Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell

4/5 stars.
Paperback, 224 pages.
Read from August 26 to 28, 2014.

Winter’s Bone was a delicate surprise. This book is so expressive and the narrative reads like a beautiful and ardent poem. I read this passage at least three times because it read so wonderfully:

“Ree needed often to inject herself with pleasant sounds, stab those sounds past the constant screeching, squalling hubbub regular life raised inside her spirit, pole the soothing sounds past that racket and down deep where her jittering soul paced on a stone slab in a gray room, agitated and endlessly provoked but yearning to hear something that might bring a moment’s rest.” p.10

Ree is a tough and resilient teenager of sixteen. She has had to take care of her two brothers and her mentally ill mother as her father has been involved with cooking up crystal meth and has recently skipped bail, a practice that is being taken up by a few farmers in the Ozark area. Unfortunately for Ree, her father is missing and if he doesn’t make his court date they will lose their home. Determined to save her home, Ree starts looking for her father but she is finding out that there aren’t too many people in town, even from her own extended family, who are willing to assist her. There is a secret that is being kept from her in regards to her father and Ree will do whatever it takes to find out what that is despite what danger she may find herself in.

What makes this story remarkable isn’t the plot, as it’s fairly straight forward, but the character work. It’s absolutely impeccable. You feel for Ree but she is so remarkably tough. Having practically parented herself and raised both her brothers she is wise beyond her years and through Ree you start to get an idea of what her family is like and and see just how small the town is that she lives in. Woodrell is so masterful with his words, the book is short, yet you feel that you know so much about Ree. While the book is a bit dark, you find yourself just as determined as Ree so you never feel dismayed, enough though there are some difficult moments in the book.

I think that anyone could read this book, it’s just executed so well. I’ve heard mixed reviews on the movie but I haven’t actually seen it myself. I could see that the plot line might not be enticing enough on screen, isn’t that the beauty of a book? However, now that I’ve read the book, I will give the movie a go.

I’d say this is one of my favourite books of 2014 so far as it’s not very often you find a book that is this whole and well done. I’d recommend this novel to anyone looking for something intriguing, dark and beautiful.

The Orenda by Joseph Boyden

4/5 stars.
Read from July 21 to September 05, 2014.
Paperback, 512 pages.

I saved this book for last as it is the winner of this years Canada Reads series and I also took my time reading it and that’s for a good reason. As a Canadian, you get inundated with the history of the natives that first lived here and the influences that the Europeans had on the local tribes, so as a reader, it is isn’t a topic that I’m really overly interested in anymore. However, when I first picked up The Orenda I wasn’t sure what to expect as I had never read anything by Boyden but after reading the first chapter I was surprised. This book is different. The chapter opening is intriguing and spiritual, yet initially vague on character details which makes you want to read further to get a better understanding. From there, the book opens up to a world that is described like none other. So I took my sweet time with this book to revel on every detail.  Not only has Boyden been able to write a relevant historical-fiction Canadian natives, he is really good at it.

This book is narrated from three very unique perspectives: Bird, a Huron warrior; Snow Falls, a young Iroquois girl whose family was killed by Bird; and Christophe, a French missionary who has come to Canada to spread the word of God to the natives.  The orenda, is what the Huron call the life-force of all things, not just of humans and it what connects everything to each other and perhaps what brings the main characters stories together.  Each of these characters are from different cultures and have different perspectives but they are all intertwined in one land and will be immersed in the same war.

Bird is a proud warrior stilling mourning the brutal death of his wife and daughter at the hands of the Iroquois, a tribe similar to his own that they are enemies with. He encounters Snow Falls and slaughters her family, yet spares her with the intent of making her is adopted daughter. Snow Falls is peculiar but unique and understandably starts off loathing Bird and she goes out of her way to pester and aggravate him. This is how she ends up being one of Christophe’s first converts. Christophe is one of first missionaries to this area and after a begrudging agreement he allowed to come along with Bird and his tribe. Christophe is determined to save the natives and show them the ways of the Lord, and while he is a legitimately kind, intelligent and compassionate man, Christophe cannot fathom any spiritual way of living besides Christianity. He does however, learn their language and come to appreciate the people. After a deal is made with the Hurons and the Jesuits, more missionaries are allowed to mingle but with them they bring the unfortunate spread of disease and furthering the tensions between the Huron and the Iroquois tribes.

Boyden gracefully intertwines the brutality and violence of war and torture with the spiritual and meditative traditions of the native tribes, a history not so easily described.. Throughout their differences and through the violence each of the characters grows and connects. The narrative is so engaging that you feel like a shadow that follows each of these characters footsteps through the snow and their suffering.

A must read for any Canadian and historical-fiction lovers.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

4/5 stars.
ebook, 144 pages.
Read from September 05 to 06, 2014.

Drop that vampire/werewolf paranormal YA novel you’re reading now and pick this one up. Better yet, share it with any teenagers you know as this is one of those YA books that is extremely relevant and very important. Rape. This book is about rape and the dire psychological effects that it can cause on a young teen and how so many victims and their stories go unheard for the wrong reasons. What makes this book so important is that Melinda’s story is not a one-off case. Situations like hers happen every single day and we need books like Speak to educate and to ensure that other victims are not silenced the way she was.

Melinda’s first year in high school isn’t going as planned. The people she called friends for years are no longer talking to her and the whole school knows that she called the cops at during one of the biggest parties of the summer, an event, that no one appears willing to forgive. What no one knows is the real reason that Melinda called the police that night. This book details Melinda’s painstaking struggles and daily events during the year that followed her rape. Over time, Melinda gets quieter and quieter as she tries to bury her secret further.

I was reading this book so quickly because it was causing me severe anxiety that Melinda had told no one what actually had happened to her. Every chapter provide a bit more details about what actually happened that night and I kept thinking that, maybe this time, she would share her experience with someone, anyone! That’s how effective the narrative is. Your anxiety increases just as Melinda’s does the longer she keeps her secret. Melinda is so unbelievably strong and brave; some of the experiences she had to endure were so hard to read! Thankfully the ending is so very rewarding an relieving.

This book is so well written that it appeals to teenagers and adults and its message is undeniable. It teaches people to talk to their children about these types of situations, how teachers can watch for signs of this kind of disturbance and most of all it shows any victim of rape that it is never their fault, that the guilt is not theirs, that they are not alone and how important it is to tell someone and get the support that you need. A highly recommended and inspiring read!