This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay

“So I told them the truth: the hours are terrible, the pay is terrible, the conditions are terrible; you’re underappreciated, unsupported, disrespected and frequently physically endangered. But there’s no better job in the world.”

3/5 stars.
ebook, 285 pages.
Read from February 14, 2021 to February 20, 2021.

We all know just how hard nurses, doctors and, frontline staff work in hospitals but unless you work within the industry it’s difficult to fathom the intensity and challenges that come with the industry. Enter Adam Kay…

Adam Kay was once a junior doctor working for the NHS in the UK. During his residency and beyond, he kept a diary to maintain his sanity in which he detailed the nuances and extremes of working as a doctor. From the long working hours, lack of sleep and social life, to the nitty-gritty details of the labour ward, the lack of support from the government, and occasionally very obtrusive patients, Adam Kay spares his readers nothing.

“I’m as big a fan of recycling as the next man, but if you turn a used condom inside out and put it back on for round two, it’s probably not going to be that effective.”

However, after a traumatic experience nearing his final years before becoming a full-fledged doctor, Adam Kay stepped away from the profession for good. Thankfully, Adam is a decent writer with a sense of humour and has been able to make quite the career detailing his time as a doctor. I did wonder how he managed to get away publishing all of these details without getting sued but it wasn’t without ruffling a few feathers as Adam comes across as highly critical of the NHS system and doesn’t always paint others within the industry in a nice light. With his unique and very British sense of humour, Adam points out some of the most serious flaws within the NHS system, issues that also plague Canada’s healthcare, such as long wait times, long working hours with no pay raises for employees etc. Yet Adam’s story subtly rubbed me the wrong way and it was hard to put my finger on why. There was a tone of arrogance and cynicism with the way Adam approached this book, that while I enjoyed aspects of this book, and even laughed at certain situations, all I could think was that I was glad that this man wasn’t a doctor anymore. When I discussed this book with friends, most of them did not share the sentiments as me and enjoyed the book and its contents thoroughly and welcomed its honest and critical approach to medicine and the NHS. Perhaps Adam’s British humour missed its mark with me (despite me having married a Brit)?

Does this book shed light on the day-to-day life of medical workers and the issues faced under the NHS? Yes, absolutely and for that reason, it is worth reading. It is also highly entertaining and funny at times but it does make you wonder if ethically, this book and the approach that was taken, was the right thing to do.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

“Nothing’s worse than saying goodbye. It’s a little like dying.”

5/5 stars.
ebook, 341 pages.
Read from March 7, 2021 to March 8, 2021.

I can’t think of a more relevant book to read right now with the current news going on in the middle east…

Persepolis is separated into two parts, one covering the author’s childhood in Tehran and the second, covering her teen and young adult life in Vienna. Both stories are, at their root, a coming of age story and memoir amidst the turmoils of revolution and war. In the first part of the story, Marjane details her life from the ages of six to fourteen during the midst of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Like the black and white images, the story details a stark contrast between Marjane’s private life and the life she must lead in public while also offering a child’s perspective to the serious changes affecting the entire country. Revolution, murder, and war was the setting that marked Marjane’s childhood and while Marjane’s parents always encouraged her outspokenness and independence it came at a cost. The first part of the book concludes with the major decision to move Marjane to Vienna to live with an extended family member. 

Within the second book, Marjane adds the retrospect of her parent’s perspectives and their decision to send her away to Vienna as they feared for her safety if she stayed in Iran. This is where Marjane begins to come into her own as she tries desperately to fit into this new culture while recognising how different her upbringing and perspectives are to her new peers. She also has to learn to be abruptly independent as the family member she was placed to live with soon falls through. Marjane’s story details the awkwardness of growing up with both humour and, at times, surrealness as Marjane faces difficulties of which her peers have not. Persepolis is relatable yet at times an alien and horrifying story of youth, family, independence and connection. 

Marjane’s artwork and style perfectly capture the humour, isolation, longing, horror, and frustration of the experiences she and her family experienced, making for a powerful and visceral read. It’s more important than ever to read books like Marjane’s as the turmoil she and her family experienced is still far from over for many families and women currently living in Afghanistan and other countries living with religious extremism and war.

Persepolis is easily one of the best graphic novels I’ve read. I would strongly recommend adding this book to your repertoire if you haven’t already. Whether you love or hate graphic novels or memoirs, I guarantee that this book will speak to you in one form or another. 

Almost American Girl by Robin Ha

Growing up in the 90s was hard enough but imagine coming of age in a new country that you didn’t want to move to in the first place, with a language you don’t understand…

4/5 stars.
ebook, 228 pages.
Read on January 21, 2021.

Recommended by a friend, this was a comforting read to have amidst another wave of COVID.

Robin Ha was born in Seoul, South Korea as an only child. While her father was briefly in the picture for part of her early childhood, Robin’s mother soon finds herself as a single parent, which, with the conservative views of 1990s Korea, didn’t bode well for either of them. Almost America Girl is a memoir that begins with Robin’s early life in Korea, the difficulties socially and financially that she and her mother faced. Then when Robin’s mother remarries they take a vacation trip to the United States to visit her new extended family, however, this trip abruptly becomes permanent. Robin feels immensely betrayed by her mother with this sudden and intrusive change of home that she had no say in. She is cut off from her former home and is not even able to get to say goodbye to her friends. Barely knowing a word of English, Robin details the struggles and triumphs she experienced as a youth in a new country, with a new language, a new family, and the reflection and rebuilding of relationships and trust that comes with time.

Robin’s artwork is clean, visually appealing, and easy to read while also capturing the moods and feelings of each scene and emotion the author was looking to create. The audacity of the move that Robin had to live with is one that is hard to sit with. While her mother did what she had to for her daughter, I can’t fathom how difficult it must have been to have your whole life turned upside down in that way. One of the redeeming factors of this story is that her mother does enrol her in a drawing class and it is the first place she finds some belonging in her new surroundings which ultimately leads to Robin’s art career and creation of this book. Robin is also able to reflect on the differences between the two cultures she grew up in as she revisits Korea as a young adult.

While Robin’s story of change is not unique in that many people are forced to sometimes make dramatic moves and face similar issues of culture and language, Robin’s story details the difficulties of such an isolating experience for those that have never had to face such an ordeal, and places the reader within her shoes, highlighting why stories like Robin’s need to be told. It also highlights the resilience that it creates in overcoming such challenges.

I would highly recommend this book to teens, anyone struggling with feeling different, or for any graphic novelist enthusiast. Further, I feel that this book would be a perfect read to have within a high school curriculum as it helps to build empathy and understanding for anyone that has ever been perceived as different.