All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

All the Bright PlacesJennifer Niven’s novel All the Bright Places will be the novel I recommend to anyone desperately in need of the feels. Its subject is not without its controversy and emotionally hard to process, but Places is beautiful and finds the extraordinary in everyday places (and being a Midwestern native who knows our hills are more like lumps—I should know.) It makes us reexamine our current criteria of living, if we’re really ‘awake’ or just going through the motions. Violet and Finch meet on the ledge of a bell tower for similar reasons with different purposes. The novel examines two young adults both caught up in their own struggles. While Finch is obsessed with death, Violet is just looking for a way out. Although this sounds like the worst pairing, both of them rediscover passion and excitement, but even love is not enough to keep someone going. Places is a reminder that amid loss and death, people somehow solider on.

Before I continue, this post contains content on mental illness and suicide. Be advised. Also: SPOILERS.

Theodore Finch spots Violet Markey on the ledge of a bell tower the same day he’s tempting to jump off of it himself. He ends up talking himself out of jumping and keeps Violet from doing the same. From there, everyone believes Violet is a hero for saving Freaky Finch: mercurial, manic, a new guy every week. Former cheerleader Violet is the opposite of him or at least she was before the accident that killed her older sister. Violet has been left stranded in what she calls ‘extenuating circumstances,’ and just wants to get the hell out of Indiana. During a class assignment about discovering new places in Indiana, Finch volunteers to be Violet’s partner, giving the chance for them to grow closer and fall in love. Behind Finch’s tenacity is more than just persistence but an ominous, pervasive feeling tearing Finch down. Finch is quickly unraveling and despite everyone knowing about it, no one intervenes, and it’s too late.

Places  delivers a straightforward story about a girl and boy meeting and quickly falling in love. The opening passage quickly sets up the story within the first several passages by introducing Theodore Finch and his disturbing, dry sense of humor on suicide, exemplified by his conveyance of the pros and cons of death via jumping off a building. The narration switches over to Violet Markey, who’s sensible and less enthusiastic about flinging herself off a building than her counterpart; however, she anchors the story whereas Theodore adds comedic relief to a bleak storyline, thus, creating this complimenting effect. The changing narrations help the boy/girl plot, but, admittedly, still contains several tropes from the Teen Romance genre, which explains why it’s so often compared to The Fault in Our Stars (yes) and Eleanor and Park (just no.)  An eccentric boy appears in a girl’s life and changes her complete outlook on things, but in the case of Places, it’s not as one-sided. Each of these characters imprints something on the other, bestowing us with beautiful metaphors and nuggets of wisdom perfect for young adult.

The characterization in this novel sharply imagines teens dealing with real, complex problems and doesn’t exploit characters with mental illness. The crazy, flirtatious banter between Finch and Violet is irresistible, especially in part because of Finch’s compulsive behavior to deviate from the mundane and lighten the mood. Finch’s story is very much about trying to find something to complete him than it is about finding the perfect way to die, though this might just be one of the many caveats of the story. He’s surprisingly hyper sensitive of what people think of him while being incredibly resilient to his peers’ castigation. When the manic episodes dominant his waking hours, his character begins shriveling. The reduction of this larger-than-life character painfully illustrates Finch losing his agency and the underbelly of mental illness, showing us how he departs gradually, boxing himself into smaller spaces until he’s gone. Niven carefully describes Finch and his descent. She distinguishes the two by showing off the intrepid Finch and when he’s lost control. The distinction reminds us of how mental illness is just a condition and doesn’t subsume a person’s identity.

Violet, although is burdened by her previous life and does everything to break away from the past, is characterized as a normal girl. With a character like Finch, it’s easy to overlook Violet. Her story appears minor but contains its own interesting problems. Like Finch, she’s in the public eye but with everyone’s attention trained on her. She is loved, so everyone panders to her circumstances because they know she’s still grieving. She even has supportive parents who are also grieving. She has so many people trying to be there for her but no one that’s capable of helping her transition. Her people are all super sensitive around her and trying to push her back to a place before the accident, but Violet starts to recognize that death isn’t the end but a trigger for change. When she suffers two devastating losses, the theme of the story is punctuated. She survives but is left behind and for someone to have to lose two people she loved in such a short amount of time, this leaves her with survivor’s guilt. Niven also thematically concentrates on the aftermath of loss and shows Violet piecing her life together and trying to make sense of Finch’s death. With Violet, her story isn’t about wanting to find an end but how to restart.

