chair in her room to barricade the door and prevent her father from coming into her room at night. He’s the more obvious villain at this point and would be more of a reason for Tara to feel the need to end her life rather than Kyle – who she could have just reported to the police.

Lastly, there is no real villain. Debbie isn’t a villain until Shane robs her. Kyle isn’t a villain until it’s revealed he raped Tara. There’s no motivation in this story and nothing to fight against other than “the system” for the majority of the novel. It’s lack luster in a character driven story to introduce these “bad guys” until the very end of the book.

Conclusion ★★★

Fire Song is a well-written narrative, but is missing elements that should be necessary and including elements that shouldn’t. I feel it would have been a much stronger novel should it have focused more on the injustices First Nations people face in Canada rather than on the very poor decision making of a young man who has lost his sister to suicide and his mother to grief. Not my favourite novel, but not a terrible one either.


Fire Song

Author: Adam Garnet Jones
Published:  March 13th, 2018
Pages: 232
Publisher: Annick Press
ISBN: 9781554519774

Synopsis: Shane is still reeling from the suicide of his kid sister, Destiny. How could he have missed the fact that she was so sad? He tries to share his grief with his girlfriend, Tara, but she’s too concerned with her own needs to offer him much comfort. What he really wants is to be able to turn to the one person on the rez whom he loves—his friend, David.

Things go from bad to worse as Shane’s dream of going to university is shattered and his grieving mother withdraws from the world. Worst of all, he and David have to hide their relationship from everyone. Shane feels that his only chance of a better life is moving to Toronto, but David refuses to join him. When yet another tragedy strikes, the two boys have to make difficult choices about their future together.

 

REVIEW: Emergency Contact

I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review


Mary H.K. Choi’s debut novel Emergency Contact is a story of friendship and love, and overcoming grief through the deep connects formed even over short periods of times. A touching novel about self-realization and forgiveness, it’s a very strong story and I am extremely happy that I was lucky enough to get the ARC. NOTE: This book contains an example of sexual assault, consider this a trigger warning.

The Story

The story is told in the third person perspective from the points of view of Sam Becker and Penny Lee, switching back and forth every chapter. Penny’s side of the story revolves around her going away to college and continually struggling to cope with the people are her who are not like her along with fighting against past grudges against her mom. Sam’s side is he is a recovering alcoholic dealing with the aftermath of the end of a toxic relationship he yearns to have back among an abundance of other problems.

The two of them are brought together in a swirl of events that lead Sam and Penny to be each other’s “emergency contact”. Not really sure what that exactly entails, the two grow closer with a goofy text-only friendship.

The Characters

I love Penny. There are times where she comes across as very “I’m not like the other girls” but, you know what? Girls like that exist. At one point even was one of those girls. She’s brilliant and therefore tends to hold herself and possible friends at impossibly high standards, thus ostracizing herself without necessarily meaning to. Her mom is very much a 25-year-old in the body of a 40-year-old and Penny struggles with how different they are as well. As far as this trope goes, Penny is one of the best written and nothing about her detracted from the story at all.

Sam is a dream. In any other story he would be the manic pixie dream boy looking for his manic pixie dream girl, but refuses to be “that guy” and therefore is even more likable. Sam is anti-toxic masculinity, baking and making “girly” drinks at the coffee shop he works in. He honestly is just a really sweet guy who was truly dealt a shitty hand in his childhood. He also has a lot of baggage to deal with and he does his best to handle.

The Issues [ spoilers / trigger warning ]

I have no issues with this novel. Honestly, I can’t even think of a single problem. The only moment that made me uncomfortable was when Penny was recounting her sexual assault. It was a very well written moment in the book, especially since it deals with Penny wondering if it truly counts as an assault. Sam reassures her and is very cautious when physically near her, not wanting to do anything to trigger her or make her uncomfortable. I was impressed with Choi’s ability to write this scene and appreciated the care that was very clearly taken to write this scene without making it overtly obscene or triggering to anyone who has gone through a similar situation.

Conclusion ★★★★★

I loved Emergency Contact. The characters were full of depth and very relatable. The story was heartfelt and touching but also made me laugh out loud at some of the nonsensical text conversations Sam and Penny had with each other. I’ve read several ARCs so far this year, but this is first one I can confidently say I will be buy several copies of to throw at my friends. I hope that Mary H.K. Choi sees great success off of this novel and continues to write more.


35297272

Author: Mary H.K. Choi
Published:  March 27th 2018
Pages: 400
Publisher: Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
ISBN: 9781534408968

Synopsis: For Penny Lee high school was a total nonevent. Her friends were okay, her grades were fine, and while she somehow managed to land a boyfriend, he doesn’t actually know anything about her. When Penny heads to college in Austin, Texas, to learn how to become a writer, it’s seventy-nine miles and a zillion light years away from everything she can’t wait to leave behind.

Sam’s stuck. Literally, figuratively, emotionally, financially. He works at a café and sleeps there too, on a mattress on the floor of an empty storage room upstairs. He knows that this is the god-awful chapter of his life that will serve as inspiration for when he’s a famous movie director but right this second the seventeen bucks in his checking account and his dying laptop are really testing him.

When Sam and Penny cross paths it’s less meet-cute and more a collision of unbearable awkwardness. Still, they swap numbers and stay in touch—via text—and soon become digitally inseparable, sharing their deepest anxieties and secret dreams without the humiliating weirdness of having to see each other.