The Way I Used to Be

wayIn the United States, every 8 minutes, a child is sexually assaulted. This reality may be difficult to acknowledge and take action upon through simple statistics. However, through
personal narratives, like Eden’s story in The Way I Used to Be, I could much better comprehend the extent to which sexual assaults can shape an individual perception of life. Thus, this novel by Amber Smith furthered my ambition to advocate against sexual assault on school campuses.
The novel unravels from Eden’s perspective. Eden, called by Eddy by her friends, is a
typical freshman in highschool. She is a competitive member of her high school band, has a best friend named Mara, and lives with her family in a ordinary neighborhood. However, something is different about Eden as she attempts to proceed through her freshman year. On a Saturday night, Eden is raped by her brother’s best friend in her own room. Her raw afterthoughts are portrayed as, “…Why it didn’t register that something was wrong- somercilessly wrong- when I felt the mattress shift under his weight. Why I didn’t scream when I opened my eyes and saw him crawling between my sheets.” Like most other victims, Eden blames and even shames herself for being assaulted. To make matters worse, she does not tell a soul and goes about her life like nothing ever happened.
Unfortunately, the events of Saturday night takes a immense toll on Eden’s outlook on
life. Although no one knows besides her, Eden’s disposition is raginingly driven by anger and silent cry for help. Suffering from constant panic attacks and conflicts with her best friend Mara, she pushes her family and friends away, blows off their expectations, and begins to look for ways to completely distance herself from the innocent girl that she used to be. Her first opportunity comes forth in the form of a popular upperclassman from one of her classes. Eden’s response after their date truly encompasses her new ambition. “I sigh loudly… I leave without another word. I know he’s watching me as I walk toward my house. I make sure I don’t turn around until I hear the engine fade into the distance surrounding me.” From this scene, it is clear that Eden cares for Josh, but she is unable to open up to Josh due to the mental and emotional aftermath of her assault. Eden’s unusual ways of interaction towards others not only reflect her
struggle to adjust to a normal lifestyle, but also how difficult it may be for victims like her to accept and seek for help.

Unable to come forth to her family and friends, Eden’s anxiety and self-harm becomes a
norm in her everyday life. Her presence becomes common in the party-scenes and her
community labels her as a “slut” for her unprecedented behavior. Instead of fighting back, Eden assumes her label and slowly lets the clashing persona seep into her head. At a college party, she sleeps with a guy that she just met and has no true feelings for. She thinks to herself, “Josh. I see his smile. Feel his sweetness. His arms around me… As soon as my consciousness kicks in, he’s gone. But he was there just long enough and just clear enough to jolt me, to shock my system with a surge of fresh heartache.” Again, Eden’s inner thoughts confirms her one and only affection for Josh, but also her incapability to express herself.
The Way I Used to Be is a work of fiction. However, this does not discredit its value in
the realm of sexual assault advocacy, as it deals with true matters that can be related to by many survivors of sexual assault. Eden’s experience realistically depicts the harsh truth. There are many sexually assaulted victims that are suffering due to the mental, emotional, and physical aftermath of the assault. Furthermore, this time-dependent matter worsens as the victim is often denied of trust and rapid response. Unlike many others, Eden’s story ends on a fulfilling resolution. Her brother’s best friend is investigated and eventually put away in jail.

However, note that this resolution is not the usual outcome of many victims.
This novel is not a difficult read. However, I do believe that this functions as a tool for the
author to reach a more extensive range of audiences, which is a significant aspect of a book dealing with critical matters such as sexual assault. Amber Smith is an prominent advocate for more awareness of gendered violence, which includes sexual assault and LGBTQ equality. When she is not writing or reading, she focuses on making visual arts and working as an art consultant in her current home in North Carolina. Other works by Smith includes, The Last to Let Go and Our Stories, Our Voices. Other novels that explore similar topics such as this novel includes, We Believe You by Andrea E. Pino and Annie E. Clark and Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott.

