Minis: Outbreak, Goodbyes and a Prince

I have some books lined up for review but I thought I’d get the shorter ones out of the way with another round of mini reviews. :)

Countdown by Mira GrantCountdown by Mira Grant
Newsflesh # 0
Publisher: Orbit
Number of pages: 84
My copy: ebook, bought from Amazon Kindle Store

The year is 2014, the year everything changed. We cured cancer. We cured the common cold. We died.

This is the story of how we rose.

When will you rise?

* * *

This is actually one of the last books I read for 2011, and I got this because I’m such a loyal reader of Mira Grant and her Newsflesh universe. Countdown is the a prequel to her story and it narrates just how the Rising happened through the different perspectives involved in the story. I liked how the story wasn’t really as simple as how it seemed when Georgia talked about it in Feed. There were so many people involved, some that were already known such as the developers of the cure, and also some unknown people like the activists that caused the virus to go out. It had just enough detail without being too scientific or too political, and the growing terror of what just might happen because of the chain of events was very well conveyed. The slow unveiling of the effects of the new virus strain was horrifying at its best and you just know that it’s too late when it all comes down.

While there’s no Georgia or Shaun in this book yet, we get a glimpse of their parents and how they got involved and what happened that could have led them to adopting the two. It wasn’t really narrated as a whole, but when the book is done, it’s easier to connect the dots.

This isn’t a required reading to fully understand the series, but for fans who are itching to read the last book in the trilogy, Countdown is a good pick to satiate this hunger.

Rating:

What is Goodbye? By Nikki GrimesWhat is Goodbye? by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Raul Colon
Publisher: Hyperion
Number of pages: 64
My copy:  hardbound, gift from KD

Jerilyn and Jesse have lost their beloved older brother. But each of them deals with Jaron’s death differently. Jerilyn tries to keep it in and hold it together; Jesse acts out. But after a year of anger, pain, and guilt, they come to understand that it’s time to move on. It’s time for a new family picture-with one piece missing, yet whole again. Through the alternating voices of a brother and sister, Nikki Grimes eloquently portrays the grieving process in this gem of a book that is honest, powerful, and ultimately hopeful.

* * *

I read and loved Nikki Grimes’ A Girl Named Mister so I was very excited to get this book from Kuya Doni during one of our Goodreads meet ups. A slim volume with illustrated pages, this is a book that discusses griefs and its different effects on people struggling with it. Jerilyn and Jesse just lost their older brother — too much too soon that they are at a loss at how to deal. Jerilyn holds it all together, showing an unruffled exterior but inside she is just as broken as how Jesse acts out. Questions about life, death and family surface and we get to see how the siblings and the rest of the family dealt with this loss. It will never be the same again, but it doesn’t mean they can’t be whole.

Nikki Grimes’ poetry was easy to read and the illustrations were a good complement to the story. True to form, I found myself shedding some tears at a certain page, and I honestly cannot imagine losing my one and only brother too soon to death. While this book offers no solutions on how to handle grief and death and loss, it shows a hopeful picture that someday, it will all be okay.

Rating:

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-ExuperyThe Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Publisher: Egmont
Number of pages: 96
My copy: paperback, bought from National Bookstore

A pilot forced to land in the Sahara meets a little prince. The wise and enchanting stories the prince tells of his own planet with its three volcanoes and a haughty flower are unforgettable.

* * *

I read this book sometime during high school, I think, not because of a school requirement but because people around me were quoting it and such. I remember being partly fascinated by it, but not so much to make it a favorite book. I just know that this book had a memorable line that everyone seems to know: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.

I ended up reading the book again for our book club’s discussion, and seeing that it was a short book, I read it just a few days before the discussion happened. Still the same — the book had that whimsical feel, with the little prince’s innocence and stories bringing the pilot (and the readers) to wonder if this little prince was the real thing. The book didn’t bring any new emotions, but it reminded me of just how sad I felt when I got to the end. I remember not knowing the answer to the question: what do you think happened to the little prince?

Nevertheless, the book gained more meaning to me after my friends and I had a very good (and brain-frying) discussion on it. Despite its thinness, The Little Prince is one of those books that pack a pretty heavy punch with its different adages that is pretty much applicable to so many things in life. I’d like to believe that people of all ages will be able to pick something interesting in this book, even if it gets a wee bit childish for older readers. After all, this was written as a children’s book.

However, I would have to agree: the meat of the book really happens with the prince’s conversations with the fox. Don’t get me wrong — the rest of the book was pretty lovely as well, but if you need the most popular quotes in the book, just look for that chapter. It’s pretty much all there.

