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!

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

3/5 stars.
ebook, 784 pages.
Read from February 04 to March 20, 2014.

After many recommendations and a book club read, I finally got around to finishing Outlander. Unfortunately to all the major fans out there, I can’t say I’m raving about this book. I wouldn’t say that I liked this book but I didn’t fully dislike it either, hence the neutral rating. There was so much about this book that didn’t make sense to me or that I could relate to. I remember as a teenager listening to my Mom talking so fondly about this book but when I asked to read it (at the ripe old age of sixteen) and she wouldn’t let me. She feared the content would be too graphic and that the I might be traumatized by the amount of sexual and abusive violence or something. Needless to say, I am glad that I didn’t read this book as a teenager or I may have been severely horrified. With that also being said, I may have also appreciated the romance a bit more with my naïve teenage brain.

The premise of the story focuses on Claire, a nurse living in the 20th century who is separated from her husband and everything she knows and is somehow (and this was never fully described or given reason for in the book) magically transported to 17th century Scotland. You would think that this plot, the transportation, why she was sent back in time and the emotional turmoil something like this would cause on Claire would be the focal point of the book right? Well, it isn’t. Along comes Jamie, an extremely handsome, strapping, young (younger than her), fiery and red-headed Scottish solider who crosses paths with Claire when he is injured and requires the use of her healing skills. He saves her from a cruel Englishman suspecting her to be a spy (who is also a direct descendant of her husband back in the 20th century) and brings her back to a castle where the two of them are cared for under another Scottish family.

Both Jamie and Claire hit it off right away and what ends up happening is that they are forced to marry in order to protect both of their skins from the English. Now you would think that would be a pretty tense scene, right? I mean Claire is already married but in a different time and she has told no one of how she came to be in Scotland, but the scene only vaguely touches on her tiny bit of turmoil before skipping to the consummation of their marriage. The rest of the book, well, it was pretty much just one sex scene after another with a loosely based plot to keep the characters moving. So the continuous sex scenes on top of sappy romance really got to me. Don’t get me wrong, sex is awesome! I just wanted more details about the plot and for the writing to really get to the raw difficult choices and struggles that Claire had to make. She makes cheating on her husband seem like the easiest thing in the world by justifying that he technically hadn’t been born yet. I also don’t feel that she tried all that hard to attempt to get back home. She seemed pretty dandy in the 17th century and really didn’t question her position as much as I would imagine someone in her shoes to be. To make matters even sillier, Jamie was a virgin before he married Claire. Seriously? Where is the realism in that? A good looking Scottish man in the 17th century a virgin?! That’s ridiculous. What made Jamie even more unrealistic was how soft and in-tune he was with his own feelings as well as Claire’s emotions and feelings. I can’t see that a warrior of his status, regardless of his temper, got to where he was by being in-tune with his feelings and those of women, and especially by being a virgin.

There was a lot of sexual violence in this book. Surprisingly, the worst of it happened to Jamie in the end and Claire pretty much remained untouched, despite some of the situations she was in. As a reader, this content didn’t bother me so much, but I could see how it could be pretty disturbing to some readers. To add to the violence, Jamie also took at least three-major beatings by the end of the book. Yup, three.

All of these silly details really show to me that this book was written by an older married woman, for older married women who would rather be swept up in romance they can’t have instead of reading a captivating plot full of psychological turmoil and realism. I’m not saying that this is a bad thing. I read books to escape too, just not romantically (maybe erotically haha). Many writers make good money writing romances and the popularity of this book says enough in and of it’s self, it just didn’t work for me. It makes me a bit sad as I see so much potential for this book. The author has some good ideas, very likeable (even if unrealistic and shallow) characters and reasonably decent writing. It’s just too long, too vague on the emotion and details of the plot and too romantic. Sorry Diana, I won’t be reading any more of your work.

Stupid Children by Lenore Zion

4/5 stars.
ebook, 176 pages.
Read from March 09 to 12, 2014.

This book, if you’re looking for something different, is it. Stupid Children is a dark-humoured book that focuses on the psychological traumas of a girl named Jane. After her mother died, her father was never quite the same. At a very young age her father was placed in a mental institution and she into the foster care system. Her tragedy continues as the home that she is placed into is a part of a cult called the “Second Day Believers”. The cult focuses on cleansing out the “mental impurities” of children and then it throws in some farm animal organs, drugs, sex and a weird ranking system of its members.

The book is written from the perspective of Jane as an adult, accounting her experiences and relationships to a psychologist and as well to the reader. This unique psychologist-narrative provides a potent perspective and, based on the mixed reviews this book has received, didn’t work for every reader. I felt however, that the style was pulled off very well.

Fast paced and quirky, the story focus on how non-nonchalantly Jane discusses her not-so-normal upbringing, the experiences she gets into with her friends and father-daughter relationships.  The characters are immensely likeable. There are some scenes that are so well described in the book that at first glance may not be directly related to the story but they allow the reader to gain entry into the emotional state of the characters. There are some amazing scenes that really give the reader a full extent of some of the psychological damage Jane endures and how she handles it. The scenes aren’t funny and they’re not tragic but they’re very raw.

I really couldn’t put this book down and I can say that it’s been the best read of 2014 for me so far. I actually had the privilege of participating in an author/reader discussion with Lenore Zion on this book. What I was able to learn is that Lenore herself is a psychologist and her influences for the book came from her dreams and a desire to let readers know what it’s like to be a therapist in a way.

The influence came from my dreams. I have a very rich dream world (and fantasy world) and I’ve been keeping a dream journal for years. It’s a bit egomaniacal, but my unconscious is fascinating to me – as is the unconscious of all human beings. We are brilliant and bizarre creatures. I wanted to write a book that allowed the reader to feel what it is sometimes like to be a therapist. Questioning things like “why is my client smiling while telling me this horrible, traumatic memory?” and “why does my client keep coming up with rationalizations to defend her abusers?” I work with a lot of trauma in my field, so these are things I have dissected psychologically for quite some time.” –  Lenore Zion, in a TNBBC Author/Reader Discussion

Lenore’s work as a psychologist is blatant in this novel and it adds such a fantastic and unique perspective that I don’t think readers will find anywhere elsewhere.  A highly recommended read for those who are looking for a something a little off-beat and awesome!