Places never lets go of the challenges of existing in the presence and valuing our lives. Finch, despite his fast-track spiral, was about the liveliest person because he lived each day like it was his last. And Violet wanted to save him—just like he did on top of that bell tower for her. Places does good work in breaking our hearts but doesn’t leave us broken. It reassembles all our parts leaving us with an important message: be there as much as you can. Love the people closest to you. Don’t live according to everyone else’s idea or for your family’s convenience. We’re born and then we die. Not to have lived even one moment is a waste.

Afterword:

Yes. I’m going to do the thing where I tell you things that you have heard on a bunch of public service announcements. If you feel suicidal, contact someone. I know. You don’t want to. You feel like a bother. No one can handle you. You’re too much. If you talk about it, then someone knows just how crazy you are. You’re worried what they’ll think afterwards or what they’ll do with you. Some might worry that person will take you home. Others might try and send you to a psychiatric facility. How do I know this? Three times I’ve tried (and obviously it didn’t stick) but there was someone to intervene—by sheer luck. I got lucky. Eventually I found out that I didn’t want to be lucky. I wanted to feel less lucky. I wanted to be in control.

There are resources available to you, and I get it: the last thing you want to do when you’re in this state is sparse through research or have to wonder about the cost of treatment, which is why reaching out before you reach critical is good. Talk. Cry. Talk. Ramble. I’m sure my SO would tell me my episodes were nonsensical and incoherent, but I felt better afterwards, and I’m very grateful that there’s a person in my life for that.

Tid Bit: Don’t wait fucking ten years to seek help like I did. We are complex creatures who need to converse awkwardly, sometimes in between sobs or through clenched teeth to find our doughy parts again. It’s better than feeling mean and hard.

So. There’s my public service announcement.

New Year Resolution: My Five Writing Goals

Instead of writing on the innocuous or potential damage trigger warnings cause, I’ve opted to write on one of my favorite times of the year: New Years. This won’t be a post on the ‘Best Books of 2015’ or ‘My Top Ten Favorite Books of 2015’ because that has been done to death and so many amazing books were released this year that, even if I tried, I couldn’t appropriately rank them but what I can offer is something I’m equally if not more passionate about: writing.

In reading Marina Keegan’s The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Short Stories, I’ve found several things to aspire towards next year in terms of my writing. If you have not read this book, I highly recommend it. Published posthumously after Keegan was killed in a car accident five days after graduating from Yale, the book contains a collection of Keegan’s essays and fiction/non-fictional pieces. She was so young and wrote witty, profound, generational pieces. The introduction, written by one of her Yale professors, disclosed Keegan’s ambitions and work ethic during Keegan’s undergrad days and also provided a list of what Keegan herself was hoping to improve on in her writing. And as a I writer, I asked, ‘have I ever made one of those list?” And the answer was immediately obvious. I’ve been editing my novel for over a year. I’ve rewritten most of it, feeling like some days, I’m reinventing the infrastructure of it. Subconsciously I’m well aware of what to look at. Cutting that needlessly long sentence (because I’m secretly trying to telepathically suffocate my readers?) Too many paragraphs that I should condense into one (because one critic told me to ‘take it easy on the readers’ eyes’ like half-a-page paragraph will cause a seizure or something.) Or my trying to be cryptic in the last line of a paragraph (because if I’m confused, you’re lost.) I know so many things about my writing but I rarely reflect on some of these major issues and articulating them may help to improve upon them.

I decided that in the year of 2016 to work on five things to improve on in my writing. I’ve compiled a list below stating each one and their significance.