Rating:

The Sky is Everywhere

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
Publisher: Walker Books
Number of pages: 386
My copy:
paperback, UK edition

Seventeen-year-old Lennie Walker, bookworm and band geek, plays second clarinet and spends her time tucked safely and happily in the shadow of her fiery sister Bailey. But when Bailey dies suddenly, Lennie is catapulted to center stage of her own life — and, despite her nonexistent history with boys, finds herself struggling to balance two. Toby was Bailey’s boyfriend; his grief mirrors Lennie’s own. Joe is the new boy in town, a transplant from Paris whose nearly magical grin is matched only by his musical talent. For Lennie, they’re the sun and the moon; one boy takes her out of her sorrow, the other comforts her in it. But just like their celestial counterparts, they can’t collide without the whole wide world exploding.

* * *

I think the thing about reading books about death and grief is it’s hard to relate to it if you haven’t experienced the kind of grief the characters are experiencing. I’ve read a couple of books that dealt with those topics and while I really loved them and the characters resonated with me, I don’t think I fully related to the characters and their plight because I am still blessed enough not to experience the kind of death that these characters had. This holds me at arm’s length at them, making me more of an audience than a player in the story.

But that does not stop me from reading books like that, and that includes The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson. No one is a stranger to death, and we would all have to deal with grief sooner or later. Lennie was one of those people who had to deal with grief sooner, when death took her 19-year-old sister, Bailey, away through a freak heart disease. This death makes Lennie’s world come undone. She drifts from day to day, shutting herself from her Grandmother and Uncle Big, thinking only about her loss and how Bailey would never have a future.

The Sky is Everywhere is one of those grief books that show us a different kind of grieving. The kind of grieving Lennie did was something people would frown upon, especially those who do not know the feeling. In the middle of Lennie’s grief for her sister, she falls in love. Strange, right? She finds herself wanting to be physically close to Toby, her sister’s boyfriend, and at the same time, she finds herself getting attracted to new guy Joe, who makes her heart feel like the flowers blooming in her grandmother’s yard. Guilt eats Lennie after every “happy” moment in love — how can she fall in love and be happy when her sister is dead? What kind of a person kisses her dead sister’s boyfriend?

There is a beauty in Jandy Nelson’s writing that makes this book almost ethereal. It was almost like the words in the pages were music, flowing seamlessly into the other without being too flowery. Lennie’s emotions run gamut around the book, and I liked that my copy is the UK edition so I was able to see her poems in full color where she “leaves” them:

Somehow, these things made the book more personal, and sometimes harder to read because it was like I was seeing something very private. But it’s not like the other parts of the book aren’t too personal either, and it strikes a chord in me, even if I cannot relate 100%. For example:

How will I survive this missing? How do others do it? People die all the time. Every day. Every hour. There are families all over the world staring at beds that are no longer slept in, shoes that are no longer worn. Families that no longer have to buy a particular cereal, a kind of shampoo. There are people everywhere standing in line at the movies, buying curtains, walking dogs, while inside their hearts are ripping to shreds. For years. For their whole lives. I don’t believe time heals. I don’t want it to. If I heal, doesn’t that mean I’ve accepted the world without her? (p. 222-223)

There were a few times in the book that I felt the familiar choking sensation of tears wanting to come, and another part of me is thankful that I am still spared from that kind of pain. Perhaps in reading this book, I will be somehow ready?

But if there was a lesson that The Sky is Everywhere imparts, it’s that there is no wrong way of grieving. Everyone grieves their own way, and it’s our hearts’ ways of healing itself and moving on. This very idea/lesson gave me a hard time in rating the book, because this meant the meat of the story is just Lennie’s way of grieving…but honestly, the romantic aspect just didn’t sit well with me. While I thought Joe and Toby were pretty well-rounded characters and interesting guys for Lennie to fall for, I wasn’t very sold in the love triangle. It was obvious who Lennie would choose is the end anyway. Plus, the entire Joe thing felt just a bit unbelievable for me, almost exaggerated in romanticism. I’m pretty sure I’m just nitpicking with that. Call me old fashioned, but I want my romance a little bit built up with a solid foundation and not just filled with music (figuratively and literally with instruments such as upright bass and the like) and flowers and kissing and all that. I can’t help but compare this book with one of my favorites, The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen with their thematic similarities, and how romance played a part in how the main characters grieved. If I were to choose which romance I’d prefer between Lennie-Joe and Macy-Wes, I am definitely for the latter. The Lennie-Joe build up just does not sit well with me. I guess I really am old-fashioned that way.

Nevertheless, The Sky is Everywhere is still a beautiful novel, in story and in writing. Romance aside, I thought it was a  great debut for Jandy Nelson, and I am looking forward to reading more of her works.

