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

Advertisements

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

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

grayThe novel, “Between Shades of Gray,” by Ruta Sepetys is about a young girl named Lina, who is taken away by the Soviets, along with her family. The story takes place during World War II, and highlights the horrible experiences people had because of Stalin. Lina, her brother, and her mother are taken away one night by the soviet police and are thrown onto a train with a lot of other people who were taken captive. This was just the start of a long, hard, journey they were about to face. The author does a great job at immediately capturing the reader’s attention. Within the first couple of pages I was drawn to Lina and had sympathy for whatever was going to be ahead of her.

Lina keeps a journal where she writes everything down about her life. The journal gives the reader an inside look into her life, and we are able to witness all of her feelings. The journal adds a great touch to the book because it separates the reader from the rest of the story and provides information on what Lina’s life was like before she was captured. One of her journal entries talks about an instance when she and her mom were out shopping. Her mother says to her, “The boys are having their day and we’ll have ours.” This quote stood out to me because it showed how great her life was and how close her mom and her were.

I chose this book because I really enjoy reading about historical fiction. In particular, I like to read about World War II. I would highly recommend this novel for anyone who is interested in historical fiction, especially World War II. It does a great job at highlighting a whole other part of World War II aside from what was going on with Hitler and the Nazis. It is different from many other World War II books because it is about what Stalin did, not Hitler. The author wrote this book because her past family was captured by the Soviets. Although it is fiction, she did a lot of research and based her story on a lot of real experiences.

I believe that the stories that are told in this novel are very important for people to know. This story gave me a different perspective on life and led me to realize how important family is. It is a truly touching story that showed me how good I have it, and taught me to not take my life for granted because things can change in an instant.

Reviewed by Caroline G ’18

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

cover “If good things are coming, they will be a pleasant surprise”. This is one of many of the beautifully crafted words in Paulo Coelho’s novel The Alchemist. From the streets of Andalusia to the deserts of Egypt, we are taken on an adventure that tests the limits of one’s desire for personal treasure. This novel takes you on the journey of a shepherd boy, Santiago, who wishes to find himself through a quest to the Pyramids in Egypt. He trades his old life for a new one where he gets to travel the world looking for his Personal Legend, or, his treasure. No one ever said it would be easy, but was his journey worth the trouble?

The story is presented through the eyes of Santiago. He spends his days following the same paths and in the same surrounding, until one day, he comes across a gypsy who completely turns his life upside down. She delivers the boy a very important message, one that is impossible to ignore. She tells him of a treasure waiting for him in the desert of Egypt, near the pyramids. He tries to resist her words, but how could he? He had been waiting for a change, and this was it. He had the opportunity to finally find out something about his life that had deeper meaning. He would no longer sit in the fields and wonder what lies ahead of him. He could learn the ways of the world and expand his knowledge of the things around him. Despite his doubts, he decides to take the old woman’s advice. He sets off to Egypt and finds himself in a place that is totally unfamiliar. He cannot communicate with anyone, and has no way of finding out if his treasure is even where the gypsy said it would be. Although he feels defeated, he cannot give up. He remembers the omens a wise old man from his village told him before he left for his quest. He must persevere and stay on his path; he cannot abandon what he has set out to do. Many die or move in before they accomplish what the universe intended had for them. The boy must keep his promise to find his treasure, no matter how long it takes for him to find it. When you want something with all your heart, the entire universe will stop at nothing to help you achieve it. In the end, it will all be worth it.

In conclusion, this novel teaches us all about faith and hope and never abandoning our dreams. We need to stand with our hopes and desires and believe whole heartedly we can achieve anything we set our mind to. No matter how long or difficult the process, we must continue on. As the wise friend of Santiago once said “where your treasure is, there also be your heart.”

Reviewed by Lauryn H ’17 for Literature of the Millennium

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

 

 

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

coverFor those of you who read my book review on The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, you will find that The Boy in the Striped Pajamas has a similar theme. In his novel, John Boyne addresses the issue of antisemitism, the holocaust, and concentration camps. However, he does it slightly differently than all of the other stories we usually hear about this time period in books, movies, and history textbooks. Boyne tells this story through the eyes of a little boy.

