Hope Was Here

Hope Was Here by Joan BauerHope Was Here by Joan Bauer
Publisher: Puffin
Number of pages: 186
My copy: borrowed from Louize

When Hope and her aunt move to small-town Wisconsin to take over the local diner, Hope’s not sure what to expect. But what they find is that the owner, G.T., isn’t quite ready to give up yet–in fact, he’s decided to run for mayor against a corrupt candidate. And as Hope starts to make her place at the diner, she also finds herself caught up in G.T.’s campaign–particularly his visions for the future. After all, as G.T. points out, everyone can use a little hope to help get through the tough times . . . even Hope herself.

* * *

The first time I read about this book was from Peter’s blog, and it had me with the words diner, pie, and hope. I’ve seen Joan Bauer’s books in bookstores but I always ignored it until I read Peter’s review of it, and I put it on my radar. When my book club friend Louize brought a copy during our last discussion, I asked if I could borrow it, and immediately started reading it the next day. I had a feeling it was going to be a feel-good book, and I wasn’t wrong.

Hope Yancey’s real name is Tulip, but ever since her mom left her in the care of her aunt, she changed her name to Hope, something that she thought fitted her better. She moved around a lot with her Aunt Addie, who is an excellent cook and a diner manager. When the owner of the last diner they worked in in New York City stole money from them and left them with nothing, Addie and Hope move to Wisconsin to help manage Welcome Stairways, a little diner owned by G.T. Stoop who was sick with leukemia. G.T. got them onboard because he had other plans for their little town – he wanted to run for mayor to beat the corrupt Eli Millstone who’s had the town in his hands for year. Hope and her aunt gets involved in this campaign, but they didn’t know what people desperate to keep power would do to keep people out…but Hope chose her name for a reason, and even if she isn’t feeling particularly hopeful herself, she is finding that there were a lot of reasons to keep the hope in the midst of the hardest time in her life.

I breezed through Hope Was Here, not because it was a super-easy read but because it was really interesting. I realized that I really like reading about small town, diner settings (case in point: Bittersweet by Sarah Ockler, Speechless by Hannah Harrington, and Catch of the Day by Kristan Higgins). I really liked the small family that always forms inside diners, and how it makes working there seem really fun, despite it being hectic come peak hours. Of course I loved the food descriptions (homemade corned beef hash and fried eggs with a big piece of maple corn bread slathered with salted butter…mmm), and how food played a big part in their lives without it becoming too much of a foodie book.

I liked how the book didn’t seem complicated even with several plots — G.T.’s campaign, Hope’s issues with her mom, her search for her dad. I liked how they all played with each other well, all supporting the main theme of having hope and keeping it, even if things don’t feel particularly hopeful. Yes, there’s also romance, and one of them I predicted from when the lead interest appeared, but both of them worked quite well. A part of me felt that the love interests seemed too old for their partners, but I learned to adjust how I imagined them later on. I think I just had a bit of stereotype in my head when I started reading it.

This book reminded me of those books that my mom bought for me when I was in elementary and high school — full of life lessons and utter positivity. I can still remember most of them, and I think the reason why those books stayed with me even after years is because the plot felt real, and the characters were wonderfully flawed and yet they still prevailed in the best way. I bet if my mom had read the blurb of Hope Was Here back when she was still buying books for me, she would have gotten this, too.

I think Hope Was Here accomplished its goal with me: when I finished reading it, it left me with hope. Hope in the good things, hope in the midst of difficulties, and gratitude in knowing that there is always something to be hopeful for. :) I really liked this, and if you’re looking for a feel-good book (for the right reasons, and not just fluff!), then Hope Was Here would not disappoint. If Joan Bauer’s other books were as good as this one, then I would love to go through her entire backlist. :)

Number of hypothetical dog-eared pages: 15

Favorite dog-eared quotes:

I think hope is just about the best thing a person can have. (p. 7)

New places always help us look at life differently. (p. 10)