Reviewed by Susie Y. ’18

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What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

aliceAfter a head injury at the gym, Alice wakes up missing ten years of her memory only remembering that she is twenty- nine, pregnant and madly in love with her husband, Nick. Remembering nothing from her current life, including her divorce and three children, Alice embarks on a journey to discover how this all happened and how to fix it. She discovers she is no longer the shy twenty-nine-year-old she used be. She is now a type- A, social and spin obsessed mother. As Alice recovers, she learns that her sister Elisabeth is married, and her mother married Nick’s father and for some reason she hates the man she was once madly in love with, Nick. Alice soon begins to notice that everyone around her is hiding something about a woman named Gina, and surrounded by this foreign lifestyle Alice must make sense of it.

While reading this book, I was able to understand and relate to Alice’s sister Elisabeth the most because she was such a good foil character for Alice. Apart from Alice’s injury, Elisabeth suffers from many of her own personal issues. Throughout the novel, she is asked to do homework by her therapist, Dr. Hodges, where she writes passages about how she is feeling and issues she is currently facing. These passages gave me such insight into Elizabeth’s relationship to the people around her, including the relationship she had with Alice. Liane Moriarty is also able to make readers reconsider their lives like Alice did in the book. Alice’s story is motivational and encourages readers to think about the decisions they have made and the impact that they have had on their lives today. Ultimately Alice’s injury is more of blessing than a curse because she is able to reconnect with what is important in her life.

Liane Moriarty (born November 15, 1966) is an Australian novelist who currently has six published books and her most popular and New York Times Bestseller novel Big Little Lies was recently made into a CBS mini-series that won several Emmys. I liked What Alice Forgot much more than Liane Moriarty’s other books because I felt the ending was less revealed throughout the story and more of a surprise at the end which I very much enjoyed. I recommend many other books by Moriarty, such as Big Little Lies.

 Reviewed by Yasmine A. ’18

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

sister“Grief is a curious thing when it happens unexpectedly. It is a Band-Aid being ripped away, taking the top layer off a family. And the underbelly of a household is never pretty, ours no exception” No family is perfect, the Fitzgerald’s are no exception. Sarah a mother of three, who has a coping mechanism of online shopping for elaborate ball gowns never to be worn outside the four walls of her bedroom. Brian who would rather stay at work to fight fires and save lives than confront the real fight that waits for him when he goes home. Jesse the pyromaniac who lashes out in order to be seen by his family, by anyone. Kate the child who has never lived her own life for herself who dreams of a life as a prima donna. And Anna, the youngest who is the unseen foundation that holds the house together and is forgotten until she is needed.

What would you do when confronted with a dying family member who you knew you could save? Would you, without a second thought, give blood, a bone marrow transfusion, or even one of your kidneys? Would it make difference if you did not have a say in the decision, if you were expected to give away bits and bits of yourself from the day you were born? This is what’s expected from Anna Fitzgerald who was genetically modified in order to be the perfect donor match to her dying sister, Kate, with Leukemia who isn’t expected to live past 5.

Throughout her novel, Jodi Picoult, uses each chapter to express the perspective of a different individual character within the story. If you pay attention you can tell that the font changes from character to character, from chapter to chapter. This subtle choice by Picoult is a compelling touch in the delivery of conveying each character’s personality. Anna’s font looks like it was handwritten in a journal with fancy details on her capital A’s as if to remind the reader of her youth and innocence during this mature time. Jesse has a crisp, bold typed font in hopes to convey his harsh outer appearance that he uses to hide his insecurities from the world. This is a technique that I have seldom seen in books, but it adds a compelling element that helps the reader to feel more connected to and to be able to identify with the characters.

“ Imagine what it would be like if you were a squirrel living in the elephant cage in the zoo. Does anyone ever go there and say, Hey, check out that squirrel? No, because there’s something so much bigger you notice first.” Anna has lived her life in the shadow of her dying sister Kate. When told that she must give away one of her kidneys Anna reaches her limit. She decides that it is no longer in her best interest medically to keep prolonging her sister’s life by false hopes of providing temporary solutions to an unavoidable end. The doctors say if Anna does not give Kate her kidney she will die. Expected to be the rock keeping her family together, Anna learns to speak for herself and make her own choices as she sues her family for the rights to her own body in order to no longer be forced to be her sister’s donor.

