The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

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4/5 stars.
Paperback, 181 pages.
Read from October 08 to 09, 2014.

Gaiman, we meet again! It has been just over two years since I read anything by this fantastic author so I was quite happy when TNBBC picked this one for their Halloween read this month. A what a suiting pick it was…

This book is dark and has the capabilities of making your skin crawl, it is however also whimsical. Just like childhood. There is only one other person that I can think of that writes about childhood this well and that’s Roald Dahl. Both Gaiman and Dahl seem to be able to recall so well what it’s like to be a child, including the dark side of it. Growing up is scary and it’s hard but it’s also wonderful. While Dahl is no longer with us, I’m thankful that there are authors like Gaiman around that can still make us feel like children.

After returning to his childhood home after attending a funeral, the unnamed protagonist recalls the time he use to spend with his neighbour and childhood friend, Lettie Hempstock. He ventures over to his old neighbours and finds Lettie’s mother and recalls that Lettie has gone away to “Australia”.  The protagonist initially remembers very little of his childhood but recalls a pond which Lettie used to say was her ocean and decides to venture down there to recollect some childhood memories. Sitting by the “pond” the man begins to remembers , it started with him losing his room as a boy so that his parents could let it out for some additional income. The opal miner had stayed with them, but after losing all the money that his friends and family gave him to gambling, he stole the family car and committing suicide in it. This death causes something unnatural to be released in to the world. While out with his father to retrieve the car, is when he meets Lettie. He is taken back to her home and introduced to her mother and grandmother.

The unnatural spirit that was released when the opal miner died believes that money will make people happy but it’s leaving money for people in very horrible ways. When the narrator wakes up choking on a coin, he seeks help from Lettie. The boy quickly comes to realize that there is something very special about the Hempstock women and when he asks about their exact age they never give him a concise answer. The women decide that the spirit must be dealt with and brought back to its own world. Against her mother and grandmother’s discretion, Lettie convinces them to let her bring the young protagonist along with her to banish the spirit. Lettie tells the boy that he must not touch ANYTHING while he is in the spirit world and to hold her hand the entire time. The boy fails at this only once while in the surreal spirit world.

After the spirit has been banished, the boy returns home from his adventure believing that everything has returned to normal. He finds however, that he has a gaping black hole in the bottom of his foot in which he can feel something moving around. He pulls out a worm from the hole in his foot and puts it down a drain, though he didn’t get all of it. The boy deals with the incident the way a curious child would, but as a reader this scene is has some serious gross factors and leaves you reeling!

The morning after removing the worm, the boy’s parent’s introduce him to Ursula, their new nanny. Everyone seems to love Ursula, except for the boy. He knows something is not quite right with her. She won over his sister with treats and adoration and his father with too much adoration (complete with some scenes no young boy should ever have to witness his parent doing) all while his mother becomes less present in the home and this is when is nightmare starts to begin…

Sounds unnerving and awesome right?! It really is. Gaiman never lets you down. Gaiman, like in many of his other novels, likes to have mythological connections to his stories because in a way, it keeps them all connected. For example, Lettie, her mother, and her grandmother sound like the triple goddess of mythology: the maiden, the mother and the crone. Equally, Ursula seems to represent the whore. The whole novel seems to revolve around similar dichotomies, such as childhood and adulthood as well as what we perceive as real and what we imagine.

Another interesting item that’s worth noting, just off some quick research, apparently some of the incidents in the book are in relation to some experiences that Gaiman had as a child, for example Gaiman’s father’s car was actually stolen and the thief did commit suicide in it.

This novel is less than 200 pages so it makes for nice quick read and I think you’ll find yourself being properly creeped out and just in time for Halloween. You may even find yourself recollecting on your own wacky childhood adventures. A must-read for any adult that still has a child-like spirit.

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!

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!