Then she hugged me with permanence. (p. 12)

She said you’ve got to love yourself with all your shortcomings, and you’ve got to love the world, no matter how bad it gets. (p. 56)

There’s something about diner setup that soothes the soul. Something about making good coffee in a huge urn glistening in fluorescent light, something sweet about filling syrup pitchers and lining them on the back counter like soldiers ready to advance. It gives you courage to face another day. (p. 61)

The thing I hate most about dying is how we deny its existence for as long as we can. Nobody knows how long they’ve got on this earth. And all we need is to live our lives just a little bit like the hearse is outside ready to cart us away – make the days count. That doesn’t mean living in fear, but we don’t have to be dumb bunnies either and take life for granted. (p. 67)

– you don’t know which way a thing will come at you, but you need to welcome it with your whole heart whichever way it arrives. (p. 174)

It’s a complete rush to get what you’ve been hoping for – to get it so full and complete that it fills your senses. (p. 174)

Rating:

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Kyusireader

Packing Light: Thoughts on Living Life with Less Baggage

Packing LightPacking Light: Thoughts on Living Life with Less Baggage by Allison Vesterfelt
Publisher: Moody Publishing
Number of pages: 256
My copy: Kindle edition

What do you need to leave behind?

When I was in college, I figured my life would come together around graduation. I’d meet a guy; we’d plan a beautiful wedding and buy a nice house-not necessarily with a picket fence, but with whatever kind of fence we wanted. I might work, or I might not, but whatever we decided, I would be happy.

When I got out of college and my life didn’t look like that, I floundered around, trying to figure out how to get the life I had always dreamed of. I went down so many different paths for it. Career. Travel. Friends. Relationships. But none of them were as satisfying as I hoped they would be.

Like many twenty-somethings, I tried desperately to discover the life of my dreams after college, but instead of finding it, I just kept accumulating baggage . I had school loans, car payments, electronics I couldn’t afford, a house full of mismatched furniture I didn’t love but that had become my own, hurt from broken relationships, and unmet expectations for what life was “supposed to be” like.

Just when I had given up all hope of finding the “life I’d always dreamed about,” I decided to take a trip to all fifty states…because when you go on a trip, you can’t take your baggage. What I found was that “packing light” wasn’t as easy as I thought it was.

This is the story of that trip and learning to live life with less baggage.

* * *

I found Ally’s blog through Twitter one time and her blog quickly became one of my favorites. I must admit that I really liked reading the stuff she wrote about dating, because I thought they spoke the truth, and not in a flowery way but in a real, age-appropriate, I-can-apply-this-to-my-life way. I was also very, very amazed at how she and her friend quit their jobs, sell everything and then went on a road trip to pursue their dreams. It’s such an exciting thing, things that my friends and I can only think about. I mean, quit our jobs, sell everything and travel? It seemed hardly rational.

When I heard that Ally was releasing a book about her adventures in this trip — and one of the reasons she went on a road trip, I think — I knew I wanted to read it. I find it funny that this book, like the previous non-fiction book I bought and read — came to my life at exactly the right time, and it seemed like the words I read were the exact words I needed in my life.

I make it sound so dramatic, I know, but it was the only thing that fits with my reading experience. Packing Light is a memoir of sorts, of Ally’s trip with her friend Sharaya, and what she learned about baggage, be it physical or not. Ally talked about the preparations for the trip, her doubts, their adventures and misadventures. She talked about the relationships that she formed and lost and strengthened in the course of six months, how she dealt with heartbreak and how she found herself again. In each of the chapters, Ally would share the lessons she learned, and how she learned that in a trip — and in life — you can’t take all the baggage that you have accumulated, but packing light isn’t always as easy as it sounds.