Awkward syntax

By far, this area in my writing is the most challenging for me. Often when I read one of my awkwardly written sentences, the meaning and sound is virtually transparent to me. A professor advised that I read this aloud, and for the most part, it helps, but there are times that I simply don’t see the funky, grammatical formation impeding on my sentences. Partially responsible for this is my own awkwardness and the way I talk. Several people have argued that this is not true, however.

Nonetheless, it’s something I need to improve.

Ambiguity Doesn’t Mean Deep

This isn’t a grammatical problem; it’s a content problem. Sometimes when I’m deep in writing a metaphor/simile, I overreach. Like, I try way too hard to achieve some level of profundity that no one except me will understand. That’s not being clever. That’s obnoxious and will cause your reader to just stare at the page annoyed. You two will get into an argument because you’ll try to say that it has ‘so much meaning’ and your friend will tell you to shut up and move on from your pretentiousness. Has this happened? Yes.

I mostly find this wedged in the most mundane areas or at the end of paragraphs. I struggle with this more times than not, and I’ve found that if I have to debate it, it’s going into my dump folder.

Excessively  Long Sentences (though impressive)

The phrase, ‘keep it simple, stupid’ could not apply more.

I’m someone who can write a ridiculously long sentence and actually make it work—sometimes. The problem that I run into is too many of these impressively long sentences that weigh the writing down and cause all sorts of confusing syntax and contextual meanings. Just because I can do it, I probably shouldn’t, or at least, use them sparingly. I can get so lost in thought, especially while having a Low (btw, my writing, if bogged down by an army of these sentences usually means I’m having one) that the meaning of the sentence is lost. Again, we need to keep our readers with us.

It. What is ‘It’?

The pronoun essentially used to describe or evade anything in any work. Sometimes, we  don’t even know we’re doing this, but in writing, it’s very obvious, especially in mine. Seen often in the first draft of most of my works, I tend to skirt around and not directly say who or what is feeling or doing something keeping us under the umbrella of ambiguity once again (see a pattern? I do!)

For example:

‘It was a good day.’

Okay. What is ‘it’ referring to? Maybe the day? You? Me? Just say, ‘I had a good day,’ then! Don’t need to leave us wondering who actually had the good day, which I hope you’re having.

Verb-tense Consistency

Because I’m not always writing things in the present tense, my work suffers. There’s a plethora of debates out there on writing literature in present versus past tense. Some find present tense awkward and some see past tense as a slow-paced form of writing. Whatever you prefer is fine. I actually write in both tenses. Oddly my short stories are usually in past tense while my vehement novel is present tense—for the most part. I sometimes slip and it’s not something detrimental to my writing, but  it is something that I need to keep in mind during the editing stages.

 

Perhaps in the new year, I will post an excerpt of my novel. I keep referring to it but haven’t provided any explicit details about it. I know many writers are eager to share their works, but I’m usually hesitant. Then again, since this is a book blog, it might be appropriate since I hope one day to have said novel published.

To everyone, thank you for following. We’ve had a good year together, and I appreciate all your comments! If you have any recommendations of books you think I should read or are an author looking to get his or her book reviewed, send me an email at myhermitsanctum@gmail.com. Don’t forget to review my Book Recommendation page first.

See you in the New Year!

 

 

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Spoilers are contained in this review.

41yZreG2lcL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I love it when a book has characters so interesting, so convincing, that for a moment, I have to set the book down and tell myself that this is only a story. It’s easy to forget when everything seems so real yet fantastical.

Gillian Flynn masterfully invents characters eerily authentic, broken, and dysfunctional and leads us down a macabre of events both gripping and sobering. For those idly rolling in the sheets with their new partners or long-standing significant others, Gone Girl can be treated as a cautionary tale of taking your partner for granted and betraying his or her trust. After you’ve taken that time to reevaluate your commitments, Girl is more than  a quick lesson on marriage; it’s a very poignant, honest take on peoples’ relationships, how their quirks and aberrations tie them together better than trying to shoehorn yourself into ideal marriage. With this said, The Dunne are not normal and shouldn’t be considered in any way what a healthy adult relationship looks like. When you have a moment where you’re doubting your relationship, take solace in knowing it could be worse—so thank you, Nick and Amy.

