Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler

As soon as you pick up Why We Broke Up, you can tell it’s something special. Its thick pages that seem more suited to coffee table photography books make the book feel ridiculously heavy for only 350 pages. But, these pages are worth it: a quick flip through reveals beautiful illustrations by Maira Kalman before each chapter. Kalman also illustrated the dust jacket and the physical cover underneath it. Furthermore, instead of reviews on the back cover, there’s breakup stories from famous authors, such as Neil Gaiman, Brian Selznick, Sara Shepard, and more. This endearing quirkiness is essential to the atmosphere of the book, which at times feels uncomfortably authentic, like snooping through someone’s diary and discovering a bombshell.

This strangeness is best made sense of by considering author Daniel Handler, better known as Lemony Snicket. A Series of Unfortunate Events, his beloved children’s series is fantastically bizarre (as is its Netflix adaptation) and was one of my favorites in elementary school. After reading A Series of Unfortunate Events, I thought I was well prepared for his quirks when I began Why We Broke Up. I was sorely mistaken.

“The thing with your heart’s desire is that your heart doesn’t even know what it desires until it turns up. Like a tie at a tag sale, some perfect thing in a crate of nothing, you were just there, uninvited, and now suddenly the party was over and you were all I wanted. I hadn’t even been looking, not for you, and now you were my heart’s desire.” 

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Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Only at Yale is it possible to ward off malevolent ghosts by reciting Horace. Such is the premise of Leigh Bardugo’s newest novel, her first foray away from Ravka, the fantasy world she created in 2012. I consider myself a Bardugo superfan. I’ve written rave reviews of everything she’s written. But, because Ninth House was such a radical departure from her norm, I was a little nervous to pick it up. Luckily, excitement overpowered me because Bardugo’s writing coincided with my life in a way that was previously impossible: I am doing college visits this summer and Yale is on my list. So, with mixed feelings, I picked Ninth House up.

If there’s one thing Bardugo has mastered it’s setting. She attended Yale in the 1990’s and her time at the school is reflected through loving descriptions of everything from the library to the cafeteria line. My favorite aspect was her biting descriptions of secret societies, which, as I discovered after a Wikipedia wormhole, are all totally real. It’s also notable that Bardugo manages to shy away from any type of “wealth porn” unlike similar novels set at other prestigious institutions. Sure, there are vibrant descriptions of the dining hall’s priceless stained glass windows, but the racist scenes of plantation life the depict is highlighted, too. This step away from glorification made Bardugo’s descriptions both more vivid and likable.

Darlington liked to say that dealing with ghosts was like riding the subway: Do not make eye contact. Do not smile. Do not engage. Otherwise, you never know what might follow you home.

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The Power by Naomi Alderman

The first half of Naomi Alderman’s The Power reads like a feminist revenge fantasy. Teenage girls suddenly have the power to electrocute people through touch. Even better, they can transfer this power to older women. The societal tables have turned and women now hold power over men. This flip, especially in a reality where my fundamental rights, such as access to healthcare, are being stripped away by sexist politicians, feels scarily gratifying. Alderman leans into this feeling to weave a story about gender that, despite the wealth of great feminist novels, has never been told before.

“It doesn’t matter that she shouldn’t, that she never would. What matters is that she could, if she wanted. The power to hurt is a kind of wealth.” 

I am sixteen, the same age as one protagonist, Allie, at the start of the novel. I found myself salivating over descriptions of men being afraid to walk alone at night. I cheered when women took to the streets blowing up cars they were not allowed to drive. When women leered at men and men lamented this unfairness, I thought, it’s about time. The sane part of me knows that men do not deserve to be punished for society raising them to be assholes. But, the part of me that Alderman manages to catch in a rush of “equality” relished the flipped script. Maybe this is what makes The Power so captivating. Contrary to contemporary feminist novels where women are stripped of their voice or bodily autonomy, women gain power and use it to punish men.

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The Secret History by Donna Tartt

When I read at school, I annotate like crazy. My books are filled with underlines and highlights and circles and notes. However, I have never annotated a book I have read for pleasure. It somehow feels perverse, like I am tarnishing the integrity of the novel. But, when I read The Secret History, it felt criminal not to underline, at the very least. Some of Tartt’s sentences were too beautiful not to record. So, I treated her debut like a book I was reading in school, circling words I didn’t know and underlining important fragments. I don’t know if I’ll keep annotating after The Secret History. Maybe I was just doing it because I finished school a week ago and hadn’t yet switched that part of my brain off.

The Secret History came out in 1992, so it’s not a new book. Furthermore, although I think it’s set in the 80’s, it has a timeless air to it. Despite this, I felt a deep connection to the story’s setting, a preppy liberal arts college, which felt eerily familiar to my equally preppy boarding school. Our dining halls are even both called Commons! I felt myself so unexpectedly nostalgic for my school that I looked it up on Google Maps street view and “walked” around campus.

“Does such a thing as ‘the fatal flaw,’ that showy dark crack running down the middle of a life, exist outside literature? I used to think it didn’t. Now I think it does. And I think that mine is this: a morbid longing for the picturesque at all costs.” 