The best thing about books like this, I think, is its honesty. It helps that I knew Ally from her blog before, and her posts are just so real and honest that I knew her book would be nothing less. Packing Light has that same feel, the same kind of intimacy of a good friend who is telling you her story, and her adventures and you learn a thing or two from what she’s saying. I liked reading about how she and Sharaya prepared for the trip, and then she puts it in such a way that anyone could be going through the trip, and the preparations. Ally makes it seem like anyone can do what she and her friend did…and maybe anyone really can. Perhaps not the same kind of trip, but still a trip that has a potential to change your life. Then again, every trip has a potential to do that, right?

Needless to say, I loved Packing Light. I learned a lot while I was reading it, and I bet that if I reread it again, I will learn new things too. This is exactly the kind of book that I’d recommend to read if you’re at a crossroad in your life, if you’re having a life crisis, if you’re feeling a little lost and broken and you don’t want to be alone. But even if you’re not in any of those states, I still think Packing Light is a must-read book. Ally’s experiences teach us about what baggage can do in our life, and how important it is to let go.

If you want read more about Ally’s thoughts on living a life with less, you can visit her blog here. :)

Number of dog-eared pages: 98

Favorite dog-eared quote(s):

Baggage is like that. You pick it up one piece at a time, and it grows heavy over time, so you hardly even realize you’re carrying it. And the only way we know we’re holding it is if we go somewhere. As long as we stay stationary, we’ll never realize how full our arms, and our suitcases, really are. but when we decide to go somewhere, we discover that we can’t take it with us. (p.18)

That’s the thing with ideas. They start small, somewhere inside of you, and nothing will happen with them until you finally speak them out loud. (p. 30)

It isn’t until we’re honest about who we really are, and what we’re really feeling, that we give others a chance to show us how brave they think we are. It isn’t until we believe in ourselves to do something radical that we invite others to believe with us. And it isn’t until those we trust tell us we’re trustworthy and brave that we actually realize how trustworthy and brave we really are. (p. 40)

Unless I let go of what I was holding, I would never get the answers to my deepest questions: is God good? Can I trust Him? Will He provide for me? Should I jump into the waterfall? (p. 48)

I wonder if what we need, more than anything, is for someone to tell us that we’re going to “make it.” No matter where we are in our journey, or what has gone wrong, I wonder if what we really need are people who are waiting for us, without judgment, willing to say, “Do what you need to do. I’ll be here when you make it.” (p. 84)

I want to be the kind of write who is awake to the realities of heaven, but engaged in the realities of this world. (p. 95)

When you are living in your passion, people around you who were once sleeping will be woken up. That’s how you know. When we become who we were made to be, we come alive, but the people around us come alive, too. Listen carefully. Watch. Are people responding? Are they changing? When we become who God meant us to be all along, we leave a wake of His presence behind us. (p.130)

Open hands to receive gifts that come, enjoy them while they last, and give freely when it’s required. Open hands that live gracefully, with gratitude, with or without a toothbrush. (p. 190)

He’s waiting for us to do something beautiful, something courageous, something totally out of the ordinary.

Your whole life is an invitation. God isn’t going to tell you the “right” answer to force you to the right direction, because if He did, He would only be stealing the joy that comes when you pick yourself. You’ll face obstacles along the way, like we did. There will be breakdowns and sickness, and losses you can’t imagine before you start. But God isn’t punishing you. He’s on your side. He’s never left you. He’ll be with you the whole way. (p. 247)

Rating:

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Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way

Bittersweet by Shauna NiequistBittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way by Shauna Niequist
Publisher: Zondervan
Number of pages:
252

My copy: Kindle edition

‘The idea of bittersweet is changing the way I live, unraveling and re-weaving the way I understand life. Bittersweet is the idea that in all things there is both something broken and something beautiful, that there is a moment of lightness on even the darkest of nights, a shadow of hope in every heartbreak, and that rejoicing is no less rich even when it contains a splinter of sadness.

‘It’s the practice of believing that we really do need both the bitter and the sweet, and that a life of nothing but sweetness rots both your teeth and your soul. Bitter is what makes us strong, what forces us to push through, what helps us earn the lines on our faces and the calluses on our hands. Sweet is nice enough, but bittersweet is beautiful, nuanced, full of depth and complexity. Bittersweet is courageous, gutsy, audacious, earthy.