The last thing Nick Dunne expected on his five year wedding anniversary was for his wife Amy to go missing. When the police and town of Missouri launch an investigation, things quickly start to spiral out of Nick’s control and learns he’s the prime suspect in her disappearance. As the story reaches its twist, average, nice guy Nick isn’t who we thought he is nor is Amy.

Girl’s narrative style ostensibly exposes all angles of the story by telling it through the perspective of Nick and Amy. Just when we think we know everything that’s going on, it subverts our expectations with unreliable narrators. Girl best demonstrates misdirection with first-point perspective and is essentially metafictional. From the media’s presence in the story, the narrators are already acutely aware that their actions are being observed; yet, the narratives seem to suggest these characters are persuasively speaking to us and imply how that they’re self-conscious in their actions.

By now Girl’s twist is widely known especially if you’ve seen the film’s adaptation of it. (Spoiler Alert:) Amy is not in fact kidnapped, raped, or dead but on the run to frame her husband for her murder; thereby, charging him with the death penalty. She’s alive and well and deeply disturbed. The entire time, she’s feverishly watching media coverage of her disappearance/murder and making sure everything is falling into place.

The diary entries are a beautiful token of who Amy is—and isn’t. It’s used to undermine our impressions of her but also used to show her fluctuating agency. She describes herself as being a miracle after her mother’s several miscarriages and subsequently perceives herself as important, surviving with no great effort on her part. This, as well as her parents’ book series Amazing Amy, feeds her need for affection. The effects of this, however, create a subterfuge of Amy, her personality changing more often than people change clothes. It’s arguably normal for people to do this, but for Amy, she’s not experimenting for existential reasons; it’s in part because she’s bored and another to manipulate others, whether to have them like her or to punish them for wronging her.

While the media unsurprisingly choose to dissect the psychopathic characteristics of Amy, what I think Girl probes most is the contingency of identity. The novel places an emphasis on the characters’ proximity (New Yorkers to Missouri, M-i-s-e-r-y), spouse (Nice Guy to Cheating Husband/Cool Girl to Psycho Bitch), careers (Writer to Unemployed). These themes are prevalent throughout the novel.

If I have not mentioned this by now, Girl is entertaining, not in the sense that reality shows are all train wrecks we watch to make ourselves feel better, but in the way that it’s written and how the events play out. What I loved most about the book was its characters. Definitely Amy Elliott, by far, receives the most attention, with Vanity Fair proclaiming that she’s “the most disturbing female villain of all time.

Our first impressions of Nick and Amy end up being the polarized opposites: from loyal husband to lazy, cheating scumbag and from doting wife to conniving, narcissistic woman. They’re intentionally frauds, putting on a show for everyone. That’s just who they are at their core, playing their part to feed their avarice egos.

Part of the reason the media and readers narrow in on Amy has to do with two things: her excessive manipulating, toxic personality and her unapologetic, language she exhibits that is quite empowering. She makes us nervous, but she’s charming. She also may be a personification of our dirty laundry. Whether we want to admit it or not, a good chunk of our lives is just for show, represented exaggeratedly. There’s no arguing that Amy Elliott, for her gumption and Spartan disciplinary, is scary, although personally, not as scary if she turned out to be Diary Amy.

Of course, Nick, for all intents and purposes, is just all the right kind of wrong and screw-up that it compliments with his wife’s sociopathic/psychopathic tendencies. The beautiful part is that Flynn depicts these two characters as intellectual equals who are more in tune with their partner than even some healthy relationships. Ironically without each other, they wouldn’t be who they are.

Kind of sort of love, right. . .?