We see the individual nature of each character and their own inner dialog of the events transpiring around them throughout the novel except for Kate’s. We only get to see Kate’s insight during the novel’s epilogue. Her font is a mix of cursive and print that looks delicate, soft and full of emotion just like Kate herself. Picoult’s choice to leave out Kate’s thoughts and opinions in the body of her novel is an interesting and bold move. The story literally revolves around Kate and her life, but we do not get an insight into Kate’s mind until after the events of the novel transpire. We see people saying that they know what’s best for her, but we do not get to see what Kate thinks of as the best option for herself or what she wants.

“ I don’t want her to die, but I know she doesn’t want to live like this, and I’m the only one who can give her what she wants.” I sympathized with Anna throughout this novel, coming from a family with a sibling diagnosed with cancer who had a slim chance of reaching remission. While my sister has reached remission, I could still put myself in Anna’s shoes and identify with her difficult moral dilemma. Would you want to fight for every chance that comes along in order to keep them alive or do you accept the harsh reality that is ultimately waited just down the way? Do you watch them from the sidelines suffering to make it day by day or do you want to help them go while you still have a chance to say your goodbyes to the person you know and love. Within her Novel, Picoult wrestles with this frightening choice that would not just affect Anna, but her whole family.

Reviewed by Elizabeth L ’18

Big City, Bright Lights by Jay McInerney

jayYoung and thinking he’s way too smart to be where he is, the unnamed narrator, guides you through the story of quarter life crisis in New York City. His 1980’s drug-fueled adventures begin in a nightclub and end at the crack of dawn waking up in rooms he doesn’t recognize, next to women he doesn’t remember buying drinks for and left with no more “Bolivian marching powder”. Each night he goes out you feel his urge for the cocaine he seeks in the dark corners of the loud nightclubs, “your brain at this moment is composed of brigades of tiny Bolivian soldiers. They are tired and muddy from their long march through the night. There are holes in their boots and they are hungry. They need to be fed. The need the Bolivian Marching Powder.”

The novel takes several turns with deaths, a divorce and being discharge from his job. He absolutely detests his job in the Department of Factual Verification at The Manhattan, a magazine, which is thought to parallel the New Yorker. His dreams of becoming a fiction writer move slowly due to his cocaine habit, and break up his marriage to his model wife Amanda causing him to hit rock bottom. Anyone who is hitting or has hit a low in their life will be able to see themselves in him, “you have friends who actually care about you and speak the language of the inner self. You have avoided them of late. Your soul is as disheveled as your apartment, and until you can clean it up a little you don’t want to invite anyone inside.”

I chose this novel because I was interested in Jay McInerney style of writing in the second person. His style helps you relate to the story and picture yourself in this book even if it is the farthest thing from your reality. He was able to put me in the narrator’s shoes walking down narrow New York streets at two am after spending way too much money on hip cocktails at a club he didn’t want to be at. Not many novels are written in the second person, but I think everybody should read one at some point to experience how it pulls you into a life that is so different from your own, the protagonist’s, yet feels so normal. Although it was strange to read something addressing me at first, it added a sense of personalisation to the story and allowed me to connect and sympathise with the narrator.

Like the main character, Jay McInerney (January 13, 1955 ) also worked as a fact checker for the magazine the New Yorker. Published in 1984, this was his first novel; he later on went to write Ransom , Bright, Precious Days and many short stories. If you think you will enjoy this novel, consider reading The Story of My Life which is also written by Jay McInerney. Similarly, it is based in New York City in the 1980’s but in a woman’s perspective.

