Reading, Reviews

Life After Life – A Halfway Through Review

Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life is quite the conversation book right now. It’s the one every reader who reads anything is reading (that isLife After Life sarcasm– I hate those kind of statements that lump all readers together; if there’s any past time that can be more individualistic than reading, I’d be surprised). I started it on Wednesday night and read it every chance I got until yesterday afternoon, when I couldn’t take it anymore. I am not talking about the writing–the writing was poignant, sharp, and sometimes humorous. Kate Atkinson is  new name to me, but this is not her first book. Her writing was great. What I couldn’t take was the hardships of the children in the book.

The book is about Ursula, a girl who experiences reincarnation over and over again. However, she is not reincarnated into someone else, but always as the same person, in the same life. She starts to understand that her sense of deja vu is stronger than most at an early age, when she gets terrible forebodings about incidents. She can’t explain the feeling of foreboding, but she just knows she has to do something to change what she somehow knows will end badly. She quickly becomes “the odd one” in her family of five children and two loving parents. As life progresses, she becomes more and more confused about what her life is. The book has the feel of a British A Tree Grows in Brooklyn with a magical realism twist. So far, it’s a coming of age story on repeat. And it seems a terrible way to come of age. 

want to finish this book, but I am simply incapable of reading books in which bad things happen to children. I’m not alone in this–several of my friends who are moms are in the same reading boat. My Sister’s Keeper put me off books for a week. Sarah’s Key completely did me in; I was nauseated for days… it was like I had a stomach bug, but it was really just a book bug.  I simply cannot do books with tragic endings of children. That is why I don’t know if I can keep reading Life After Life. By the time Ursula is 10, she has experienced many different mothers’ worst nightmares. Maybe that wouldn’t be so bad, if the tragic things didn’t also happen to other children who do not share Ursula’s gift/curse of direct reincarnation. Although I think it’s more like a cat with nine lives than reincarnation. Anyway. I’d like to finish, but I’m not sure if it’s worth.

Have you read Life After Life? Can you tell me if the ending justifies the beginning? I have never, ever, ever skipped to the end of a book to make sure the ending was worth the reading…but this time, I’m really tempted to.

Reading, Reviews

June Reading

How’s your summer reading going? Just as promised, my list is already not really a list anymore. I read The Light Between Oceans and really enjoyed it. I wrote about it in this post. I started The Homecoming of Samuel Lake but I don’t think I’m going to keep reading it. It’s one of those Southern Lit books that has characters in it who make me want to wring their collective neck. Oh, the backwoods, stubborn men that are so often featured in Southern Literature. They just make me mad. And I don’t read books to get mad. Who needs another reason to get mad? So I’ll give it another few pages later on today but then it’s probably going back to the library. 

The Fault in Our StarsI didn’t have The Fault In Our Stars by John Green on my original summer reading list, but I picked it up because Barnes and Noble basically hit me over the head with posters and displays that told me it was the only book that absolutely had to be read this summer. And that all the cool people are reading it. I don’t aspire to be a cool person, but I’d like to stay “relevant.” (On a side note, I really don’t like the word “relevant.” It’s overused so much, it hardly has a real meaning anymore. Oh the irony.) I’ve got to say, for a book featuring so many sentences that start with “Kind of” and “It was, like, you know…” it was pretty, like, deep. It was a strange combination of “teenager” talk and impossibly hard questions and circumstances.

The book is about Hazel, who is living with cancer. Her diagnosis is and always has been terminal, but her treatments are working miraculously well and she just keeps on living. The life she’s living is more of a half-life, however, until she meets Augustus Waters. He is witty and gorgeous and the book becomes a story of young love with the “interesting” twist of cancer.

At this point in the review, you’re probably wondering, “Why would I put myself through reading this book?” That is a very valid question. I read the book, because, you know, relevancy. Really, I do feel a burden to read the books that are shaping the minds of my generation and the generations younger than me. I would like to think that I could have a conversation with a teenager and actually have something to talk about. But I’m not sure this book will help me with that.  Here’s what I learned: teenagers are inherently and unavoidably self-centered. I was no exception. In fact, considering how I behaved in my teenage years when my grandmother and dad had cancer, I was exceptionally self-centered, even by teenage standards. The teens in The Fault In Our Stars are not exceptions either, cancer or no. Yes, they feel sorry for themselves. Yes, they feel separate from healthy kids. Mostly, they are struggling with the fact that they are young and haven’t done anything worth doing yet and they are awash in wanting their lives to have some kind of meaning. You learn through the book that each character has some ideal that keeps him or her fighting for life on earth. They feel if they don’t attain their one important goal, their lives won’t mean anything. One character’s ideal is that everybody deserves true love. He fights on because he wants to experience that one true love. Another’s ideal is that everybody has got to die, but it should be for a worthy, heroic reason, and cancer just doesn’t cut it. And Hazel’s is that the universe deserves to be  noticed and she is on the planet to notice it. Yeah, that one is a bit vague. I think it has something to do with the human need to worship. So each main character is figuring out how to reconcile their lives with cancer to the ideas they have on why they should live.

It was a very thoughtful book, but also confusing. There are no absolutes. Most of the characters think there is Something (God) and that there is Somewhere they go after they die. Or maybe they just haunt the earth. They’re not really sure. That sort of uncertainty is depressing to me.

If you liked My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Piccoult, you’ll appreciate The Fault In Our Stars. I can’t deny that it is a fairly heart wrenching story that has some pretty funny parts. But heart wrenching cancer stories are just too much for me. I didn’t really give myself up to be emotionally involved with the story or liking or relating to the characters. That’s a reflection on me, not the characters. I haven’t had cancer, but it’s hit pretty close to home so far in my life, just as it has for many people. Cancer is our black plague, our cholera, or “consumption” (tuberculosis in the 1800s). No one is untouched by it, but it’s a hard topic to address. Still, I know many people think The Fault In Our Stars is the best book of the summer.

Next up on my list is The Wednesday Sisters. I’m about 30 pages in and so far, it seems pretty similar to The Help in theme and setting. I’m not saying it’s anywhere near as awesome as The Help. But I think there’s potential. I’ll let you know in a few days. =)

Happy Reading!

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