Reading Canon: A Little About Me

tumblr_static_vyvzcr2yn6swcg0g4g44s0gk_640_v2In the cavernous halls of my childhood home, books lined our shelves and took up space in our armoires, toy chests, and on top of our nightstands, but I’m sad to say, not many of them were actually read. It might come as a surprise, but I didn’t grow up in a book loving family or one that encouraged reading. This is not to say my parents disapproved of us reading, but I would say they didn’t nurture a zeal for it, which makes sense; they weren’t big readers themselves. I didn’t start voraciously reading until later in life. While listening to other people talk about their reading lives, or what I like to call their reading canon, I quickly learned that my experience with books was very different.

I’m what you call a late-reading bloomer and not by choice. I had a hearing impairment that made learning to read and write virtually impossible, which caused me to fall behind in my classes; hence, I was less inclined to pick up a book. Each word I pronounced and mumbled through painfully reminded me of my disability making me feel like a colossal failure, and I was only six! I was about to learn brail until I had surgery, which fixed my ears (or more medically accurate, my eardrums.) It was like magic. The hearing, not the reading and writing part. I still had to learn the basics, but I was already severely behind. My doctors and teachers were doubtful about my odds of me ever catching up.

Well, I showed them.

Despite my parent’s apathy in reading, my parents had an affinity for collecting books from anywhere. New, used, falling-apart books crowded our shelves. It was easy enough to distinguish the adult books from the kid ones by whether or not they were hardcover or paperback. It was a good thing my dad did this because I didn’t treat anything I owned with ANY kind of care or respect.

The Children books were designated to a specific bookshelf. It was ugly and made of a cheap metal. The parts that weren’t rusting were sprayed in an olive green paint and chipping; nonetheless, it served its purpose. The books on this shelf were thin and flimsy, too short and felt tacky whenever I picked them up. Then one day, hardcover dinosaur books were placed on this shelf. I don’t know if it was Mom or Dad who started amassing these books, but to me, who was fascinated with anything buried or hidden, did not ask why.

These books along with several other books I read at a young age inspired a number of wild, career choices:

Paleontologist – 2 Years

Until. . . My brother informed me of the niche market and job insecurity. Even then, I had some concept of money and poverty.

Ballerina – 1 Year

Until. . . I tried to spin 360 degrees on my ankle and sprained it in the process. Apparently I had no concept of the human anatomy.

Erotic Dancer – Three Months

Until. . . I learned that I would have to take off my clothes more than once in a crowd sober. . .

Lawyer – 2 Years

Until . . . I learned that there’s more to being a lawyer than pointing and parading heroic speeches to juries. 

Private Detective – 1 ½ Years

Until. . .a year and half went by and I couldn’t figure out who took my fifty cents. My dad later confessed he had put it in his chain jug.

Veterinarian – 6 months

Until . . . I realized I wouldn’t have a facility to save all the animals that I would refuse to put down.

Doctor – Back-up Plan

Until . . .there’s no longer science involved and we’re taken care of by autonomous devices.

Books remained a valuable source of information and influence, but I wasn’t reading a lot of Fiction. After my parents divorced, my dad (along with my grandpa) continued to bestow my brother and I with something practical, something we could use later on in life, thus, the carnival of Non-Fiction and Historical books had begun!

I read books about historically famous people like Cleopatra, Augustus Caesar, William Penn, Andy Warhol, and Mozart. My brother was a lot more receptive though and fancied these books more than I did. When we received a WWII book overtaking us in size, he beamed with interest while I played with my crayons and markers. I ended up being on a book hiatus for the next five years. It would be the library that revived my interest in books.

My hometown’s library is actually big (compared to the cluster of small towns around it) and more modern, with a glass wall at the entrance, a hidden descending staircase, and four computers—which I can’t stress enough was a lot in comparison with what the other libraries had in the area.

To say that I suddenly started reading every book in sight would be a lie. I was particular, which is the nice way of saying I was stubborn and picky. Subjected to years of reading Non-Fiction and Zoology magazines, I wanted my first book at the library to be amazing and memorable, and it was. A book from the Dear America series called I Walk in Dread attracted me for its journal writings, and I was able to relate to the female protagonist. I liked that these women were strong, intelligent, and independent. I’d end reading more books with these types of women that would inspire me and morph me into the woman I am today. They’d also be the kind of women I like to write about, but when middle school ended, I would end up rerouting my passions and interests into something different.

