we are okay – nina lacour

we were miraculous
we were beach creatures
we had treasures in our pockets and each other on our skin

p 113 we are okay

Ever since I read The Disenchantments, I have loved Nina Lacour for her honest and vivid depictions of young girls in love, and in friendship. I love her so much that I cannot pick a favorite Nina book, because they are all unique and beautiful in their own way, even from each other. The first few pages of We Are Okay did not grip me, but once I got into the flow – I am glad I stuck around because We Are Okay is no exception to my previous statements.

I could not put this book down. As the story of Marin and her grandfather, (and Marin and Mabel) unfolded, I was heartbroken and hopeful all at once. The plot centers around Marin and Mabel as they reunite in Marin’s desolate dorm after the heart shattering death of her grandfather.

When Lacour writes about Mabel’s family, she brings them to life. They are not merely characters on a page, especially Ana, who was my favorite character. She is a mother and artist who Nina gives life to through vivid descriptions of art – Ana’s own black canvases with silk waves, tattered butterfly photographs, and Frieda Kahlo’s work described intermittently in high detail, perhaps this was my favorite…

If you have ever wanted to read Nina’s work, or if you have, but not all of it, then pick up a book today, get some chocolate and your favorite beverage, and curl up on the couch in your sweatpants. You’re about to begin an amazing night in.

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Cat Marnell Murders Her Life.

I have wanted to read Cat Marnell’s memoir since I heard it was being published. I have not followed her for her whole career but I find her fascinating and tragic. Her memoir, How to Murder Your Life, succeeds in all of my required categories for a good read. She is a good writer, or at least has a great editor. Her voice is wholly original, only anecdotes which add to the narrative are present, meaning any incoherence or extraneous stories are missing. Cat leaves the reader wanting more, leaving room for potential sequels.

I am deliciously jealous of the opportunities she had as a beauty editor, ruined by her addict disposition. She describes her drug use matter of factly, not romanticized, sensationalized, or underplayed. HTMYL makes me want to read everything Cat has ever published, and give her a hug.

Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Becky Albertalli’s debut novel, Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, gave me “all of the feels.” I had been mildly interested in reading this book (as I am mildly interested in reading most YA books, and actually most books!), but it was the August selection for Forever Young Adult Bookclub. I read this book in one night, one sitting. Just a few hours of my time for a delightful, emotional non-cliched story about Simon, a mysterious penpal, and Simon’s real-life non-internet friends.

What I really liked about this book was Albertalli’s pacing and her ability to switch between light and serious matter non-abruptly. This novel revolves so much around the ups and downs of friendships in your teens. And yes, the novel is about being true to yourself. But Simon doesn’t try to be anyone he’s not. The hurdle is telling his friends he is gay, but he doesn’t have to break any hearts to do so. And when he finds out who he’s truly been conversing with online, there is the best meet-cute ever, followed by Albertalli describing Simon and Blue’s relationship as I imagine she would write about a straight relationship. Nothing seemed forced or over-compensated for.

I would definitely read this book again.

The Cursed Child

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS AFTER THE STARS

Every review starts the same. “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” is “just fanfiction.” Well I am here to tell you that your review is not original or insightful, because of course it’s fanfiction. We KNEW JKR wasn’t actually writing this. She, along with Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, have their names on the cover of this book. JKR was the creative consultant, the figurehead. The play is Thorne and Tiffany’s work… and they are probably fans. If you want to call the play fanfiction, then go ahead. But please also call any VC Andrew’s or James Patterson books fanfiction as well. (I know the Harry Potter demographic is not the James Patterson demographic but as a bookseller I can tell you that people of all ages buy both Rowling’s childrens’ novels and Patterson’s adult ones, sometimes in the same transaction, for themselves).

So yes, it is technically, in the loosest sense of the word, fanfiction, and observing that does not a critic make.