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Bookstore Review: The Golden Notebook in Woodstock, NY

In January, I promised content that feels more personal. Four months later, I’ve finally figured out what that means: Bookstore reviews. Bookstores have been a huge part of my life since I was little. Warwick’s Bookstore in La Jolla, California is the reason I began reviewing books! When I road-tripped from San Diego to Brooklyn in 2015, I stopped at an independent bookstore in each town I visited. Now, I’ve decided to translate that knowledge into talking about independent bookstores I’ve visited and loved. I want to make this a monthly thing to highlight the maximum amount of bookstores possible, so stay tuned! This month, for my first review, I’ve chosen to to highlight The Golden Notebook.

I chose the Golden Notebook because it is the bookstore I know best. The store is owned by my dad’s partner and I work there during school breaks. Although I am a lover of all bookstores, the Golden Notebook will always have a special place in my heart.There is nowhere I’d rather curl up and read a book more than the nook in the children’s section or upstairs by the classics bookshelf.

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Five Books to Get You into the “Game of Thrones” Spirit

Game of Thrones is back for its final season! I am so excited (and terrified) to see what’s in store for my favorite characters this season, but I know that once the show is over, I’ll be in serious withdrawal. To mitigate this feeling, here are some fantasy series that bring all of the magic, intrigue, and romance that Game of Thrones is known for to your very own hands. Hopefully, you can find a new favorite to binge between episodes or after the finale.

I am proud to say An Ember in the Ashes is one of the first fantasy series after Percy Jackson and Harry Potter that I truly fell in love with. Tahir’s world-building is truly incredible (and has only gotten better three books in) and her diverse ensemble of female characters is admirable. If you loved the family relationships in Game of Thrones, particularly female relationships, I promise you’ll devour Tahir’s debut fantasy series.

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March Wrap Up

What I’m Up To

March was a full month for me! The first half of March I was on spring break, but I came back to school on the 19th, which coincidentally was also my birthday. School has been busy, but it’s great to be around friends and semi-warm weather.

What I’m Reading

I don’t normally read nonfiction, but I was given this book as a Christmas gift and I’m always excited to learn more about art history. So far, I’ve been loving Krysa’s vibrant profiles of female artists, which are each paired with an artistic prompt for the reader to explore individually.

What I Blogged About

Reflections on Turning 16: I turned 16 on March 19, so I took the chance to reflect on my growth as a person and Book Reviews by Ava’s growth as a blog.

Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras: Contreras’ novel debut was incredible and her chronicle of two teenage girls during a time of intense civil conflict was both gripping and poignant.

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Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

I’ve been meaning to read Fruit of the Drunken Tree since before it came out. It sounded like everything I would want in a novel: class struggles, complicated female narratives, captivating writing. But, I just never got around to it. Until, one fateful day halfway into spring break. I had binged all The Bachelor I could bear, and finally decided I needed to read something before my brain turned to mush. Luckily, Contreras’ debut, which was conveniently available at my local bookstore, does not disappoint.

Fruit of the Drunken Tree follows two girls whose paths briefly cross: Nine year old Chula, who spends her days daydreaming and terrorizing family and neighbors alike from her Bogotá townhouse, and thirteen year old Petrona, her nanny plucked from eternal poverty in the slums on the outskirts of the city. They meet at the height of coke-kingpin Pablo Escobar’s reign over Colombia. While the two girls are coming into their identities as women, they are also grappling with where those identities fit into their distinct socio-economic classes. But, although their identities are in constant conflict, the two girls seem to develop a strange kinship.

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The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

soaWhere do I even begin with Madeline Miller? I fell in love with Circe when I read it in January, and it seems The Song of Achilles, Miller’s 2011 debut, is just as fantastic. My one complaint is more out of sadness than disappointment. If it took Miller ten years to write this novel and seven to write Circe, will I really have to wait five or ten years to read another one of Miller’s retellings? It’s only been a few hours since I finished The Song of Achilles and the wait has already become nearly unbearable.

I think what makes Miller’s novels so incredible is her voice. Her sentences, short but heavy with imagery, give the book the same feel of classic mythology and retellings. Her descriptions are dreamy, forcing me reading slower than usual to make sure I didn’t miss a single word. And, although there are plenty of battle montages and war councils, Miller shines most when writing extremely emotional scenes, such as when Achilles kills Hector or when Patroclus confronts Thetis, Achilles’ mother, at Achilles’ grave.

“We were like gods at the dawning of the world, and our joy was so bright we could see nothing else but the other.”

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The Incendiaries by R. O. Kwon

tiAlthough R. O. Kwon’s debut is a compact novel, clocking in at just under 200 pages, it packs a powerful punch. I read The Incendiaries in a morning, only putting it down to get breakfast and use the bathroom. Everything about it feels ephemeral, like it could vanish in a blink, so it felt imperative that I read it as quick as possible.

“I’ve wondered if I’ve stopped being able to want, but maybe it’s just that what I most wish to have again is not, at this point, available.”

The Incendiaries gives readers two familiar characters; an enigmatic, damaged girl in desperate need of a therapist, not a boyfriend, and her unfortunate boyfriend, someone who’s isn’t particularly unique, but is captivated with her to the point of obsession. These two characters are Phoebe and Will. They are both new to their prestigious college and both reeling from a formative event– Phoebe, the death of her mother, and Will, his rejection of the God he had cherished for so long. Will meets Phoebe just as she begins to attend Jejah, a group led by a Korean-American religious fanatic. And although Jejah at first seems just like a weekly dinner party, in the first chapter readers are armed with the knowledge that Jejah will evenutally become a cult known for bombing abortion clinics.

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