High school was a boiling pot of my love for writing and painting; reading fell to the wayside. I’d sometimes pick up books like Speak and Dreamland when I needed something to console me, but whenever I was having a Low, feeling extremely anxious or about to lose my shit, I took out the colored pencils and sketched. I’d eventually try and channel this into a viable career. Of course, I eventually learned that I wasn’t too keen on commission work. I was losing sleep on projects that didn’t stir anything inside me. The commercial world of art just wasn’t for me.

When I finally had enough of the Fine Arts program at the university, I transferred over to English Studies. The feeling that buoyed inside me left me able to breath, to think clearly. I felt less tangled inside.

At last, I thought.

I was exposed to a myriad of Classics, which opened the floodgate to more contemporary post-modern books. This is the part when I started to read every book I could. This is when my writing started to evolve into something beyond an inchoate style.

I know my reading canon doesn’t follow the average book-lover narrative. It’s the one topic I skirt around with other readers who maybe have that one book they used to fall asleep to or that they read every year. And I get it. That book is nostalgic for them. It’s just something I can’t relate to entirely. I have fond memories, but they’re more than likely more recent. I don’t have a lot of books from my childhood that I can really talk about since I started out reading late, but that doesn’t mean I love reading any less. It’s just a different story.

What’s your reading life canon?

What It Means to Be Well Read Today

women-readingI’ve been told a handful of times that I’m well read.

I almost react the same way every time: credulously humble followed immediately by immutable denial. Personally I don’t think I read enough to be crowned the title.

I used to think only a select few such as scholars, professors, or librarians fit the definition. They are, after all, usually walled in by books where the smell of parchment is potent. This somehow made sense to me at a time. I thought that our careers were these symbiotic, identifying agents in our lives (shelving away that idea in workaholics anonymous section.)

Their career certainly provides them access to a copious amount of books, but the reality is: most people don’t like to take their work home with them if they can help it. Down time, so to speak.

After arduous hours of parsing through old century text or having to read the new crime thriller for your patrons, maybe what they grab isn’t War and Peace but a Harlequin novel, which is fine, but by a generalized definition, it’s not what we picture as being a well-read person. Turns out, being ‘well read’ is a hodgepodge of opinions with arbitrary standards—at best.

The definition is pervasive and often ambiguous in terms of being applicable to a living person. Lists are generated every day of the books you should read before you die (a bit dramatic, but hey, this is serious.) When analyzing some of these lists, we’ll notice most of them are contrived, supplemented by renowned critics or celebrities presumed to be the leading authority on books, thus, burgeoning an elitist mentality that possibly only deters readers’ interests in these books.

Although many lists include Classics, the criteria is changing and becoming more contextual; we’re beginning to redefine what it means to be well read in terms of popularity and pop-culture. Even though a book’s likeability has played a part in a book’s success, there are several books when they were initially released that were disregarded only for these books to be recognized later on; however, even books that were lauded as masterful were still not immediately considered something beyond just being a really good book. Time acts as a buffer for us, but this is not the case anymore. We’re seeing the opposite with books skyrocketing into fame. We’re speeding past the mulling process. New lists are suggesting more contemporary fiction like Games of Thrones and Harry Potter, books celebrated in mainstream culture that have created a cult-base frenzy of readership/viewership. And while I’m more agreeable with a having an egalitarian voice and less stringent standards, I have to wonder if reading post-contemporary novels, reading essentially best-seller books, is enough to be regarded as a well-read person?

Then again, this all depends on your interpretation.