************

Another note that’s important to make is that this book is meant for people in their older 20s and 30s and not for the 10 year olds who have been “Reading Harry since I was four.” (Also no one has been reading Harry Potter since they were four and if their parents read it to them, they weren’t comprehending it). The Cursed Child (as well as the rest of the series!) deals with very adult, deep, dark themes. Harry is now a parent, who doesn’t have parents to look up to or ask for advice. He and his friends have suffered through tremendous loss and despair. When his son is going through similar despair, he has no way to process it as a father. Ginny has her parents and older siblings to look up to as parental role models, as do Ron and Hermione.

To compare, Malfoy himself is going through similar issues as Harry. He has a cruel father who was a pawn in Voldemort’s game. Malfoy struggles with being a Malfoy and being a good person. And does he have a good person in him? In the end, I think he does. But the possibilities provided by the time turner show he could have gone much darker than we thought.

What some saw as an “over the top” plot about going through time, I saw as a way to show our beloved characters in different incarnations. It was so amazing to see our girl Hermione as Minister for Magic, but it was also fantabulous to see her as a wanted rebel or a hardened Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. We got to see an alternate reality where Hermione and Ron did not end up together – and it was sad. I think as adults they’ve matured into their relationship and are truly meant to be together. People don’t have to seem compatible on the outside to fall in love and be very, very compatible.

At the start of my read, I thought Albus was ‘the cursed child.’ And in a sense, he is. He is cursed by family legacy. Cursed with being the black sheep of his family. Then I thought Scorpius. He is plagued by family legacy as well, and is the white sheep of the family. But once Delphi came into the picture, I think I am not alone in saying, she seemed off right away.

The flashback scenes gave me tears at every twist and turn (well, Harry’s dreams). Cedric, Hagrid, Snape, and more all showing up gave me more tears. And after all this time, I was always wrong about Snape.
The Cursed Child was a gift, and if that gift was fanfiction, well, I’m a fan. So give it all to me.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng Sparkles Celestially ;)

Everything I Never Told You is a novel by woman of color, writer of color, Celeste Ng, that discusses the limitations of race and gender in the 70’s, but is sadly still relevant today. Although the character whom this book is centered around dies in the beginning (not a spoiler), it is evident that Lydia wants to do everything her mother ever told her… but what about everything Marilyn never told her, and vice versa?

Marilyn has had to make a painful choice between “right” and “wrong,” career (passion) and family (duty). Men often get to choose if they want to be fathers, but women still don’t get to choose whether they want to be mothers. Marilyn and James have three children – Lydia, Nath, and Hannah. Lydia is blue-eyed and light skinned, making her the favorite. She’s the one who is expected to go far, and make something of herself that her mother never could. Nath is an aspiring astronaut, but his parents often neglect his feelings and thoughts to set their attention on Lydia – who desperately does not want the attention. Poor Hanna is lost in the shuffle, but will she be found?

 

There are mother-daughter, mother-son, father-son, father-daughter, and mother-father/husband-wife, motifs to explore and more, not to mention the relationships between siblings.

 

Ng writes evocatively and completely understands show, don’t tell. She doesn’t say people are/were racist. She doesn’t say why Marilyn and James are constantly fighting the urge to let their kids grow, and try to change them and mold them. The reader has all of the context clues. I was born in 1990, long after the events of this novel take place, but through Ng’s writing I was able to acutely understand the culture and timeframe. My mother is a white woman, married to my stepfather who is a Chinese man. Together, they have my youngest sister. The subtle and not so subtle racism in this novel was on point. Towards the end of the story, I was a puddle. I cannot explain enough how perfectly Ng gets the family dynamic, the racial dynamic, and the time period, let alone how wonderful the pacing of the novel was. it never got boring, or too much too soon. I will definitely be picking up another Celeste Ng novel in my future.