‘This is what I’ve come to believe about change: it’s good, in the way that childbirth is good, and heartbreak is good, and failure is good. By that I mean that it’s incredibly painful, exponentially more so if you fight it, and also that it has the potential to open you up, to open life up, to deliver you right into the palm of God’s hand, which is where you wanted to be all long, except that you were too busy pushing and pulling your life into exactly what you thought it should be.

‘I’ve learned the hard way that change is one of God’s greatest gifts, and most useful tools. Change can push us, pull us, rebuke and remake us. It can show us who we’ve become, in the worst ways, and also in the best ways. I’ve learned that it’s not something to run away from, as though we could, and that in many cases, change is a function of God’s graciousness, not life’s cruelty.

Niequist, a keen observer of life with a lyrical voice, writes with the characteristic warmth and honesty of a dear friend: always engaging, sometimes challenging, but always with a kind heart. You will find Bittersweet savory reading, indeed.

‘This is the work I’m doing now, and the work I invite you into: when life is sweet, say thank you, and celebrate. And when life is bitter, say thank you, and grow.’

* * *

If it were any other time, any other season, I probably wouldn’t have picked this up from the Kindle store. I wouldn’t have looked at this twice, because I don’t think it’s for me, or I would be interested. When was the last time I read a non-fiction, self-help book like this? I can’t remember. But I know for sure that if it were any other time early this year, or if it were any other season in my life, I wouldn’t have decided to get Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist and read it immediately after it loaded on Hannah the Kindle.

Oh, I guess it helped that the ebook was on sale when I saw it, so I bought it. But still, I wouldn’t have gotten it and enjoyed it as much as I did if it were any other time of my life.

Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace and Learning the Hard Way by Shauna Niequist is about so many things, but mostly, about how life is bittersweet. How life isn’t always happy or sweet but we shouldn’t let the bitterness of it get to us. There is such a thing as bittersweet, and it’s the kind of life that we should appreciate, especially because all the learning and the changes and (most importantly) grace is seen in the bittersweet parts of life. This is a collection of essays and realizations about her life, and what she learned from them — from her fights with her husband to moving to a new place, from meeting new friends, having parties and serving them food and these friends moving away. From her problems getting pregnant again to broken hearts, family members dying and babies being born. The book is an honest collection of stories that the reader will definitely relate to at some point, and drives the point that life is really bittersweet.

Like I said, if I read this at any other time, I don’t think it would have made as much of a big impact as it did now. Bittersweet kept me company during the hard days, and spoke to me over and over and over again about grace and God’s faithfulness. I couldn’t relate to some of the stories Niequist wrote because I don’t have a family, and I haven’t moved away yet, but the lessons she talked about were universal, and somehow I felt like she really knew what heartache is, and she can relate to me. Her words served like a balm to my soul, and some passages made me cry several times because it felt like they were exactly what I needed to read.

In a way, it seemed like a promise, too — that whatever you’re going through, whatever your situation is, God knows it, and He will take you through it. It’s not easy, but you have a choice to view your situation as bittersweet. And from her words, it seemed like she’s healed and moved on from the hard parts of her life and if she can do it, then you definitely can, too. I needed that, and as I read the book more, I realize that maybe it was meant for me to see this book on Amazon, and to see it on sale so I can buy it.

Granted, some of the stories were a little repetitive, like stories at the end had some similarities to the stories at the start, but by the time I got to that, I was far too in love with what I’ve read for me to really nitpick about it. Despite that repetitiveness, though, the stories in Bittersweet were honest and heartfelt and real, and it made me feel that I had a friend in Shauna Niequist, even if this is the first book of hers I’ve read.