Reviewed by Yasmine A ’18

It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

coverYoung Adult books have a few formulas: divorce, unrequited love, death of a parent, self-transformation, and as of late… vampires. Oh… and angst. Usually always angst. Picking up this book one might fear this would be the story of yet another teenager whose glamorized account of depression could make readers teary eyed but forget about the story almost immediately. Its Kind of a Funny Story is not one of those books. The writing is so dead on, so unpretentious and raw. Based on the author’s own experiences with mental illness and his time in a psychiatric hospital, the narrative of a high school senior under immense pressure is not only beautifully poetic but also intensely relatable for anyone who has ever struggled personally with mental illness or even knows someone who has. Craig is a senior at a competitive high school in Manhattan, who finds the pressure he is under is taking a toll on him. He feels the things that weigh him down, what he calls his “tentacles” dragging him down. He stops eating and sleeping until he finally decides that he’s going to take the big leap off the Brooklyn Bridge instead finds himself self admitting into a psychiatric ward in a local hospital where he meets a slew of different patients. Although each is there for different reasons they’re each attempting to cope with life in their own ways. Somehow Vizzini manages to take heartbreaking and bleak material and turn it into a humorous and touching story.

Mental illness is not something to dismiss this book showcases this in a way that needs to be discussed in everyone’s life. Ned Vizzini struggled with depression and anxiety for years before, during, and after writing this book, tragically he took his own life seven years after writing it. Vizzini’s words will have a lasting impact longer than his own tragically short life, spanning decades and generations. He and Craig work hard to remind us “Depression is just what happens when you forget to live. So live”.

Reviewed by Sophie R ’17 for Literature of the Millennium

 

 

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie

coverThroughout life different people become affected in a myriad of ways by their circumstances. However, there is one thing that all people can connect on: a sense of belonging.

In Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie allows her readers to get into the head of a protagonist who is away from home. Adichie weaves two very different countries, essentially worlds, together to show the unique effect they have on the character. The term “Americanah” alone refers to the classification assigned to her after she has lived in America and returned to Nigeria. What initially appears as a novel about the experience of an immigrant, is actually a tale any person trying to understand the complexities of life will find solace in.

It starts with Ifemelu, a young lady who has a fellowship in Princeton, absorbing her New Jersey surroundings and then getting on a train to another New Jersey town in order to braid her hair, already highlighting the disparities between whites and African Americans/Africans. Once in the salon, it becomes clear that Ifemelu is not just different from white Americans, but also from other African immigrants who work in the salon. Her interactions with the employees cause her to think back on her own experiences at home in Nigeria and when she moved to the US. She identifies some of the differences between the bluntness of people from her hometown and people in America. This is particularly seen with her musings about the word “fat,” which is used seldomly and negatively in America, but is used very frequently in Nigeria, though not in such a negative connotation. On the other hand, the word “thin” is considered a positive trait in America, but is not something to strive for in Nigeria. Adichie contradicts the typical image of a glamorous, perfect America and brings out some of the ways that the bland industrialized culture has robbed the population of some of the simpler joys in life when in a quiet moment the narrator realizes “America had subdued her.”

The other major part of this story, Americanah, is about Ifemulu’s long lost love that remained in Nigeria after she left, Obinze. Ifemelu distanced herself from her love upon arriving in America, but now realizes she has never loved someone the way she loved him. Obinze, who after struggling in the seedy underbelly of undocumented life in London, is living in the cosmopolitan city of Lagos, has earned a name for himself and not only has established himself as a business man, but is now also a family man, which Ifemelu has to deal with. Their love story connects, after a while of no contact, due to her desire to move back home. As the two of them continue to reignite their love and catch up, the readers are able to identify the clear differences between a first world country and a third world country, but also the deep similarities in areas of love, family, and trust.

Do these two find their way back to each other? Does Ifemelu find her own identity among the cultural labels assigned to her? You’ll have to find out for yourself. The two paths of the main characters and their personal journeys of self discovery come together over several themes such as sacrifice, compromise, and the craving for true love. Both parties, Ifemelu and Obinze have to evaluate what they would sacrifice for each other and how their future could be reconstructed regardless of their past.

Not only does Adichie create a rich world of characters to entertain the reader, she fills her novel with astute observations of Americans that are very rarely noticed by the local observer. You’ll question your own identity and truths you’ve accepted in everyday life. Maybe you too will develop a better concept of your identity.