 

Enjoy some quotes:

 

P137

 

“If her mother ever came home and told her to finish her milk, she thought, the page wavering to a blur, she would finish her milk. She would brush her teeth without being asked and stop crying when the doctor gave her shots. She would go to sleep the second her mother turned out the light. She would never get sick again. She would do everything her mother ever told her. Everything her mother wanted”

 

p 143

 

“As the young woman closed the gash with neat black stitches, Marilyn’s hands began to ache. She clenched her teeth, but the ache spread into her wrists, up to her shoulders, down her spine. It wasn’t the surgery. It was the disappointment: tha lie everyone else, she heard doctor and still thought – would forever think – man. The rims of her eyes started to burn… Marilyn blurted out, “I think I’m pregnant,” and burst into tears.

Gatsby, what Gatsby?

Like many American students, I first read The Great Gatsby when I was in tenth grade. I hated it… but I had a crush on my teacher and decided that her enthusiasm wasn’t for naught. The day we took the test on the book and handed it back in, I went to the library and took out another copy, this time to pay full attention to.

 

When I reread it I was astonished by the beautiful language. Often Fitzgerald employs simple methods like alliteration, but it seems profound on the page because the story Is so compelling and the words are a writer’s dreamsicle.

 

It is a story that changes with age. Now I can see, Daisy wasn’t such a fool, herself. She was a modern girl, just as conniving as her husband, and a terrible mother who probably wasn’t really interested in being a mother in the first place, but society forced it’s hand. In the 1910’s, that’s what you did. You married for security, you had babies. Daisy is, to use Fitzgerald’s words, an angry diamond. There are layers to her frivolity. I have read this novel about six times now, and it has changed form every time.

 

I first read this book before my feminist awakening. Looking back, I was always an intersectional feminist, but didn’t have the words or the personal education to understand this about myself. In recent readings, I have been aware of Fitzgerald’s plagiarism of Zelda Sayre, his wife. I have been aware of the lack of characters of color (although there are theories that Gatsby is black). I have been aware of the women as side characters to further the plot (principally Jordan and Myrtle). Yet I have also become aware of Nick Carraway’s bisexuality.

 

After partying with Tom, Myrtle, Catherine, and a photographer and his wife, drinking alcohol for the second time in his life, Nick comes to on the photog’s bed. The artist is sitting in his underwear wrapped in a sheet, a post-sex viewing of his pictures is underway. I always felt, too, that Nick had a little bit of a crush on James Gatz, the titular great one who we all come to know little by little, yet not at all, with each silent rereading.

 

And then there are the lies. Tom says that Daisy is catholic (she isn’t) and thereby does not believe in divorce. Jordan Baker is described by our narrator as “incurably dishonest” (58). But the biggest lie of all is told by the presumably most honest person, Mr. Carraway (154). He says he never approved of Gatsby… yet he did. He approved of him, believed in his swirly twirly mix of lies and half-truths. He arranged meetings for and with Gatsby. He watched him at night from the darkness of his own porch, and became consumed with him.

Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air

When Breath Becomes Air was reassuring on many levels, albeit deeply heartbreaking. The book appeared on the breakroom table at my job one day, an advanced readers’ copy. As booksellers, this is one of the perks we get.

I picked up the book and read the letter that came along with the book. Lucy Kalanithi, Paul’s wife, was the author of the letter. She wanted the reader to know what a labor of love Paul’s book was, and how special it was to her to see it published. It was a gift to us, the bookseller. His book is truly a gift to all.

Before deciding on a career in medicine, Paul was an English Major. His writing is just phenomenal. He talks about books like the treasures they are. But though he was an English Major at first, Paul moved on to his other love, medicine. Breath is his journey from student of English to student of Medicine, to student of life, as he learned of his upcoming untimely death and prepared for the birth of his daughter.

They say life goes in cycles, and I grieve for Lucy and their daughter. Lucy has lost her love, and baby has lost the chance to know her father. But I know Lucy and her baby are in good hands.

Incidentally, I was once a long-time reader of A Cup of Jo, a blog by miss Joanna Goddard – twin to Lucy Kalanithi. This comforts me in knowing that Lucy is okay.

I recommend this book to both those who study the arts and those who study the sciences, but especially to those with a heart capable of understanding that art and science are twins just as life and death are, just as Lucy is, and just as night and day are.