I wonder now how I would’ve reacted to this if I read this on any other time, at any other season. I know I’m being repetitive on this review with that, but I can’t help but wonder. Would I even read this at all? If I did, though, I don’t think I would’ve loved it as much as I did now. But whatever — I’m just really, really glad that this book got to me at the right time. If you’re in a tough time, if you’re experiencing bitter moments, I definitely recommend this book. Bittersweet may not make your life better in a snap, but I hope it helps you heal, just like a good book ought to do. :)

Number of dog-eared pages: 114

Favorite dog-eared quote(s):

I believe that God is making all things new. I believe that Christ overcame death and that pattern is apparent all through life and history: life from death, water from stone, redemption from failure, connection from alienation. I believe suffering is part of the narrative, and that nothing really good gets built when everything’s easy. I believe that loss and emptiness and confusion often give way to new fullness and wisdom. (p. 17)

Good friendships are like breakfast. You think you’re too busy to eat breakfast, but then you find yourself exhausted and cranky halfway through the day, and discover that your attempt to save time totally backfired…because there really is nothing like good friends, like the sounds of their laughter and the tones of their voices and the things they teach us in the quietest, smallest moments. (p. 65)

That’s why travel is so important, among other reasons: to get far enough away from our everyday lives to see those lives with new clarity. When you’re literally on the other side of the world, when you’re under the silent sea, watching a bright, silent world of fish and coral, when you’re staring up at a sky so bright and dense with stars it makes you gasp, it’s in those moments that you begin to see the fullness of your life, the possibility that still prevails, that always prevails. (p. 79)

If arithmetic is numbers, and if algebra is numbers and letters, then grace is numbers, letters, sounds, and tears, feelings and dreams. Grace is smashing the calculator, and using all the broken buttons and pieces to make a mosaic. (p. 83)

Now is your time. Become, believe, try. Walk closely with the people you love, and with other people who believe that God is very good and life is a grand adventure. Don’t spend time with people who make you feel like less than you are. Don’t get stuck in the past, and don’t try to fast-forward yourself into a future you haven’t yet earned. Give today all the love and intensity and courage you can, and keep traveling honestly along life’s path. (p. 90)

I believe deeply that God does his best work in our lives during times of great heartbreak and loss, and I believe that much of that rich work is done by the hands of people who love us, who dive into the wreckage with us and show us who God is, over and over and over. (p.94)

Our hearts are more elastic than we think, and the work of forgiveness and transformation and growth can do things you can’t even imagine from where you’re standing now. (p. 223)

My life is a story about who God is and what he does in a human heart…if you have been transformed by the grace of God, then you have within you all you need to write your manifesto, your poem, your song, your battle cry, your love letter to a beautiful and broken world. Your story must be told. (p.241)

Rating:

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From My Bookshelf to Yours

Tiger Lily

Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn AndersonTiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson
Publisher: HarperCollins
Number of pages: 292
My copy: ebook

Before Peter Pan belonged to Wendy, he belonged to the girl with the crow feather in her hair. . . .

Fifteen-year-old Tiger Lily doesn’t believe in love stories or happy endings. Then she meets the alluring teenage Peter Pan in the forbidden woods of Neverland and immediately falls under his spell.

Peter is unlike anyone she’s ever known. Impetuous and brave, he both scares and enthralls her. As the leader of the Lost Boys, the most fearsome of Neverland’s inhabitants, Peter is an unthinkable match for Tiger Lily. Soon, she is risking everything—her family, her future—to be with him. When she is faced with marriage to a terrible man in her own tribe, she must choose between the life she’s always known and running away to an uncertain future with Peter.

With enemies threatening to tear them apart, the lovers seem doomed. But it’s the arrival of Wendy Darling, an English girl who’s everything Tiger Lily is not, that leads Tiger Lily to discover that the most dangerous enemies can live inside even the most loyal and loving heart.

From the New York Times bestselling author of Peaches comes a magical and bewitching story of the romance between a fearless heroine and the boy who wouldn’t grow up.