Reviewed by Tochi W. ’17 for Literature of the Millennium

 

A Bend in the Road by Nicholas Sparks

coverA Bend in the Road by Nicholas Sparks is an unexpectedly mysterious love story that left me feeling various emotions with every page I turned. Contrary to the normal story he writes, this one did not have a typical climax point or ending. The main character, Miles, is a mysterious man who has a young son, Jonah. Their lives are changed forever when Miles’ wife Missy was struck by a car while running on a bend in the road. But who committed the crime? Missy was left dead without any witnesses or any knowledge of who killed her, a hit and run. This event not only affects Miles’ past and present, but it severely affects his future in a very unexpected way. The tone of this story has an underlying sense of doubt and struggle throughout, even during the seemingly happy parts. This consistently left me on my toes as I was questioning whether or not the story was going to unfold as expected because of the obvious foreshadowing of tragedy that was entangled throughout the story, “Maybe he suspected something, maybe he’d simply been around long enough to know that fairy tales seldom came true”

This story is a mystery and a romantic novel combined into one, which creates a captivating way for the story to unfold. In the beginning of the book, Miles falls in love with his son Jonah’s second grade teacher, Sarah. Sarah and Miles have a connected past that they could never have foreseen nor avoided, and neither of them know it. As Miles continues to investigate the crime that unfolded in the bend in the road it reveals more and more information than Miles may even want to know and all of it may not be true. The intertwined themes of mystery and romance make the book a more interesting and deep romance novel that goes further than the surface of a love story. Miles is a single father raising a young child who is struggling in school and needs maternal love. He works a job that has demanding hours and causes him to be up all nights depriving Jonah of a normal childhood. The added stress and distraction of not having the closure of who killed his wife haunts him and effects his life in every way. “There is something terrible in the moments after waking up, when the subconscious knows that something terrible has happened but before all the memories flash back in their entirety.” The love Miles finds with Sarah seems to take some of the pain away until an uncovered secret changes the relationship for both of them.

The term “ a bend in the road” comes up often in the book. This seems to be a metaphor symbolizing either an unfortunate event, a tough conversation, or a general twist of events. It symbolizes how things can go wrong and not always as planned but it is not the end, it is just a twist in life. This metaphor adds depth to the story as it hides underlying meaning to the seemingly simple sentences.

This would be an exceptional novel for anyone who is skeptical about romance novels because it is much more than a modern romance, but a story about love mixed with the struggle between personal conflict and doing what is right for other people around you.

Reviewed by Olivia C ’17 for Literature of the Millennium

 

Dear John by Nicholas Sparks

coverHow would you feel if you had to live every day in fear of the love of your life being deployed in a war struck country? Dear John by Nicholas Sparks is one of my favorite books of all time. Sparks pulls you in and takes you on an emotional roller coaster by making you fall in love with the main character, John Tyree, a United States Military veteran. As you are falling in love with John, he is falling in love with the other main character of the book, Savanah Curtis. All love stories contain heartbreak, but this book in particular has you grabbing multiple boxes of tissues. Sparks pulls in his readers only to leave them in despair in the middle of the novel. John and Savanah’s love is easy and carefree, making this book an easy and pleasurable read for almost all audiences. As a result of the September 11th attacks, John re-enrolls in the military to fulfill his need to serve his country. When John leaves, Savanah has second thoughts about the long distance relationship and sends a letter beginning with “Dear John,”.

What I love about many of Sparks’ novels is that they are very realistic; they don’t always end in a happily ever after. John and Savanah’s relationship was nowhere close to “ideal”. In one scene in the book, Savanah suggests that John’s father might have Asperger’s syndrome, a disorder resembling autism. As one can imagine, John did not take this diagnosis very well and put up a wall for some time, shutting out Savanah. Sparks also uses figurative language throughout his novels. In one instance, Sparks writes, “The initial feelings associated with love were almost like an ocean wave in their intensity, acting as the magnetic force that drew two people together.” If this doesn’t scream romance, I don’t know what does.

If you are looking for a story that has a happy romantic ending, I suggest staying away from this book. But, if you are ready to steer away from the stereotypical romance novel and let your heart be vulnerable, this is the book for you. To find out what happens between John and Savanah, I strongly suggest getting lost in this tear jerking novel.

Reviewed by Madison H ’17 for Literature of the Millennium