There’s no universal definition of what it means to be well read. It’s a combination of mixed interpretations and understandings to what supposedly fulfills the obscure requirements. Some suggests it’s widely reading across a number of genres or reading books not as well known. Others believe it is being well-versed in Classics and in other significant pieces of literature. The model of being well read is moot and mostly based around the values and views of a person or a group. This creates even further complications when you consider factors such as the paucity of feminine, diverse, and LGBT works of literature. The market is provincially saturated by white men and has been for decades. I’m not suggesting that we stop reading books written by white men; however, the inclusion and promotion of these other groups shouldn’t be overlooked or neglected for whatever reason or nefarious agenda people are enacting.

On the other hand, the definition of being well read is also versatile and adapts to the times. It’s increasingly apparent that the form and accessibility of communication is significant and morphs our ideas of what we might consider well read. Those people logging in hours and sifting through their newsfeed, as if they were a spinning wheel, could be considered by the broad definition to be well read. They’re absorbing extensive knowledge quickly due partially to how the media distributes information and how everyone is constantly wired to the internet. This non-stop circulation of information not only affects how we process information but how we identify a well-read person.

We’ve cultivated in our minds what we believe a well-read person is and have strived to reach these standards. Like a headache, it can feel like we’ll never reach that place where the thrumming ends, not while we continue to punch out new books and already have an innumerable amount of books on our lists to read.

As for me, I’ve sort of learned to be conscious of it but not allow it to dictate my reading choices. I like keeping an open mind and branching out and experimenting with different genres, but even I have my ‘picky-eater’ moments.

Certainly it’s good to try something different once in a while, but don’t feel like you have to. Hours of time and energy spent on something your heart isn’t into is a waste of time, and I’m pretty sure is some kind of autonomous torture device. Don’t do that to yourself.

Know what you’re reading. Read what you love.

The Young Elites, Marie Lu

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Containing my excitement for Marie Lu’s The Young Elites is almost impossible. I ravenously read this book every chance I had.

Lu invents a familiar, suspenseful, and bleak world with perilous chicanery and devastating consequences. The characters are nothing to scoff at as each one carries unique abilities and has sworn unwavering loyalty to an uncrowned prince. The protagonist harbors the most intense, visceral grudges making her one of the most feared, dangerous, and fleshed out character among the recruited warriors. Adeline Amouteru perceives her new found powers as a gift when later they manifest as her worst nightmare. Surprisingly Elites detours around a myopic ending and steers us straight into the root of a story about the value self-worth and love.

Adeline is about to die. She’s been caught by the Inquisitors after she “murdered” her abusive father. As it turns out, Adeline is among the few people known as the Young Elites, people with special abilities resulting from a fever from a few years ago. Most adults who were infected didn’t survive including Adeline’s mother. Unlike Adeline’s sister who’s unmarked, Adeline shows signs of her post-infection: a missing eye and silver hair. On the day of her execution, the Young Elites rescue her wanting to recruit her. Adeline meets the intense, ambitious Enzo, an exiled prince wishing to reclaim his throne. But being a part of the Young Elites requires secrecy and vigorous training, which is problematic when the lead Inquisitor has discovered her whereabouts and holds her sister hostage. The Inquisitor will spare her sister’s life as long as Adeline cooperates. She must choose between her blood family or the Young Elites, who’ve been more like a family to her than her real one ever has.

The plot in Elites is tangible and quite gripping. Lu creates a fluid moving, engaging story contingent on the narrator’s ambition and desperation. Adeline’s fears and wants somehow aids in the book’s immaculate pacing without rushing any pivotal moment. The characters’ actions have a ripple effect no matter how inconsequential a decision appears, thus, making Elites a fun and interesting read. Nothing just happens, that’s for sure.

Lu’s decision to flashback abruptly to Adeline’s days prior to her execution is smart since it gives us a moment to register the severity of her situation and process her current circumstances. Lu also does this when revealing Adeline’s tormented past giving us a glimpse to the cruelty and mental abuse Adeline has endured. This bolsters the character’s motivations.

The flashback, while it works, is also something of a blemish on a story that remains rigidly linear. Although the narrator flashes back to her childhood memories, these flashbacks aren’t describing the scene; these passages just tell you what happened, so it feels less like a time jump and more like, well, someone telling a story. A different style of flashbacks are used versus the one used at the beginning of the book; yet, it still somehow works for me since it adds a good kind of variety.