* * *

When I was in elementary, we used to have these character books, where we write the names of all the characters of the cartoon shows we watch, and we match them with the people in our class. I almost never get the “lead roles” because there’s always someone else for them, even in my own notebook (but I don’t put myself in the lead roles there because as a rule, everyone can read that notebook, and I didn’t want to be thought of as conceited or something), so I usually I put myself in the secondary roles — the ones that still matter, but not really the star of the show. So for the pages based on the Peter Pan anime that we all grew up with, I am usually Tiger Lily.

I’ve seen Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson in other blogs for a long time now, but I’m not that much of a fan of Peter Pan and its retellings, so I didn’t really care for it. I’ve heard good things about it, though, but I didn’t think it would be my thing, you know? Then I ran into it again, while I was looking for other books to read in my Kindle, when the books I was currently reading weren’t doing just what I want for me. But I was kind of wary, too, especially since I knew this was a love story, and not a happy one at that. We all know that, right? I mean, Peter Pan is with Wendy, and even Tinkerbell knows that. But what happened before Wendy arrived in Neverland? Did Peter ever belong to someone else?

Jodi Lynn Anderson’s Tiger Lily explored that. We meet fifteen year old Tiger Lily, a loner among her Sky Eaters tribe. She’s often quiet and usually fierce, and most people in her tribe are afraid of her, save for her adopted father, Tik Tok, a small guy named Pine Sap, another girl named Moon Eye and finally, the little fairy who started following her, Tinkerbell. We follow Tiger Lily’s story through Tinkerbell’s eyes, with how she saved a man, and how she was set for marriage, and how meets Peter Pan and the Lost Boys. Soon, quiet Tiger Lily is entranced by the childish yet charismatic Peter, and she starts sneaking out just to be with him. But when she is called to do her duty for her family and her tribe, she must make a choice. With the pirates looming around the boys and someone trying to change the way her tribe works, Tiger Lily is dealing with a lot, but it’s Wendy Darling who ends up threatening her the most.

Oh, my heart. I knew this isn’t a happy story, I really did. But I didn’t expect how much this will make me sigh and kind of wreck havoc over my heart. :( Tiger Lily held me captive, and I couldn’t stop reading it when I started. A lot of what the readability had to do with the writing — there was simple yet beautiful prose in the story, and it perfectly fits the almost somber and whimsical mood of the story. The quotes I included below are a proof of that. It’s like the author chose her words very carefully, so it would really sound like how Tinkerbell would see it, and say it.

If you’re a purist for Peter Pan’s stories though, you might get a little disappointed with how there were some things lacking in Anderson’s depiction of Neverland. Save for the fairies, there’s no magic. Neverland is a place that is somewhere in the Atlantic, and not “Second star to the right and straight on till morning”. The boys don’t fly, and Tinkerbell doesn’t spread fairy dust so they can think happy thoughts. There were some seemingly magical elements, but they weren’t blatant, and they’re still sort of believable and I didn’t mind it. It made the story a little easier to get into (except that I kept on expecting the boys to fly. Heh).

The story isn’t fluff, though. Tiger Lily is also quite brutal in some scenes, and the complicated relationships add to this brutality. But can a book this brutal be beautiful, too? I think so, I really do. Because oh, my heart. My heart broke so much for Tiger Lily and Peter, and how their story has been doomed for the start. Knowing that it was doomed didn’t make me want to stop reading, because I wanted to know how it all played out. Maybe I was wishing it wouldn’t end the way I was already expecting it. Or maybe, I just want to see how it ends, because it couldn’t possibly have an absolutely ugly ending, right?

I’m pretty sure it was the latter, because when I got to the end, I sighed. My heart sighed, several times, and Tiger Lily left me with a little ache there — it hurt, but it was also beautiful, and I know that I couldn’t ask for anything more.

I’m glad I read Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson now. I think I read it at the right time, just as when I needed something like this. Oh, my heart.