Although it is sometimes very difficult and gut-wrenching to read books about a topic so horrifying inhumane and gruesome, it is a must-read and is impossible to put down. The story opens with a young boy named Bruno. At the age of nine his family is uprooted because his father has a new job. They leave their cozy little house, the backyard that Bruno loves to play in, and all of his friends behind. Bruno’s mother tries to explain to him that the reason for their move is not because it’s just his father’s job, but it’s his duty. That is the first time in the book that the reader becomes aware of the fact that the father and the families story is going to coincide or overlap in some way with the story of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust.

The house that they arrive at is far different from the one they lived in before. There is no grass, there is no comfortable house. And even more dramatically is the shift from having all of his neighborhood friends to having nothing at all. Except for the people on the other side of the fence, of course. From his window Bruno would watch all of these people in jumpsuits. It is immediately apparent to the reader that his new neighbor is a concentration camp. One that his father is in charge or helping to run with his fellow soldiers. His ignorance and innocence is what makes the story so unbelievable.

But the story takes an unprecedented turn: one day Bruno decides to go out exploring. In his quest he finds another little boy named Shmuel on the other side of the fence. They become best friends and continue to have a relationship, undenounced to Bruno’s father of course. The rest of the story follows this intriguing, beautiful, and heartbreaking story of the boy’s friendship and a tragedy that arises from it all. Yet, “…despite the mayhem that followed, Bruno found that he was still holding Shmuel’s hand in his own and nothing in the world would have persuaded him to let go.”

Having a family connection to the Holocaust made the story even more incredible for me to read. However, this is a book for everyone, even if you have no personal connection to the historical events behind the story. It’s a story that proves people are not born with hate. Love and acceptance are innate. Bruno is able to continue his love and friendship for his newfound friend despite the role his father has. It’s a point of view that any reader could benefit from or be inspired by. I think especially in our world today it is important to remember that people are all equal, even when one sits on a dirt floor with a striped jumpsuit, as the other sits on grass with a father who salutes. I was moved beyond words by this story and the way that John Boyne went about telling it. There are no other books to my knowledge that carry out this agenda so beautifully and seamlessly. I recommend it to everyone a million times over.

Reviewed by Bella ’17 for Literature of the Millennium

 

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

coverIs it possible to fall in everlasting love in a single moment? Is it possible to beat the best sword master in the land? Does this book even exist? The answer is yes and no. William Goldman introduces us to his novel, The Princess Bride(a real book) as an abriged version of , The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure (an imaginary book). The Princess Bride is set in the country of Florin, which is just as imaginary as the author S. Morgenstern. We are introduced to a common girl named Buttercup, who is soon to be the most beautiful woman in the world. However, this causes some problems because she is also soon to be the most coveted woman in the world. Despite this she lives on her family farm with “farm boy,” who she becomes infatuated with, which took her nothing more than a glace to realize. This is when the action and plot starts to speed up. The Princess Bride by William Goldman has anything and everything you could ever want in a book, sword fights, passionate love, and humor to make you laugh through the all pages.

With unexpected twists, turns, deaths, and revivals you will never know what Goldman will come up with for the next page. The book creates romantic scenes and by the end makes fun of it with statements like, “True love is the best thing in the world, except for cough drops.”

This book is filled with in depth and hilarious characters to push the plot along. Buttercup, one of the main characters, is not aware of her beauty and does not care much about her appearance, but as the Goldman says, “How could someone care if she were the most beautiful woman in the world or not. What difference could it have made if you were only the third most beautiful. Or the sixth?” Each character has a paradoxical characteristic, whether it be a peaceful giant who knows more than the know it all who in fact does not know it all.

           The Princess Bride is a satirical love story, but done in a way where you still care for the characters. The language used is easy to read and follow, with sarcastic remarks placed perfectly. If you want to laugh while still being captivated by an action packed love story, I recommend this book, a unique take on a simultaneously classic but exceptional love story.

Reviewed by Emma R ’17 for Literature of the Millennium