Rating:

Other Reviews:
Chachic’s Book Nook
Book Harbinger
Angieville
Steph Su Reads
Persnickety Snark

A Grief Observed

A Grief Observed by C.S. LewisA Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis
Harper, 112 pages

Written after his wife’s tragic death as a way of surviving the “mad midnight moment,” A Grief Observed is C.S. Lewis’s honest reflection on the fundamental issues of life, death, and faith in the midst of loss. This work contains his concise, genuine reflections on that period: “Nothing will shake a man — or at any rate a man like me — out of his merely verbal thinking and his merely notional beliefs. He has to be knocked silly before he comes to his senses. Only torture will bring out the truth. Only under torture does he discover it himself.” This is a beautiful and unflinchingly homest record of how even a stalwart believer can lose all sense of meaning in the universe, and how he can gradually regain his bearings.

Just yesterday, I was chatting with one of my best friends who is also my old household head in Youth for Christ (YFC). She was telling me about her latest Kindle purchase (if you’re curious, it’s Cassandra Clare’s Clockwork Angel). I told her about how I was reading A Grief Observed in my Kindle, and added that I wanted to buy other C.S. Lewis books there, too, because I realized that his books are a bit too expensive if I buy it here in full price, and I don’t really have the patience to dig for them in bargain bookstores. My friend laughed (as much as you can online, anyway) and she said she’s not ready for C.S. Lewis, at least not yet now. This is coming from my friend who would spend her spare time watching Hillsong United worship videos, mind you.

Today I realized that I’ve read so many Christian books but I’ve never really read any of C.S. Lewis. It’s not that I don’t have his books, too. I have Mere Christianity and the boxed set of The Chronicles of Narnia but I haven’t finished any of them. Strange? In a way, yes. But thinking about that and my conversation with my friend yesterday, I think it may not be that strange, because I realize that I may have not been ready to read C.S. Lewis’ books back when I first got them.

Truth be told, I wouldn’t have gotten A Grief Observed if it wasn’t one of the books for discussion in our Goodreads group. It’s been a long time since I actually cracked open a non-fiction book, and whenever I do, I never finish them. Another reason why I would not have gotten this by myself is because I can’t relate to grief, at least, not yet.

I am a stranger to grief. Sure, I know some people who have passed away and I have shed tears for them, but I have never really felt the same kind of grief that I know other people have felt. The last closest relative I know who passed away was my maternal grandmother, and that’s ten years ago, and all the other deaths I’ve heard about is not close enough to me for me to actually grieve the way other people do.

But I’m not taking this one lightly. I still feel afraid, because I know that as I grow older, the closer I am and everyone I know and love and care for is to death. It’s a fact of life. And then I remember: it’s not a matter of growing older. Everyone is close to death, myself included. No one can escape it, and the only question we can ask (and will probably never get the answer until we are right there at that moment) is When?

A Grief Observed doesn’t have an answer to any of what I said, unfortunately. I knew C.S. Lewis was a great writer, but this book is not like any book I’ve read before. I can’t empathize because like I said, I haven’t lost anyone very close to me to death just yet (and I’m very grateful for that of course), so I read this as if I was a spectator. It almost feels like I was intruding into something very private, as if I wasn’t supposed to be reading them. These are the thoughts of a man who has lost the love of his life to something he can’t fight. These are the ramblings of a man who has a solid foundation for his faith yet he couldn’t find foothold now that he experienced this big blow. This is a man who is grieving, period.

I don’t think anyone can ever explain how it is to grieve. I believe, like falling in love (yes, I have to connect it to that), everyone has their own process of grieving. Crying, writing, hiding yourself — what works for you. Like death, no one is exempt from grief, but I think we do have a choice on what to believe while we grieve. Do we believe that the other person is already in a better place? Do we believe that he/she is at peace? Do we believe that God has them? Do we believe that death actually exists? What would you believe in?

I’ve written so much, but I think this is one of the hardest reviews I’ve ever written. There’s so much in A Grief Observed that can be said, that can be quoted, that can be criticized, even, but not so much words to write on what it is really about.  It’s unlike any other non-fiction book I read, and maybe this is because it’s raw, and it really comes from the author’s heart. This is probably the first book that I couldn’t really relate to, yet I also could at the same time. Perhaps C.S. Lewis wasn’t just grieving about his wife, but maybe he is also grieving about his faith, and his primitive notions of how he sees God and His love? I’m just speculating. But if that is right, then I also grieve with him for the same reasons.

Kuya Doni is right: this book is heartwrenching. I’m glad I read it.

Rating:

2010 Challenge Status:
* Book # 77 out of 100 for 2010

My copy: Kindle version from Amazon Kindle store

Cover & Blurb: Goodreads