Much of the story’s beautiful and rich quality derives from its main and supporting characters. As the protagonist, Adeline brings a lovely, dark, and twisted point of view. We are exposed to her vulnerability and inner demons, which manifest in her special abilities of illusions. Her hunger for power and need to inflict pain on the wrong is sometimes disturbing, anger swelling into a violent, tumultuous storm. But it’s reassuring to me when I’m not one hundred percent on board with a character’s actions. It reminds me that she’s flawed and that there’s more to her.

Lu’s deviation from the point-of-view of the protagonist provides behind-closed-door conversations. What’s highlighted mostly is the bond between Enzo and Raffaele. We learn more about Enzo and Raffaele when they are together than when they are apart. Their friendship and conversation deconstructs Enzo from his role as ruler and Raffaele from his role as caregiver/advisor. But I do take issue with how Lu develops her other characters identifiable through their gifts and single personality. The antagonists are no exceptions. Teren’s motives are flimsy and his conviction isn’t real to me. We are just supposed to believe he’s a monster who does terrible things because of his secret affair with the queen? There needs to be more to it. While there’s some suggestion of self-hate, it’s not developed enough in this novel for me to believe he’s the new Joffrey Baratheon.

Elites is not overly concerned with details. It frugally dispenses with flowery language, creating only impressive imagery when it’s relevant. But it’s Lu’s minimalistic writing that works in a story like this, and it’s not as though she can’t be descriptive, which is shown in how she describes her characters as well as the setting. It’s those few lines of images and symbols that calls attention to how well she manipulates language without complicating it.

Unlike my last review where I bombastically criticized a book’s part one to an overarching story, Elites’s story finishes and thematically wraps up everything pertaining to its story.

Adeline, more than anything else, wanted unconditional love. This is at the novel’s core, and Lu does not neglect this or wait to finish it in part two. We are able to see the growth of most of the characters and even though the characters’ stories are not finished yet, they have arrived where they should be.

Dear Readers: Colds and Tornadoes

Dear Readers,

Last week, there were zero posts made here at the Hermit Book Corner.

*Gasp, followed by a screeching ‘how could you?!’*

I know, and I’m sorry.

I’ve been dealing with a maelstrom of colds, which I did not know could happen. I was under the impression that once you’re sick and get better, you have at least another six to eight months of good times before the next one attacks.

I stand corrected.

And I am someone who rarely ever comes down sick! A headache and maybe some nausea, but the OMG-someone-smother-me-with-a-pillow sick? That’s happened once, and it was mono, or if you want to be technical, mononucleosis.

What I had this time was a head cold. The other thing you should know about me is when I get sick, head colds are among the most common illness I am sick with. Not influenza or sinus infections. Swampy intense head colds. The kind that makes you feel like everything in your head is impacting. I had that kind, which makes for very bad writing, thus, bad reviews. Plus, I wasn’t conscious enough to write. I almost slept uninterrupted for two days. That’s my cure: sleep until you don’t feel sick anymore, and a vitamin C tablet. Those things are amazing.

Part two of the reason I did not post in a timely manner was a tornado, the one that is being covered all over the news. Before worry pours in, know that I live twenty minutes away from the town that was sadly destroyed and that I also live in a garden-style apartment, aka, the basement. I was safe, however, there were people who were not and someone who I know who wasn’t. He’s been recuperating in the hospital. The good news is he has been discharged and is recovering at his home. He’s been dubbed The Tornado, even though, Colossal sounds way cooler. There are not enough nerds/geeks at work. It’s been a weird week.

He was very, very lucky, but sadly, there are people in Fairdale who were not and are without homes or supplies. If you feel like contributing or donating, check out this link for more information, or simply go here to donate. From what I understand, donations/supplies are flooding in, but every little bit counts.

Find my next book review this Wednesday, April 15 and be well.

Sincerely,

Erica