Number of dog-eared pages: 40

Favorite dog-eared quote(s):

There was a beast in there. But there was also a girl who was afraid of being a beast, and who wondered if other people had beasts in their hearts too. There was strength, and there was also just the determination to look strong. She guarded herself like a secret. (p.18)

I liked the way they stood together. They both kept one ear on each other, and one on the forest around them. And yet, there was something almost peaceful about them standing there. Maybe the way he seemed to vibrate made her stillness seem less glaring, and Peter seemed calmer. (p.62)

A faerie heart is different from a human heart. Human hearts are elastic. They have room for all sorts of passions, and they can break and heal and love again and again. Faerie hearts are evolutionarily less sophisticated. They are small and hard, like tiny grains of sand. Our hearts are too small to love more than one person in a lifetime. (p.76)

She was fierce, to be sure, but she had a girl’s heart, after all. As she walked home that night, she was shaking from the largeness of it. I didn’t know why she seemed so sad and happy at the same time. To love someone was not what she had expected. It was like falling from somewhere high up and breaking in half, and only one person having the secret to the puzzle of putting her back together. (p.119)

Sometimes, I think that maybe we are just stories. Like we may be words on a page, because we’re only what we’ve done and what we are going to do. (p.193)

Every kind of love, it seems, is the only one. It doesn’t happen twice. And I never expected that you could have a broken heart and love with it too, so much that it doesn’t seem broken at all. (p.199)

Rating:

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The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil GaimanThe Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Publisher: Harper Collins
Number of pages: 181
My copy: paperback, from Fully Booked

Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.

* * *

I wish I could say I’m a huge, huge Gaiman fan like my other friends are, but really, the only Gaiman book I’ve read in my life is Stardust. I read it twice and loved it, and I always associate good memories with that book. I meant to read more Gaiman, but the only other book I have at home is The Graveyard Book, which has been in two of our book club’s polls but kept on losing to other books so I had no reason to pick it up anytime soon. I knew he was one of those really awesome authors (plus he has the most awesome New Year’s messages), and I know I had to read more of his works but it just doesn’t really come up in the priority list. So when my friends started raving about The Ocean at the End of the Lane, I was only mildly curious.

Until I saw the book, touched it and realized how pretty the physical copy was. Needless to say, after a few moments of touching the cover, I went ahead and bought the book. Yes, I am easily swayed like that.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a short book, about an unnamed narrator who visits his childhood home and goes to the end of the road, where he remembers his childhood friend, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. It started with a man who lived with them who committed suicide, and then all sorts of weird things happened after that, trapping him in a bizarre world that has enchanted his family. It’s too much for a little boy to deal with on his own, except that he wasn’t really alone because his new friend Lettie promised to protect him at all costs.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane held me captive from the first page. It had a lovely sort of storytelling that was comforting and creepy at the same time — you know it’s not real, but there’s that fear of the things that our hero is getting himself into. I liked how honest and quiet the narration is, how the hero as a boy tried to make sense of things and be brave, even if things are getting creepier and creepier. You can feel all the doubt and worry and fear in him, and I wanted so much for him to prevail, for him to find a way out of things and save his family. It felt a little bit like a fairy tale, with how everything was set up, but also not so much, because there were really some frightening instances. Not scary in the sense of ghosts, or how horror movies were scary, but more of I’m so scared for you type of terror.

I think my favorite part of the entire story is the hero’s friendship with Lettie. It’s easy to nitpick on the Hempstocks and their abilities, but I won’t because other reviewers have done that already. I’d like to focus more on how Gaiman wrote the friendship — it was my most favorite part of the book. I liked how Lettie stood by him and protected him up to the end. It made the ending a lot more bittersweet, and full of heart. Yes, heart. That’s the right word to use — especially with what I one of the Hempstocks said to the hero near the end of the book:

I think you’re doing better than you were the last time we saw you. You’re growing a new heart, for a start.

Suffice to say that after reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane, I will start working on reading more Gaiman. If all his books has the same kind of lovely storytelling, then I certainly don’t want to miss out. :)

Rating:

Other reviews:
marginalia
The Girl Who Read and Other Stories